Raising Expectations – April 2012

Has Education for Arizona Students been “Dropped?”  It’s Up to Us to Expect More.
by Pearl Chang Esau, President and CEO, Expect More Arizona 

Last Friday, Morrison Institute for Public Policy released a new report called, “Dropped?” highlighting that Arizona’s economic future is at risk if we fail to address our Latino education attainment gap   We couldn’t agree more.  Ensuring high expectations and a high quality education, birth through career, for all our students must be Arizona’s top economic priority.

The report, supported by the Virginia G. Piper Trust and the Helios Education Foundation, is a follow-up to the 2001 publication, “Five Shoes Waiting to Drop.”  Published more than a decade ago, the report asserted that while Latino youth were upwardly mobile, in 2001, only half of all Arizona Latinos obtained a high school diploma.  The report sounded a warning call that without a concentrated effort to provide educational opportunities for our state’s young Latino students, Arizona’s future economic and social well-being would be severely compromised.

Fast-forward more than 10 years, and while there have been many bright spots, we have not succeeded in moving the needle in a significant way on educational progress among Latinos. Meanwhile, the Latino population continues to grow and become a more significant economic determinant for our state.

For example:

  • In 1980, Latinos made up 16% of Arizona’s total population.  Today, that number is 30%.  Latinos will eventually comprise a majority of Arizonans and comprise a larger share of state leadership, workforce and tax base.
  • Currently, there are more Latinos under the age of 18 than Caucasians.  There is little doubt that Latinos are the workforce of the future.
  • Projections show by 2030, the combined average income for Latinos and Caucasians in Arizona will drop to $32,423, down from $39,667 today if income and education trends continue.

Although this report draws attention to the overall need to strengthen Arizona’s education system, it is really more of a dire economic warning than a traditional education report.  It also highlights the fact that while we knew the issue was upon us a decade ago, we haven’t made the necessary systemic changes to address the issue and close the achievement gap that we know exists.

So, why haven’t we? We all want a bright future for our state and for our children, but the challenges of raising the bar for Arizona education and closing the achievement gap for students growing up in low-income communities are complex.

Ensuring a world-class education for all Arizona students will take building a statewide movement of public awareness, deeper understanding of the issues, and a willingness to take ownership and action.  It will take hundreds of thousands of dedicated Arizonans who are passionate about ensuring the best education possible for students, especially those most at-risk, and who are willing to ask our leaders to do the same.  As parents, we need to make education the top priority in our homes and stay engaged at every step.  As students, we need to strive for excellence and work hard.  From our leadership, we need the willingness to make necessary investments in education, hold a long-term view, and to work collaboratively.  Perhaps wise words for all of us come from a plaque that once sat on Ronald Reagan’s desk: “There’s no limit to what we can accomplish if we don’t care who gets the credit.”

Real change will start with each of us.  As the mother of a one year-old, I believe it’s important we are willing to advocate for outstanding educational opportunities for other children as we would for our own.  As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, and someone who grew up learning English as a second language, I also believe that we must value culture as an asset.  Our Latino, Native American and other minority youth possess wonderful cultural strengths that can be cultivated through an outstanding education.  Only by viewing culture as an asset, while holding high expectations for all students, will we truly maximize our youth’s potential and contributions to this great state.

We must act now.  We simply cannot let another generation of students go by.  Our state’s economic development and the quality of life for all Arizonans depend on our high expectations and our willingness to act with urgency to provide quality education to all students.

Let’s make sure that ten years from now, we are not gathered together again to hear another report telling us worse news.  The title of this report, “Dropped?” is purposefully framed as a question.  Let’s make sure the answer to the question is a resounding, “No. Absolutely not.”

To read the full report, click here.

To read an op-ed about the findings by Judy Jolley Mohraz, President and CEO of the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and Paul Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, click here.

