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August 7, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Common Core

  |   Video
  • New curriculum standards called “Common Core” go into full implementation this year at Arizona public schools. Arizona has joined 46 other states to use the Common Core standards for K-12 math and English. The standards will be tested using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. Schools are facing challenges in implementing the new standards and testing. Denise Birdwell, the superintendent of the Higley Unified School District, will talk about the challenges schools face in implementing the new standards.
  • Denise Birdwell - Superintendent, Higley Unified School District
Category: Education   |   Keywords: common core, education, curriculum,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A new curriculum standard called common core will be implemented this year at Arizona public schools. Common core standards include the partnership for assessment of readiness for college and careers test, otherwise known as the PARCC test. Schools are facing a variety of challenges and implementing the new standards and testing. Denise Birdwell the superintendent of the Higley unified school district is here now to talk about some of those challenges. Good to see you again.

Denise Birdwell: Great to see you.

Ted Simons: We talked about common core a while back, saying it's coming. Most folks don't -- Aren't aware of it. Well, it's here, and folks better be aware of it. What's common core?

Denise Birdwell: Basically it's a set of skills looking at reading, writing, and mathematics, preparing a student, K-12, for college and career readiness.

Ted Simons: How different are common core standards and teaching methods? Let's talk about teaching methods? How different from what we're seeing now?

Denise Birdwell: There's a significant difference. A lot of it has to do with the depth in which we teach. The critical thinking, the analysis, the sense is how we apply what it is that we know in answering the complexities of learning.

Ted Simons: Is there -- Can you give an example of what a test question might be now as opposed to what it would be with the PARCC test?

Denise Birdwell: Sure. In the past, in particularly the last looking back over the last century, a lot of it was ROTE learning. It was a memorization process. Now instead of asking you when -- What was the war of 1812, we're going to look at more of, what was the impact of the war of and how did it affect society and the implications following that war?

Ted Simons: Sounds like instead of A, B, C, or D, it's lots of words.

Denise Birdwell: Indeed it is. And it is a different vocabulary. We're looking at the academic vocabulary, and literature, completely different impact as we look at the text.

Ted Simons: How much time have schools and teachers had to adjust to these changes?

Denise Birdwell: Well, we've had a little bit of time. In Arizona, we've been aligning our curriculum for a couple years. But truly the alignment process has had a heavy focus in the last months. This year it's all about instruction. So that's a professional development process with our teachers.

Ted Simons: How much time -- So you say the past couple years, was that a good enough amount of time, or was more time needed?

Denise Birdwell: It's kind of a mixed answer. In other words, this is one of these reforms that's not funded. So how are schools going to get the work done? So you built it into the concept of work, the natural process. As we look to the curriculum we began to look at those standards. So is there enough time? Yes, and no. Because we couldn't pull teachers out and pay for professional development and training. So we did have some difficulty with that.

Ted Simons: What about equipment and infrastructure?

Denise Birdwell: Oh, absolutely. You really nailed it there. One of the issues that we face is the subject of materials and supplies. Without capital funding we're not adopted any new textbooks. I probably haven't adopted any in my district in eight years. You can take the old materials and align it to the new standards. In addition to that, remember the assessment is coming here in a year, and when that assessment comes, it is technology driven. So is your infrastructure ready?

Ted Simons: Are the tests all done on computers?

Denise Birdwell: They are.

Ted Simons: Every --

Denise Birdwell: grades two through .

Ted Simons: My goodness. And that means -- So the essay form responses, you're right there in front of the keyboard.

Denise Birdwell: It's even greater than that. What you're doing is saying to a second grader that you need to be able to drag and click and copy, you need to be able to scroll down the computer and so these are skills that our students need to be taught, but they need the availability to work with computers to prepare for that test.

Ted Simons: Do all school districts have the equipment, the computers needed for the tests? And for the instruction?

Denise Birdwell: No, they do not. And that is one of our problems, in Arizona, if we look at our infrastructure and particularly rural districts in Arizona, they don't have all of the technology needs. It's not just the computer. It's the lines coming to the school. It's having the internet access in all the different points we need it.

Ted Simons: What are they going to do? How do they adjust?

