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Noteworthy developments on topics covered by this website

Common Core Test Results Dismay New Yorkers

The New York Times | Aug 08, 2013

New York became the second state to test against the new Common Core Standards, and the number of students passing state reading and math exams dropped drastically.

The New York Times reported that the results released on Wednesday alarmed parents, principals and teachers.

They were reacting to the news that 31 percent of students passed the new exams both in in reading and math.  That compares with 55 percent who passed in reading and 65 percent who passed in math against New York’s old standards a year ago.

The Common Core Standards have been adopted by 45 states, including Arizona. The exams emphasize analysis and problem-solving over short answers and memorization.  The new standards, and corresponding exams to test the results, are being phased in to replace old standards that differed by state.

The Times reported that many New York educators responded with disbelief to the falloff in scores even though officials had been trying for months to brace them.  Kentucky, the first state to test under the new standards, had a similar drop in results.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a subsequent article: “The shock value that has happened has been so traumatic in New York that you have a lot of people all throughout the state saying, ‘Why are you experimenting on my kids?’”


School Grades Go Up, State Announces

Thinking Arizona | Aug 02, 2013

Arizona schools performed better in the just-completed school year than they did the prior year, Supt. of Public Instruction John Huppenthal announced Thursday.

“The majority of Arizona schools are doing quite well,” Huppenthal said in a press release. “Arizona’s schools are improving. In fact, we found over 300 schools improved a letter grade over last year.”

The grades are based primarily on how students did at the end of the school year on the state’s assessment test, known as AIMS.

Slightly higher percentages of schools and school districts in the state’s primary classification of schools scored “A’s” in comparison to last year. The percentage of “A” schools this year was 27.5 percent versus 24.4 percent last year. The percentage of “local education agencies,” including both traditional districts and operators of charter school groups, that scored “A’s” was 23.7 percent versus 21.5 percent a year ago.

While “A’s” went up among schools, slightly lower percentages scored “B’s” and “C’s.”

There was even more of an upward movement in districts. The percentage of “B’s” went up in addition to the percentage of “A’s.” Meanwhile, the percentages of “C’s” and “D’s” declined.

The highest scoring school was University High School in the Tolleson Union High School District with 191 of 200 points. Scores over 140 get “A’s”.

The highest scoring “local agency” was a charter school operator, East Valley Academy in Mesa, with 186 points. The top scoring districts were small elementary districts: Apache, Young, and Alpine. They were followed by unified districts in San Simon, Benson, Vail, Catalina Foothills and Queen Creek.

School grades improved even though student proficiency didn’t budge much.

The percentage of students passing the AIMS reading assessment rose one percentage point to 78 percent. The percentage passing the math assessment also rose one percentage point to 61 percent.

Science and writing results were just below math, with 57 percent passing science and 56 percent passing writing.

Nonetheless, Huppenthal called them out. “Our writing and science test results are a wakeup call. It is unacceptable that over 40 percent of our students cannot test at a minimum AIMS standard in writing and science,” his statement read.

Governor Proposes More Money for Schools

Thinking Arizona | Jan 15, 2013

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called for additional funding for education in her State of the State address Monday.

Brewer described the state’s schools as “the most fundamental and lasting key to Arizona’s competitiveness.”  And Arizona’s success in its second century of existence, she said earlier in her speech, will depend on its competitiveness.

She called it the new “C,” in a reference to the days of Arizona’s 5 C’s of copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate.

“Arizona must compete for the most desirable jobs for our citizens, the finest teachers in our schools, the most talented students and faculty in our universities,” she said.  “And each of our citizens must likewise compete to earn a living, build a future and raise a family in a safe and healthy environment.”

She proposed what she called “the nation’s first comprehensive performance funding plan” for schools “that earn high marks or see real improvement in performance.”

The plan, she said, would augment the current attendance-based funding formulas.  She gave no further details.

