Report gives Ariz. education mixed grades
Arizona Republic
Jan. 7, 200


by Ray Parker

Arizona education gets high marks for holding schools accountable and for rigorous student standards, but once again the state pulls a failing grade in financing schools.
The assessment is contained in a report called "Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population," released today by Education Week magazine.
This year the annual report added English-language learners to its analysis of states' efforts to hold schools accountable for educating all students. English-language learner students increased nationwide by 57 percent between 1995 and 2005 and now number about 5.1 million.

The report concludes that while most states have taken steps to address the increasing English-language learner population, many have varying degrees of success.
In Arizona, about 10.7 percent of the state's 163,165 English-language learner students progressed into regular classrooms, compared to the national average of 12.9 percent, for the 2006-07 year.
"(There's a) mismatch between the supply of ELL specialists and incentives to attract them," said Amy Hightower, deputy director of the Quality Counts survey.
But while Arizona's numbers lagged, the state is the only one to have taken steps in several areas to attract English-language learner teachers for the 2008-09 year.
Those steps include statewide English-language learner teaching standards and incentives for teachers to earn certification. In return, teachers must demonstrate competence through periodic testing. In addition, English-language learner students are now taught for 4 hours a day, a significant increase from the previous 30 to 60 minutes a day.
Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of schools, said he expects future evaluations to improve because of the changes.
"We are about to experience a skyrocketing in reclassifying our ELL students into (English) proficiency," Horne said.
He added that the latest state Department of Education figures show English-language learner students progressing by 22 percent for the 2007-08 year, or double the previous year cited by the Quality Counts report.
It remains to be seen whether the state can afford to continue the progress. The Legislative session begins Jan. 12 and lawmakers will have to cut at least $1.2 billion from the current budget. The Arizona School Boards Association says cuts to education are inevitable since K-12 schools make up 43 percent, or more than $4 billion, of the entire state budget.
And that was one of the biggest criticisms in the Education Week report, which gave the state a D+ in school finance.
In the student-spending subcategory, the report ranked Arizona last in the nation with $7,112 per student, according to Education Week's formula, compared to a national average of $9,963, for the 2006 year.
While state Education Department figures typically show even lower numbers for Arizona student spending, Horne did not dispute the Education Week data and said he would continue to push for more funding.