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Changes urged for Arizona’s schools

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Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2004 10:20 am

June 17, 2004

Starting teachers would make $35,000 and earn $50,000 within a few years. Students would help evaluate schools and teachers. Bilingual instruction would return to Arizona’s schools.

If more than 160 of the state’s citizens have their way, those recommendations, among others, from the 84th biannual Arizona Town Hall will become law.

During a six-hour debateand-edit marathon Wednesday, the Town Hall participants who gathered in Prescott from all over the state reviewed a 20-page report line by line until they reached consensus on "Pre-K-12 Education: Choices for Arizona’s Future."

The report was the result of three days of meetings in which participants were broken down into smaller groups to hammer out issues ranging from high-stakes testing to performance pay.

The recommendations reflect some major policy changes down the road if lawmakers decided to adopt them.

Some questioned whether a $35,000 salary for entrylevel teachers — who would then make $50,000 early in their careers — was practical. Eventually, the group agreed those figures should be "targets" for districts to reach.

A proposal to give students "meaningful input" into the evaluations of schools and educators drew considerable debate before finally being approved.

Some participants wanted to give students input — just not into evaluations. But others, including several students in the group, successfully argued that unless students’ voices are part of evaluations — they will have no meaning.

"You do feel like no one listens to you," said Michael Kosak, a Scottsdale student at Arizona State University.

Other hot issues involved bilingual education, Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards and school performance labels.

With some loud objections from part of the group, the majority passed a recommendation that teachers be allowed to teach students bilingually at least initially and that the state take a look at the consequences of Proposition 203 — the English immersion law approved by voters in 2000.

Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said that proposal shows "the community is starting to understand the negative impact of Prop. 203 in limiting schools in using all available concepts in teaching kids."

The group also approved a statement that Arizona "stay the course" with high stakes testing while allowing time to perfect AIMS, and soundly defeated an effort to eliminate all academic labels on schools.

"If you get rid of labels for schools, you’d have to get rid of grades for students," Kosak said.

Contreras said about 70 percent of past Town Hall recommendations have been implemented within five years. But he and Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, agreed that Wednesday’s recommendations come at a cost.

"You can’t do the things in this report being 49th in the nation in school funding," Essigs said. "If legislators want to follow the wishes of their citizens — and these are the wishes of the citizens — they will improve school funding."

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