As the first person in my family to attend college, I have long recognized the importance of a high quality education. Our society has been built on the premise that education is the avenue to personal and economic advancement; with the solid foundation of a high-quality public education, each person has the potential to achieve his or her dreams. This belief has certainly played out in my life, and my own experiences have made me committed to ensuring every child has the opportunities I did: to have an excellent education which prepared me to pursue my academic and career goals and to have access to greater opportunities than previous generations in my family. Because of this commitment, I taught in a high-needs school and have dedicated my career to working in education.
We know education largely determines a child’s chances in life; however, I often see students working very hard but not getting the opportunity for the excellent public education they deserve. We must change this trend. We must, as a state, say we will no longer allow students’ life prospects to suffer because of our own inability or unwillingness to provide an excellent system of public education. Our students do not have to fail; the question remains though: will we fail them? As Superintendent of Public Instruction, my responsibility, and the focus that will always be central in everything I do, will be to ensure every student in this state has access to an excellent public school, through which they will have the opportunity to pursue greater life prospects and reach their full potential.
Arizona is at a unique place in history. We are facing a significant financial crisis, the effects of which will continue to impact the state dramatically. Education, too, is at a crossroads. People have become frustrated with trying the same solutions, hoping for different results. The confluence of these two conditions provides the opportunity to be bold and innovative. We must find solutions to the challenges of an insufficient number of excellent schools and laggard student achievement. We have to recognize there is no silver bullet to improve our education system. We also have to be willing to try new ideas, evaluate programs honestly, and commit to discarding what does not work while expanding that which does.
Especially during times of uncertainty, it is imperative that leaders operate with a foundation of core principles to guide their decisions. My core beliefs, developed through my experience in public education and from which I will always operate, are:
All children can succeed academically.
We have a moral imperative to give all students a chance to achieve.
Building excellent schools must be a community effort and a community priority.
Based on these core beliefs, I have developed a framework for guiding all policy and programmatic decisions. As Superintendent, I will make each of my decisions based on what is best for Arizona’s students, ensuring all of the Arizona Department of Education’s actions are fair, innovative, and accountable.
During these turbulent times, the citizens of Arizona need to understand the values guiding their leaders and trust leaders will act in accordance with those values. Fairness, innovation, and accountability are my three guideposts, and they will ensure we are moving forward, toward an excellent public school system.
Every student in Arizona has the tremendous potential to learn and to succeed academically. It is only fair to ensure every student has access to at least the basic resources, to provide them with the tools needed to thrive. We must set our students and our schools up for success. As Superintendent, I will do everything within my power to ensure schools have the basic resources to move students forward; however, the challenge is larger than resource allocation. The current generation of students is the first generation to have lower life prospects than their parents;i this reality is not a part of the American Dream. I will actively seek out as many partnerships, innovative programs, and resources to make certain our schools are providing each student with a fair opportunity to excel.
We have learned that human capital is the most important resource schools have. The impact of a highly effective teacher or principal cannot be underestimated, especially in a high-needs school. In fact, an excellent teacher can counteract many of the challenges students in low-income communities face.ii We must build a talent pipeline of excellent teachers to teach in all of our schools. We should also encourage highly effective teachers to consider teaching in low-income schools. We know financial incentives can help attract effective teachers to high-needs schools and subjects, but these monetary incentives are not always the best option nor the most motivating for teachers. iii Therefore, I will work with teachers, administrators, and the Legislature to develop a broad-based incentive system to attract high-performing teachers and school leaders to work in our highest-needs schools.
The values of democracy require that we not only focus our attention on providing opportunities for all students, but we also commit to moving all students forward. In the era of No Child Left Behind, focus turned to the percentage of “proficient” students. This law had positives: schools and districts could no longer mask low-performing students behind a good overall average. However, in too many cases, schools focused disproportionately on the “bubble students” – those who were just within reach of proficiency. Certainly, students who are within reach of proficiency need the extra attention and guidance to get them to performing on grade level, but this intense focus left both the very high-achieving and the very low-performing students behind.iv It is just as great of a loss to let a high-achieving student settle for mediocrity as to let a low-performing student slip through the cracks. We must move all students forward, pushing them to reach their own individual potential, which is why I believe we should hold ourselves accountable for each student’s growth.
The challenges facing our public schools will not be solved overnight, but they can be solved. Innovative programs and policies are necessary to adapt to our changing environment. As Superintendent, I will continually search for the most promising innovations other states and school districts are using, while also closely following research into new solutions.
Several areas of focus for innovative programs and policies will include:
Assessment – Changes need to be made to the current AIMS testing program. We must realistically acknowledge that continually lowering the standards for AIMS has watered it down so much it is no longer useful.v Does it matter if AIMS scores are rising, if passing the test does not indicate a student is college or career-ready?vi We need to raise the bar on the level of difficulty for our state assessments, making them measures of college and career-readiness, but we also need to ensure we are capturing a full understanding of what a student knows and can do. No singular test can ever measure fully students’ skills and knowledge. We need to have multiple indicators to determine students’ readiness for graduation.vii These other measures can include real-life applications of knowledge, interdisciplinary projects assessed by teams of teachers with a standard rubric, or portfolios of classroom assignments to demonstrate subject mastery. Because of the importance of assessment in our schools, redesigning our state assessment system will be my first priority in office. I believe teachers need to be intimately involved in this process, because they have the first-hand knowledge of how students demonstrate mastery. In my first year in office, I will convene a group of teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to develop a new system of assessment based on multiple mastery indicators. By bringing the right people to the table, I will ensure Arizona creates a world-class assessment system.
