Education Leaders and Laggards


Ted Simons: The U.S. chamber of commerce foundation center for education and work force has a new report out that looks at the country's K-12 education systems and identifies leaders and laggards among the 50 states. Here to discuss the rather sobering results for Arizona, is Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of expect more Arizona. Education group. We have had you on before. Good to see you again.

Pearl Chang Esau: Great to see you.

Ted Simons: U.S. chamber of commerce with this report overall it didn't look that good for Arizona. What's going on here?

Pearl Chang Esau: It's certainly concerning that our overall academic achievement score was a D and also a D for achievement from low-income students in our state. And, you know, when we look at cause and -- readiness, we didn't score so high and that is a concern. The Arizona commerce authority shared recently almost 90% of Arizona's high growth jobs, the kinds of jobs that we want in our state are going to require more education after high school. High school is no longer the finish line, and what the scores reflect is that our students are graduating high school unprepared for the next step.

Ted Simons: Indeed the academic achievement was a D. Only 28% of 4th and eighth graders above proficient and you mentioned low income and minority students. Parental options, chamber of commerce gives an A -- why aren't they transmitting and transforming and making a better academic achievement result?

Pearl Chang Esau: Yeah, it's a great question. Always with these reports there is so much of the story that you need to understand between the lines. Letter grades certainly don't say it all. On the achievement side of things, even though we received a D, good news is that Arizona has made a lot of progress and in fact received high marks for the amount of progress we have made since 2007. There are students across the state receiving a wonderful education. We have had nationally ranking high schools just, you know, mentioned recently all over the news. It isn't that there aren't any good things on. There are a lot of great things going on. When you look at a couple of indicators you mentioned, they are illustrative of some of the important steps we need to take. We had a B on return on investment. Generally speaking we're pretty efficient. If we fund education, we are likely to see outcomes. I think that is a big part of the equation. We're one of the lowest per-pupil funded states in the country. Dramatically cut funding for education since 2008. We are in the middle of a court battle now trying to get some of the inflation funding back and we still haven't gotten back to 2008 levels, pre-recession. We need to help voters understand why education is so important to their quality of life even if they don't have kids in the school system.

Ted Simons: 21st century -- you mentioned the fact the inflation adjusted, that will be addressed by the legislature, no doubt, unless the courts continue to make that decision. But, again, lawmakers in Arizona for the most part, elected lawmakers at the legislature, fighting this, governor fighting this as part of Arizona's fiscal concerns. How do you transform, again, those concerns into getting just getting up to a C from the chamber of commerce regarding academic achievement?

Pearl Chang Esau: Yeah, well, like I mentioned, I think so much of it is about building voter will. Only a small percentage of Arizonans are parents with school-aged children. A lot about educating voters about why the quality of education system in their community is vitally important to their economy but also their local property values, crime rates. There are reasons why everybody has to support education and has a role to play.

Ted Simons: Is that the nature of the beast though? Because so many people here have retired or so many people here don't have children or paid what they thought was their taxes and their dues to school systems back east or in the midwest, that seems to be a common theme over the years. How do you break through that?

Pearl Chang Esau: We have to break through. It has to be our top priority. We are worried about the economy. We're worried about jobs. We're worried about crime rates. These are all issues that turn on the quality of our education system. That's why you see so many business community leaders now stepping up. You have seen business leaders engaging and supporting education, and it is because it is a work force issue. People have to make that critical connection that this is about making sure that Arizona has a strong economy.

Ted Simons: And as far as teachers are concerned, and technology, data, it seems like this was all floating around the sea level. That can be better as well.

Pearl Chang Esau: Yes, it can be better. And I think -- I'm going to hone in on the teacher issue. Arguably nothing more important than a high-quality teacher for your child's education and we received a C in terms of our teacher practices. I think that is a much bigger issue. We have to think about the big picture of how we create a climate in Arizona where we can attract and retain the very best teachers from across the country.

Ted Simons: How do you do that?

Pearl Chang Esau: When we are starting with some of the lowest starting salaries of any state in the country, that's tough. And it is not just about salaries, it is about teacher autonomy, about whether we treat our teachers with respect and how they feel about being a part of the profession. That's a big part of it.

Ted Simons: It is also about finding a standard, education and achievement standard and sticking to it. Common core does seem to be the standard of the day. I know teachers and the concept of changing to common core to something tells -- makes them want to run down the street screaming. We have to find something and stick to it.

Pearl Chang Esau: Yes, we really do. We are going to be our own worse enemy if we continue to change things. We adopted higher standards. Many schools have been able to build a college and career culture around the -- higher expectations for all kids. They have invested so much into this. We have to stick with it. We can make improvements and make it better, but we can't go back.

Ted Simons: Indeed. When the chamber of commerce is involved, fiscal responsibility is always important to the business community. Arizona gets a B as far as fiscal responsibility, pensions being funded and these sorts of things. I'm kind of repeating myself here. I'm a lawmaker. You come to me with this report. What do you tell me? What are you trying to convince me to do?

Pearl Chang Esau: I would point to the indicators that show that we spend our money well. We did well with return on investment. We did well -- we are efficient. We are a good investment and that's what I would say to our state lawmakers is that you should invest more in education because clearly, you know, we are able to produce an outcome and return on the investment.

Ted Simons: Anything in the report surprise you?

Pearl Chang Esau: Not a surprise necessarily, but I think one of the most important things to call out was that we didn't get a great grade on, you know, our state assessment being a realistic measurement of whether our kids were on track to be successful after high school. And I think that is really important to note because the state -- the good news the state has taken very important steps to change the assessment and we're going to be rolling out a new assessment in schools this year.

Ted Simons: And that post secondary work force readiness, that D, that's glaring and something that has to change.

Pearl Chang Esau: Right. A compilation of all of the factors coming together. About graduating high schoolers ready for college and career training and we know that is necessary for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Ted Simons: Thank you for being here.

Pearl Chang Esau: Thank you.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce is releasing a new report on the status of education in all 50 states. The report grades states and the District of Columbia on the effectiveness of their K-12 educational system in 11 areas, identifying the leaders and laggards. Pearl Chang Esau, the President and CEO of Expect More Arizona, an organization that seeks a world-class education system in Arizona, will discuss the report.

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