Not sure about you, but I’m disappointed to see the Summer Olympics come to a close. But not for the reasons you think. Sure, I’m a big sports fan. But the bigger reason is that I couldn’t help but notice the edge was off my neighbors, colleagues, and complete strangers around town the last three weeks. With less focus on the presidential candidates and more on balance beams and volleyball there seemed to be more exuberant greetings, the holding of doors, and lots of coffee shop line discussions about staying up late to watch Simone Biles. It’s been nice. And it reminds me that as humans, we do well when we can rally around a common point of interest.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case in education reform. But the events of the last three weeks, where the athletes of countries that do not traditionally get along at the U.N. embrace after competition, make me think of how unnecessary the education wars are and why we all have more in common than not.
Education policy has been part of my work since I first came to the State Capitol in 1997. But it didn’t take center stage for me professionally until I went to work for State Superintendent Jaime Molera in 2002. Being immersed in education policy, I learned that there are intransigent sides to every education proposal and one seldom concedes to the other. Nearly 15 years later, this has started to change.
Here’s why: Many of the players have been doing this for a while. We know each other and respect each other’s work and motives. We’ve learned through the years that there isn’t a silver bullet and that just because one person is right, doesn’t mean the other is wrong. More than one thing can be true at one time and more than one idea can be good or bad at one time. And, unlike the old days, we don’t have to guess or build formulas to predict student outcomes. We can accurately measure them – year-after-year, school-by-school. We can quantify what works.
It’s been refreshing too to see the coming together of traditional district schools and the rebel charter schools. In neighborhoods across our state, school leaders focus less on their school type and more on the kids and families who populate their campuses. Joint efforts to keep kids fed and educated have created partnerships to curb gang violence and make sure a struggling child ends up in a learning environment that best feeds their needs – even if it isn’t that leader’s school.
Arizona is at a special time in its educational evolution. We’ve figured out a lot of things. Our students are learning more, our teachers are closing achievement gaps, and schools are customizing their offerings to give students an educational experience that is relevant to their dreams for college or work.
But the achievement gap is still too big. And, in an era with major shifts in worker behaviors and opportunities, we’re struggling to get and keep teachers. And so it is that I begin my shift as the new A for Arizona Senior Policy Director.
Some of the answers to these challenges are dangling in front of us. We simply have to grab them. Others need to be sorted out. It is my hope that the policy briefs we will present over the coming months help drive these discussions, bring answers to bear, and rally colleagues - old and new - to work together for continuous improvement in Arizona’s schools.