Phoenix Schools’ Roosevelt District in Serious Trouble with Arizona Department of Education

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

The Roosevelt Elementary School District, located in the Phoenix Schools area on the south side of the city, is in serious trouble. The primarily low-income district has been dealing with turmoil for years, and the possible takeover by the Arizona Department of Education only exacerbates the situation.

Last December, Arizona Department of Education held a meeting in one of Roosevelt’s school gyms to present the situation to all concerned. Over 200 parents, teachers and other community members were present as Arizona Schools Chief Tom Horne, flanked by 25 of his top staff members, laid out the Phoenix schools Roosevelt district’s problems. Five members of the Phoenix schools Roosevelt district board were present.

Horne, a Harvard-trained lawyer, did not mince his words as he presented slide after slide and graph after graph that illustrated the large negative numbers that concerned this Phoenix schools district. Many in attendance were visibly stunned by the enormity of the situation with which they and the district are faced.

One point that Horne hammered home to the five Phoenix schools’ Roosevelt district board members present, as well as the audience, was that other school districts were doing much better with similar resources. Three neighboring Phoenix schools’ districts have just as many impoverished families as the Roosevelt district. They have just as many students with English as a second language, who need the extra time, resources and coursework to learn English in order to succeed in the Phoenix schools. Yet, these three Phoenix schools’ districts have between 64 and 78 percent of their students performing at grade level in math for the third grade, with Roosevelt at 45 percent; and 62 and 72 percent in reading, with Roosevelt at 34 percent. The same is true in the other score measurements. In all 27 separate measurements, Roosevelt is substantially below the other three comparable Phoenix schools’ districts. That is nearly double the number of students showing academic achievement, as compared to Roosevelt. (You may view Horne’s graphs here.)

What really hit home for the people in attendance is that Roosevelt receives per student funding above the state average, yet no other district in the state has performed so poorly. In 2005, the Arizona Department of Education ranked 10 of the Roosevelt schools as “underperforming”. The district has only 21 schools. This was an unprecedented amount of “underperforming” schools in the Phoenix schools area.

Things must improve rapidly for the Phoenix schools’ district. Otherwise, the state will take over the district and all its schools. Horne is applying pressure to overhaul the district’s practices and replace ineffective personnel. Meanwhile, Horne has called for legislation to allow the state to take over entire districts and school boards for poor student performance.

The Roosevelt district has taken the threat of takeover by Horne to heart. This year, they have initiated many major changes, including:

  • New and innovative practices;
  • District educators are working together to develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum;
  • Teachers at all levels are involved in curriculum mapping, which helps a teacher understand what standards to teach students and when to teach them;
  • A standards-based progress report now replaces the number grade reporting system, helping teachers and parents understand the language of standards and create a consistency between district reports and the results of the statewide test; and
  • A comprehensive curriculum guide was developed and implemented that includes standards and a curriculum pacing calendar.

Only time (and a very short time, at that) will tell if these changes will be enough to elevate the Phoenix schools’ Roosevelt district’s underperforming schools. If not, then the district will be under new management — the state.