Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 24, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Improving Education


  • What must be done to improve education in Arizona? Join our panel of education leaders as they discuss options and opportunities to make the state more responsive to the needs of its students. Scheduled guests include former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, Arizona Business and Education Coalition Executive Director Susan Carlson and Arizona Board of Regents Vice President Ernest Calderon.
Guests:
  • Lisa Graham Keegan - Former State Schools Superintendent, assistant Maricopa County Manager, and Education Advisor for Senator McCain's presidential campaign.
Category: Education

View Transcript
>>Ted Simons:
Tonight on horizon better schools, better learning opportunities for students. The governor told us how she would do it. Tonight educational leaders tell us how they would improve education in Arizona. Next on horizon.

>>Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by the contributions of the Friends of Eight: members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>>Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons. Welcome to horizon. Arizona spends about $6,000 per student, well below the national average of nearly $9,000. Only Utah spends less. That's according to Education Week's latest Quality Counts Report. The report also ranked Arizona in the bottom tier of states when it comes to student achievement. Here's a brief look at some ideas for improving education in Arizona.

>>Janet Napolitano:
I believe education is the most important chapter for our future.

>>David Majure:
During her State of the State Address, Governor Janet Napolitano suggested ways to improve education.

>>Janet Napolitano:
Higher standards for students mean we must sustain a higher quality corp of math and science teachers by expanding teacher loan forgiveness, scholarships, and incentives. Let's agree that any eighth grader who pledges to stays out of trouble, and maintains at least a "B" average in High School, will be guaranteed free tuition at any of our Community Colleges and Universities. [cheers] I call on our higher education institutions to work together, and double the number of Bachelor Degrees they produce by the year 2020. I propose that beginning next year, all Arizona universities guarantee that when a student begins college, his or her tuition will not be raised for four years, period.

>>David Majure
Those are some of the Governor's ideas. We asked other leaders how to improve education in Arizona.

>>John Wright:
Maybe the one thing we could do is change the mindset about public schools, and how we approach them, so we are not talking about what they cost, and how much we spend, but we talk about what they need, and how to invest. Recognize that every dollar put into a public school brings back great returns for Arizona citizens and economy. There are many pieces to this equation. We're talking about attracting, retaining, and fairly compensating professional teachers, young professionals who have a variety of career opportunities. If we want them to come to public schools, we have to give them good cause to do that: both with a pay package we offer them, and a working condition they can enjoy, to be successful. So, we will be talking bout compensation and professional pay, because Arizona is not there.

>>Eileen B. Sigmund:
Arizona has already taken great strides by improving education by allowing parents to have a choice. One size doesn't fit all for our children. One in four public schools is a Charter School. One of the thing we can do is change the public school finances system. It's been around since the 1980s, and what happens is all students are funded on a 100 day cycle, when they go 180 days. So, what that means is that if a student moves from a district school to a charter school on Day 101, the district school gets the money for that student, and the charter school has to take the student because they are still tuition-free public schools, but they don't get paid.

>>Michael Martinez:
I believe if we could work together to change the political climate, so that our legislative majority, and all of us together, would work to understand that the language of our language learners population specifically requires a dedicated stream of resources, so that we can adequately reach the optimal levels of education.

>>Andrea Stouder:
Well, I think Arizona is such an exciting state to be leading an education in because, I think, there's so many exciting things happening. From the Governor's initiative of all-day kindergarten and increased standards in Math and Science, to all of the exciting things happening in Early Childhood Education, and leadership with the Center for the Future of Arizona and so much is going on. What I think is sometimes missing is the actual "On-The-Ground" experience in education, and, I think, cultivating leaders who have had experience directly in the field is what we really need to move some of these initiatives forward as quickly as possible.

>>Rufus Glasper:
To improve education in the State of Arizona, the most important thing for me would be access and opportunity for our students to transfer to the universities, and to be successful. A student can transfer from our colleges with 35 Credit Hours, and transfer those to any of our State Universities. But that gives them acceptance into the university, and not into specific colleges. If we could have the opportunity to enhance the number of credits that they can transfer and not only get accepted into the university, but also into individual programs and colleges, then it will build a pipeline to enhance Baccalaureate Degrees and also the completion of Baccalaureates in the state of Arizona.

