Miserable schools not a myth
May 25, 2008
future, Arizona's economy compromised by low expectations, denial
Bob King, Susan
Budinger and Fred DuVal
suggested in his May 7 column ("Myth of Arizona's miserable schools") that
Arizona's schools are not so bad, teachers are not underpaid, spending more
won't increase student performance and the achievement gap is not as alarming
here as it is in California, Mississippi and New Mexico.
However, more data confirm that we are not adequately educating our young
people, and as a consequence, their future and our state's economy are being
compromised by low expectations, complacency and denial.
Despite passing AIMS exams and earning a diploma, too many students are not
ready for work or college: Just one-third of those entering the Maricopa
Community College System test ready for college-level math, two-thirds test
ready for college-level English and less than half test ready to read at college
level. Nineteen percent of freshmen at Arizona's universities are enrolled in
lower math or English courses.
Robb says ACT and SAT scores put Arizona at "about the middle" nationally. But
just 18 percent of Arizona students take the ACT exam, compared with 40 percent
nationally; just 32 percent take the SAT exam, compared with 48 percent
nationally. Our results are skewed upward and not representative of most
students "graduating" from Arizona public schools.
Robb suggests the 24 percent funding increase since 1986 ought to have resulted
in higher student performance. This presumes that spending in the baseline year
was adequate and that the increases went to the right things, neither of which
To keep up with growth, spending ought to have increased by 40 percent a decade.
Instead, 24 percent over 22 years equates to slightly better than a 1 percent
per year increase (inflation adjusted). This hardly constitutes a significant
investment in anything.
Although teacher quality is not solely about salaries, money gets to the core of
the problem. We don't treat teachers as respected professionals. We pay them
blue-collar wages for work that is critically important to the future of our
Robb blames the high number of minorities for dismal overall student
performance. In reality, economic circumstance is a far more accurate predictor
of academic success than race. Although our poorest kids do fare the worst,
Arizona's non-low-income students rank 39th out of 50 states on NAEP test scores
compared with their non-low-income peers.
We must stop blaming low academic achievement on a challenging set of
Too many of our kids are being let down, and the change needed goes beyond one
We must overhaul the way we educate children for the 21st century. Students
should progress based on mastery of skills rather than on age and time spent.
Our system should draw the best and brightest to the teaching field. Funding
should be increased strategically, with specific goals and assessment tools in
Robb's attempt to paint a not-so-grim picture only underscores our complacency
in our expectations of our schools, our students and ourselves. Making the state
Legislature the scapegoat won't solve the problem, but neither will explaining
away the numbers as mythical.
Bob King is president and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation. Susan
Budinger is founding director of the Rodel Foundations. Fred DuVal is a member
of the Arizona Board of Regents.