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Arizona schools finish near bottom in national report card on education

WASHINGTON – Arizona schools were ranked in the bottom 10 states in a national report Thursday that gave the state a below–average grade in student achievement, teacher requirements and state spending, among other areas.

Arizona finished 44th in the annual report that measures state education policies and programs – a slight drop from its standing in last year’s report.

But Arizona was not alone: The report’s authors said 25 other states saw their scores drop because “the economy is having an impact.”

“A number of states had to cut programs due to budget constraints,” said Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate for the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which produces the report. “They just don’t have the money or they have to use the money for other purposes.”

Arizona earned an overall grade of C–minus, below the national grade of C. The state rose above the national average only on academic standards and assessments, but fell short in all five other categories.

Andrew LeFevre, spokesman for Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, said it is not surprising that Arizona did not score highly in all categories because the state has locally elected school boards, unlike some other states.

“(The report) is certainly something that we’ll be taking a look at,” LeFevre said. “I don’t think we’re going to be basing our educational policy off of a report like this.”

The report is based on a national survey that was taken in the middle of last year. LeFevre said the survey may not have reflected policy changes that the state is in the process of implementing in areas where it scored poorly, including new teacher and principal evaluations.

Arizona’s B-plus for assessments and accountability recognized the state’s success in implementing subject standards for language arts, math and science classes. Its assessment procedures help focus on school accountability, through statewide rankings and assistance for poor-performing schools.

Lloyd said all school systems did fairly well in that category – the overall national grade was a B – largely because of assessment requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Otherwise, Arizona did not do so well, earning grades of C to D-minus for K–12 achievement, opportunities for success based on family income and school enrollment, school finance, education alignment standards and teacher quality.

The state recorded some of the worst figures in the nation in subcategories for overall education spending, postsecondary education and efforts to improve teaching, according to the report.

Joe Thomas, vice president of Arizona Education Association, said the state’s rank in the report was disappointing, but justified, considering the categories where it scored poorly.

“Those are issues that Arizona is struggling with, so it’s understandable to see where that number comes from,” said Thomas, whose 31,000–member teachers union is the largest in the state.

Arizona schools are operating on 25 percent less money than they did a few years ago, due to the recession and budget cuts that have forced an increase in class sizes and fewer programs for teacher support, Thomas said.

“To be a teacher in Arizona right now – it’s a very frustrating experience,” he said. “There’s just so much that needs attention and we’re so limited on the funds we have right now that it’s going to be another difficult year.”

Arizona’s education report card, which fell below the national average. (Cronkite News Service graphic by Brittny Goodsell)

3 comments

  1. And yet, another link in this same newsletter/email update points to a Mesa charter school operating in an economically-challenged area of the city in which all its 8th graders passed the AIMS, and has other excelling characteristics and ratings. So, money isn’t really the problem, it is? Seems like the APPROACH is all wrong, in most AZ schools. It would help if we had at the top of our educational pyramid a supt. who actually had first worked in the field, instead of a professional politician. Geez…..

  2. We do not have a money problems what we have is a management problem. We think that professional politicians know best. This people have no idea and care less for those that they serve and who they touch by their lack of concern.
    They have no personal needs or are part of the majority that they serve.
    Our director of education has no idea how to manage our school system or it’s finances. The blame is always on the cost of labor not the waste, of the school administration and policies. What we need regular people that knows how to manage their budget and understand that if we don’t have we don’t buy it. While, we maintain the necessities of our needs and do not waste our money in decorations or favors, special interest.

  3. I work with many effective high school science teachers in Arizona and nationwide. They tell me what keeps them in the classroom, and why they leave. It’s usually working conditions in their school that makes the difference. A new report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) expresses this very well.

    Creating Teacher Incentives for School Excellence and Equity,
    by Barnett Berry and Jonathan Eckert, is at:
    http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/creating-teacher-incentives
    Jan. 12, 2012

    Here are two quotes from the report.

    Effective teaching rarely occurs in isolation and is significantly more prevalent in schools where certain conditions exist. Strong principal leadership that supports effective teaching is essential. A safe environment where learning can occur increases autonomy and risk- taking for teachers, likely increasing a teacher’s sense of efficacy. Teachers need access to resources and supports (including inclusive principal leaders focused on instruction as well as other educators from inside and outside the school and opportunities for teachers to learn from each other) to effectively teach the diverse learners in their classrooms.
    ——–

    Effective teaching is not just about a teacher’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions. It is also about the conditions under which he or she works. Motivation to teach is complex, often times intangible, and difficult to quantify. Susan Moore Johnson and others summarize the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that affect teachers. Intrinsic rewards include the pleasure of being with children, the exhilaration of contributing to the learning of others, the chance to develop new skills, and the enjoyment of subject matter. Extrinsic rewards include salary, benefits, bonuses, public recognition, or selection for special responsibilities. These two types of awards are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, interact to influence esteem and efficacy.

    Reseachers at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, an initiative housed at Harvard University, point to the specific working conditions that clearly matter to teachers. These conditions include the school culture, the principal’s leadership, and the relationship among colleagues. Additionally, and perhaps most important to policy makers, students who attend schools with better working conditions also achieve greater academic growth.
    Likewise, the research of Tony Bryk and colleagues concludes that “good schools” are built upon five “essential supports,” which they liken to a recipe for baking a cake. Without each of the ingredients, the whole enterprise falls flat. The conditions for effective teaching they have identified include:
    (1) strong leadership, that embraces principals who are “strategic, focused on instruction, and inclusive of others in their work”;
    (2) a welcoming attitude toward parents, and formation of connections with the community;
    (3) a learning climate that is safe, welcoming, stimulating, and nurturing to all students;
    (4) robust instructional guidance and curricular materials, and
    (5) the development of professional capacity among teachers, especially in teams.

    One essential support—collaboration—seems to matter most for effective teaching. For example, students achieve more in mathematics and reading when they attend schools characterized by higher levels of teacher collaboration for school improvement.
    ———-

    Creating Teacher Incentives for School Excellence and Equity,
    by Barnett Berry and Jonathan Eckert, is at:
    http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/creating-teacher-incentives

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