Raising Expectations – October 2010


Federal studies cite link between poverty and educational achievement

As the economy soured and the number of unemployed across the nation and in Arizona grew, poverty statistics shifted in states across the country. Now, Arizona ranks second, with 21.2% of its population living in poverty, with nearly a third of those children.

Overall, Arizona’s poverty statistic is higher than the national average of 14.3%. Only Mississippi has more poor families, with 23.1% of that state’s population earning income below the poverty line.  The Census Bureau considers an income at or below $21,954 for a family of four within the poverty range.

Numerous studies find there is a clear link between poverty rates, children’s health and cognitive abilities and school completion rates. A federal report from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (Summary Statistics for U.S. Children, 2009) found children who come from low-income homes struggle more with learning disabilities and chronic health problems that impact their ability to learn and stay in school.

According to a National Center for Education Statistics report, a child’s lack of readiness for school by kindergarten age can have a lasting effect that can continue well beyond the early grades. The report, The Condition of Education, finds that young students in poverty are already behind their classmates upon entering school and that more than half will still not meet grade level expectations by 4th grade. The most recent data from the Center’s annual survey found high poverity students in 4th and 8th grade tested well below their counterparts in both reading and math achievement.

“There is broad impact on how poverty affects children – from the conditions in which they live, such as high-crime neighborhoods, transportation difficulties – and parents who are often not home because they work multiple jobs,” said Dana Naimark, CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, a Phoenix-based children’s advocacy group. “All of these things are disruptive for a child and can chill their potential for success.”

Additionally, the latest Condition of Education report found that students from high-poverty schools have lower high school graduation rates (68% versus 91% for their low-poverty counterparts) and have four-year college-going rates that are significantly lower than other students. The survey indicates 28% of low-income students enrolled in four-year postsecondary programs; that figure is 52% of those in low-poverty schools.

“It is going to take all of us in Arizona to help children across the board succeed in school and in life, regardless of income levels or geographic location,” said Nicole Magnuson, executive director of Expect More Arizona. “We need to make education a priority in our state, starting with our youngest residents, to ensure they are healthy and ready to learn, no matter their socioeconomic status.”

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure children living in poverty are provided with access to help that will give them a chance at prosperity – our failure to do so affects all children in the classroom,” added Naimark.


Halloween is this weekend and one Arizona proposition is trying to play a trick on Arizonans by not treating our kids fairly. This time of year, we’re used to seeing costumed ghouls and goblins, and the proponents of Proposition 302 must be getting into the Halloween spirit as they try to disguise the proposition as putting “Kids First.”

Just as our parents made us sort through our Halloween candy to make sure it was safe to eat, we have to comb through our candidates and propositions to make sure we’re not picking something that could cause harm to the children of Arizona. When you pull the mask off of Proposition 302, you’ll reveal a plan to eliminate a statewide program that provides early childhood health & development programs for children ages 5 and younger.

As Expect More Arizona board chair Paul J. Luna wrote on our blog, saying yes to Arizona’s kids means voting NO on 302. The early childhood board, First Things First has provided early health and education to more than 330,000 Arizona children statewide, but faces immediate elimination should the proposition pass. The legislature would sweep its funds into the state’s general fund, with no guarantees that any of the money would be spent on early childhood programs. For more information on Proposition 302, read Paul’s blog post and visit NO302.com.

Arizona’s elections will be held this coming Tuesday, November 2. If you are still unsure of how to vote, we encourage you to visit Expect More Arizona’s “Vote 4 Education” and “Know Your Candidates” pages to make sure each vote you cast will be a vote to support education in our state. It is important to note, if you haven’t mailed in your early ballot yet, they must be received by 7 pm on Election Day to be counted. Don’t risk mailing it too late; you can drop your ballot off at any polling place on Tuesday.  You can also maximize your holiday trick-or-treating by handing out “No on 302″ flyers (download PDF) to your doorbell-ringing neighbors and friends.

In this frightening time of year, it’s imperative we vote only for candidates and propositions that support Arizona’s schools, because there’s nothing scarier than a state that dismisses its youngest children. Leave the haunting to Halloween, and “Vote 4 Education” on Tuesday!

Paid for by Expect More Arizona – Vote 4 Education, No on 302 – Protect Early Childhood Health/Development Funds. Major funding by Expect More Arizona, a fund of the Arizona Community Foundation. The Vote 4 Education campaign is funded in its entirety by Helios Education Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation through Expect More Arizona and does not use public funds.





Hundreds of Arizona business and education leaders gathered on October 5th in Phoenix at a breakfast focused on education, sponsored by Expect More Arizona, in partnership wtih the Phoenix Business Journal and Cox Communications.

The meeting featured Sundt Construction president and CEO, J. Doug Pruitt, who talked about the importance of increasing graduation rates and postsecondary options, including career and technical education for Arizona students. Additionally, the breakfast included a panel discussion on the role of business in education.

Colleen Niccum, vice president of communications for Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, says business must stay involved in education to ensure that students are learning material that will help them build skills relevant to careers of the 21st century. “We can help shape our future workforce – we need to provide as many connections as possible to help them see what they are learning and how it applies to future careers.”

Niccum says the business-education relationship is particularly important now because so much work is done through virtual connections or in teams.  She believes companies like Raytheon can also help teachers determine how best to apply these teamwork concepts in the classroom.