Denise Birdwell: That's a state issue, and it's being discussed on many levels. I know the state is well aware that we need something to support these schools. In addition to that, it's also been looked at financially. We're talking about millions of dollars to prepare the technology assessment side. So throughout Arizona school board association, Arizona school business association, $250 million to get Arizona ready in the area of technology.

Ted Simons: And again, you mentioned earlier this is essentially unfunded, sounds like it's an unfunded mandate. What kind of costs are we looking at here?

Denise Birdwell: Well, just the cost of getting the teachers ready. When you talk about professional development, training, potential materials, assessments at the district level so our kids have a chance to practice that type of testing prior to a state examination. You're talking about $150 million that has been projected by the organizations who have looked at this and including the department of education has taken a look and said, it's about 150 to $160 million.

Ted Simons: Is the state ready to pay for this?

Denise Birdwell: We haven't heard where the funds are coming from.

Ted Simons: Yeah, that's what I'm wondering. I'm hearing the numbers, but not where they're coming from.

Denise Birdwell: Absolutely not.

Ted Simons: So we just basically wait and see -- You're going to have to get by this first year, just to figure out where things stand.

Denise Birdwell: Yeah. Well, here's the deal. We know that it was a movement that came out of the governor's office. We know it was adopted by our board of education. As educators we begin the work. We pull teachers together, we build it into the natural process of doing business. We know it's costing us, but the reality is, it is -- The commitment that we make to students.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, bottom line, does this, will this make for better educated students?

Denise Birdwell: I believe it will. And I think when we look at the survey across the nation, you find over 75% of the superintendents across the nation have said, they believe it will raise the education of children. And it's moving us in a couple different directions as well. One, we're going to raise the level of our students in the preparedness for college and career readiness. But there's another aspect. I look at the mobile society. And I look at how many families move from place to place for the economy. And in that regard it helps close that gap. So today in Arizona I'm in a math class. Sixth grade. I move to New Mexico for work because the construction market has dropped. The student should expect, I can pick up where I'm at and continue my learning.

Ted Simons: It's funny you bring that up. I think one of the biggest criticisms of hear of common core is that it's a pseudo national, pseudo federal program, takes control away from Arizona, there's some people -- Still, the idea that it takes control away from local. How do you respond to that?

Denise Birdwell: I don't think it does. When we talk about standards, standards are inviting principle. But when it comes to how do you teach, what is the curriculum you use to teach that standard, that's a local control. So your local governing boards, your local teachers come together to build that material. I don't necessarily teach with the same materials that are being taught in the neighbor district mechanics to me. Gilbert and Higley are not exactly the same. But the standard in which we're teaching, that is aligned, and that helps close the educational gap.

Ted Simons: But districts can't say no to this. Correct? This is a done deal for Arizona school districts it.

Denise Birdwell: Was adopted by the state board of education, and when it's adopted by the state board of education, we teach the common core. So no, we don't say no.

Ted Simons: You better get used to it.

Denise Birdwell: You better get used to it.

Ted Simons: It's good to hear from you. We'll see how it works. It's kind of exciting having this thing roll out.

Denise Birdwell: It's good for kids. It is exciting, and I think teachers are embracing it.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Home Ownership

  |   Video
  • President Barack Obama’s speech in Phoenix focused on homeownership. Mike Orr, Director of Arizona State University’s Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice, will talk about the president’s plans to improve homeownership.
  • Mike Orr - Director of Real Estate Theory and Practice, ASU
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: obama, phoenix, homeownership,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. President Obama's speech yesterday in Phoenix dealt with increasing homeownership opportunities for the middle class. Last night on "Arizona Horizon," we looked at the speech from a broad angle. Tonight we focus on the president's specific ideas for strengthening the housing market. Joining us now is Mike Orr, director of ASU's center for real estate theory and practice. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. Your thoughts on the president's speech?

Mike Orr: It was quite a bit of different areas he covered. The ones that interest me are the ones which the president can actually make happen himself without getting the approval of Congress. I was focused on his ideas for making it easier for first-time home buyers to get loans approved. He did say he thought too many people with decent credit were getting turned down, and I was glad to hear that, because I agree. I think I'd like to help first-time home buyers get into a home, that they can own, I think that's good for a economy -- Rather than young people being long-term renters.

