ARIZONA'S EDUCATION SYSTEM IS READY FOR REFORM SCHOOL
This is an article about education reform in Arizona. It contains opinions on complex issues, profound sociological theories, colorful political bickering and, most impressive, statistics. For example, literacy researchers claim that less than 30 percent of Americans are capable of reading a long newspaper feature story to its completion.
So for the vast majority of readers about to drop out, here is a brief summary:
Arizona education needs reforming.
Reformers have been working on it for a while.
Reform is complicated.
The reformers have tried hard, but so far have failed.
The reformers are getting their ducks lined up, though, and it seems like something is about to pop.
All of you in the 31st percentile and below can go now.
@body:Those of you remaining probably will not be pleased to learn that most of the major ideas in this article don't directly concern you. If you've read this far, someone has a statistic somewhere that shows that your kids--if you have kids--will survive, if not thrive, in any kind of school, be it public, private or fish. That's just the kind of person you are. Literate. Knowledgeable and concerned about the lives of your offspring. Employed. Not incarcerated.
But this article is about public schools in Arizona, which have problems that only marginally affect you 30 percenters who read long newspaper stories--and who also likely encourage your kids to read, write, learn mathematics and play the clarinet.
It's about 220 districts, 711,899 schoolkids and $3 billion in tax money, more or less. It's about business executives who can't get good workers, blockhead lawmakers and craven politicking. It's about a massive school-reform movement that started five years ago that has achieved, essentially, nothing.
But mostly, it's about a huge-and-growing-huger population of unlucky kids whose background all but dooms them to failure in school and later life, and the massive task most public schools have in accommodating them.
They are called "at risk" students, and they start school unprepared to accept their taxpayer-supported education. Yet the law says they must be educated, so they are thrust into America's most democratic institution, public school.
Some don't speak English, some come from broken or abusive homes, some have mental disorders caused by poor nutrition. Many lack the skills necessary to participate in the group learning experience. These students start kindergarten trailing other students, and rarely catch up. "They come to school totally lacking basic vocabulary, with no socialization skills," says one Arizona grade-school administrator. "They need to be exposed to education and the values that education can promote much earlier."
En route to their exit from school--and some do beat the odds and make it to graduation--they drain resources and teacher time while robbing average and gifted students of both.
For obvious reasons, educators are skittish about labeling kids at-risk. Because the definition of at-risk is so broad, it's almost impossible to put an exact number or a percentage on the at-risk kids in Arizona schools. But you can come close by using poverty as a proxy.
According to the state Department of Education, almost 250,000 of the state's schoolkids participate in federal reduced-fee and free-meal programs. Using family income, the feds draw a line. Kids from families below the line are in the program. Not all eligible kids participate--at higher grades, peer pressure keeps some students away from the poverty program--and there are plenty of rich kids who are at-risk, but to move the discussion along, poverty is the best place to begin.
And for starters, the 1990 census shows that Arizona had the nation's second-greatest per capita growth of low-income kids in school since 1980, trailing only Wyoming.
There will be talk of education "excellence" in this story, dreamy, futuristic descriptions of computer learning and stirring yak about how publicly educated American workers can't compete with foreigners. But the big story is the at-risk kids, and our inability to do much for them.
@body:The effort to do something for them has brought Arizona education to a crossroads. Legislation has been mapped out that could bring significant school reform to the state, and the latest word from the Arizona State Capitol is that the state legislature probably will be called into special session late this summer to consider a roster of systemic changes in education. The journey to this point started five years ago, when Arizona's larger employers latched onto nationwide concerns about intellectual competence of the American work force. Since the early 1980s, businesses have been saying that public schools produce a poor product, a flaw that has crippled America in the international marketplace. The nature of industry has changed rapidly, schools have not kept up and competitors (Japan, Germany, et cetera) have pounded American business.
