Raising Expectations – August 2011

School’s In Session.  Make A Commitment to Student Success.

As students across Arizona make their way back to the classroom, it’s a perfect time for families to discuss the importance of academics and to set high expectations.  Studies show that parents who are actively and consistently engaged in their child’s education have a positive and powerful impact on student success.

Expect More Arizona consistently champions that high expectations start in the home.  If you have kids in the Pre-K through 12 continuum, here are a few easy steps you can take to create a high expectations culture in your home:

  • Make student academic success a priority in your home with “school-first” policies. That’s means school comes before athletics, entertainment and work.
  • Get your student to school daily on-time, well-rested and fed with a healthy breakfast.
  • Talk to your student about the importance of postsecondary education regardless of grade and help connect how what they are learning today moves him/her toward their college and career dreams.
  • Talk to your student about what s/he is learning in school everyday.  Ask questions so that s/he has to explain subjects and happenings.
  • Set aside time and a quiet space for nightly homework.  Even if you don’t know how to do it, ask questions and show interest in what s/he is learning.
  • Be a consistently encouraging and positive voice of support.  Give “kudos” when your student does well and offer additional guidance when s/he is struggling.

Expect More Arizona will be providing even more relevant information to parents and families throughout this school year.  Stay connected by visiting ExpectMoreArizona.org regularly and connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter.  If there are topics you want us to cover to help support your student’s success, please let us know.

Why Postsecondary Education is Important and College is Worth It

On May 15, 2011, the Pew Research Center released a study entitled “Is College Worth It?” which discussed the results of surveys done with college presidents and the general public on the value, quality and mission of higher education.

According to the Pew Research Center study, a majority of Americans say that the higher education system fails to provide good value for the money and a declining share of Americans agree that a college education is affordable. However, of the college graduates surveyed, an overwhelming majority say college has been a good investment for them personally.

In today’s global economy, graduating from high school and going on to postsecondary education is critical for students to have the greatest professional options and opportunities. College is one of the many pathways and other postsecondary programs teach students the skills they need to pursue a specific career such as nursing, mechanics or computer technology. If the skills and abilities of two prospective employees are equal, often a college degree or other postsecondary education can be the determining factor for who gets hired.

Some current questioning about the value of college has stemmed from the difficult job market in recent years and rising tuition costs.  However, despite the currently tough job market, it is worse for those who did not go to college. The graph to the left shows the unemployment rates for workers 25 and older by education level, illustrating how people with advanced education are unemployed at much lower rates than those without it.

In addition, college graduates generally earn more money than those without a college degree, and that difference in earnings has widened in the last few decades: the inflation-adjusted pay of college graduates has risen, and the inflation-adjusted pay of every other group has fallen. Without question, quality of life, income, and opportunities continue to be directly linked with educational achievement.

Additionally, a survey of recent graduates from the Heldrich Center at Rutgers has determined that college is, in fact, “worth it.” Nearly three-quarters of recent graduates said they believed their degree was as valuable now as they thought it would be when they first enrolled in college. Additionally, respondents said that their college education did well in preparing them to be successful in their job after college.

Although some may ask the question, the conclusion is clear: postsecondary education is worth it. If we give every Arizona student the option to pursue some form of postsecondary education, more will have access to the best opportunities and a higher quality of life. It’s our job as Arizonans to ensure our students are ready and able to succeed by raising expectations for our students, our schools and ourselves when it comes to education in our state.

Voting 4 Education – At Every Level of Elected Office

As some cities across Arizona are preparing to elect new Mayors and City Council members, it is critical we continue the conversation about electing leaders who value education and will make it a top priority for their administration. All Arizona elected leaders have an obligation and responsibility to help improve education and our Mayors have an excellent platform to reinforce the importance of education for a community’s economic development and quality of life for its citizens.

If your city has a primary Mayoral election on August 30, take some time to ask yourself these four questions about the candidates to determine their commitment to education:

1. Is education one of their top two priorities?
2. Have they supported policies that positively impact the biggest issues affecting education in our state?
3. Have they supported investing resources in education to support Arizona’s long-term success?
4. How do they challenge Arizonans to expect more and do more for education?

