Ted Simons: Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal delivered his State of Education address earlier today. Superintendent Huppenthal joins us now to talk about education in Arizona. Good to see you again.
John Huppenthal: It's always great to be here.
Ted Simons: In general, a quick overview and then we'll dive into particular topics. The state of education in Arizona.
John Huppenthal: I think on a relative basis where we've been in history, it's very healthy in the sense that Arizona, unlike any other state, if you're an educated consumer you can find an excellent school for your child if you're willing to spend the time to would out and do some investigation.
OK. In your speech, you said over the past 30 years, our school systems have failed our youth. Choice has been around since early 90's, ’93?
John Huppenthal: '93.
Ted Simons: That's a long time for something to be around and yet over the last 30 years things aren't getting any better. Why is choice such a good thing when things aren't getting better?
John Huppenthal: My statement was talking about what's going on nationally. And I referenced the national assessment of educational progress. Go back to 1983, come forward to the 2011 results, flat as a pancake. We know the nation knows that our students are capable of much more than what they're getting out of the education system. That general sense has been driving society to say with more and more pressure we want things to be better. And so school choice is one of those ways. We know over the last decade that juvenile crime in Arizona has plummeted like a rock. There's not been near enough scholarship on that, but I look at students who have gone through six different choices of school before they find one, and find a school that works for them, and what I'm seeing is that school choice is working effectively with problem students. And I see that connection. All the demographers were predicting we'd go up in juvenile crime because more of our students are coming from minority and poverty backgrounds, but instead it plummeted down.
Ted Simons: The graduation rates in Arizona, where are we?
John Huppenthal: Right in the neighborhood of , 76-77 percent, which is healthy on an apples to apples basis, but still not where we need to be. When we look at graduation rates, we look at school districts like Peoria, where they've been using career planning, and they've driven their graduation rates into the 90s. We look at school districts like Chandler, where Camille Castile has really organized their school district in an amazing fashion and improved quality for a decade. And they're driving their rates up. So we know that our school districts with good leadership and good school boards are capable of more.
Ted Simons: Your address you say it's not enough to recognize the value of education, it is imperative also to invest in it. We are spending about $8,800 per student, national average about $12,000. Are we investing enough per student?
John Huppenthal: My feeling is that the legislature is driven by this intensity, OK, where is the correlation between money and outcome? There really hasn't been one. But I would argue to the legislature, we've created a climate in Arizona, if you don't create value for students and parents, then you're going to lose your students. And we need to start putting more money in there, and I think we can have confidence now that an extra dollar yields a substantial return on investment to the taxpayer.
Ted Simons: Is that confidence being translated to the legislature?
John Huppenthal: Well, you know, it's a pretty frugal group. I was pretty frugal when I was in there. But I think we need to up the intensity. This court decision is going to be helpful, that's bringing in a big chunk of money. That wasn't exactly voluntary, but the legislature is complying, and the governor is coming in with their success funding formula, and that's potentially another big chunk of change. We think that's very creative.
Ted Simons: Everything you do, I know you're big on data, big on information, and I know the computer system at the -- In your office is antiquated, to say the least. Are you going to get the resources, the funding to update all that stuff so we're living in the modern world here?
John Huppenthal: We brought in some phenomenal experts into the department, and we have great managers of those experts. We've done a lot with very limited resources already. But now we've been spending a lot of time with the governor's office, we're of one mind now that hey, we know we're capable of doing with $16 million what other states didn't get done for $250 million. So they put it in their budget, $16.5 million dollars, the governor's office, and our sense is, the legislature says, OK, you think you can get the job done? We think we're there.
Ted Simons: OK. Let's talk about college and career readiness standards. What was formerly known as Common Core. Why did you have to change that? Was that necessary to change that name?
John Huppenthal: Well, I think it was important for this reason -- There's standards, and then there's curriculum. And there are whole lot of curriculum that are labeled Common Core, that really a lot of members of the public find offensive. And it was -- So I didn't support that curriculum and it had that label, I wanted to come in and say, I support these math standards, these English language arts standards, these are solid standards, put those Common Core curriculum over there. I don't know about those.
Ted Simons: Again, the standards lead to a test and critics say the standards were created by federal government, not local officials, majority of teachers they say oppose these new standards. That -- That it prohibits cursive writing. There's a lot of stuff out there on this. And a lot of it is negative. Where is this coming from?
John Huppenthal: We poll our teachers, and we have very widespread support. It's not unanimous, there is a small chunk of teachers who are alienated, but they're also alienated from their jobs. So they’re opposed to these standards, but overwhelmingly our districts have embraced these standards, they've done a great job, they've selected curriculum that reflect values that their community supports. We are seeing among our better performing school districts they've embraced the standards.
Ted Simons: Has the legislature embraced the idea that to get these standards through, it may mean a little more money?
John Huppenthal: Well, I'm not sure we're quite there yet. But the legislature was told by the courts you have to kick in a chunk -- A pretty good healthy chunk of money. That is what's going to enable us to at least do the basics in getting this moved forward. The other thing we're finding out is some states got hundreds of millions of dollars to train teachers, we've used to train the trainer model, and our model has teachers come in from the districts and they take ownership and they go back and train their teachers. So in Arizona, teachers are doing this, and states with all these hundreds of millions of dollars like New York, it was being done to them at a high expense, and in New York, the teachers just came out in opposition to the standards, so we think sometimes you can turn frugality into an asset.
Ted Simons: Last question -- With your address obviously accentuate the positive, though you mentioned there was work to do.
John Huppenthal: Oh, yeah.
Ted Simons: What keeps Arizona from being known as the education state?
John Huppenthal: There's a couple things. Number one, the way that education statistics are maintained, we always talk around student outcomes. We have an enormous demographic challenge. Compared to the first day of kindergarten, Massachusetts is here, our students come in here. But we gain ground on Massachusetts over the course of the education career. That's the measure of the schools. Rand corporation did three studies in the 90's, $10 million apiece, and they found that Arizona schools had greater academic gains than Massachusetts schools. On an apples-to-apples basis. We need this new test to give us that data instantly at the end of the year. We should be able to compare our schools with all other schools across the nation, and we should never again be by ourselves with the test. That's one of the things we need with this new test, to compare our schools with other schools. It will produce an eye-opener for the nation.
Ted Simons: All right. Superintendent, it's good to have you here.
John Huppenthal: Great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.