This post comes to you from Denver, Colorado where the A for Arizona team is attending the 2015 National Summit on Education Reform put on by the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Each year this conference brings together the brightest minds from around the globe to share strategies for making the greatest quality education available to all children. Experts are sharing their successes and equipping policymakers and advocates with ideas they can implement in their own states. Several Arizona lawmakers and legislative staff members are also in attendance.
We are partially through the conference and most sessions have echoed the theme of focusing on successes in education along with positive solutions that are yielding great results that benefit all children. For all the frustration that can come from attempting education reform, speakers have reminded us to keep our focus on where we’re seeing success and work to replicate it. Arthur Brooks from the American Enterprise Institute gave a great reminder last night that rather than vilifying failing institutions and systems, we should be fighting for students and families. That happens when we focus on growing our highest performing schools rather than pouring all our energy into those that are failing.
Along those lines, a story shared today from the Gates Foundation clearly illustrates the point that investing in school turnaround efforts is largely ineffective. In this example, the Foundation invested over $1 billion in 1,200 new schools and 800 turnarounds. The turnarounds failed entirely while the new schools continue to grow and positively impact students. This is great affirmation of Arizona’s renewed focus on growing, replicating, and expanding our most successful school models while leaving behind failed turnaround-only tactics of the past. Focusing on success rather than failure is clearly the future of effective education reform.
Several panelists have also highlighted the need to embrace local community assets. Far too often we get stuck on broad policy discussions over one-size-fits-all education plans. This conference encourages tailoring an education platform to the needs of students in the local community. Naturally there are basic policies that need to be in place to allow great schools to thrive – access to facilities, a reliable per-pupil base funding, and principal autonomy over budgets and staffing, to name a few. Other than these, we should allow communities to embrace their unique assets and establish models that meet the specific needs of their student populations.
One last highlight was hearing from Foundation for Excellence in Education Board Chair Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who emphasized that reform is not about Republican or Democrat ideas, or district or charter methods. It is about providing great schools for all kids. Low-income families should not be excluded from choice just because they cannot afford a quality private school.
This is just a sampling of the quality content we’ve taken away from the sessions so far. The conference wraps up this afternoon and we’ll be leaving Denver encouraged and inspired about increasing opportunities for every Arizona student to receive the highest quality education.