Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0108qualityed08.html
Arizona's education improving
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 8, 2004
State still has way to go in many areas report says
Arizona's academic standards are clearer and more detailed than they were one
year ago, but the state is 48th in the country in student spending and woefully
lax in improving teacher quality, according to an annual study that tracks
education policies across the country.
The Quality Counts report, released Wednesday by Education Week, grades each
state on student achievement, academic standards, teacher quality, school
climate and education funding.
Arizona earned its best grade, a B, for academic standards and accountability,
up from a C+ last year.
"We've made major changes in the academic system," said Tom Horne, who took over
as state schools chief last year.
Schools get more credit for students who show academic improvement over the
course of a year, and Arizona's system rewards schools that focus on average and
bright students, Horne said.
Arizona's D and C-, for the adequacy and equity of its education funding,
respectively, is an improvement over the F and D+ of the previous year. But the
state is still at the bottom of the money pile, spending an average of $5,319
per student, compared with $9,555 in top-ranked New York.
For parents like Eric Meyer, who have spent the past two years pleading with
state legislators to recognize the importance of funding education, Arizona's
poor showing is the root of the state's education problems.
"Lack of funding affects everything," said Meyer, a member of the Scottsdale
Parent Council. "If we could meet even the national average for funding, it
would mean another $40 million to just Scottsdale's budget. We could cut class
size and raise teacher salaries."
Horne said that eking more money out of the Legislature this year is unlikely.
"This year, we're playing defense because of the state deficit," he said. "The
main thing is that there aren't any cuts."
The other half of the state's grades held steady from last year: a B- for school
climate and a D- for improving teacher quality.
For some parents, the best way to assure that their children get high-quality
teachers is to participate in the hiring process.
"Our parents are involved in the interviewing and hiring of teachers," said Toni
Napper, a parent who sits on the site council for the Abraham Lincoln
Traditional School in the Washington Elementary School District. "We know at the
interview whether they'll fit into the school climate."
Quality Counts 2004 gathers information from a number of organizations,
including the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for Education Reform, and
the American Federation of Teachers.
This year, the report included a special section on educating special-needs
Federal law says that states must bring virtually all students to a proficient
level on state tests by 2014, an enormous hurdle for the 6.6 million children in
the country who receive special-education services. More than 80 percent of
teachers polled said that most special-education students should not be expected
to meet the same set of academic standards as other children their age.