Education in Arizona
Part One in a Three Part Series

Education in Arizona is multi-faceted with many moving parts and key stakeholders.  Starting with early learning, moving through K-12 and into postsecondary education, the education continuum works together to prepare students to thrive in college, career and life.

In the coming months, Expect More Arizona will explore K-12 education, early learning and postsecondary education in an effort to provide resources for parents and families to make the best education decisions for their children. As the largest part of the education continuum, we will explore Arizona’s K-12 system first.

Expect More Arizona recently sat down with Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal to get his firsthand perspective on K-12 education in our state.

What is your vision for education in Arizona?
My vision is a major paradigm shift in how we prepare Arizona students for career and college success. Each year, the economy is becoming more dynamic, globally interdependent and information-driven. To meet the demands of the 21st century, ensuring student proficiency, not just adequacy, in core areas like math, reading and writing is critical. But it’s not enough.  To succeed, students graduating from high school must be tech-savvy, task flexible and critically thinking, adaptive problem solvers.

Here’s the reality: Arizona students, on average, remain significantly behind their state and world peers in academic achievement. Unlike states at the top of the education ladder, too many of Arizona’s families face enormous socio-economic, cultural and geographic challenges.  It is my job, the education community’s job, and parent’s and guardian’s job to help them overcome those challenges. Optimizing our current kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) education system, alone, won’t be enough to help our students catch up.

The system itself needs to change. Classrooms which successfully align enriching instruction with innovative technology (blended learning classrooms) and team-based learning environments are showing promising results. That’s the direction Arizona needs to go. That’s the direction I’m going with the Department.

How do you intend to realize this vision?
By uniting and mobilizing the education community behind a common purpose: to ensure all of Arizona’s students graduate from high school college- and career-ready. We’re partnering with education stakeholders, at all levels, to share resources and move Arizona forward.  We must come together as an education community to create transformational schools, schools structured around implementing research- and results-based best practices; teaching critical, deep thinking skills; and using blended learning environments.   We must have schools that are publically willing to be accountable to parents and students.

You say education needs to substantially change from its current form. How would you characterize education today?
Too many schools are still organized around a 19th century classroom structure rooted in America’s agrarian past – when schools were designed to accommodate farming schedules. While the world changed around it, the classroom structure in most schools froze in time. Just as it was in the late 1800’s, in a typical classroom you’ll still find neat rows of 20 to 40 students facing a teacher who follows a prescribed semester lesson plan established around an “average” learning pace for students at a particular grade level.

This classroom structure is fundamentally flawed because we all know that children are unique. They learn at different rates and come to class with—often significantly—differing levels of knowledge and skills.  This one-size-fits-all classroom structure creates a system of winners and losers.  Some children can’t catch up with the teacher’s instruction and others wait for the teacher to catch up to them. Unfortunately, both types of students disengage and eventually get left behind.

What are some of the problems associated with our current education system?
Only 78% of Arizona students graduate from high school.  Sadly, many of those graduates still lack the fundamental skills necessary for employment let alone success in college.  According to the Arizona Board of Regents, only 46.5% of Arizona high school graduates are eligible to attend an Arizona public university. Think about that. The majority of our high school graduates lack the necessary education to be admitted to, let alone thrive in, an Arizona public university. Another 24% of students accepted to Arizona universities are admitted with academic deficiencies and require remediation in basic skills like writing, English and math.

Businesses tell a similar story of employees with high school diplomas lacking a proper education in fundamental writing, English and math skills. Ultimately, this means fewer employment opportunities for Arizona children upon high school and college graduation as many companies are unwilling to relocate to a state with a workforce lacking proficiency in subjects that should have been learned in elementary school and high school.

Clearly, tinkering around the edges of improvement won’t be enough to help Arizona high school graduates catch up. We need big, impactful change.  That’s why we’re piloting transformational schools, raising academic standards, and providing schools with increased support to meet the higher standards.

