Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Grading Arizona

Note: This column appears in the 1/28 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/29 issue of the Peoria Times

I enjoy it when one entity grades another entity based on the latter entity’s own method of grading. Which is why I was thrilled to see that Quality Counts -– an organization that does such things -– gave the State of Arizona a C- for its educational system.

Arizona -- which did not know it was getting graded and therefore didn’t even study – is among the majority of states that received a C or lower. So…America!

As with most studies and research of this ilk, the method of gathering information and the subsequent conclusion is suspect at best. For example, in the category of “Transitions & Alignment” -– for which, in general, Arizona received a C- and which, also, makes it sound as though Arizona’s educational system is a car –- the state received a D- in the sub-category of “College readiness.” In my humble opinion, being ready for college involves a myriad of factors, and the quality of your high school education is often the least influential of those. Plus, accurately grading an entire institution’s ability to prepare hundreds of thousands of kids seems too all-encompassing an endeavor. I’m just saying.

But this study does have a purpose, and that is to expose and hopefully improve the faults in this country’s educational system. And with regards to Arizona specifically, according to Quality Counts, one need look no further than “School Finance,” for which the state received a D+, with an F in “Spending.” Based on that, it’s little surprise that in the realm of “Accountability for Quality” among teachers, Arizona earned a solid D.

One does not have to buy wholeheartedly into this study to see that Arizona is failing at spending money for education.

In fact, someone doesn’t buy wholeheartedly into this study, and it may be that his view is more disconcerting that the study itself. That someone is State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. Mr. Horne, citing the state’s high poverty level, had this to say about the report: “It should be a credit to our education system that they are getting as high scores as they are.” He then spontaneously awarded Quality Counts a D- for their research.

Now, I agree with Mr. Horne that poverty level is indeed an educational factor that could not have been properly taken into account. However, what he is essentially saying here is: I am surprised that we didn’t do worse. And I’m proud.

A more hopeful response to this study by Mr. Horne may have been: Regardless of indeterminable factors, this study is a wake-up call, and we will do whatever it takes to improve our educational system, its funding, and its results in the immediate and long-term future. But hey, that’s just me. And what do I know -– I was educated in New Jersey. (They got a B by the way.)

I would also like to add, if I may, that states such as New Mexico, Arkansas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Louisiana –- which annually have a larger percentage of people living at or below the poverty level than does Arizona -– earned considerably higher rankings. Again, I’m just saying.

Taking into account our educational system’s response to its own reported below-par performance, I do agree with Mr. Horne in one other respect: it is a wonder that we didn’t do worse.

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