Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0108qualityed08.html

Arizona's education improving
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 8, 2004
Maggie Galehouse

State still has way to go in many areas report says

Arizona's academic standards are clearer and more detailed than they were one year ago, but the state is 48th in the country in student spending and woefully lax in improving teacher quality, according to an annual study that tracks education policies across the country.

The Quality Counts report, released Wednesday by Education Week, grades each state on student achievement, academic standards, teacher quality, school climate and education funding.

Arizona earned its best grade, a B, for academic standards and accountability, up from a C+ last year.

"We've made major changes in the academic system," said Tom Horne, who took over as state schools chief last year.

Schools get more credit for students who show academic improvement over the course of a year, and Arizona's system rewards schools that focus on average and bright students, Horne said.

Arizona's D and C-, for the adequacy and equity of its education funding, respectively, is an improvement over the F and D+ of the previous year. But the state is still at the bottom of the money pile, spending an average of $5,319 per student, compared with $9,555 in top-ranked New York.

For parents like Eric Meyer, who have spent the past two years pleading with state legislators to recognize the importance of funding education, Arizona's poor showing is the root of the state's education problems.

"Lack of funding affects everything," said Meyer, a member of the Scottsdale Parent Council. "If we could meet even the national average for funding, it would mean another $40 million to just Scottsdale's budget. We could cut class size and raise teacher salaries."

Horne said that eking more money out of the Legislature this year is unlikely.

"This year, we're playing defense because of the state deficit," he said. "The main thing is that there aren't any cuts."

The other half of the state's grades held steady from last year: a B- for school climate and a D- for improving teacher quality.

For some parents, the best way to assure that their children get high-quality teachers is to participate in the hiring process.

"Our parents are involved in the interviewing and hiring of teachers," said Toni Napper, a parent who sits on the site council for the Abraham Lincoln Traditional School in the Washington Elementary School District. "We know at the interview whether they'll fit into the school climate."

Quality Counts 2004 gathers information from a number of organizations, including the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for Education Reform, and the American Federation of Teachers.

This year, the report included a special section on educating special-needs students.

Federal law says that states must bring virtually all students to a proficient level on state tests by 2014, an enormous hurdle for the 6.6 million children in the country who receive special-education services. More than 80 percent of teachers polled said that most special-education students should not be expected to meet the same set of academic standards as other children their age.

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