In addition, once you have cast your vote, it is critical we hold our elected leaders accountable for their support of education. Here are four ways to show that you expect more:

1. RAISE YOUR VOICE – Hold your elected leaders accountable to making education a priority.  Contact them to let them know how you feel about their support of high quality education for our students.
2. SIGN ON – Sign on to The Arizona Education Commitment to show your support of Arizona’s constitutional prioritization of education.
3. JOIN THE CONVERSATION – Stay informed and engaged by participating in the discussions on Facebook, Twitter, and the Expect More Arizona Blog.
4. RALLY YOUR NETWORK – Make sure your friends and family are registered to vote and encourage them to “Vote 4 Education” in every election.

Regardless of what office candidates are seeking, they have a role in improving education and helping to make it Arizona’s top priority. When you vote early or visit the polls on August 30, be sure to Vote 4 Education!

Creating a Spark: Science Foundation Arizona Graduate Students Take the Challenge to “Educate, Translate and Communicate”
Science Foundation Arizona

Last October hundreds of Flagstaff fifth-graders gazed into the dark night sky at distant stars with their self-built “Galileoscopes.” Seven months later, in May, many of those same students peered through jewelers’ loupes to study, up close, what they soon learned was the inside skeleton of a prickly pear cactus. Several of the 10-year-olds told Barbara Hickman, superintendent of the Flagstaff United School District, that it looked like the same lens was used in both programs.

“They pulled together these disparate elements to make the leap,” she says. “They understood the connection with optics.”

On May 23, nearly 600 students in 20 Flagstaff classrooms had the chance to make this and other connections with the help of about 60 Graduate Research Fellows (GRFs) from Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. These fellows, backed by Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz), described their research projects to elementary and middle-school students as part of this year’s SFAz Grand Challenge Summit. The title and goal of this third summit: “Educate. Translate. Communicate.”

This teaching experience “was my favorite part of the conference,” notes Tyler Norton, a GRF from ASU. “I always look forward to an opportunity to work with children and try to give some insight into what I do as a researcher. I think I enjoy it because I know how much I would have liked to have that experience as a young student.”

But Norton and the other GRFs did something more. They used the exercise of analyzing a mysterious object with a magnifying lens to show and explore how scientists think. They asked them to come up with analogies to explain what they were seeing. One student said that the skeletal structure reminded him of the weaving in a quilt. Another saw interconnecting highways. A third envisioned blood vessels.

“We tried to give them the message that scientists think in the same way they do, just in finer detail,” explained Norton, whose research involves high-temperature gas separation with membranes. “Everyone’s research can be explained to a fifth-grader as long as you break it down.”

This was just the kind of experience that Superintendent Hickman believes can help educate and inspire students in a world with increasingly complex problems. “How do we do better than teaching to the test?” she asks. “How do we encourage innovation? How do we encourage creativity rather than kill it?

“A program like this is important in all of our schools,” Hickman adds. “It’s good to talk through why you are interested in things. Part of the beauty of science and math is to think about unanswered questions.”

Hickman also has taken advantage of an SFAz grant to incorporate optics and astronomy into the curriculum with student field trips to the Challenger Space Center in Peoria. This is part of her ongoing effort to more fully integrate education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) throughout the district’s schools. “There is strong community interest in Flagstaff for supporting STEM education,” she says.

For Norton, who looks forward to teaching again, he was excited by the possibility that his efforts with one class of fifth-graders made a difference. “Hopefully it will provide a spark for a few students. As these kids enter middle school, maybe their interest in science and math could change because they see that people can and do use it in the real world to solve real problems.”

Click here to learn more about Science Foundation Arizona and STEM education across our state.

Measuring Quality in Early Childhood Education

Quality early education is critical to ensuring that Arizona’s students have a strong foundation for future academic success. The learning begins long before students enter kindergarten; in fact, learning begins at birth. Ensuring that young children have access to high quality learning environments is critical.

