Monday, March 23, 2015
First is choice. Parents and children need quality choices so that they can choose the education that’s best for them. We are fortunate to live in a state where we have already moved significantly down that path. In Arizona, we have many more choices in education than parents elsewhere in the nation.
Public schools, private schools, religious schools, charter schools, online schools, and homeschooling all give our families choices that aren’t available in many other states. This is a critical element of educational success, and I ask this Board to continue these achievements and – if anything – to accelerate the pace of reforms that give more choices to more families.
Second is excellence. That’s not a word we use enough when talking about our state’s K-12 education system, even though we have three of the ten best schools in the country – Basis Scottsdale, Basis Tucson North and University High School. So we know how to do it. We just need to do it more frequently and more widely.
Despite these successes, we know we are below the mark in relation to other states in student achievement, particularly in reading and math. And our own measurements of success do not provide us the real picture.
For example, when you compare what Arizona reports as proficiency in 8th-grade reading and math vs. what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tells us, that part is a little discouraging.
Arizona tells our citizens that 70% of our 8th graders are proficient in reading, when according to NAEP only 28% of our 8th graders are proficient at reading, 6% lower than the national average. That’s an astounding difference.
Also, we believe our 8th-grade proficiency in math is 59% of kids; NAEP says it’s 31%, 3% lower than the national average. The disparity is smaller, but still way too large.
But there are two major problems with the data:
First, Arizona’s scores are too low – unacceptably low.
Second, we’re giving false assurance to too many parents that their kids are well prepared for college and for life, when in fact they’re not.
So we need to commit ourselves to achieving excellence. And when we see excellence, we should understand who and what creates it and export those best practices to other schools so that they can benefit from it.
This Board – along with my office and the Legislature – needs to design policies that get Arizona on a path to significant improvement in the quality of education. It won’t happen overnight, and it’s a long-term proposition, but it can be done and we need to make that our primary focus.
The third word that I want to emphasize is accountability. It is a word that is vastly under-utilized when it comes to education, and I want this Board to know that it’s a word I take very seriously. We need to set the example by also being accountable. And in doing so, we will create a culture that flows through the education chain to governing boards…to superintendents…to principals….to teachers…to parents …and ultimately to the students themselves.
Where we see mediocrity we should call it for what it is – and demand that the people responsible for that school – from the elected governing board members to the superintendent to the principal and to the teachers – up their game and make meaningful improvements. And if they can’t summon the will to do it, then they should step aside and let someone else take charge who can.
Where we see failure, we can’t sit idly by and do nothing. It’s not the children’s fault that they are locked in a failing school, but our kids are the ones who pay the price for the failure of the adults around them to provide the environment where they can learn. We have a moral obligation to give our kids the best we’ve got.
The fourth word I want to emphasize is results. As you know I come from the world of business, where people are measured by results. Government is a different world, where process seems to be a higher priority and results often take a back seat. We’ve just gone through our state’s budget process, and discussions about education where all about funding.
Between federal, state, and local dollars Arizona is spending approximately $10 billion dollars to educate one million students in our K-12 schools. Now it’s time to focus on how we best use the resources we have. I would far prefer the focus to be “are the kids learning” by looking at outcomes and “are the kids graduating” by looking at our graduation rates. Our children would be far better served by focusing on the answers to those questions than that ones we often find ourselves debating at the state Capitol.
During the budget process, I also highlighted my “Classrooms First” Initiative that emphasized spending money in the classroom rather than on bureaucracy and administration. That focus will be a permanent feature of my administration. We are spending too much money in the wrong places, and not enough in the classroom where it really matters. I ask for this Board’s help in maintaining focus on classroom spending and ensuring that school districts have their priorities right when they’re spending taxpayer money.
The final word I want to emphasize is everyone. All the words I’ve used so far – choice, excellence, accountability, and results – don’t work if they don’t apply to all children in all corners of our state. It shouldn’t matter what your zip code is – if you’re a child in Arizona you deserve our absolute best. We’ve accepted that public education is a key responsibility of the state, and we need to ensure the benefits of our actions apply to all.