Education in Arizona – Quality Early Learning
Second in Three-Part Series
Arizona’s current and prospective employers express great concern about the availability of a skilled and knowledgeable workforce pipeline within our state. In order to keep Arizona competitive we must equip students with 21st century skills, such as the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, communicate, collaborate and adapt to ever-changing environments. These are the skills that will set our students apart from their national and international peers. The goal of our education system should be to prepare our students to thrive in college, career and life.
Preparing kids to be college and career ready upon high school graduation starts earlier than we may think. Studies show that high-quality early childhood education helps prepare young children to succeed in school and become better citizens; they earn more, pay more taxes and commit fewer crimes. In addition, every dollar invested in quality early care and education saves taxpayers up to $13.00 in future costs (Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment). It is clear, early learning lays the foundation for long-term academic success and is a solid investment with proven economic and societal rewards.
There is great momentum in our state around this first stage of the education continuum. In 2006, voters in Arizona created First Things First, a citizen’s initiative that provides funding for quality early childhood development and health services for Arizona’s youngest children.
First Things First entrusts local communities to plan and administer what works best for the children in their community. These local communities work through Regional Councils which are designed to reflect the local community they serve, working to ensure Arizona’s youngest children enter kindergarten healthy and ready to succeed. Council members have direct responsibility to: collect information on the strengths and desires of their community; prioritize the specific needs of children from birth through age five; plan how to address those needs; choose who to partner and collaborate with to ensure success for the children in their area; and make funding decisions necessary to carry out their plan. Council members also participate in community outreach to educate community leaders, public policymakers and the general public about First Things First and the importance of investing in early childhood.
In addition to First Things First, the Arizona Department of Education provides leadership and support to schools, organizations, educators, families and communities in implementing programs that assist children birth – 8 to become successful lifelong learners. Through this work, they administer the Head Start State Collaboration grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services to establish linkages among Head Start, childcare, social welfare, health and state funded preschool programs.
There are many local non-profit organizations In addition to First Things First and the Arizona Department of Education, such as Southwest Human Development, the Association for Supportive Childcare, Valley of the Sun United Way, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, United Way of Northern Arizona and others that play a leadership role in ensuring Arizona’s children have access to high quality early learning opportunities.
Quality early education is the essential first step in a world class education for all Arizona students and for a productive 21st century workforce. While we have a lot of momentum, early childhood champions continue to need our support in building public awareness. Let’s continue to stand behind them and lend our voices and actions to lift up our youngest kids.
Click here to read part one of Education in Arizona.
A few weeks ago, TIME Magazine reporter Joe Klein visited Arizona and chronicled his tours to the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa and a Career and Technical Education program at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta. What he saw was impressive and inspiring and illustrates how making education relevant to students helps to create engaging learning environments and prepare students for success in postsecondary education.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides an additional pathway for students to continue their education after high school. About 27% of students in Arizona opt for the CTE path, and research shows they are more likely to score higher on state tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education. In addition, CTE often teaches students the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the workforce. (National Research Center for Career and Technical Education). For example, research such as the Harvard University study, “Pathways to Prosperity”, states that U.S. employers complain today’s young adults are not equipped with the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century workforce. They highlight another study which concludes that more than half of high school graduates were “deficient” in such skills as oral and written communication, critical thinking and professionalism.
CTE programs offer opportunities for students to learn these skills and, ultimately, become better prepared to take advantage of the options and opportunities that will be presented to them throughout their life. For many students, career focused education that integrates work and hands-on learning is an effective way to learn. Not surprisingly, young people who have been in programs teaching them about “working life” and soft skills as well as career training and experience often do better at finding jobs (Pathways to Prosperity, page 20).
The bottom line is, regardless of what path our students choose, postsecondary completion must be the new norm for all Arizona students. Whether it’s a certificate, license, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, our students need to complete additional education after high school and, as the TIME article shows, Arizona has some bright spots to celebrate.
Summer break is a welcomed annual event for students, educators and parents alike. We look forward to getting out of town and taking much-needed vacations or simply long weekends at home, engaging in leisure activities that are not otherwise possible between September and May. Yet, the break also serves as an opportunity to preserve the year’s academic lessons and continue teaching moments for students.
Research shows students lose a great deal of what they’ve learned over the course of the school year during the summer months if they are not engaged in ongoing learning. Known as the “summer brain drain” students who do not have access to mentally stimulating lessons can forget as much as two months’ worth of their academic knowledge – the equivalent of almost 25% of what they’ve learned over the course of the year. Learning loss is greatest in math, one subject in which we can ill afford to lose ground. The loss is even more significant for low-income children.
