Education Reform

Too often, the traditional public-school model fails students and teachers. Charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and merit pay are giving students a better education and teachers a better career.

<p>Too often, the traditional public-school model fails students and teachers. Charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and merit pay are giving students a better education and teachers a better career. </p>

Through the magic of public access television, I recently watched debate before the state House of Representatives on bills to reform the tuition scholarship tax credit program. I’m happy to report that legislators engaged in a substantive discussion and adopted amendments from both parties.

A story last week in the Arizona Republic implied that the loss of state funding for full-day kindergarten will permanently hamper the education of schoolchildren. But this simply is not the case.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, has released the latest test scores for the 2009 reading exams for fourth and eighth grades. Florida hit another home run in improving student performance while Arizona is still waiting in the dugout. Arizona’s fourth grade scores remained unchanged at a low level; Florida’s scores surged ahead.

 

In 2000, Arizona was spending only 57.7 cents of every education dollar in the classroom. That fact helped persuade voters to pass Proposition 301, which boosted the state sales tax to fund classroom spending with higher teacher salaries, more instruction aids and other needs.

During a special session last year, the Arizona Legislature passed a budget provision which said in the event of layoffs, school districts could not use years of service as the only factor for determining which teachers to let go. The Arizona Education Association—the teachers union—is trying to overturn the measure by filing a lawsuit on technical grounds. The union also is opposing a similar measure before the Legislature this year.

Acclaimed historian Paul Johnson has written that it is impossible to know if the fortunes generated by creating empires ultimately outweigh the costs. Regarding Europe, Johnson concluded that the European Age of Empire was ultimately about “colored maps.”

Here then is a colored map for you to consider, courtesy of our friends at the Heritage Foundation, showing Florida’s Hispanic student scores on 4th grade reading compared to the 31 states they either outscored or tied in 2009.

 

Senator John Huppenthal is sponsoring Senate Bill 1286 to label public schools with a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, based on overall AIMS test scores and gains in student learning. The proposal is based on education reforms put in place in Florida a decade ago. There schools with D and F grades have significantly improved when faced with losing students. Arizona schools would do the same.

Arizona’s legislative session is nearing the end, with major education reform legislation pending. Most notable of these is the “Truth in Advertising” bill. Senate Bill 1286 will require the state Department of Education to assign letter grades to Arizona public schools based upon overall performance and academic gains over time. The proposal is modeled after similar reforms in Florida.

This session Arizona lawmakers enacted some of the most far-reaching K-12 education reforms in state history. The changes have received little attention from any Arizona media so far. But you can bet you’ll hear much more as the state implements the new laws.

Ten years ago Florida implemented a set of education reforms that transformed their schools from among the worst performers on national tests to among the best. Several of the bills that Governor Brewer has signed into law are modeled on Florida’s success.

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