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Duncan: This is what I see for the future of education in Arizona

By Barbara Duncan

What do you think Arizona’s K-12 schools will look like in 2031? Does the prospect turn you on or off? After a year of countless hardships for families, we could use a little positivity.

That’s why, this National School Choice Week, I’d like to share why I’m hopeful about the future of education in Arizona.

Before we jump into the future, let’s start by recognizing where we are today: overcoming the pandemic and the educational challenges it has brought. These challenges have been immense, especially for vulnerable students. Yet many Arizona families fared better than most, in part thanks to the choice of school.

When I first started working in education in Arizona, I was blown away by what I discovered: Arizona is one of the 50 most innovative states in learning and choice.

We have traditional public schools with flexible open enrollment, various public charter schools, private schools, magnetic schools, full-time virtual schools, and home schooling – not to mention micro-schools before they go. become a national title.

For years, our schools have been at the forefront of flexible learning, offering blended models, International Baccalaureate programs, early university pathways, collaborative relationships with universities and much more.

The flexibility built into our system has given many schools a head start in responding to the pandemic. It is precisely this innovation that gives me hope that the future of education in Arizona will offer even more student-centered options and smarter learning.

I think the schools of the future may seem even more nuanced than they do today, with more learning modules, more schools offering hybrid models, and more families intentionally using choice. I believe that schools of the future can provide even more learning and career opportunities for students through community partnerships, like the way Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University are already partnering with schools.

I believe that schools of the future can be more attentive to the situation of students in their learning cycle, so that there can be more growth based precisely on where a student starts.

For example, incorporate more multi-age classes. A third year student excelling in mathematics where she demonstrates fluency will be grouped with fourth year mathematics students, rather than taking a course that does not engage her. Students will be empowered to grow at their own pace. This system would not only allow students to succeed at their own pace, but would reduce retention rates.

Maybe such a positive attitude seems unrealistic for parents stuck in a confusing school application process, or their child has had a negative experience at a school that wasn’t quite right for them. As a mom, I understand how critical and stressful choosing a school can be.

Fortunately, there are many great resources in Arizona to help parents find a school that is right for their child now. The best advice I have for parents today is to take advantage of these wonderful resources.

At Choose A School AZ, we run workshops, disseminate information, and help parents with school and scholarship applications. You can also find information on websites such as the state Department of Education,, Love Your School, or the Arizona Charter Schools Association. These can help you think about what criteria are important to you and your deciding factors in choosing a school.

They can also help you understand if you qualify for assistance under the Arizona Scholarship Program, which subsidizes private school tuition for families who meet specific guidelines.

This School Choice Week (January 24-30), the quality school choices and family resources we already have in Arizona are worth celebrating. If we continue to innovate and extend support to families in their choices, the education scene in 2031 will indeed be unique.

Barbara Duncan has worked in education for over 30 years as a teacher, administrator and educational consultant. She is currently the Vice President of Quality Schools for the non-profit organization Choose A School AZ.

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