Education funding was one of a package of proposals made by the governor that also included additional funding for school resource officers in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.  The most surprising of her proposals was the recommendation that the state expand its Medicaid program to take advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act.  See news coverage.

On other topics, Brewer lauded the state’s economic growth.

She said Arizona was ranked 5th in the nation for job growth in 2012, and cited the Kauffman Index ranking of Arizona as the “country’s premier place for entrepreneurs.”

Phoenix to Get Most of Job Growth

The Arizona Daily Star | Nov 02, 2012

Arizona will gain 60,900 jobs in the coming year, the state Department of Administration predicts in  a report issued yesterday.  That’s a growth rate of 2.5 percent.

Capitol Media Services reports that nearly 50,000 of the jobs will be added in the Phoenix metro area.

The department expects the state’s 12 rural counties to grow by 8,000 jobs in 2013.  That’s a 2.3 percent growth rate.

Job growth in Pima County will be particularly anemic, the report said.  The area will add 3,600 jobs — a growth rate of just 1 percent.

S. Ariz.’s Biggest Campaign Contributors

The Arizona Daily Star | Nov 02, 2012

A couple of familiar names and a few surprises are on the Arizona Daily Star’s list of Southern Arizona’s big campaign contributors.

Auto dealer Jim Click is once again a huge contributor to Republican candidates and causes.  Philanthropist Bill Roe and his wife, Alice, are once again big contributors on the Democratic side.  Roe is currently chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.

The analysis by the Star covers money contributed in 2011-2012 to federal, state and local candidates, political party organizations, PACs and super PACs. The totals do not include contributions to certain nonprofit groups that are not required to reveal donors.

California Uses Open Primary for 1st Time

Christian Science Monitor | Jun 08, 2012

California’s first swing Tuesday at a new voting format now being considered in Arizona was given mixed reviews by two national news organizations.

The California primary on Tuesday marked its first use of a system in which voters choose candidates regardless of their political affiliation and the top two vote getters move to the general election.  The so-called “open primary” was approved by California voters in 2010 in the hope of breaking partisan gridlock by encouraging candidates to hue to the middle of the political spectrum rather than to the extremes.

A similar system is being pushed for Arizona.  Backers of the initiative report they have gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot in the fall.

The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times found that much seemed to be the same in the results of California’s inaugural effort.  Voter turnout was still low, and “the vast majority of candidates who advanced to the fall election were registered Republicans and Democrats.”

But in some cases, it will be Democrat versus Democrat, or Republican versus Republican, in the top-two runoff.   In one anomaly, the two remaining congressional candidates in a Democratic stronghold east of Los Angeles are both Republicans.  Meanwhile, candidates running as independents made few breakthroughs.

The Times quoted one political analyst as saying the biggest effect will be felt in the general election.  He argued that the system forces the winners to be more responsive to the wishes of their constituents.

6 Companies Get Innovation Grants

The Arizona Republic | May 15, 2012

Six Arizona startup companies will share $1.5 million in awards coming from the second round of the Arizona Innovation Challenge, the Arizona Republic reported.

The winning companies, selected by the Arizona Commerce Authority from among 300 competitors, were chosen based on the potential of their technology and their potential for generating jobs. They are required to generate revenue within one year of the award.

The winners are:

Agave Semiconductor, Phoenix, optimizes the energy efficiency of electric motors.

MaxQ Technologies, Chandler, manufactures advanced liquid cooled coldplates used to cool power converter systems.

Wholesalefund, San Francisco with plans to relocate to Phoenix, uses proprietary technology to help consumer packaged goods manufacturers get their products on store shelves more quickly and easily.

Kutta Radios, Phoenix, provides next generation radio products to mine operators and first responders to emergencies.

Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals, Tucson, is developing cancer prevention therapies to reduce the risk of cancer for those with elevated risk.

HJ3 Composite Technologies, Tucson, produces polymer products.

Bioscience Grows, Funding Lags

Thinking Arizona | Feb 02, 2012

Arizona has expanded the number of companies and employees in the field of bioscience but seed money for the industry continues to lag desired levels, according to a just-issued status report.

