The State of Education in Arizona

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As a follow-up to the PBS documentary Where We Stand: America’s Schools in the 21st Century, HORIZON asks John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association; Eugene Garcia, VP of Education Partnerships at ASU; and Michael Block, co-founder of BASIS charter schools how to improve public education in Arizona.

Ted Simons
>>> Hello and welcome to Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Students in the United States ranked 25th in math and 21st in science out of 30 developed countries. In 1995, the U.S. was number one in the world for college graduation rates. In 2005, we were 15th. Those are some of the statistics cited in the PBS documentary "Where We Stand, America's Schools in the 21st Century." The program explored our nation's educational strengths and weaknesses and tonight on the special edition of Horizon we take a look at the state of education in Arizona. We start at a forum that took place last September sponsored by the Education Coalition of Arizona.

>> Every child deserves the opportunity to come to school and be in an environment where they can learn.

Larry Lemmons
>> In flagstaff and Tucson, at A.S.U. West and here at the headquarters of the Arizona Education Association in central Phoenix, educators, parents and elected officials watch the PBS documentary "Where We Stand, America's Schools in the 21st Century."

>> I think it's important to have these conversations.

Larry Lemmons
>> After watching the program, there were questions to answer, like what changes must take place in our schools for Arizona students to compete globally?

Educator 1
>> We will require a students to tie one language, maybe two years of it in school where these other countries are forcing students to sink in all these different ways by teaching different languages.

Educator 2
>> For our students in Arizona, they're not getting the languages in third grade.

Educator 3
>> In addition to language I think we all need to look at science and math. You know, a lot of the reformers looking at American education in high schools are talking about rigor and part of that is the societal issue. I don't know about your district, but in my district, if there's too much homework, I will hear it a complaint from parents.

Educator 1
>> Other countries feel that hung tore want to compete but America, with all of the great things that occur here, maybe we have lost that hunger a little bit.

Educator 3
>> One of the single most important things, if we are going to raise the quality of education in Arizona or anywhere else in this country, for that matter, is going to be the quality of the teacher in the classroom. And we have all kinds of research to support that.

Educator 4
>> Yes, pay is part of it but a lot of it is, what are those support systems that are in place to keep through?

Educator 1
>> Arizona is one of the worst in this category. We spend less per students than just about every state in the country. That also translates into teacher salaries. We have teachers that make $24,000 a year.

Educator 5
>> What was concerning for me was the United States we are recruiting teachers from the bottom third of our college graduates. Within thing they pointed out from Finland all teachers immediate a master's degree. What do we need to do to make that change to actually produce quality people to be quality teachers?

Educator 6
>> Is it really the teacher program that's causing that or the mentality that anyone can teach? That for me is a professional educator who went to college to be an educator I find that to be a bit offensive.

Educator 3
>> I think we have to look at the curriculum, the work force, the working conditions, the funding. It's not -- it is not a simple issue.

Ted Simons
>> Here to talk about education in Arizona are Dr. Gene Garcia, vice president of Education Partnerships for Arizona State University. He has a background in teacher education and he's a member of the state's English Language Learners Task Force. Michael Block is chairman and Co Founder of Basis Schools which includes charter schools in Tucson and Scottsdale known for their academic rigger and John Wright, President of the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teacher organization. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us here on Horizon.

John Wright
>> Pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons
>> John, you were at one of the forums last night. Your reaction from what you saw and what you heard.

John Wright
>> Yes. We had about 40 people over at a central Phoenix location. And across the state four forums, 163 people. And for me it really was the process as much as the content to find value in. Because we had teachers, other school employees, district superintendents, principals, legislators, and parents, community members come and talk about these questions that the documentary posed. And what we really find is people want to talk about education improvement, and education reform, and the public schools for their children. And I think what we really need to recognize is that the 21st century has very different needs for our schools, very different needs than the system was designed to meet. And to have the conversation about what we look for in those schools and then how we rebuild and reform those schools to meet those needs.

Michael Block
>> I would think that in part, we are a victim of our own success. I'm old enough to remember the Sputnik era, and American schools have been -- have been compared unfavorably with schools around the world over a number of years. We probably have gone down relative to the rest of the world but we were always a little bit worse than the European and Asian schools. But we had a great, we had a great system relative to the rest of the world. We had more freedom. We had some better legal system. I think now we're a victim of our own success. That's spread all over the world and we have to compete now.

Eugene Garcia
>> I think the landscape has changed drastically. The demographic reality is not what it was in the 1950s or 1960s even in the sputnik era. I think we are now talking about being globally competitive and other people are catching up. We woke up and saw what we need from education is something very different than what we were doing. And I think the documentary tries to do that. It talks about globalization and what we have been trying to do to sort of keep up. It's not, I agree with Michael in that it's not just a matter of just doing what we have been doing and getting better at it. Other folks are actually doing better than what they were doing way back when we were great.

Ted Simons
>> Are there countries -- and I know you have been to Finland. Finland was referred to in the documentary. Are there countries doing things that we can learn? Can we learn from these countries?

Michael Wright
>> I'm sure. Finland only has 5 million people. I think we can learn from their high expectations and the way they train teachers. We went to Canada before that which is two or three depending on how you measure it. And we went to B.C. this is a state essentially, a province, very much like the federal system in the United States. A lot I think to learn from their high expectations.

Eugene Garcia
>> I think there's also another, in other countries interventions earlier on. For instance, in Europe, four-year-olds are in school. They are in preschools. So those are ways that we think not only about what our rigorous standards are and so forth but the entire system. When do you start? How do you move families and kids into places called schools?

John Wright
>> There's a lot to learn. Both in how we provide our education, but also in how we set our policies for education. Because what we found and what the documentary taught us when we watched it was the slope of improvement in growth for America's public school students has been fairly steady. But many other countries realized that was not good enough for them and they increased the investment, they increased the expectation, they increased their attention and those other slopes have been very much steeper and that's why they have surpassed us.

Dr. Gene Garcia:Vice President of Education Partnerships, Arizona State University;Michael Block:Chairman and Co-Founder of Basis Schools; John Wright:President of the Arizona Education Association

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