Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goldwater Institute: Arizona Legislature adopts sweeping education reforms

This session Arizona lawmakers enacted some of the most far-reaching K-12 education reforms in state history. The changes have received little attention from any Arizona media so far. But you can bet you'll hear much more as the state implements the new laws.

studentTen years ago Florida implemented a set of education reforms that transformed their schools from among the worst performers on national tests to among the best. Several of the bills that Governor Brewer has signed into law are modeled on Florida's success. 
  • Arizona now will annually issue schools a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F.
  • The state now will have a robust program for experts in math, science and other areas to teach their subjects without first getting a teaching certificate from a college of education.
  • Lawmakers have curtailed social promotion by holding back some third graders who have yet to learn the basics of reading.
  • Legislators expanded the sources available to launch new charter schools.
  • Lawmakers increased the size and transparency of the state scholarship tax credit program and changed to the date for claiming the tax credits from December 31 to April 15.
  • The Legislature also specified school districts cannot use "years on the job" as the only criteria when deciding which teachers to keep. The Arizona Department of Education will be required to develop teacher and principal evaluations that include how well students score on specific tests.
Each bill contains important policy changes that will improve education by holding educators accountable to parents and taxpayers. The "A" to "F" school labels and teacher evaluation reforms could revolutionize Arizona's public schools if properly implemented.

We have many people to thank for these remarkable changes. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque, the executive director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, spent their valuable time here in Arizona. Key philanthropic and business community leaders aided with both their money and their time. Governor Jan Brewer and her staff made it a priority to win legislative approval of the Florida-based reforms. The chairmen of the Senate and House education committees, Senator John Huppenthal and Representative Rich Crandall, personally introduced several of the key bills. Most of the measures gathered strong, bipartisan support.

This year, Arizona lawmakers demonstrated with action, not just words, that they will not accept Arizona permanently sitting near the bottom of student achievement rankings. We will not see overnight improvement, and much hard work lies ahead. We have, however, taken the first vital steps to turning our school performance crisis around.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.

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