>>Ted Simons:
Joining me now to talk about improving education is former State Schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, who is now an assistant Maricopa County Manager, and the Education Advisor for Senator McCain's presidential campaign. Susan Carlson, a former teacher and School Board member, who is now Executive Director of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition. And Ernest Calderon, Vice President of the Arizona Board of Regents, and an appointee to the Governor's School Readiness Board. thank you for joining us. All of you. The magic question was answered, in part, on tape. And now, we get to hear your response. What's the one thing we should be doing to improve education in Arizona?

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
Well, first of all, I think we have to recognize that at the state level, we don't get to improve education. Education is improved by individual teachers and schools. So, we have to do everything we know how to do to get resources down to the school level, to make sure that schools have a clear set of goals that they are following, and to get information about how the schools are doing. I think the most important thing to do is make sure that schools have what they need to get the jobs done.

>>Ted Simons:
Susan?

>>Susan Carlson:
I would agree. One of things being an accurate data system. Data collection system as a tool, as an effective tool for teachers and school administrators and parents to know exactly what students are doing, and need to do to be able to be successful. That data collection system is an issue we've been working on - ABEC has been interested in since we've been convened, which was about 5 years. We need to have data, good data in realtime that teachers and administrators can trust and use to measure where they are and where they need to go.

>>Ted Simons:
Ernest, the one thing you would like to see.

>>Ernest Calderon:
When it comes to the University system, getting the money down to the schools is relatively direct, down to ASU, U of A and NAU. The Regents have, constantly over the last three years, refined that process, refined our ability to provide greater access, greater affordability, and now, greater predictability in tuition and in access to higher education. I think one of the greatest things we can do is to continue to refine that by following up on what the Governor just challenged us with. She talked about that four-years of education for the "Centennial Class" they call it. And I think that's a fabulous idea. Right now, the Regents, in conjunction with the Governor's Office are trying to pencil that out to see how much it will cost. You're very familiar with budgets, Lisa, and the like. The Business Community is our partners, and we have to go to them. But I think one of the greatest things we can do is make sure the four-year education is accessible.

>>Ted Simons:
We might as well get into finances, and the concept of money, because it's always there in education. Ernest, you talked about what the Governor made regarding education. The four-year stability as far as tuition is concerned, she talked again about keeping a "B" average and staying out of trouble, and those sorts of things. How difficult is it to get those kinds of things achieved in troubled economic times?

>>Ernest Calderon:
It's very difficult but I don't think it's impossible. I really believe if everybody puts their shoulder to the wheel, we can come up with something. Let's look at the landscape as we begin. Our three State Universities, all three of them, with NAU leading the charge, are on Kiplinger's most affordability list/bargains in higher education. So at the onset, we are dealing with a higher education system, although imperfect, is much better than other places. Secondly, when you have that factor involved there, and you have a strong business community -- the business community in Arizona is very pro-education, and very pro-higher education. It is because they are altruistic, and it is also because they are smart. We have a changing work force. We have to have a higher degree -- level of education to serve that work force. And when you combine a good business climate, meaning the supporters there, and you combine a system that's healthy, not perfect, but healthy, I think you can move forward from there.

>>Ted Simons:
Susan, how does the business community work the dynamic between, obviously, trying to keep costs low in a variety of ways that would help a business, and yet, getting education to a point where it help a business.

