Arizona education policy gets C-minus; still enough for 8th place

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Audrey Beardsley, associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said Arizona’s education policies align well with the goals of StudentsFirst, which gave the state a C- less but still ranked eighth in the country. (Photo from Cronkite News Service by Kirsten Adams)

An advocacy group gives Arizona a C-minus in a national education policy bulletin, but notes the state has made progress on reform and has room for growth.

In fact, Arizona ranked eighth in the report by Students first, who noted how well their public school policies follow the group’s platform.

Eleven states received Fs, while none received As.

StudentsFirst, led by former Washington Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, praised Arizona for building momentum in its public schools by elevating education. The report also says the Arizona rating has benefited from recent policy changes, including the adoption of better educator ratings, new common baseline standards, and increased transparency in school performance information.

As Arizona’s education system often scores low in national assessments, the experts here weren’t surprised that the state is doing well with StudentsFirst, which they say is quite conservative in its outlook. .

“When you read a report with the name StudentsFirst on the top, you don’t need to open it because you’re going to already know the types of results you’ll see – it’s so predictable,” said Audrey Beardsley, professor. associate with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University.

Rebecca Gau, Director of Arizona Governor’s Office of Educational Innovation, said the report’s assessment was mostly accurate when looking at the criteria of what the organization values.

She said it was “just nice to see Arizona at the top for once,” even if that means a C-minus.

However, Gau said there were a few “glaring mistakes” that lowered Arizona’s ranking, including not recognizing the state’s scholarship account for struggling families.

Pearl Chang Esau, President of the Education Advocacy Group Expect more from Arizona, said the report provided a solid description of the state’s progress in public education. But she said Arizona can’t stop there.

“The next two or three years are so important for Arizona to really step up and make sure that we don’t just put in a bunch of policies,” Chang Esau said. “Time will tell if we can improve the ability of schools to reach the next level. “

Arizona's rating by StudentsFirst.  (StudentsFirst Graphic)

Arizona’s rating by StudentsFirst. (StudentsFirst Graphic)

Tracey Benson, Director of Communications, Arizona School Boards Association, said it is difficult to compare the report to Arizona’s education reform plan, which does not fully align with StudentsFirst’s goals.

“StudentsFirst is proposing very specific policy changes,” she said. “We have our own measures of success.

Arizona groups such as the Arizona School Boards Association have been working in recent years on more aggressive plans to improve public education, hoping to meet those goals by 2020.

“Our state needs to prepare students for college and careers and focus on closing the achievement gap that we know exists,” said Benson.

Critics of StudentsFirst claim that its platforms to elevate education, empower parents, spend wisely and govern well are not tied to state policy goals and may not deliver the results that students need to be successful.

Beardsley said other variables need to be taken into account when assessing state performance.

“At the end of the day, [Arizona] still has very low test scores, ”she said. “We always have problems with the effectiveness and quality of teachers, especially in areas where the need is dire. We still have really struggling bilingual students in some of our schools. We still have some issues to deal with.

A StudentsFirst grade card by state.  (StudentsFirst Graphic)

A StudentsFirst grade card by state. (StudentsFirst Graphic)

Arizona Notes:

• Overall: C-less

• Use ratings for staff decisions: C-plus

• Effective teachers: C

• C-less alternative teacher certification

• Give parents information: C-plus

• Increase quality choices: D-less

• Provide comparable resources for all public options: F

• Promote governance structures that streamline accountability: C

• Spend taxpayer resources wisely to improve student outcomes: B

• Make teachers’ pensions transferable and equitable: D


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