Ted Simons: Let’s go back to the president's speech and take a look at what he had to say regarding initial programs that were put in place to help strengthen the housing market. Here's the president.

Barack Obama: Less than a month after I took office, I came here to Arizona and I laid out the steps to stabilize the housing market and help responsible homeowners get back on their feet. And the truth is, it's been a long, slow process. The housing market is so big, that it was going to take some time to heal when it got hurt that badly. It's taken longer than any of us would like. But during that time we helped millions of Americans save an average of $, each year by refinancing at lower rates, we helped millions of responsible homeowners stay in their homes. Which was good for their neighbors, because you don't want a bunch of foreclosure signs in your neighborhood. We worked with states to force big banks to repay more than $50 billion to more than 1.5 million families, the largest settlement in history. We extended time folks had lost their jobs could delay their payments on mortgages-- While they kept looking for work, we cracked down on the bad practices that led the crisis, led to the crisis in the first place.

Ted Simons: We hear a long, slow process according to the president, some of his critics would say that would be generous at best. Why so long, why so slow?

Mike Orr: The slowness I think is typical of big, new complicated government programs being introduced in an area where we've not seen anything before. And at the same time in Arizona we have a very fast foreclosure process. So we basically -- Basically the original scheme was introduced too slowly and relatively ineffectively, whereas hundreds of thousands of people were getting foreclosed very quickly from 2007 onward. So that initial program really didn't have a great deal of effect in Arizona. The one area which he mentioned I thought was affected was relatively late in the program, introduced late 2011, which was the refinancing program. And that did help a lot of -- I have friends who were helped by that, where they were too far underwater to get refinanced, but when that came, if the loan was owned by Freddie or Fannie they could get the refinance.

Ted Simons: Were some of the other programs, were they just slow to start but now they're picking up speed? Or were they slow to start and they faded?

Mike Orr: Sometimes they were too complicated, the banks had to cooperate. We had lots of people working in areas that they had never been familiar with. So we'd never really experienced this volume of foreclosures. This complexity. Often you're trying to get something like a short sale approved, you've got so different people that have to get agreement and none of them had done it before. So it just took -- When we first started short sales it could take a year to get everything lined up. And now we're actually pretty efficient at short sales, but they're starting to disappear. We don't have that many of them to do anymore.

Ted Simons: The idea of extending the time the unemployment can take as far as delaying payments, did that make a difference?

Mike Orr: I think they all made some difference, but relative to the scale of the problem, it wasn't really preventing the issue. And we've really had a lot of pain we've gone through, probably one in four families in Phoenix area have been through either a short sale or foreclosure in the last five years.

Ted Simons: When the president says the housing market is beginning to heal because of some of those initial programs, you grew with that?

Mike Orr: I think it's not the primary reason that it's healing. It's healing because of natural market forces. Most of the bad loans have been through a foreclosure or short sale don't exist anymore and the loans written since 2009 have been written to very high underwriting standards and are very unlikely to become delinquent. So eventually gone from a very poor quality loan situation to a very high-quality loan situation. And as a consequence foreclosures are dropping below normal as we go forward. And that's healthy for the housing market.

Ted Simons: Let's take a look at what the president had to say, we just looked at the initial programs, how they fared and his assessment, let's hear about some of his newer ideas. Here's the president again.

Barack Obama: I believe that our housing system should operate where there's a limited government role and private lending should be the backbone of the housing market. And that includes by the way, community-based lenders who view their borrowers not just as a number, but as a neighbor. So that's one principle. A second principle is, we can't leave taxpayers on the hook for bad decisions by some of these lenders or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. [applause] We've got to encouraging the pursuit of profit, but the era of expecting a bailout after you pursue your profit, and you don't manage your risk well, that puts the whole country at risk. And we're ending those days. We're not going to do that anymore. [applause] We should preserve access to safe and simple mortgage products like the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. That's something families should be able to rely on when they're making the most important purchase of their lives.

Ted Simons: All right. Your idea -- We'll start with the last one -- Preserving the 30-year mortgage. Make sense to you? Can you do it?