>>Susan Carlson:
Well, believe me, that was one of the reasons hat ABEC was founded in the first place, was to learn more about both sides of this equation, about each other's environment, and try to find common ground around some of the issues. One of the things that I think is easy to find common ground, besides data, is this issue of school finances. Arizona school finance formula has been in place since the 80's, and never been completely revamped or reviewed. Every Legislative Session, there's been a tweak to the finance formula itself. So ABEC, both business and education, are taking on the study of the school finances formula, and that is one of the benefits. Though we can't get everything on the table this session, or maybe not even next session, in terms of what we would like to have happen for this State, it does give us a lull in time, so that we can take some time to look at some of those very key foundation issues around the formula itself, the resources, the equity of it all, and whether or not it's doing what it needs to do. So I think many of the things we would like to have happen have a short-term interest, but then a long-term plan that can build out toward it. The school finances formula itself is something we are interested in, both business and education, in terms of looking at its effectiveness.

>>Ted Simons:
And Lisa, you talked about how the State is not necessarily the important aspect of education. Yet, there are those who want to do as much as they can to centralize aspects of education. Where do you stand on that?

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
Well, I'm actually not for it. The fact of the matter is, history doesn't serve us well in this regard. Arizona had over 300 School Districts at the turn of the 19th Century. Early 1900's, we were about 312 School Districts or so. We're now 227 districts, and apparently headed south if we do the centralization. It's not that centralization is bad idea in and of itself, but the power gets concentrated at that District Office, and we disallow principals hiring and firing their own staff, we disallow them the use of their own resources, all things we know are essential to a productive school. So, the risk is not much in having centralized districts, where you can have shared standards, and you can share some things that would make a lot of sense. The risk is in accumulating too much power at the district level, and not giving them to the school. So, it's a dance you have to do. The figure in the United States after World War II, the country had 150,000 school districts. Today: 15,000. 1/10th, and academics have not been well served by anybody's measure during that same period of time.

>>Susan Carlson:
Don't you think part of that is it's how those districts are governed? The governance mechanism and the decisions that Governing Boards make? I'm from Tempe, so this conversation around unification is very heavy in our community. And having been on a School Board, I know that some of those decisions can be -- the issue is not whether we're unified or not. It's a wise and thoughtful decision making on the part of the Governing Board that looks at the research, and then empowers the staffs. Governing Boards have a lot to do with how those districts are organized and run.

>>Ernest Calderon:
And speaking of Governing Boards, I can't weigh in on the unification of the issue, because it's really outside the purview of the Regents. But I can talk about the Regents as a Governing Board. One thing we Regents can do and trying to do is to ensure that rural Arizona is better served by higher education. People can remain in their communities. On your vignette, you had Rufus Glasper, who's with the Maricopa Community College District, talking about increasing the number of hours that are transferable. That's already happening through the JCC and other committees, we're allowing up to 90 credits in certain situations for transferability. But as a Governing Board, and I agree with Susan to the extent that I can't -- politically, Governing Boards and whatever they are, Board of Regents, whatever, really have to look at service they are providing, and one thing regents can do consistent with the governor's message, consistent with what the legislators are asking us to do, is toe ensure that we have a greater outreach to rural Arizona.

>>Ted Simons:
Is, in the time of "No Child Left Behind", in this time of standardized test; seems like a new one every few years or so, how does that play into a concept of more or fewer school districts? I mean, when so much is required that is centralized, does it not make sense to centralize those districts?

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
It would, Ted, if we didn't centralize the school function, instruction, who you hire, who's on your team? Letting the principal be the principal, letting the principal control their money. That generally doesn't happen. Some school districts, some school boards allow that to happen. It's rare. Usually, the school will get services, and be told who their staff is, and not get to determine too much, when we know, from best school practice, that one of the things you have to do is have a shared goal right at that school, and be able to control who's in charge there, who's the teacher. So, the standards themselves are absolutely fundamental. We didn't have them well articulated before, but they shouldn't be stopped. It's simply a foundation that all schools or all children have a right to expect they will be taught. It shouldn't encompass more than bout half of your curriculum, the standards themselves. Now, we're gonna increase Math, so it's gonna be a little bit more, but thank god, I think that's to be wished for. Kids need more Math.

