Right focus will brighten education
Arizona Republic
Aug. 22, 2005

Our Turn

Carol Peck  http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/0822peck22.html


Editor's note: Following is a postscript to a five-part series on education reform in Arizona that was co-written by Carol Peck, president and CEO of Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona, and civic leaders.

Now that the "Lead With Five" report has been released and more than 3,000 copies have been requested by Arizona citizens, we'd like to take the opportunity to expand on strategies to improve public education in Arizona.

"Lead With Five" identifies fundamental reforms for improving public K-12 education, with each required to have a nationally established track record as evidence of their effectiveness. Beyond "Lead With Five," here are additional effective strategies we offer to improve our public education system.

English instruction to selected preschoolers.

A multitude of Arizona students start school with a home language other than English, with nearly 30 percent still learning English.

The Flores vs. Arizona case mandates directing resources to better serve these English-language learners. A highly successful and cost-effective strategy is to provide early, intensive English-language instruction.

Preschool is ideal for introducing children to English as their second language, when it is easier for them to learn and less expensive than years of second-language classes in elementary grades.

We've watched hundreds of non-English speaking students in preschool programs learn to speak broken English during their first semester. By year's end, they're comfortably communicating in their new language.

A global focus.

To achieve a competitive edge in the job market, our children need a global focus interwoven with their education. Arizona's workforce is not competing only in the region; it's competing with countries such as India, China and Vietnam.

Business and government entities are in dire need of individuals who can communicate in many languages. Arizona would be wise to create programs that produce multilingual students. This will strengthen our workforce and attract internationally focused businesses.

To gain this competitive edge, we must encourage multilingualism through language instruction that begins early.

For example, the Alhambra District teaches Spanish to all primary students for 15 minutes each day. This gives Spanish speakers an opportunity to shine, and provides non-Spanish speaking students an introduction to a foreign language at an age where they're most ready to learn a second language.

Beginning in junior high, we should require more intensive language instruction.

With the advent of distance learning, we can broaden offerings without necessarily hiring teachers who speak Chinese, Russian or Farsi.

The time is right to create and expand international studies in our public and charter high schools.

Exposure to these programs should be required for all students, but we should also create additional charter and traditional magnets that have a global focus.

Pay for performance.

The power to create opportunities and to change lives rests in the individual teacher's ability to excite, motivate and develop skills and knowledge that will serve students for a lifetime.

One of the best investments we can make is to honor and recognize those teachers who, as measured by the success of their students, are truly making a difference.

Using the work of William Sanders and others, we can measure "value-added" student achievement, or the amount of growth students achieve during the time they spend with a teacher.

A pilot pay-for-performance project at selected high-poverty schools could be a highly useful model. Teachers would be hired at fair and prevailing wages but would be offered substantial performance bonuses that would be paid if they significantly raise the relative achievement levels of their students.

Imagine schools in Arizona where students learn to speak fluently in several languages, understand the value of globalization, use their knowledge to improve lives in the 21st century, and where teachers are rewarded for positive measurable growth.

By investing with the "right focus," we can give our children the opportunity to realize a bright future.

Carol Peck is president and CEO of Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona. Don Budinger is chairman and founding director of The Rodel Foundations.