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Arizona making strides to improve public education

While Arizona has figured prominently and negatively in the national news lately, the national media have overlooked two very positive recent outcomes for our state’s students.

The first was the overwhelming passage — 56-4 in the House and 30-0 in the Senate — of Senate Bill 1040, which sets the state on a path toward effective and useful teacher and principal evaluations.

S1040 is straightforward and sensible. It requires, by Dec. 15, 2011, that the state Board of Education adopt and maintain a model framework for an evaluation instrument for teachers and principals that includes quantitative data on student academic progress and provides for best practices for professional development and evaluator training.

School districts and charter schools alike are required to use that instrument to annually evaluate individual teachers and principals beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

S1040 was actually one of several strong pieces of education legislation passed this past session in Arizona, including: a sensible, transparent school district and school accountability system modeled on Florida’s successful report card; an innovative student-centered proposal to enable high school students to “move on when ready” to pursue post-secondary options with public funding; and a change in the way the state calculates student counts, removing the perverse incentive for districts to keep students in school temporarily to maximize state funds.

On May 18, Arizona voters passed Proposition 100, a one-cent sales tax increase, preventing $555 million in funding cuts to public schools and preserving other vital state services.

And not only did Prop. 100 pass, it passed with 64 percent of the vote.

Arizona has immense and varied challenges, but, as you can see, progress is possible here. Arizona parents and educators are hungry for change. The business and philanthropic communities are aligned and committed to education innovation. A number of elected officials on both sides of the aisle “get it” and are willing to step up and champion sensible changes.

Stand for Children is proud to be in Arizona and to be a part of such productive dialogue and sensible improvements to our state’s education system.

— Jonah Edelman is CEO of Stand for Children, Phoenix

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