Higher standards next step towards Arizona education revolution

Over the last few years, the United States has endured one of the greatest economic downturns since the Great Depression. Yet during this time of high unemployment, around the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s boardroom table, we have consistently heard that employers from nearly every industry were struggling to find workers with the skills to fill vacancies. How could this be? Arizona’s school systems have made important advances in the last several years. For example, Arizona is currently home to some of the best schools in the country, we are making progress in third-grade literacy, we added core academic credits to high school to align with the requirements of our universities, and have a flourishing network of charter schools and open enrollment in our public school districts. While these improvements have started to move the needle, they are not sufficient and there is still much work to be done. Arizona has had standards in the classroom since 1999. But we lowered the bar for fear of our own failure, and now we are paying the price. Consider:
  • Forty-two percent of employers report that newly hired high school graduates are deficient in reading, writing and math.
  • Less than 20 percent of Arizona students graduate from a four-year institution within six years.
  • Sixty percent of students who attend community college require remedial coursework.
And we know Arizonans want a higher minimum set of expectations for what our kids need to know and be able to do upon leaving high school. A recent poll found that 70 percent of likely voters think that we need to raise academic standards in Arizona’s public schools. Twenty-three percent think they should be kept the same, and one percent believe that we should lower the standards in our public schools, which can be accomplished by reverting to our old standards in the classroom. In 2010, our State Board of Education recognized that our standards weren’t working, and adopted a new set of standards, the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards (Common Core). Before, Arizona’s standards allowed us to lower the bar. Now, the Arizona College and Career Ready standards are internationally benchmarked, and comparable among other states to keep us honest. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be continuously looking to improve our standards, but we needed to raise the bar; these new standards do that. That’s why business leaders across Arizona support these new, more rigorous academic standards, and want an aligned assessment that can better tell us where our students are today, and how successful we are in getting them where they need to be. Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards will better prepare students for college and the workplace, something of critical importance to the State’s employers and ultimately Arizona’s continued economic growth. As U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue explained in his State of American Business Address, “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.” The last time the United States led the world in any indicator of academic success, the Beatles were appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. You say you want a revolution? Start with being honest with students about what they need to succeed after high school and then expect schools to help them get there. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Glenn Hamer is president and CEO, Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.