Student Growth – We should incorporate measures of growth to determine student progress. The first critical step is to collect baseline data from which to build a valid, reliable system of assessing growth. Ambitious models for measuring growth already exist.viii Many states and the federal government are adapting and implementing growth models for a more comprehensive understanding of student achievement. Arizona will be a leader in this effort.
School Management – We need to reaffirm the role of principals as true instructional leaders.ix Principals need access to talented teachers, around whom they can build a highly effective team. Then, principals must be responsible for providing the necessary support to lead their team to excellence, including counseling out those staff members who are underperforming. Empowering principals will also demand significant accountability; if principals are given the responsibility of being the instructional leaders of their school, then they will be held accountable for their schools’ results.
Rewarding Results – The challenges of teacher compensation are well documented. Given their critical importance to student learning, teachers need a higher level of compensation. Teachers also need to be recognized for excellence. For this reason, I support a performance-based pay system for our educators. There are high-quality examples of performance-based compensation systems across the country,x some as close as the Alhambra School District in Maricopa County.xi A performance-based compensation plan would be connected to the new accountability system, using multiple indicators of both student achievement and professional growth. Designing a performance pay system needs to include all of the stakeholders, especially the teachers. It is critical for us to build a successful system. In Arizona, we already have a foundation for performance-based pay in Proposition 301. Despite its lofty intentions, Prop 301 has not been a true reward for excellence.xii I will work with teachers, districts, the Performance Based Compensation Task Force, and the Arizona Legislature to reform the implementation of Prop 301 and make it a true performance-based compensation system. We also have the Career Ladder program in some of Arizona’s school districts, which is a starting point for building the professional trajectory for classroom teachers. I will support the continued use of Career Ladder and explore options for expanding it to the rest of the state.
Partnerships – I have had the privilege of working with many nonprofit organizations here in Arizona, and I have seen the tremendous impact they have on schools. We must harness the potential of these partnerships and increase their impact, particularly for under-resourced schools. Many nonprofits are much more efficient and effective than the government; by building strong working partnerships, nonprofits can meet the needs of students when schools do not have the capacity to do so. In order to promote this collaboration, I will assemble a nonprofit council, made up of representatives of nonprofit organizations who are having a significant impact on the schools. This council will work hand-in-hand with the Arizona Department of Education to identify and understand student needs and develop innovative ways for addressing those needs.
Local Support – Arizona has a vibrant history of local control of schools, and this commitment to local control enables schools and districts to adapt to the unique needs of the community. As long as a program promotes greater student achievement, and is fair, innovative, and accountable, the Arizona Department of Education will honor the goals of school districts and provide them with technical assistance, when possible, to implement their community-based reforms. The Arizona Department of Education should serve as a resource to help school districts attain federal grants; it should also facilitate conversations among superintendents to find areas of collaboration. The role of the Arizona Department of Education will be to encourage innovation, not to stifle it.
Too often in our schools today, the word “accountability” is just a catchphrase. Because educational outcomes are so aligned with our state’s economic strength, we must have real accountability in our schools.
Honesty – Real accountability first demands honesty. We must honestly assess where our students stand, set goals for growth, and then expect to be held accountable for reaching those goals. The days of having 70% of students pass the AIMS while only a quarter can pass the NAEP,xiii the national assessment most commonly used as a benchmark for state performance, must end. Arizona is currently participating in the Common Core consortium, which has been tasked with developing internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards and assessments. Under my leadership, we will assess the quality of standards and assessments this initiative produces and then, if they meet our requirements of rigor, implement these aggressive standards. If students are not performing adequately, we need to assess what teacher, school, district, and state actions are leading to that result.
Gateway Years – We must also recognize that we are not holding ourselves accountable for student achievement if students are promoted without attaining proficiency and grade-level performance. I will implement three “gateway years” – 3rd grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade – at which point students who are not performing proficiently will not be promoted. But we cannot implement these gateway years without also providing sufficient interventions in order to help each student reach proficiency by the end of these grades.xiv By using assessment data and teacher evaluations, each school will identify which students are at risk of not meeting the level of proficiency needed to advance, ideally at least two years prior to the gateway year. Each school will then have to implement interventions, such as summer school, referring the student to a nonprofit-based tutoring program, or developing student action plans to help prepare the student to demonstrate grade-level proficiency.
