Academic performance improving in Arizona
Arizona Republic
Sept. 16, 2007

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As state superintendent of schools, I am pleased to report that Arizona schools are improving in academic performance. The latest news is that our SAT scores are again better than the national average, while 29 percent more students are testing, due to our efforts to encourage more students to strive for college.

A guest column appearing in the Aug. 26 Arizona Republic, "State students improving in reading but too slowly," was based on a report last June by the same author, who got his statistics all wrong and which I have refuted in detail. (See www.azed.gov/statisticalresponse.)

I have been working hard and fighting hard for high standards, accountability of schools, teachers and students to meet those standards.

"Progressive" educators, on the other hand, believe there should be no standards. My public response to this has been that this produces graduates lacking in the knowledge needed for the modern economy and for citizenship.

Here are some of our achievements:


 Standards: Working with task forces of high-quality teachers, and with the state board, we have reformed standards to make them much more. The chief historian of the History Channel held a press conference and stated: "In developing the Multimedia Classroom, we analyzed the history curriculum of every state and it was Arizona that stood head and shoulders ahead of the other 49."


 Accountability: Two years ago, we had 81 schools that were in their second year of being underperforming. A third year of being underperforming meant that they were subject to state takeover. We sent highly trained Arizona teachers and principals to work with those schools. Seventy of the 81 raised their test scores enough to become performing schools. The remaining 11 became subject to state takeover. Nine are now performing.


 Accountability of students: We insisted on keeping the schedule for the requirement that students pass the AIMS test to graduate. Principals and teachers from all over the state have called me to tell me that they have never seen the students work so hard.


 Classroom discipline: A high priority has been an initiative for strict classroom discipline. Strict classroom discipline is a necessary precondition to academic achievement.


 Parental choice: I have been a strong supporter of the charter movement since I was a legislator in the 1990s. As chair of a conference committee, I killed the Hartley amendment, which would have limited the growth of charter schools. Since then, Arizona charters have grown to where we are clearly the country's leader in parental choice.


 Artificial barriers to becoming a teacher: If you have content knowledge and want to switch careers to teaching, you no longer have to go back to school for two years. Now, we have an "alternate pathways" program under which you can take a six-week course in teaching methods, become a full-time paid teacher immediately and continue to take courses while teaching to obtain full certification.


 Bilingual education: We have eliminated the failed experiment of bilingual education for English-language learners and are insisting that they learn English as quickly as possible so they can compete academically.

Despite Arizona's status, which we hope will change, of being 49th out of 50 states in funding per pupil, our emphasis on academic rigor in the classroom is paying dividends. Arizona students perform above the national average in the SAT, the ACT, the TerraNova (taken by all students from second through ninth grades), and in RAND and Standard & Poor studies of the National Assessment of Education Progress adjusted for demographics.

There's more to achieve, but let's not ignore the legitimate good news.