With the state legislative session in high gear, I was very grateful that the Senate Education Committee took time to hear about our work at A for Arizona this week. I love sharing the facts about this incredible and growing sector of public education where excellence is happening for very low-income students.
What sets A for Arizona’s work apart is our belief that ALL Arizona students should receive only an ‘A’-grade education – and that such a thing is possible. We know that it is, because we see the numbers growing. A for Arizona has set an aggressive target for itself - that starting in the 2016-2017 school year, the number of students receiving an ‘A’ quality education will increase by 10 percent annually. Conversely, we have set a goal to decrease the number of students in a ‘D’ or ‘F’-rated school by the same amount.
As I told the Committee members, we are trending in a positive direction at a current 3 percent growth in the number of low-income students receiving an ‘A’-grade education last year, but that is not nearly enough. To be clear, the difference between attending an ‘A’-grade school and a ‘D’-grade school can mean the difference between reading and not, between knowing how to multiply and not, between staying in school and not. Equally as essential, an excellent school contributes to a child’s confidence and ease in school in the way that a failing school simply cannot.
While our goals for growth may seem ambitious, we can already see it getting done. We know these leaders, and we know they wish to expand their schools and practices to serve even more students. From Ajo to Dateland, from Nogales to Kingman, highly successful schools are emerging even in unexpected places. We absolutely must find ways for them to grow, and for more schools to do what they’re doing.
This can happen in a variety of ways. First, existing ‘A’-grade schools can grow, serving more students. They can also replicate, taking their successful model and creating a new school somewhere else. Of course, lower graded schools can successfully improve to ‘A’, which has been demonstrated by some of our now-‘A’ school leaders. That is tough work, and requires a serious reboot of school practices and staffing along with a resolute commitment on the part of school leadership. Finally, entirely new schools can start, taking up the best practices of proven ‘A’ models or inventing a new method based on the teaching success of a team of teachers.
Each of these avenues forward is possible and happening now. For example, Tucson’s Academy of Math & Science served more students in their existing schools last year, and replicated their highly performing model in Phoenix. That new school opened with 385 students and another 150+ on the wait list. From 2014 to 2015, Buckeye Union High School served 86 more students at ‘A’ level and Palo Verde High Magnet School served an additional 107 students at ‘A’ level.
With examples like these as motivation, I encouraged policy makers to invest in and expect ‘A’ quality for Arizona’s students. We discussed some critical policies under consideration, including an achievement weight for ‘A’ schools or those ‘On-the-Way’ with an overweighting for schools serving low-income students; an acceleration weight for passing scores on AP, Cambridge, and other high impact college credit assessments that have value for students; more flexibility for hiring and training the best talent; and adopting the ability to utilize assessment choice.
The more opportunities we have to present the stories of these schools and their leaders to state policy, education, and business leaders about what is possible and happening in Arizona, the better! I am grateful to Committee Chair Sylvia Allen for the chance to speak in front of her Committee and look forward to working with Arizona policy makers toward our goal of an ‘A’ education for every Arizona student.