Local business leaders joined this parade in 1988, and called their union the Arizona Business Leadership for Education (ABLE). The organization, made up of executives from Motorola, Arizona Public Service Company, Dial Corp., Phelps Dodge and other heavyweights, would eventually spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in its campaign. ABLE, an offshoot of Greater Phoenix Leadership, formerly known as the Phoenix 40, has been led by Tony Mason, a candidate for governor in 1986, and Rick Lavis, an East Valley congressional candidate the same year.
ABLE's investment in reform has been motivated partly by corporate altruism, the business representatives say, and partly by corporate pragmatism.
Cathy McKee, an ABLE official and Motorola vice president, has been quoted as saying that her company spent $20 million on training and education for its employees in 1989--presumably a nationwide figure for the electronics giant, which wouldn't cooperate with this story. McKee said that one-third of that figure went to classes in remedial reading, writing and math.
Karen Mills, associate dean of the College and Adult Literacy Services department at Rio Salado Community College, says her office does a booming business with local companies that contract for remedial education for workers. Motorola, the largest corporate user of the remedial-learning program, at one point sponsored basic catch-up classes at five different plants around town, Mills says.
There's plenty of evidence that corporate concern over worker smarts is well-placed. Apply for work at Motorola's employment office on East Broadway Road and you'll be handed a sample of the test it gives hourly, unskilled workers before hiring them. A New Times reporter--by applying to work for the electronics giant--obtained a copy of the sample test. Examples of multiple-choice math problems: 142 + 320 + 1715 = ; 1135 - 638 = ; 10% of 75 = . Applicants were also asked to master a hypothetical time card and follow lines on a simulated circuit board.
Based on the level of difficulty of some of the sample questions, Big Mo and its local corporate colleagues may have a point about the failures of public education. Though Motorola wouldn't provide New Times with the pass-fail ratio of applicants--the personnel department hasn't called about our job application, either--it's clear from the sample test that "crisis" doesn't quite describe the situation.
Add to the business community's bottom-line concerns a vague, overall dread caused by seemingly declining schools--the current high dropout rate is "extraordinarily bad for society," says one ABLE member; other ABLE participants "really want to get these graffiti-writing kids off of their buildings," observes another insider--and the formation of some kind of task force became almost inevitable.
@body:Which is what happened in 1991, after Arizona voters elected a crack businessman to fill the governor's office.
J. Fife Symington III, who opposed the ACE Initiative during the election (his opponent, Terry Goddard, endorsed the blank-check-for-schools ballot initiative), spun ABLE's momentum into the Governor's Task Force on Education Reform, whose 40-plus members--including representatives of teachers' unions, parents, school administrators, elected officials and business leaders--met for six months and produced a report. The task force also produced six pieces of education reform, which were presented to legislators in 1992 as a unified, all-or-nothing platform. All failed, not because Arizona education took a sharp performance upturn, but for these reasons, provided by Capitol observers: Following a six-piece legislative slate was "awfully confusing" for legislators, most of whom were educated right here in Arizona. Beyond that, they were already swamped by the redistricting mess. Reform proponents insisted that the bills be considered as an all-or-none package, which irked independent-thinking lawmakers.
Education interests opposed the reforms, because there wasn't any guaranteed funding.
Legislators labeled the bill linkage "extortion." The governor labeled the 1992 session's attempts at school reform "a colossal failure."
"Everything," says Marty Shultz, ABLE member and Arizona Public Service Company executive, "led to checkmate."
ABLE and others returned to the legislature in 1993, hamstrung by gubernatorial utterances that promised Arizona could reform education without spending any more money on it. Symington, who went so far as to make that promise in his 1993 State of the State speech, was also on record as saying he believes state schools waste $100 million a year.
An early omnibus bill, introduced by ABLE and Republican legislative education advocates Representative Lisa Graham of Paradise Valley and Senator Bev Hermon of Tempe, at least eliminated the scattershot approach of multiple bills. It got shouted down, though, by education interests that had not yet been enthusiastically invited into the big lawmaking tent, and that were, as usual, concerned that the legislature was going to pass paper reform without passing along any paper money.
