When something as fabulous as this week’s news about Arizona schools closing the achievement gap hits the wires, my friend Dr. Matthew Ladner sums it up with: “BOOOOOOOOOM!”
And indeed, the news is BOOOOOOOM-worthy.
Arizona’s public school system has already earned the distinction as one of the fastest improving in the country over the past decade according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Clearly Arizona is gaining on the rest of the country, and this week we got more good news. A joint report of Education Cities and GreatSchools identifies Arizona as a top-tier state for closing the achievement gap. In other words, we are offering less wealthy students an education on par with their wealthier peers.
I live for the day that this is not amazing news, but let’s break down the odds. Right now nationally, low-wealth students have about a 10 percent chance or less of educational equity in their public school systems. And because we have far more Hispanic, African American, and Native American students living in poverty, this becomes a horribly predictable opportunity gap based on race and wealth.
Our work at A for Arizona is to identify, support, and expand the schools that bridge this gap by offering high achievement for all. Arizona is the proud home to about 100 schools that meet this mark, and the number of students served grows slowly and steadily. Their work is extremely difficult, and they desperately need our attention and support. Dynamic leaders at high achieving, low-income schools inspire their teams to offer a consistently respectful culture, high expectations for civility, a disciplined teaching environment with regular feedback, and an attention to the details of every child in the school.
They also invest time, and lots of it. In fact, we estimate our low-income ‘A’ schools offer the state the equivalent of five extra weeks of school – for free. They start early, stay late, hold Saturday school, and summer sessions. Their staff meets for “data retreats” without students periodically. They also take young teachers and train them in this methodology – and too often see them hired away by wealthier schools.
We have enough of these schools to move the needle on Arizona’s ranking in the world. It is not a small number, but it is not nearly enough. For these schools to grow as fast as they could – and at a pace we should consider ourselves morally obligated to – we will need to invest more in them. What they do costs more, and adds more value to the potential of their students and therefore to the rest of the community.
There is a huge difference between success and failure for low-income students. We cannot fear to point that out, to offer financial incentives for sustaining and growing these schools versus others, and frankly, we cannot shy away from forcing new leadership into currently failing schools.
We were delighted to see so many of our partner schools highlighted nationally in this week’s Education Equality Index. They are the ones shifting the odds in favor of our students. They are changing the lives of their students and the reputation of our state. We owe them everything we can offer.