However there are ways that parents and families can incorporate fun and easy learning into summer activities. Our website has tips and tools for parents and families, such as grade-by-grade milestones that support your student is meeting the benchmark skills for their age and grade and our interactive College & Career Planning Guide. We encourage families with middle school aged kids and above to use our guide to start conversations and explore experiences that will help your student get excited about and begin planning for possible career interests.
In order to help parents and families stay engaged in their child’s education, and keep their children learning over the summer months, we compiled some summer fun activities to keep kids of all ages learning and to avoid the summer brain drain:
To reinforce language arts skills:
- Participate in Governor Brewer’s Summer Reading Program.
- Select one book to read out loud as a family
- Create a reading fort or corner that is a designated reading spot
To keep science skills and interest:
- Create a backyard volcano
- Plant a garden that can be tended
- Learn a constellation
- Collect and sort interesting rocks
- Track the weather
- Do a science experiment
To practice math:
- Watch a baseball game and track the statistics
- Heat up the kitchen with math in cooking/baking
- Go shopping to mix and match different prices and discounts
- Calculate time and mileage
To reinforce social studies skills and learning:
- Research your family genealogy
- Host a geography bee for your child and their friends
- Explore each day in history to discover historic events
To keep arts and creativity flowing:
- Host a neighborhood clothesline art show
- Encourage your child to take photos and build a summer collage
- Attend an arts performance and create your own performance at home
- Build a mural of natural materials from summer trips, park visits and the backyard
Make your road trip educational:
- Play a “What Would You Do” game to get your child thinking
- Write a travel journal
- Explore a museum in depth
- List the license plates seen and research that state
Arizona’s economic growth and prosperity is contingent on a highly skilled and educated pipeline of students who graduate from college with the skills and knowledge needed to compete, contribute and succeed in the 21st century global economy. Additionally, current projections are that two-thirds of future jobs will require a college degree or advanced training. However, Arizona is ranked 43rd in the nation for high school graduates who go directly to college.
Given these statistics, College Access and Success programs play an increasingly important role helping students prepare, transition and succeed in postsecondary education. College Access and Success programs assist students to gain the knowledge and skills that have been proven to increase access and success in higher education including academic preparation, fostering college aspirations, assisting students with the college admissions and financial aid process and navigating the often complex path to college.
The Governor’s Office of Education Innovation recognizes the importance of these programs and provided the financial support through the College Access Challenge Grant to the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education to develop the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN). The network is comprised of college access and success professionals and supporters committed towards a common vision of doubling the number of degrees and certificates earned by the year 2020 in Arizona. Key to achieving this goal will be to increase the number of underserved students served by college access programs that attend and complete a postsecondary degree. By creating a collective community comprised of college access professionals and supporters AzCAN hopes to support collaboration and communication, disseminate resources and research, and provide professional development opportunities for its members.
Right now AzCAN is currently comprised of 110 member organizations collectively working to help students access and succeed in higher education. Those in the community and school system providing college awareness, career exploration/advising, financial aid advising, mentoring/tutoring, admissions advising, college planning, grant/scholarships, parent advising or are preparing students to become college and career ready in some fashion are members of the Arizona College Access Network. Also invited are those who support or sponsor college access programs and their efforts to help students become college and career ready.
A new interactive website was designed to provide college planning information for students and parents in order for them to learn how to pay and plan for college, find information about potential careers and find a college access program that may fit their needs. Students and parents can search for college access and success programs by the region they serve, the services they provide, or their eligibility requirements. The website also provides information regarding Arizona’s current education initiatives, a directory of college access program information, past award winning college access programs, research and resources regarding college access and information to help and support foster/homeless youth. All of these resources and more can be found at WWW.AZCAN.GOV.
With Teacher Appreciation Month and the 2011-2012 school year coming to a close, it is important to recognize the exceptional teachers that challenged us and set the high expectations that we worked hard to reach each year. With that in mind, each of us on the Expect More Arizona team wrote a short memory of a teacher who inspired us. Click here to read the post and to add a memory of a teacher who changed your life.
In the most recent “Nation’s Report Card,” Arizona students ranked among the lowest in the nation in science proficiency. In fact, the report noted that forty-four percent of Arizona students lack basic knowledge of science. Science achievement is particularly important as it is in an indicator of college and career readiness and workplace preparedness. The report showed the Arizona isn’t the only state struggling with science achievement. In fact, there were only slight gains nationally in the area of science education.
Sharing Expect More Arizona with your Facebook friends is as easy as 1-2-3. Click here to learn how to share in three quick & easy steps, and to find other ways share Expect More Arizona with your friends, including on Twitter. The more people we can engage in the movement for education in Arizona, the louder our collective voice will be.
Congratulations to all of the 2012 graduates! You are an example of expecting more of yourselves and working hard to achieve your educational goals. As you start your career and/or continue your education, we wish you success, happiness and high expectations. You are an example to our state and we are proud of your commitment and achievement!