>>Ernest Calderon:
I do think that, at least from a Regent's perspective, that the increased requirements for Math are really going to enhance our educational system. We're going to be able to compete globally. Remember, we are the first generation in this country that is being threatened with the possibility that we're gonna be better educated than our children. We're the first generation that's being threatened with the disastrous situation that we might have a higher standard of living than our children will have. And the only way we can remedy that is to compete in the global workforce, and mathematics is a fundamental part of that global formula.

>>Susan Carlson:
Let me suggest that this has been the ABEC's advocacy since we started with the Arizona Scholars Initiative - Academic Scholars Initiative, which is, Lisa, I don't know if you know about it, targeted at the middle 50\% of the students to encourage more math and science than they are taking. Because the Board of Regents supported that across the board. It's an interim step toward the new rigorous graduation requirements. Everybody that says they don't need math, mathematics is computation and thought process. Number one, everybody says they don't need post-secondary education. Everybody needs lifelong earning for the colleges and workplace. Our youngsters need to graduate and go on to certification training and go to the college and university. They need to continue learning Because the economy will not low down for them.

>>Ted Simons:
You mention thought process, and I want to get to that, because there are those suggest "teaching to test": that's the vernacular, in some use, pejorative, that's what they use, and that's what's going on: "A and B", we are losing a little bit of the creativity you get with other and more elective courses with the arts and music and humanities in high school. It sounds more college, but its high school. Are we concentrating too much, I know it sounds odd, are we concentrating on things like Math and Science at the expense of more creative aspects?

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
No, just the opposite, Ted. Every study that you will ever read that is reputable about the arts and mathematics is that one feeds the other. And in fact, people who tell you we are teaching to the test are themselves constraining their instruction, because successful schools who bring in the arts, and who really focus on their mathematics and the arts at the same time, kids go through the roof. They are related to each other. There are things that are true, there are things that are rhythmic, there are things that are patterns. This world is governed by an algorithm. You know, Susan was talking about the workplace, when we studied our standards in '95, when we're really being serious about these revisions, we related them to the workforce stuff that was going on at the Department of Commerce. Clearly, if you did not plan to go to Post-Secondary education, if you wanted to go into work after high school, which was very difficult to do, but you needed more math because all of the jobs that are life sustaining after high school that you want to go in, the trades, they require math. They are governed by electronics.

>>Ernest Calderon:
Absolutely. Look at basic healthcare. Basic healthcare in Arizona, we are facing a challenge. We need more physicians. There's a nursing shortage. We need what they call the blue collar med tech, lab techs, radiologists, etc. If you are going to help others through the healing arch, you better have a solid foundation in mathematics. There's just no questions about it. Ask one of these people who's in the trenches doing that, and they will tell you that mathematics is a fundamental base. I agreed entirely.

>>Susan Carlson:
I find it unfortunate to teach to the test. I have a daughter who is a passionate and talented young teacher. She's got a set of standards that she needs to follow. But you know, if those are important things, you ought to be teaching it to them. So that's what the standards provide is this backbone to your teaching. I'm an old kindergarten teacher, so I love teaching dinosaurs. But you don't just - little boys like dinosaurs.

>>Ernest Calderon:
I smiled when you said it.

>>Susan Carlson:
But to teach dinosaurs for only dinosaur's sake is -- there are lot you can do to pique the interest of kindergarten children through dinosaurs, but that also teach the standards that you want to teach.

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
Ted, if at the end of the year, the state test tell you anything as a teacher you did not know, you were not focused on your instruction at all during the year. That state test ought to take care of itself. You ought to know what the standards are. Successful schools and Lattie Coor's group is doing excellent job on this right now, going to identifying low wealth schools that predictably, you would not think will do well. What happens when they break out and do well? Well, what happens is the group focused on instruction. They know the standards , they teach, and they assess with their own small assessments, and they revise. Teach, assess, revise. That's successful school. Any school.

>>Ernest Calderon:
And when they are successful, it creates the university climate where we can actually teach to the major, rather than teach to the remedial courses to prepare that person for that major.

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
That brings up creative without being illiterate.

>>Ted Simons:
Yea, well, unless you want to cut off your ear which is whole different thing. [laughs]

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
Well, as far as we know he could read.