First Things First recently released their first early childhood policy brief, Measuring Quality in Early Childhood Education. The report is a primer to help our community better understand the need to assess and support the improvement of childcare statewide and what that improvement means to our children’s future. Specifically, the policy brief outlines the measurement of quality in Arizona’s early learning settings and discusses current efforts to improve that quality.

According to the report, high quality early childhood programs are defined by several characteristics:

• Responsive and engaged teachers that support a child’s learning
• Indoor and outdoor environments that are safe
• Predictable and balanced daily schedules and routines
• Evidence-based, culturally sensitive curriculum
• Supportive assessments of each child’s progress
• Ample opportunities for family involvement

While the ultimate goal would be for every early care provider to meet all of the above characteristics, the availability of these features differ from provider to provider. The main reason for the differences is cost. Preliminary studies indicate that higher quality care does cost more – the average annual operating cost for a quality, medium sized center-based early learning program was $6,142. The highest quality programming cost $12,916 – more than twice as much.

In addition to discussing the definition of high quality early education programs, the report also discusses a new statewide effort to recognize and measure quality. Currently, 45 states are in some stage of implementing quality ratings and improvement systems (QRIS) for their early child care providers. Under the leadership of First Things First, Arizona is one of those states.

The Quality First Rating Scale, which uses a 5 star scale incorporates evidence-based predictors to measure quality. Three tools are used for assessment purposes and support is available to programs to help them meet the requirements for a higher level rating.

As the first step in the education continuum, high quality early learning is critical. With the introduction and implementation of Quality First, Arizona is providing our youngest children with the foundation they need for later academic success.



NPR Explores the Causes and Impact of America’s Dropout Crisis

One of the most complicated and challenging issues in education today is understanding the high school dropout crisis.  In Arizona, nearly 30% of students drop out before graduating.

According to The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Graduates, there isn’t one single reason why students drop out of high school.  The decision to drop out is complex and relates to the individual student – and their family, school and community.  The decision is personal, reflects their unique life circumstances and is part of a slow process of disengagement from school.

National Public Radio (NPR) launched a special series exploring the dropout crisis through the stories of five people.  They explore, not only the price high school dropouts pay, but also the costs to society as a whole.  NPR cites some staggering statistics that underline the profound emotional and financial costs of dropping out:

  • The unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma is nearly twice that of the general population.
  • Over a lifetime, a high school dropout will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate and almost $1 million less than a college graduate.
  • Dropouts are more likely to commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, become teenage parents, live in poverty and commit suicide.
  • Dropouts cost federal and state governments hundreds of billions of dollars in lost earnings, welfare and medical costs and billions more for dropouts who end up in prison.

Click here to explore the series and discuss the dropout crisis on the Expect More Arizona blog.

Learn More
As the governing body of Arizona’s state universities, the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) recently produced a video outlining “A new reality for Arizona,” detailing some of our state’s current economic and quality of life challenges, and the need to increase degree attainment as a key contributor to a stronger, more prosperous Arizona. The video points out that, six years after high school, only 17% of Arizona students have a bachelor’s degree. Since the fastest growing careers require a postsecondary education, Arizona will need to do better to attract those jobs and industries to our state.  Click here to view the video and to join the conversation.

Do More
With the new school year in session, consider donating school supplies to local students and classrooms to help ensure every classroom has the tools they need to provide a high quality education for all students.  Contact local schools in your neighborhood to see what they need.  Items may include:  backpacks, crayons, colored markers, pens pencils, folders, notebooks, books, and more.

Expect More
Teachers at Verrado Elementary School are working on raising expectations for their students by pursuing National Board Certification.  National Board Certification is the highest professional certification a teacher can achieve.  Referred to, by many in the program, as a “journey of excellence,” the National Board process is one of the most comprehensive and effective forms of professional development available to educators today.  More than 80% of Verrado Elementary teachers have elected to take on the challenge of National Board candidacy.   Leaders in education in Arizona recognize professional development of teachers as the single greatest game changer in the classroom. It’s a simple, proven equation: the better the teacher performs, the better the students perform.