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Blog: We have the roadmap for improving outcomes — now how about some gas for the car?

Arizona has a long-term plan for improving student academic outcomes. Great time and effort has been invested in developing a set of goals to get us there. The goals are based on recommendations from a statewide council of education and business leaders. Legislative and policy changes have been put into place to support these goals, and districts statewide are now implementing them. The Arizona Ready Council is tracking progress toward these goals, and monitoring programs aimed at supporting the goals to ensure that they are effective. By 2020, we expect to:

• Increase the percentage of third-graders meeting state reading from standards.
• Raise the high school graduation rate.
• Increase the percentage of eight-graders achieving at or above “basic” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – “The Nation’s Report Card.”
• Double the number of students receiving baccalaureate degrees.

We’re making progress. Arizona students’ math and reading results on NAEP show that academic gains are being made. The percentage of Arizona fourth-graders who scored “at or above basic” on the math assessment rose from 74 percent in 2007 to 77 percent in 2011. Eighth-graders made gains on the math assessment as well, with those “at or above basic” rising seven percentage points from 2007 to 2011, from 61 percent to 68 percent. Students at both grade levels demonstrated improvement on the reading assessment from 2007 to 2011. The percentage of fourth graders “at or above basic” increased two points (56 percent to 58 percent) and the percentage of eight graders jumped six points (from 65 percent to 71 percent).

Arizona’s graduation rate has increased 24 percent over the past decade, rising at a rate three times faster than the national average. Boosts in Latino graduation rates are cited as a key reason for the increase. Our 10-year increase in graduation rate is the biggest in the country. Our 72 percent graduation rate is, however, still below the national average of 73.3 percent.

Clearly we’ve got the vision and the will – we’ve invested in developing those. The question we now face is whether we have the financial resources to move the needle more significantly for our kids.

Arizona’s funding for public education is eroding. Funding decreased 5 percent from 2009 to 2011. Our spending per student is 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. In fiscal year 2010 Arizona spent $7,848 per pupil, with only Idaho and Utah spending less. The national average was $10,615 per student, or $2,767 more per student than Arizona.

Money alone won’t improve outcomes, but additional financial resources can fund essential elements that lead to student success. Implementation of programs to ensure that all third-graders are reading. More training opportunities for teachers, so every classroom has an effective instructional leader in it. Training and resources to implement the higher academic standards now being rolled out in schools statewide. Necessary additional support, like counselors, speech pathologists, nurses and social workers, for the large number of Arizona children living at or below the poverty level.

Arizona is to be commended for creating a roadmap for improving education. We have motivated drivers at the wheel. I’ve met those parents and school leaders. But it’s going to be tough getting to our envisioned destination without a little more gas in the tank.

Dr. Timothy Ogle is executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting community volunteer governance of public education and continuous improvement of student success by providing leadership and assistance to school district governing boards statewide. He serves on the board of directors of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition. Prior to joining ASBA in February 2012, Ogle enjoyed a successful 30-year career in public education, most recently as superintendent of schools in one of Indiana’s highest achieving and fastest growing school districts. He has also served as curriculum director, principal and teacher. Ogle holds a B.S. in education and an M.S. in school administration from Indiana University, an Ed.S. from Ball State University and a Ph.D. in school administration from Indiana State University.