Midway through the session, ABLE and other education advocates were faced with the prospect of striking out again.
That's when a rare coalition of business leaders and all of the education-lobby people came together. According to all involved, this alignment was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
@body:Faced with the potential of another reformless spring, ABLE and the others began feverish meetings at ABLE's downtown headquarters. Invited were representatives of the usual education interests, as well as the usual dour business executives. After five years, ABLE, whose members are used to getting what they want from Arizona lawmakers, wanted some kind of progress on reform. The educators wanted reform, too, but knew the real costs. Funding for at-risk programs, as well as money to retrain the teachers and administrators who would implement reform, was something the educators couldn't live without.
The group's early meetings are described by participants as "reminiscent of the Paris peace talks." There were more than two sides at this bargaining table, and none of the factions wholly trusted any of the others. ABLE had an innate, bottom-line distrust of the education establishment, which the organization traditionally perceives to be composed of money-eating socialists.
The educators were wary of big business, partly because ABLE had opposed the ACE Initiative, the 1990 ballot proposition designed to hot-wire the educators more money, and partly because early ABLE platforms called for voucher-system experiments--which educators view as a government subsidy for rich folks, private-school brats and Catholics.
"We haven't always been friends," understates Kay Lybeck, president of the Arizona Education Association, a teachers' union. "But my people are the ones who are going to have to change. It's not just an exercise and intellectual discussion. The people I represent are the people who have to do the work."
Further complicating the seating arrangements were divisions within each camp. Teachers and administrators aren't natural allies, for example, and some businessmen were--and still are--more hard-line about issues such as voucher-system experiments and fund-free reform. To break the ice, a mediator was brought in from outside the state. (It's how they do things in business," says one participant. "When you hit a rough spot, you hire a consultant.") The consultant, Patrick Dolan, a Ph.D. from Overland Park, Kansas, managed to at least get conversation started. @rule:
@body:Dolan's ice-breaking eventually became Senate Bill 1101, clearly a compromise measure built to fly. But the bill got off the ground too late. The legislature was already en route to early adjournment (97 days and out, instead of sticking around until July); the budget had been passed, and the legislature's real work was done. Reformers grew concerned that rushing legislators at such a late hour would result in bunches of "no" votes--and another completely negative outcome for the session. So they backed off the bill. Also in the political mix were agitators who hadn't fully joined in the let's-help-the-kids mood. A scathing critique of 1101, drafted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, circulated around the Capitol while the bill still lived.
ABLE and its new friends decided to declare their newfound coalition a moral victory, then called it a session.
"Never before in the history of Arizona have the warring factions--business advocates for reform and teachers, school administrators and school boards--come so close in a room to develop a product that most people would agree is good for kids," schmoozes APS' Marty Shultz. Adds Malcolm Craig, ABLE member and retired president of the Garrett Engine Division of Allied Signal: "It was an extraordinary event, without question." However historic--and education-reform experts from outside the state are typically shocked to learn that such a coalition could form anywhere--it was merely a symbolic victory for ABLE and its new allies. "Education reform has had more headlines with the word 'dead' in them than anything we've ever done," says Representative Graham.
@body:For weeks after the regular session ended, reform participants jawed about their next move. Some of the players believed it would be best to lay back and wait for the next regular session. A significant faction of reformers and lawmakers believed that Arizona's complicated school-funding formula needed a rewrite before the reforms could pass, and planned to tackle those long numerical columns over the summer.
Others, concerned that the coalition would wilt in the heat, pushed for a special session to capitalize on the reform coalition's inertia. And now there is serious talk of a special session being called for late summer to consider elements of 1101.
The statewide reforms that would be considered in a special session are not exactly on the leading edge of education theory. Some of the fix-up measures considered by the legislature the past couple of sessions have been in place elsewhere for years. Decentralization, best described as a management philosophy that removes some decision-making responsibilities from school boards and superintendents and gives them to teachers, parents and principals--and one of the key pieces of reform Arizona's legislature can't manage to pass--has been operating somewhat successfully in Miami, Florida, for a decade.
