Arizona perennially ranks at or near the very bottom in national evaluations of state education. With another recent study showing Arizona to be 49th out of the 50 states in terms of education, we decided to look into what the problem is in "The Grand Canyon State".
Our investigation reveals a shocking system of education rife with corruption and mismanagement, crippled with politicalization and devastating conflicts of interest bordering on criminal. In one case in point, we found a public school teacher who was fired-- for teaching!
The teachers name is Paul Branson Jr. Although he agreed to be interviewed, he mainly just kept repeating the same statement in a despondent voice. "I left a lucrative business career because I wanted to do something noble with my life--I wanted to help children...this is the thanks I get."
Apparently it all started last year. The Arizona school districts were faced with declining revenue. This was due to a combination of lower levels of state funding, owing to the recession, and competition for students from charter schools. They turned to their cronies in the AZ State Legislature, who passed bill 2011. This law effectively stripped teachers of any and all rights under the terms of their teaching contracts-it gave schools and districts the power to fire any teacher at any time with or without cause. It gave schools and districts the right to lower an individual teacher's salary at any time.
Administrators we spoke with responded gleefully to questions about bill 2011. "Oh my god, it's the bomb!" Said one, "It's a return to the good old days, when principals ruled with an iron fist, and teachers quaked with fear at being sacked if they didn't do what they were told It's a green light to get rid of any teacher you don't like for any reason, and replace them with your friend or some clueless kid fresh out of college who will work for a lot less than an older teacher with a family to support!"
In the case of Mr. Branson Jr. the principal at his former school, Jalen Rotts at "Copper Pit High", denied that any teachers were fired for teaching. "First of all" lectured Principal Rotts "Mr. Branson was not fired. We wanted to fire him, but when we harrases him, put him under the ol' microscope, we couldn't find anything that he was doing to justify that. So we eliminated his position in a RIF (Reduction In Force) maneuver, and then re-posted his old job. The fact that I'm now dating the young lady we hired from out of the state and gave an emergency certification to has nothing to do with it,nothing at all. And he wasn't sacked because his students were learning-we do encourage learning here at our school, I want to make that clear. He was sacked because part of his strategy for student learning included enforcing the school discipline plan and also actually giving failing grades to students who refused to attend class or do any assignments; that we just can't tolerate!"
Assistant Principal BJ Carlson III concurred. "That guy just didn't get it." He complained. "For crying out loud, we tied his bonus to the GPA his students received-the higher the grades he gave, the more money her earned. We stood right up in the in-service meetings and told all the teachers 'Failure is not an option. We are not in the business of giving life-lessons. A failing grades does not teach a student that they need to do their work, it only lowers their self-esteem.' We instituted policies where teachers were forbidden to give homework, forbidden to give a final exam that could lower a student's grade. We had a credit retrieval program where if a teacher gave a failing grade, that teacher was responsible for tutoring the student throughout the next semester, do the work for the student if need be, so they could change that to a passing grade. How much more obvious could we be? But some teachers, like Mr. Branson, were just stubborn-they kept whining about 'academic integrity', 'student accountability', 'doing the right thing', crap like that."
A teacher at Copper Pit, who wishes to remain anonymous, added this. "Most of us have given up. We don't care any more. If the students, parents, and administrators all want us to play games all day and issue As, Bs and Cs for nothing, why should we fight it? Mr. Branson dared to actually follow the school discipline plan-he issued detention slips for tardy students, wrote discipline referrals for students who were disruptive and disrespectful-that creates work for the administrators and also a paper trail of problems. That's why they got rid of him."
"Oh yeah" The teacher added as we were leaving. "Can you please tell everyone to vote for the override, to pay more taxes for the schools? $10,000 per student per year is not enough to pay all the administrators and their cronies, all the double dippers on full retirement working at district and in the schools as mentors and administrative assistants…if our administrators don't get more money, they will punish us teachers by cutting our salary and increasing the class sizes-we already have 40 or more students per class. I don't think I can handle any more, please!"
A representative of they state chapter of the teacher's union refused to be interviewed or named, but upon repeated questioning regarding this particular case finally said "Look. Our philosophy is that we defend the bad teachers, the burned-out teachers. The good teachers don't need our help, they can find another job. Plus, we're just too busy trying to get away from the bus that President Obama threw us under. When the President's Secretary of Education moved to Washington, the first thing he did was enroll his kids in a private school. We're just giving the people what they want-giant day care centers for adolescents. If you want your kids to get a real education, you just gotta pay up for a private school, or hope they can get into one of the few, high quality charter schools."
A parent of three children in public schools seemed confused. "The principal says they have highly qualified teachers. Our kids say they like it at school, they say they have a lot of fun. But when our oldest child graduated high school, he couldn't get into the community college without taking general education classes. The counselor at the community college said he had to learn some basic skills that he should have gotten in high school. If that's the way it is, President Obama better pass a law that says that our kids will get a free community college education as well as high school. I think that's what he's working on."
We interviewed a few students. "F*** you!" Said one. "We got a good thing going here, and you better not screw it up, ya here? The teachers know to pass us or else we'll complain to our counselor and they get in trouble, not is. We got a place where we can fight and hook up with girls and get drugs and have a good time. If ya get busted doin' a felony, ya just transfer to a charter school where it's even easier. Who'd wanna change that?"