Mike Orr: I think all of the things he said there are actually good. They make sense. But getting there from where we are now is pretty tough. We've become almost addicted to government providing security and backing up the lending industry with guarantees or should be buying the mortgages from the banks when they're written. And it's got to such an extreme that about 80% of all the mortgages are being -- Involve government guarantees or being purchased by Fannie or Freddie. And weaning off that towards more private sector finance is going to take a lot of effort and thought.

Ted Simons: There are ideas regarding government -- The mortgage bond investors maybe paying a fee, so if losses do pile up the fee was somehow cover the losses -- It sounds like you're moving the beast from one spot to another. Is it feasible, is it likely, is it viable?

Mike Orr: It needs an enormous amount of willpower and determination, probably a lot of bipartisan support, too. So I'm a little skeptical that it can get done, certainly within Obama's term, or even in the next years. I do agree it's a good thing. I think we've swung far too far in terms of having the government involved in housing. Where I grew up in Britain, the banks lent the money, they took the risk. If the loans didn't work out that was the bank's problem, the government usually didn't bail them out. And I think we've got -- We had a big problem because the banks were lending and they knew they weren't really going to pick up the risk if it went bad. The government was going to cover a lot of that.

Ted Simons: The president did mention a senate plan, and the president did -- He wants a push to wind down Fannie and Freddie. First of all, were you surprised to hear that?

Mike Orr: I was surprised it came out so black and white. Unequivocal, saying we should get rid of them in time. I still don't see a clear path to achieve that, though. The -- If we lose them overnight, where are all the loans going to come from? The housing market would freeze up, all these people that -- He was talking about helping would not be able to get enough money lent by the private sector. So we have to be weaned off it. It's almost like a -step program from getting off an addiction. I haven't seen the first step yet, but I do think -- I'm encouraged everybody is thinking about it, because I do think carrying on as we are is not practical.

Ted Simons: Regardless of how fast we get there or maybe considering how fast we get there to weaning us these government-backed securities and such, impact on credit.

Mike Orr: Well, yeah. The free flow of loans to home buyers is essential to the housing market actually operating. And where do you draw the line in terms of -- Where do you draw the line in terms of the quality of the credit of the person you're going to lend to? At the moment I think most people would agree the banks are being fairly cautious. If you look at who's getting the loans, the people with credit scores of and above, not many people below that are getting approval and those that are having to jump through lots of hoops to provide documentation.

Ted Simons: Is that getting better?

Mike Orr: Very slowly. I think what the president was saying, this is where I would agree, if Fannie and Freddie and FHA can simplify their rules, get rid of red tape and get that down to a more normal level, we went from one extreme of two lax rules to very strict rules, I think there's a Goldilocks level we should strive to get to, where we're approving those responsible people and not approving the people who are irresponsible.

Ted Simons: I think some folks are looking for a Goldilocks level as far as price increases are concerned. Things are going way down or way up, right now we're going up.

Mike Orr: Right.

Ted Simons: How healthy are things? Let's talk about the Phoenix market.

Mike Orr: Well, appreciation is right about 20% at the moment over last year in terms of overall sales prices. That's pretty strong. But we're no longer the most extreme. Most of last year Phoenix was the number one in terms of sales price appreciation, but several other areas are moving faster than we are, particularly in California.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Mike Orr: I think we started moving up first because we got through our foreclosure crisis first. But now other areas are doing the same and they have severe limitations on how fast they can increase their supply. Once the bank-owned homes are dried up, their only source of new supply is new builds. And if you're in somewhere like San Francisco or San Jose, there's not much land left to build on. Even if the builders want to build. Home prices accelerating like crazy in silicon valley, where not only have you got shortage of land, lots of people with good stock options wanting to buy houses. So it's very much a seller's market.

Ted Simons: As far as the Phoenix area is concerned, things settling down a little bit, and that's a good thing?

Mike Orr: We're still going to see home prices increase, but at a slower rate going forward. A little bit more normal, settled. But I -- I don't think we're going to see them come back down again from where they are now.

Ted Simons: Mike, good stuff. Good to have you here.

Mike Orr: Thank you.