A- for Horne
Jan. 7, 2004
Schools chief started strong, with room for improvement
We haven't actually seen Tom Horne's calendar or Palm Pilot.
But we imagine that Arizona's superintendent of public instruction must have one
that's set up to track daily progress on long-term goals.
And we say: so far, so good.
Horne can put a check mark next to goals he set when he took office a year ago.
From making the Department of Education more user-friendly to pushing
English-immersion programs, he has stayed focused and made big strides.
He headed off a meltdown of two highly charged programs: the AIMS test and
The AIMS test was restructured to better match Arizona's standards. If it's
easier, it's still a basic check of knowledge that high school graduates should
have. Horne also successfully lobbied for revised school-accountability
standards, a bit looser but more useful.
As for his long-run success in those areas, it's still up in the air. We'll have
a better idea in the next year or so, as AIMS finally becomes a graduation
requirement and the state identifies failing schools that require intervention.
For 2004, Horne has another set of ambitious goals. These are among the most
For schools: Solutions Teams, administrators and teachers with strong track
records, are fanning out to advise schools in danger of being labeled as
failing. Horne is wisely trying to build a consensus on the sensitive question
of how the state should step in if a school just can't improve.
For teachers: All 1,800 Arizona schools will get a chance to piggyback on the
Reading First program. Just 63 schools are part of the $100 million, six-year
federal program, which trains existing teachers to teach reading. The Department
of Education will help other schools use components of the program and tap
funding to pay for it.
To groom better principals and administrators, the department is working with
stakeholder groups to develop an Arizona School Leadership Academy.
Horne also wants to develop a statewide mentoring program to give new teachers
more support, reducing an attrition rate that costs us 30 percent of teachers in
their first five years in the classroom.
For students: As a fervent believer in a classic, well-rounded education, Horne
argues that every student should learn about the arts. He's especially jazzed by
a program called Opening Minds Through the Arts, which puts music, dance and
drama in elementary schools. A study of five Tucson schools that tried the
program linked the arts education to higher academic performance in other
subjects, particularly among Latino students. The Department of Education has
landed $1 million in federal funding to bring the Opening Minds program to other
schools in a pilot project, and Horne hopes to round up more money from
businesses and foundations.
Early-childhood education is the one point on which Horne is conspicuously
silent. He says he's leaving the field to Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has pledged
to offer proposals for preschool and all-day kindergarten.
Getting children off on the right foot, from the very beginning, may be the most
important step to improving education in Arizona.
Horne's proposals are invigorating. They take a vision of what our students can
accomplish and supply the practical road maps. But the route won't be complete
without attention to the early years.