Speaking of standards, what do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities with Arizona’s adoption of Common Core Standards?
Arizona’s adoption of Common Core Standards represents a significant opportunity to move Arizona forward, to better prepare students to succeed in college and in their careers. Aligning teacher lesson plans, classroom materials and how teachers instruct their students with these new, rigorous standards requires a tremendous effort, but will result in a momentous change in how schools are organized to educate children.

More important than setting the bar high, though, is building the “ladder” schools, teachers and students need to reach it. That’s the job of the Arizona Department of Education: to provide educators with the training and support they need to meet the tougher standards and increase student learning.  Since taking office a little over a year ago, I’ve been reorganizing the Department to do just that: provide better support and more efficient service to schools, teachers and administrators.

Any last thoughts?
It is important, no, it is imperative, for all of education’s many diverse and important stakeholders to come together with a singular, overriding purpose: to better prepare students for the challenges of an economy where how you learn and what you’re willing to learn (educational flexibility) is just as important as what you learn.


STEM Education and Innovation at Home

Did you know that the cell phone you have in your pocket has more computing power than NASA had when they landed a man on the moon in 1969?  Technological innovation is the knowledge of the future and we must help ensure our children are ready to create, discover and innovate.

One way to foster innovation in your child is to encourage an interest in STEM education.  STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math,  and education in the STEM fields has been shown to help develop problem-solving, logic, collaboration and communication skills among students.  It also helps students to think creatively about the world around them.

Parents play a critical role in helping their children get excited about STEM education.   Here are five steps to help parents and families create a science and technology environment outside of school:

  1. View science and technology TV with your child.  Engage in discussions about what you viewed afterward.   For example, PBS has many science and nature programming including:  NOVA,  Nature and Sid the Science Kid. And, they have a great online tool to help parents & teachers find content to share with students.  In addition,  the Discovery Channel show called “Mythbusters” provides  a fun look at science and often incorporates elements of physics, chemistry and mathematics as part of the experiments.
  2. Try a science experiment at home.  For example, pick up a bag of French fries from your favorite fast food restaurant.  Put them in a jar and close the lid.  Observe how long it takes for the fries to develop mold.  This is an indication of how many preservatives are in the food.  (This can also help to start a discussion on healthy eating habits!)
  3. Visit the Arizona Science CenterChallenger Learning Center, Biosphere II or the Lowell Observatory with your family.  Explore each and keep tabs on future exhibits that might be of interest to your child.
  4. Use building blocks, puzzles, cards and board games for family activities.  Games help develop logic and critical thinking skills which are components of STEM education.
  5. Engage in conversations about science-related topics with children in a way that pertains to everyday life experiences.  The Arizona SciTech Festival has lots of information and resources on year-round science activities.

In addition to creating an overall interest in STEM education, there are ways to create math appreciation in your home.  Click here to learn about how to incorporate math in fun and creative ways.

By fostering innovation and creativity, we prepare our children for the world of the tomorrow.  Who knows, your child might develop the next iPhone, find a cure for cancer or help put an astronaut on Mars!


Getting Ahead – Access to Higher Education and Degrees
by Dr. Rufus Glasper, Chancellor, Maricopa County Community Colleges and Dr. Tom Anderes, President, Arizona Board of Regents

After several years of intense focus, Arizona’s higher education productivity push – that is, increasing innovations and collaborations among community colleges and universities that result in more students obtaining a degree at a lower price point and in less time – is paying off.

New data shows that the number of students transferring from a community college to a university is up by nearly a thousand over the last two years, from 8,995 in 2008-09 to 9,784 in 2010-11.  The same goes for the number of Arizona community college transfer students who were awarded a bachelor’s

degree from one of Arizona’s state universities; that figure has jumped from 5,772 in 2008-09 to 6,471 in 2010-11.

