Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hearing makes clear the need for rigorous ed standards

The Senate Education Committee yesterday saw a display of just how critically important the Arizona’s education environment is to the state’s business community.

Anyone watching the hearing now knows that a state’s tax, labor, regulatory and legal environments are all important to companies considering investment, but a quality K-12 education system can be the ultimate difference maker.

Over 200 groups and individuals signed-in at yesterday’s hearing to indicate their support for Arizona’s Common Core standards and a new assessment to replace the AIMS exam, which only measures whether a student has achieved 10th grade competency and gives little to no insight into whether a student is ready to move on to higher education or the workforce.

Former Intel Chairman and CEO Dr. Craig Barrett, who chairs the governor’s AZ Ready task force and is not only one of the state’s but the world’s foremost experts in education, gave extremely persuasive testimony about the need for higher standards in Arizona schools.

To explain the disconnect between our students' potential and the current readiness levels of high school graduates Dr. Barrett explained, “I don’t think we have a kid problem. I think we have an adult and a system problem. We have had lower standards and lower expectations than most of the world.”

Rep. Doris Goodale deserves credit for her work to take the AIMS test offline and move Arizona education into the future. Rep. Goodale has remained steadfast in the face of unsubstantiated and false rumors about some sort of U.N.-directed curriculum from those who prefer to stop progress than offer solutions to improved education. Legitimate concerns over whether Arizona will maintain sufficient control over its education fate have been addressed by our state’s education leadership and the Board of Education, ensuring that Arizona’s education system will be shaped by decisions made here at home, not in Washington.

“We cannot – we must not – continue a 10th grade assessment which translates into a 60 – that is six zero – percent remediation rate in college readiness and scores on college placement exams well below the national average,” Rep. Goodale said.

One of Arizona’s brightest stars, Eileen Klein, who is now heading the Arizona Board of Regents after recently departing as Gov. Brewer’s chief of staff where she wrote the book on how to manage an executive office, was on hand to drive home the point of the inextricable links between a state’s economic success and the quality of education output.

“Sixty four percent of all of our future jobs in the state are going to require some level of college education,” Klein said. “If you look at our neighboring states, in Colorado, they have a 10 percent higher degree attainment rate; they have about a $10,000 per capita salary that’s higher than Arizona. If we were even achieving at their level we’d add $60 billion to our economy.”

All of these efforts to align the education and business community could not be done without the hard work of leaders who are relentless in their belief that a good education will bring more opportunity to their business and their state.

Pearl Chang Esau, the talented and inspiring president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, has been invaluable in leveraging her organization’s powerful voice to affect major changes in Arizona education policy.

We at the Chamber are also fortunate to have Becky Hill of R&R Partners representing us on a host of issues, but especially education, at the Capitol. Becky has forgotten more about education policy than most of us will ever know. Having Becky on our team is an incredible asset for an Arizona business community that is putting more effort into education than ever before.

Just last week, dozens of CEOs and business leaders from across the state wrote to legislators making clear the business community’s support for teaching to higher education standards. As we wrote in the letter, “too many Arizona students graduate high school without the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century.” 

Following the hearing, positive things are beginning to happen on the legislative front. Language to end AIMS cleared the Senate and has been sent to the House. We’ll keep the pressure on and continue to ensure our legislators understand the importance of higher standards and an aligned assessment.

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