Arizona trails far behind other states in terms of public school academic achievement. National comparative data often place Arizona near the bottom of state rankings. Aggregate fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nations Report Card or NAEP, barely budged between 1992 and 2007. Other states, meanwhile, have made substantial progress.
But Arizona lawmakers and educators can turn this situation around. Previously enacted reforms, such as the charter school law, have shown a promising ability to produce exceptional outcomes in Arizona. Nine of the top 10 public high schools in the greater Phoenix area, ranked by reading scores, were charter schools in 2007. Arizona lawmakers can build on this success.
Furthermore, broad systemic reforms enacted in Florida have shown incredible results. The strategy of committing far more resources to private and public school choice and pursuing a more steadfast testing strategy has paid huge dividends in Florida. The average Florida Hispanic scores on fourth-grade reading are far above the average for all Arizona students. Florida's average score for African-Americans has improved to the point that it virtually ties the average score for all Arizona students.
This study lays out four broad education reforms:
First, parental choice in education should be significantly expanded.
Second, lawmakers should reform district school governance. The academic success of charter schools raises the question of whether school district bureaucracies are worth the resources diverted from classroom use. California has established a democratic process for district schools converting into charter schools. Other countries have abolished school districts completely.
Third, because of the dummying down of the AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards) test and the unreliability of the states version of TerraNova, Arizona's system of student assessment desperately requires an overhaul.
Finally, the state must measure teacher effectiveness (in terms of how much students really learn over the course of a year) to improve the quality of instruction.
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