The annual study, commissioned by the Flinn Foundation and performed by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, covers the period from 2002 to 2010.  The latest findings were described in meetings held this week in Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson.

Dr. Walter H. Plosila, a senior adviser at Battelle, reported that:

Outside of hospitals, the number of bioscience establishments in the state rose from 605 to 756, an increase of 25 percent, in the span of eight years.

The number of employees bumped up from 10,900 to 15,100, an increase of 38 percent.

The biggest portion of the job increase came in research, testing and medical laboratories.  That category accounted for 2,800 of the 4,200 new jobs.  Most of the rest of the increase was in medical devices and equipment.

Those numbers paled, however, in comparison with the increase in hospital employment.   Spurred by Arizona’s rapid growth and an aging population, employment in the hospital sector jumped by 23,800 jobs.  The number of hospital workers increased 41 percent from 57,400 in 2002 to 81,200 in 2010.

Meanwhile, however, funding for the new ventures has been hard to come by.

Arizona’s share of venture capital investments in bioscience was 1.55 percent of the national total in 2002.  The state’s share has since fallen to 0.40 percent of the national amount.

The 2010 investments amounted to $69 million.  That’s the second highest total in the years since 2002 but is still far behind the 2002 standard of $111 million.

Report Sees Very Slow Recovery

Cronkite News Service | Jan 18, 2012

By Salvador Rodriguez

Arizona’s metro areas are at least four years away from returning to pre-recession employment levels, according to a report issued Wednesday.

The Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff economies are not expected to recover until 2016 while Yuma, Lake Havasu and Prescott are not predicted to return to pre-recession levels until after 2017, according to the report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The good thing is we’re not heading down anymore, but we’re heading up very, very slowly,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, a vice president of the conference who was in Washington to help release the report Wednesday.

All of Arizona’s metro areas are forecast to see job growth in 2012 – an improvement over 2011 when two of the six actually lost jobs – but only in Phoenix will the increase be greater than 2 percent.

The forecast shows Phoenix is expected to gain 37,000 jobs in 2012.   Tucson is predicted to pick up 4,000 jobs, Lake Havasu and Prescott 900 jobs, Flagstaff 800 and Yuma 600.

See the full story.

IRC Splits in Giving Final OK

Thnking Arizona | Jan 17, 2012

The Independent Redistricting Commission today gave final approval to new congressional and legislative maps, over the objections of its two Republican members.

Each of the maps was approved by a 3-2 vote.  The majority was made up of the commission’s two Democrats — Jose Herrera and Linda McNulty — and its chairperson, independent Colleen Coyle Mathis.  The nay votes came from Republicans Scott Freeman and Rick Stertz.

The vote on the congressional map paralleled the preliminary approval given in December.  On the legislative map, Herrera and Stertz switched sides.  Republican Stertz voted yes in December, and Democrat Herrera voted no.

The Republicans objected today on a variety of grounds:

– Freeman then Stertz complained about the numbering system of the districts, saying that neighboring districts were not numbered sequentially nor did the numbers match up with those of previous districts.

–  Stertz said the entire process was flawed because with Republican and Democratic members divided 2-2, key commission decisions affecting the entire state came down to the vote of the commission chairperson.

– Freeman claimed the result was “Democatic maps.”   He said his input had been disregarded, making his service of 850 hours to commission business “largely a waste of time.”   He charged that the process had been “gamed” from the start.  

Freeman went on to suggest that the commission petition the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and not the Justice Department, to handle the federal review of whether the maps sufficiently protect minority voting rights. 

He questioned the motives of a Justice Department run by President Obama.  ”Are they going to give Arizona a pass because Arizona has the Democratic dream map?” he asked.

Democrat McNulty called the accusations “wholly incorrect, wholly inappropriate.”  She said the record will show the maps were fairly and properly drawn.  Fellow Democrat Herrera asked if the maps were Democratic, how it was that the result favored Republicans.

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