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>

With over 150,000 English language learners (ELL) attending Arizona public schools, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins was correct to say these students need help "as soon as possible."  But the funding distribution plan he devised won’t get the job done.

Collins ordered that $21 million in fines accrued by the state be dispersed to schools according to ELL enrollment. If carried out, the ruling will increase supplemental funding for each ELL student from roughly $360 to about $500. Governor Napolitano would like that amount to be closer to $1,300.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne appeared on Sunday Square Off this week to reassure viewers, despite what they may have heard, that Arizona students score above the national average on tests. Well likely hear the same message when Mr. Horne delivers his State of Education speech later today.

In other words, dont worry, be happy!

Republic columnist Jon Talton recently used his Sunday column to describe a school-choice program that passed the Arizona Legislature with bipartisan support as "right-wing utopianism." ("As Democrats go, Napolitano makes a good Republican," Oct. 9). Researchers familiar with the academic work on choice programs have tired of such ill-informed rhetoric.

About 15 years ago, the Center for Law in the Public Interest convinced a federal judge that the state should equalize funding for all Arizona public school districts. As a result, today every public school district receives a minimum average of $8,500 per student, and that was supposed to help districts better educate students.  Now the Center wants another federal judge to suspend the AIMS graduation requirement for English Language Learners until funding reaches some undefined level of "adequacy."

A national effort known as the 65-cent Solution would require school districts to spend at least 65 cents of every dollar "in the classroom," and is expected to be on Arizona's 2006 ballot.

The idea behind the initiative is that too much money is wasted on top-heavy administrative functions and too little money is spent on student learning. There is certainly truth in that. Proponents hope the mandate will ensure that money actually reaches students. Unfortunately, those hopes are unlikely to materialize.

In an unprecedented move two weeks ago, the ACLU, the People for the American Way and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed the first- ever legal challenge to a school choice program for children with disabilities. There are four such programs nationwide that have flourished without legal challenge. Opponents are also challenging a similar scholarship program for children in foster care.

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.

Few developments in education have blasted through the status quo like Sal Khan’s “Khan Academy.” What started as a collection of instructional videos on YouTube to help his 7th grade cousin with Algebra is now a website featuring 3,400 videos on everything from logarithms to art history.

Defining Ideas

If you were designing a K-12 education system from scratch, with no preconceived notions, and taking full account of the breathtaking technological innovations that have made possible a high-quality, highly personalized education for every child, what would that system look like?

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