The Founders, in their genius, created a government system where our 50 states function as “laboratories of reform.” Arizona can lead the way for other states in policy areas where we excel and build upon other states’ success for our own benefit.
Last fall, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Foundation for Excellence in Education President Patricia Levesque testified before a joint meeting of the Arizona Senate and House education committees. Their compelling data on public school improvement clearly made an impression. Legislators in both the Arizona Senate and House have introduced bills based on the Florida reforms.
Last week in her State of the State address, Governor Jan Brewer called upon the Arizona Legislature to adopt elements of the Florida reform model. Regarding alternative teacher certification, Governor Brewer noted:
Isn't it astonishing that in Arizona today, Bill Gates or Craig Barrett would not be considered qualified to teach students about computer science?
Governor Brewer went on to discuss how school performance is labeled:
I'm urging the Legislature and the state Department of Education to immediately replace our school labeling system.
Our current system rates schools as "excelling”, "highly performing”, "performing plus”, "performing", "under-performing" and "failing”.
Who understands that?
How about this?
We assign simple letter grades—"A", "B", "C", "D" and "F".
Our kids live by those grades every day—so should our schools.
Governor Brewer also emphasized the importance of parental choice, and said the following about social promotion:
We must have the courage to tell parents the truth when their children are not doing well.
Frederick Douglas said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”.
Sadly, too many of our children are still unable to read as they should by the end of third grade.
Yet, we continue to promote them to more advanced classes, knowing that at every step we dim the light of their promise.
We must stop promoting children who cannot read by the end of third grade. And we should know well before third grade those students who are falling behind and get them the help they need.
The Governor’s support comes not a moment too soon.
Regardless of what happens in the difficult legislative session ahead, we will still have a failing school system in place when the budget smoke clears. If we have the courage to embrace reform, we can create an education system that equips young Arizonans with the reading and math skills they need to succeed. The Governor and policymakers who embrace these reforms have our appreciation today, and that of future generations tomorrow.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation
East Valley Tribune: Arizona educators can learn from Florida
Payson Roundup: ACT results show Arizona schools need improvement