Transparency – Every teacher should be held responsible for moving all of his or her students forward every year. Some classrooms have students performing well below grade level, while others have students performing proficiently. In either case, a student’s academic stagnation is unacceptable. Teachers have the responsibility for ensuring students make at least a year’s worth of progress during the school year. As a state, we need to implement a growth model in which teachers are held accountable and rewarded for the progress students make in their classroom during the school year. If a student comes into a 4th grade classroom reading on a 5th grade level and finishes the year still reading on a 5th grade level, is that progress? I do not believe it is. Designing and implementing this growth model will go hand-in-hand with the changes in teacher compensation and assessments. Teachers, principals, districts, and the Arizona Department of Education will work together to develop a transparent and fair process to determine what represents an ambitious yet achievable goal for students’ academic growth. Arizona already has some programs, such as the ECAP program, which can be adapted to align with this student growth model.
Collaboration – Teachers cannot do the work of educating students alone. Students and parents need to be fully invested in education. Accountability means we, as a state, need to have high expectations for everyone involved in education, especially students. We need to prepare students to be empowered to drive their own learning, and we must expect them to do so. Parents must be full partners with schools in their students’ education, and schools need to make a concerted effort to be an inclusive, collaborative environment for parents.xv Community members have a part to play as well: our schools should be true community centers, harnessing the talents of everyone in the community in the effort to provide an excellent education for all students. To make these changes in our public schools, Arizona must take an “all hands on deck” approach. We must proactively identify and tap into the resources already existing in our community, including human resources. Our schools need the talents and dedication of each person, and each person in our communities needs to feel a sense of ownership in our public schools. The changes I will make are sustainable, driven by the commitment of talented people, finding innovative ways to move toward excellence. We cannot continue to make excuses for lowering our expectations for anyone, whether they are principals, teachers, students, parents, or community members. High expectations for everyone will be a center-point of the Arizona Department of Education under my direction.
The Direction We Must Go
The elections of 2010 will have a significant impact on Arizona’s trajectory. As a state, we need to dramatically increase human capital and aggressively recruit talent to the public schools. We also need to implement innovative solutions to persistent problems and hold people and programs accountable for delivering on their promises of student achievement. We need to be honest about the current state of our schools, and we need to truthfully evaluate programs to ensure money is being spent in an efficient and effective way. Being Superintendent of Public Instruction will require making many hard decisions. I will always make these decisions based on my core beliefs and values. Arizonans can be assured all programs and policies will be fair, innovative, and accountable. Together, we can make Arizona’s public schools excellent and ensure all of our students have the opportunity to reach their potential. I ask for your support and your vote in order to reach these goals. Thank you for your commitment to the students and the future of Arizona.
i Life prospects as a function of educational attainment; see: Luzer, Daniel, “Education Rates in US Decline”, Washington Monthly, December 8, 2009, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/blog/education_rate_in_us_declines.php.
ii See Rivkin, S., E. Hanushek, and J. Kain “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement,” Econometrica 73(2), 2005, 417-458, or Rockoff, J. E., “The Impact of Individual Teachers on Students’ Achievement: Evidence from Panel Data,” American Economic Review 94(2), 2004, 247-252.
iii Goldhaber, D., “Addressing the Teacher Qualification Gap: Exploring the Use and Efficacy of Incentives to Reward Teachers with Tough Assignments,” Center for American Progress, November 2008, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/11/teacher_qualification_gap.html.
iv Choi, K., P. Goldschmidt, and K. Yamashiro, “Exploring Models of School Performance: From Theory to Practice”, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), University of California, Los Angeles, March 2006, http://www.cse.ucla.edu/products/reports/r673.pdf.
v For example, see: Kossan, P., “Educators Seek Answers Beyond AIMS”, Arizona Republic, March 15, 2009, http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/03/15/20090315aims0315.html
vi See: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, 2005, Public High School Graduation and College-Readiness Rates: 1991–2002 or Arizona State Report Card, Quality Counts 2010, Education Week, January 14, 2010 in which Arizona rates a D- for College Readiness: http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2010/17src.h29.html.
vii Chappuis, S., J. Chappuis, and R. Stiggins, “The Quest for Quality” Educational Leadership 67(3), November 2009, 14-19. See also: Brookhart, S. “The Many Meanings of ‘Mulitple Measures’”. Educational Leadership 67(3), November 2009, 6-12.
viii See: http://my.dpsk12.org/objectives/default.aspx.
x For example: Sarrio, J., “Knox County Schools are Success Story for Teacher Pay Plan,” January 16, 2010, http://www.tennessean.com/article/20100116/NEWS04/1160336/1970, and http://denverprocomp.dpsk12.org/about/.
xii See: Aportela, A., “Performance Pay in Arizona as a Result of Proposition 301″ Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Arizona Chamber Policy Brief, “Recruiting the Best and the Brightest,” June 16, 2008, http://www.azchamber.com/news/view_article.cfm?ID=62.
xiii See 2008-2009 Arizona State Report Card: http://www.ade.state.az.us/srcs/statereportcards/.
xv Viadero, D., “Scholars Identify Five Keys To Urban School Success” January 26, 2010, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/01/27/19ccsr.h29.html?qs=chicago.
I endorse Jason Williams campaign!