“We need business and industry to guide us by sharing the skills they value in applicants; they must also push for education reform that values investments in education and emphasizes the ‘4 Cs’ – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication – as much as the ‘3 Rs,’” said attendee Lori Rubino-Hare of Northern Arizona University’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning.

Panel member Rich Dozer, chairman of GenSpring Family Offices, says it is incumbent upon the business community to take an active role in raising the bar for and strengthening the state’s educational system.

“Business and education are one – if we don’t do a better job with education – the business climate in our state will go the way of a third world country,” he said. “Education should be the most important thing that we’re doing. We’re spending too much on incarceration and health care costs – those things all go down if we better educate our children.”

To read more about the event and view a slideshow of photos, please click here.


Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) and its public and private partners launched an initiative to develop a statewide STEM Agenda in an effort to provide greater focus to business, philanthropic and educational resources being invested in the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.  It will also formalize a single statewide STEM Network to facilitate high-quality science and math education. Expect More Arizona spoke with SFAz vice-president Darcy Renfro, who also serves as executive director of SFAz STEM Initiatives, about what this means for Arizona school children.

EMA:  How viable is the concept of a uniform focus on STEM education in Arizona?

RENFRO: The time is right – a plan for STEM education has already been drafted for the Race to the Top competition and many stakeholders are on board with this concept. We know that to be taken seriously in the global marketplace, Arizona has to improve student achievement in STEM education. And we have to do it now. Many of the programs and resources we need already exist – it’s a matter of pulling them together and shaping them into workable solutions that will have greater impact.

EMA: What exactly is a “STEM Network”?

RENFRO: The STEM Network will support and coordinate a proactive, integrated statewide approach for Arizona students to succeed in education, work and life through a multifaceted strategy. It will include discovering and developing promising practices both in Arizona and the nation, including the ability to commonly evaluate effectiveness and impacts of various programs, policies and interventions that use evidence to drive decisions.

EMA: How inclusive will this effort be?

RENFRO: To be successful, we have to work as partners in the process and we have to cast a wide net including the private sector, nonprofit groups, state government, local school districts and many other education-related entities.  The process also needs to be streamlined and coordinated. There are so many good examples of innovation and creativity in science and math education.  It only benefits us to replicate those successes statewide and provide options for educators and students. The STEM Network will make it possible to do that.

EMA: You plan to have two work meetings by March. What do you hope to accomplish?

RENFRO: We will be seeking specific input to shape strategic priorities for the Arizona STEM Network. We will also be seeking best practices and local solutions in STEM from teachers, administrators, businesses and local leaders. That information will be valuable to formulating the final business plan to officially launch the Arizona STEM Network.

EMA: How different is this group from anything else out there right now?

RENFRO: The issues around STEM and the need for strong STEM skills to support college and career readiness, personal prosperity and economic growth are not new. What is new is that we are approaching the problem collectively in manner not previously contemplated. We also are constructing the bridge between industry and education to ensure students are learning what they need to build the skill set to help them compete for the very best jobs. If we graduate students from high school who excel in STEM subjects, employers will want to come here to take advantage of the very best and most skilled workforce around. That benefits them and the rest of the state, diversifying our economy and transforming Arizona into a world-class business destination.

EMA: This sounds like it is all about listening and finding real solutions. Is that your goal?

RENFRO: The whole reason for bringing this group together is to show that we are serious about elevating STEM education in this state. Business talks a lot about the need to improve education but often does not know how or where to engage. Teachers have too often been blamed rather than listened to and provided adequate supports to improve student outcomes. Many others in education have been subjected to the “flavor of the month” where rules and regulations in constant flux, forcing too much energy toward compliance and less on creatively solving problems. The STEM Network will provide leadership, support and a platform for reducing to practice what we know can work for students. It will do so with the input and knowledge of all impacted sectors and for the benefit of the entire state. That is a new approach to education.



By Travis Roark, Senior, McClintock High School, Tempe

Whenever I’ve been confronted with the question, “What do you think of this nation’s public school system?” I have never really known how to answer. However, upon seeing the recently released documentary Waiting for “Superman”, that is no longer the case. It has also led me to realize that when asked that same question, the vast majority of people would also not know how to answer. This is simply because of the lack knowledge on the subject. While we do hear a lot about low test scores in Arizona and other states, our education system – which is declining on so many levels – is not something that is as widely publicized. That is precisely why I believe that people should make a greater effort to see this film, so that they may be exposed to the concerns that it addresses.

Waiting for “Superman” brings to light a series of issues that are otherwise unnoticed. The high percentage of failing students our school system cranks out is appalling. Without good, caring, devoted teachers and families, students are likely to be pushed through the system with little to no education. Because of this, in the near future they may wind up trapped in a high school where the dropout rate for freshmen alone is dangerously high.

An already large, and still growing, dropout rate is utterly unacceptable. In our economy today, it is increasingly hard to find a job that requires unskilled workers. Children who have received no education cannot possibly hope to find work, as most career fields require at the very least a high school diploma. With so many open positions, but no workers to fill them, companies are forced to hire foreign workers.

There are many teachers out there who are innovative thinkers and create fun, exciting ways for children to learn. That being said, not all of these teachers work for public schools in Arizona. For those children who show promise and for those parents who are really involved in their child’s education, there are options, but not all children have access to them. We all have to take an interest in what is happening, get involved and demand change.

It is important that not just parents, but every single person in this country be aware of the nation’s public school problem. Children’s education affects us all so therefore we are all responsible for finding a solution. If not, the future generation will result in uneducated leaders, something our country cannot afford.