>>Ted Simons:
I want to ask a question. It may open up a can of worms.

>>Susan Carlson:
Please.

>>Ted Simons:
But are we teaching too much to underachievers at the expense of those who could accelerate with more attention?

>>Susan Carlson:
Well I would - you know, I think that that's a classroom-based question, but I think there are a lot in that question around our expectation for children. And when I hear people say we're teaching too much to underachievers, I always want to ask "whose child are you talking about?" Is it your child? I think the same question comes into my mind when people say not every kid needs a college diploma. I want to ask "Whose child you're talking about? You're talking about yours?" Because the answer is: of course not mine, but his, those people over there. I think that's what we're involved with here. We're attempting to raise expectations for kids. Now, there needs to be safety net, there needs to be interventions. We can't say let's have kids graduate with four years of math without providing intervention for both teachers, because they need to be able to remediate on the spot when the kids walk in the classroom. So this is not an easy answer. There's a lot that falls out of the decision that the state board of education made.

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
Great, great teachers are moving with their kids all the time. The best and most hopeful movements, I think, in assessments since now, we have some data, five years worth now nationwide. Year to year data, which is hugely important. And one of the things we know is that successful teaching is not just meeting whatever this bar is for assessments that the state sets. The classroom teacher's job is take children where they find them, and move them. Some might come to you behind, you got to move that children off. They may come advanced, and you move him too. So the point is the teacher has to look at progress, from whenever you start to where you need to go, it's my job while you are here to progress you. So it's a legitimate question, if we set a standard, are we then dumbing this down? Not excellent teachers, and that's why you have to get to the issue of teaching.

>>Ted Simons:
Exactly, and let's go to that. Are we getting enough of those kinds of teachers? Are we getting enough teachers, period?

>>Susan Carlson:
Well, let me ask you this question. You've got this young, bright kid, your daughter or son who is going through high school, and trying to make a decision about what they want to do with their life, and everything that your child hears or talk about at home at the dinner table is about how bad teachers are, and how bad Arizona's school districts are, how much -- how little they get paid, why would your child, sitting at your dinner table, want to go into the teaching profession? And I think that's one of the things we need to ask ourselves as citizens. If we want youngsters to go into that profession, we got to start talking about the profession like we honor it and we need to pay it like we honor it. Right now, we've got youngsters coming out of college that can go to Colorado, New Mexico and California, and if they have background in math and science, they can go any school district and interview for a job.

>>Ernest Calderon:
When you talk about math and Science, I think that it's wonderful that the Governor and others have talked about Loan Forgiveness programs for people who are educated in math and science, and go out and teach and the like. There's a challenge that's just been issued that we need to have maybe 36,000 graduates over the, you know, by 2020 I think is the year. Right now we're at half that. Significant portion of the 18 or 19,000 that we're going to have to graduate need to be educators. They need to be teachers. Our three colleges of education in Arizona, the three schools are excellent. Can they be better? They're the first ones to tell you they are trying to refine themselves. But I think when you talk about honoring a profession, that's probably one of the most resonating things that we can probably say tonight. The three of us--I would respectfully say the four of us wouldn't be here if it wasn't for a good teacher, and I think we do need to honor them.

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
You had Andrea from Teach for America, one of the most optimistic - and I think that looking back 20 years from now, we'll say that Teach for America was one of the most important things that ever happened in America education. When Wendy Cot decided that what she's gonna do is to go to one of the best universities in the country, and she was going to identify kids who would come to teach for two years in the inner city. That's what Teach For America does. Now, they make sure kids have subject matter major. They are not College of Education graduates. Usually, they are Math or Science or English Literature majors, and then go through a very short and very intense preparation of how to teach and commit two years in rural schools and do a phenomenal job and they are leaders.

>>Ted Simons:
We're gonna have to stop right there. Fascinating discussion. Thank you for joining us.

>>Lisa Graham Keegan:
Thank you.

>>Ted Simons:
And thank you for joining us tonight. I'm Ted Simons, have a great evening.

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