Much of the progress made in these two categories can be attributed to an increase in the collaboration between Arizona’s community colleges and universities to get more students completing degrees through the Getting AHEAD (Access to Higher Education and Degrees) project, prompted by the alarming reality that Arizona lags the nation in the percentage of adults with a higher education degree while the majority of the jobs in the 21st century will require post-secondary training.

To meet that educational and economic demand, Arizona’s higher education leaders have forged new partnerships that allow for a seamless transition from a community college to one of the universities, established new locations around the state for students to obtain a bachelor’s degree and expanded online degree offerings.

There are now more than 1,200 pathway programs between Arizona’s community colleges and universities, many of which offer a prescribed set of courses that keep students on track toward their degree and offer guaranteed admission into a university.  In some cases, students can save up to 50 percent on the cost of a bachelor’s degree and complete it without ever having to leave a community college campus.  NAU-Yavapai and ASU Colleges at Lake Havasu City are examples of new university locations offering select bachelor’s degrees with a lower tuition rate than at the main university campuses.  And, in the case of NAU-Yavapai, students have the option of completing their degree in three years.  Approximately 12,000 students are taking advantage of these new access points.

Although Arizona’s higher education landscape looks much different today than it did just a few years ago, this work means little if we don’t continue to work in tandem with leaders across the entire education continuum to raise awareness about the opportunities that exist in higher education and the importance of planning for college and career.  Only through that communication and collaboration will we ensure a strong pipeline of students moving from K-12 to higher education and ultimately positively impacting our economy.

An important resource for students and parents in that process is the website www.aztransfer.com.  Just as the name indicates, this website helps students transfer from high school to community college to university.  It provides valuable information about how students can earn college credit while still in high school, how community college courses transfer to a university, what pathway programs are available and how to apply to a degree program.

The impact of this work can best be described by the students it affects.  Take it from Christy Ortiz, a mom of two from Southern Arizona who recently received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education through a Cochise College/University of Arizona partnership.  “As a wife and mother, I assessed my options and was not fond of having to move or spend hours traveling to a main university campus.  I really enjoyed the versatility of the small, interactive classes.  Getting a degree is really within reach, now more than ever.”

Whether you are still in school, looking to advance your career skills, or are ready to take that step toward completing your degree, Getting AHEAD is making it more convenient and affordable for Arizonans to complete their educational journey and embark on their career. We encourage all who can benefit from these resources to take advantage of them and to spread the word to family and friends.

Dr. Rufus Glasper is chancellor of the Maricopa County Community Colleges District. Dr. Tom Anderes, is president of the state’s public university governing system, the Arizona Board of Regents. Both serve as co-chairs of Getting AHEAD. www.GettingAheadAZ.org.  Get all the latest news about the project on Facebook at “Getting Ahead – Access to Higher Education and Degrees” and on Twitter at @GettingAheadAZ.


Learn More
In addition to the Dropped report, discussing Latino education in Arizona, Excelencia in Education has also recently launched a new report called Latino College Completion in 50 States. This report provides state level snapshots about Latinos in the educational pipeline, the equity gap between Latino’s and whites in achievement and examples of evidence-based practices increasing Latino degree attainment.  The report also makes recommendations on how to increase Latino degree attainment.  Click here to read more.


Do More
Building a world class education system is going to take all of us engaging in education and helping to learn more about the issues and support the effort to strengthen education.  Expect More Arizona has a calendar and list of education-related activities posted on our website.  We encourage you to visit the events calendar and get involved in activities that interest you.  Also, if you know of an education related event or activity that should be added,  you can add it to our online events calendar by clicking here.


Expect More
Each year, the state’s best spellers in grades K-8 come together for the Arizona Spelling Bee to determine who will represent Arizona in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Hosted by Eight, Arizona PBS, the Arizona Spelling Bee is taped at the Eight studios on the downtown Phoenix campus of Arizona State University.  The Spelling Bee originally aired on Tuesday, April 17 but you can watch it online by clicking here to watch the spelling bee online and see students who E-X-P-E-C-T more!