PHOENIX – When several new education reforms become law in late July, Arizona legislators and other state officials must seize the opportunity to improve student learning, says a new report from the Goldwater Institute.
“During the 2010 session, the Legislature embraced some innovative ideas that already are improving student learning in other states,” said report author Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., Goldwater Institute vice president for research. “But this is the first step of a journey. Ultimately, the goal of these reforms is to change the culture of public schools so they focus on improved learning for every child, whether they are at the top of their class or the bottom.”
The report, “On the Road to Excellence: Next Steps to Match Florida’s Success in Educating Children,” says Arizona policymakers will have to resist the pressure to weaken these reforms during implementation. After a decade of reform, Florida’s fourth-grade students have improved their reading test scores by 20 points, which is the equivalent of moving up two entire grade levels.
The Arizona Department of Education now will have the chance to carry out similar reforms, such as providing clear descriptions of a school’s performance with letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F; requiring third graders to read before entering the fourth grade; and offering tests for career professionals to teach in public schools.
Dr. Ladner notes there are at least two additional Florida reforms that Arizona lawmakers should consider in 2011. To reduce the number of third-grade students who are held back, Florida has required extensive teacher retraining in the fundamentals of reading instruction. Dr. Ladner recommends that Arizona schools use existing teacher professional development funds to contract with private companies for affordable online training programs to equip teachers with more effective techniques.
Florida also has tied additional funding for schools to improved student performance. As one example, the report explains that Florida schools and teachers earn bonus money for each student who passes an advanced placement exam. Dr. Ladner recommends that funding for K-12 education in Arizona be linked directly to student achievement and sent directly to schools – bypassing bureaucratic school district offices – to improve the chances that the money actually will make it to classrooms.
The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.