Here at the Arizona Chamber Foundation, we don’t get out much. Typically, you can find us buried in the books, getting deep in the weeds on the issues that impact the Arizona business community.
Last week, however, we got out of the office and onto the road to talk about education with local businesses. In partnership with the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Chamber Foundation sponsored briefings throughout the state for local business leaders to hear about Arizona’s new K-12 standards from former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and education policy expert Becky Hill.
Known as Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, these more rigorous learning goals were created in the early 2000s, following a cry from business leaders for graduates who were more prepared to enter a rapidly changing economy. Governors and State Superintendents from across the country developed a more rigorous set of math and language arts standards designed to achieve the levels of reading, writing and arithmetic necessary to be ready for college, career and life. Arizona adopted these Standards in 2010, and our teachers have been diligently implementing them ever since.
As we enter a new legislative session in Arizona, it’s important to reaffirm our support for these Standards, rededicate ourselves to enacting positive changes to our education system and remember where these reforms originated. In his State of American Business Address, U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue expressed his support for the new Standards, which have been adopted in some iteration in 45 states, and acknowledged the opportunity for continued improvement:
“Economic growth is absolutely critical, but it is not a panacea. I’ve talked in positive terms about America’s energy revolution. Well, we need a positive revolution in American education and training as well.
“It is beyond me how this nation can be so complacent while some 30% and more of our young people don’t even graduate from high school. Millions who do graduate have not even learned to properly read, write, or count—and tragically, that can be a prescription for permanent inequality.
“Where is the outrage? Where is the urgency? Where is the political courage to really challenge the status quo in our educational establishment? The severe educational and skills gap we face is a challenge that should unite us as a nation and a society.
“Of course the states should adopt and implement the Common Core educational standards, which the Chamber strongly supports. But that’s just a start. Teachers, parents, school districts, businesses, community leaders, and institutions of higher education must all get directly and personally involved. “We must ensure that every young person learns basic skills and is properly equipped for jobs and careers that are actually going to exist in the 21st century.”
Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of conservative education policy think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, recently reminded the Idaho Legislature of the importance of moving forward with Idaho’s version of these higher standards:
“I’m here to remind you that it’s been conservatives, for thirty years, ever since the Nation at Risk report during the Reagan Administration, who have been fighting for higher standards and greater accountability for our schools.
“It’s been defenders of the status quo who have been arguing, all these years, that it’s ‘not fair’ to hold schools accountable for results, because there are so many factors schools don’t control. Really, it’s not fair to expect schools to teach students to learn to read, write, and compute?
“It’s been defenders of the status quo who have been arguing, all these years, that it’s ‘not fair’ to have high expectations of kids growing up in poverty, that they face too many challenges. But it’s fair to give those kids a diploma they can’t read, or pass them along from grade to grade even if they can’t write or do math?”
As we traveled across the state, we were inspired by the desire of business leaders to engage on this issue. We sincerely enjoyed these briefings as an opportunity to talk with local business leaders about the new Standards and the importance of raising the bar for Arizona students to become the innovators of tomorrow.