Fact or fiction: The educational performance of Arizona students is improving.
To judge from the proverbial champagne corks popping in public schools around the state as a result of rising scores on the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test, one would conclude that schools are doing better at the job of education.
Not so fast. The AIMS results are contradicted by the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress results, which show that Arizona test scores have stagnated.
The NAEP tests suggest that rising scores are not the result of improved student performance, but of watering down the state tests to manufacture better results.
The overall national 2005 NAEP scores in reading are sobering: 38 percent of all American fourth-graders scored below the most basic level, along with 29 percent of eighth-graders.
An analysis of NAEP results by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation labeled Arizona one of six "worst offenders" because their NAEP scores actually decreased while state test scores showed improvement.
By contrast, Florida schoolchildren boosted performance on both state tests and NAEP. Not coincidentally, Florida in 1999 adopted the nation's most comprehensive K-12 education reform, and has since actually strengthened accountability measures, while Arizona has diluted its standards.
Increased choice and competition in education improve educational performance. Arizona should adopt school-choice legislation that allows children to choose private as well as public schools.
Arizona needs to make more educational options available to children who need them most. Such a step would ensure that when we think we're moving in a forward direction, we really are moving closer to our destination.
The writer is a senior fellow with the Goldwater Institute and will be speaking in Tucson at the Goldwater Institute Speaker Series Luncheon December 1, 2005. This article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic , October 31, 2005.
Three years ago this month, ASU president Michael Crow delivered his inaugural address, A New American University, The New Gold Standard. Dr. Crow declared, "I would like to see ASU develop a reputation for its entrepreneurial boldness. The enterprise imperative must become a part of our culture." Hear, hear.
But in an apparent devaluation of the gold standard, Dr. Crow now insists that "this vision cannot be achieved through reduced state investment." As author of The Privately Financed Public University, I selected the University of Michigan as a case study in what is possible when a public university embraces an entrepreneurial approach to fundraising. U-M's experience shows public universities can increase their revenue and reduce their reliance on state funding if they have the will to do so.
Through vigorous private and alumni fundraising efforts, U-M established its core endowment of $250 million in 1988 and increased it to $4.2 billion today. During the same period, U-M completed major infrastructure improvements of almost every campus building totaling $1.8 billion, predominantly funded by non-state sources.
ASU's alumni base is twice as large as U-M's, over one-quarter million compared to 110,000. Yet U-M is doing something right because its graduates are two times more likely to give to their alma mater than ASU graduates.
U-M's example shows that when there is a will, there is a way. Financial self-sufficiency, not taxpayer subsidies, is the true gold standard of new American universities.
- Arizona Republic: "Private funding can lift ASU, UA to new levels"
- Arizona Republic: "Public funding vital to state universities"
-Goldwater Institute: "The Privately Financed Public University: A Case Study of the University of Michigan"
-Arizona State University: A New American University, The New Gold Standard
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recognized Northern Arizona University (NAU) as the October 2005 "winner" of its Speech Code of the Month award. Please hold your applause, though - the award is given to colleges whose speech codes run afoul of the First Amendment.
The speech code prohibits "stereotyping" and "negative comments and jokes." It also includes a laundry list of prohibited topics that might be offensive, such as one's veteran status or sexual orientation. Yet, the First Amendment protects all sorts of speech - including crude and offensive comments.
With its vague language and broad sweep, NAU's policy may be silencing speech rather than encouraging it. While the university may teach its students about manners, university policies must still measure up with the First Amendment.
Of course, universities should protect students against harassment. The Supreme Court has explained that harassing speech may be limited when it is "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit." Unfortunately, NAU's policy isn't so limited in its reach. By prohibiting "stereotyping" and "negative comments," the university bans speech that, while potentially offensive, is protected under the Constitution.
NAU is a public university funded by taxpayers where all voices-not simply the politically correct-must be welcome. It is a hallmark of a free society. Having received its "distinguished" award, perhaps NAU will start over and design a speech code that truly welcomes a wide diversity of speech on campus.
-Northern Arizona University: "Safe Working and Learning Environment Policy"
- East Valley Tribune: "NAU's restrictive speech code is an unconstitutional disgrace"
-Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "Speech Code of the Month: Northern Arizona University"
-United States Supreme Court: "Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999)"
On paper, Arizona's charter law allows multiple charter authorizers: the Arizona State Board of Education, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, and local school districts.
In practice, however, the Arizona State Board of Education stopped sponsoring new charter schools three years ago in a self-imposed moratorium, and local schools districts-limited in part by boundary restrictions-sponsor just 6 percent of Arizona's charter schools. Thus, for all intents and purposes, Arizona has just one authorizer left: the State Board for Charter Schools, made up of 14 political appointees.
Those 14 appointees sponsor 85 percent of Arizona's existing charter schools and are the last real standing body determining which charter schools can expand, and if any new charters will be granted. Today, the State Board approves about half as many applications as a decade ago. More rigorous application requirements may explain part of this decline, but leaving chartering in the hands of a single, politically-appointed board is unwise.
More charter authorizers are needed. Several of the state's top-ranked charter schools report two and three applications for every open spot. Permitting additional authorizers, including non-state agencies such as private universities and colleges, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses like Intel and Google, would help remove chartering from the political process and give more quality schools a chance to open.
-Arizona State Board for Charter Schools: School Search
-Progressive Policy Institute: A Decade of Public Charter Schools in Arizona
- Arizona Republic: "State's rules stifle charter schools, threaten success"
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