More surprising, though, unofficial school reform is everywhere in Arizona. Some school districts sniffed the reform wind years ago and steered toward change. The key elements of balky SB 1101--decentralization," "school choice" and increased funding for at-risk students--can be evaluated based on their performance right here, right now.
But first, some definitions. Decentralization: This is a theory of management designed to reduce "top-down" decision-making, an ancient military model by which generals direct troops and troops take the directions, which often lead to their deaths. American business believes it has reformed itself by eliminating top-down management over the past couple of decades, and believes it can work for schools.
In theory, wasteful bureaucracy is eliminated by decentralizing schools. Districts and school boards will retain some functions--transportation, food, insurance--leaving other decisions and management problems to teams of teachers, parents and administrators at individual schools. Those decisions will include hiring teachers, mapping curricula and doling out discipline, among other tasks.
"Decisions made closest to the kids are better decisions," says teachers' union official Kay Lybeck, summing it up. School choice: This reform theoretically allows students to pick the public school of their choice within or without their current district, and have funding follow them. Choice proponents see it as a way to foster competition between schools, which would cause bad schools to shape up. Choice opponents say bright kids--or kids with bright parents--will depart troubled schools, taking their funding with them.
"Open enrollment is going to make good schools look better, and it's pretty much close to the kiss of death for bad ones," says James Curlett, the principal of what is widely considered to be one of the state's best high schools, Mountain View in Mesa. At-risk funding: Senate Bill 1101, most likely the boilerplate for this summer's expected special session, calls for about $170 million in new spending for schools. According to Representative Graham, some of the money will go to teacher training, but most of it is targeted at at-risk programs.
Dr. Lynn Davey, a principal in a poor Phoenix district, used extra money from grants and budget overrides to design special programs for at-risk kids, including all-day kindergarten classes and an extended school year for those students. Though 90 percent of her student body is on the federal free-meal program, test scores and attendance have improved over the past few years--in part, she believes, because of the extra money. "It's absolutely crucial," Davey says.
@body:The consensus among educators is that decentralization works if the transition is well-planned and carefully structured, if participants are thoroughly trained to handle their new responsibilities and if school-district administrators are willing to let others share in meaningful decision-making.
The benefits of site-based decision-making are that it tends to involve more parents in school issues (you get more customer input," as one businessman explained), and it can boost teachers' morale by allowing them more control of their workday. Educators call this kind of involvement in reform "buy-in."
But in some applications, decentralization has been the empowerment of well-meaning but overmatched parents who become rubber stamps for the ranking administrator. Another risk is the creation of dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller fiefdoms from one larger bureaucracy.
Forms of decentralization have been in place (somewhat successfully) in Miami for a decade, and in Chicago (less successfully) since the late 1980s. Decentralization in Chicago created a site-based political maelstrom in almost every school. Elsewhere, reformers have had more success. The Creighton School District in east Phoenix began to decentralize six years ago and is considered such a success that district superintendent Don Covey now teaches seminars on site-based management to educators from other states.
Covey says site-based decision-making made big changes possible at Loma Linda Elementary School at 20th Street and Clarendon, a school with a high concentration of potential at-risk kids.
There, school principal Pamela Eklund, working with her site-based council of teachers and parents, petitioned the school board for year-round classes two years ago. According to Covey, absenteeism among students is down nearly 20 percent at the school. Also, discipline has improved. Most impressive, Covey says, is that teacher absenteeism, typically a problem at schools with poorer students, is also down. "When you do something like this, it can't be a top-down decision," says Eklund. "It has to be broad-based." Eklund says she discovered while researching year-round schools that a similar scheduling experiment had recently failed in a neighboring, centralized district. "They didn't have any teacher support or parent support," she says. "They didn't have any 'buy-in.'"
@body:"In many cities, what happens after a school-choice plan goes into effect, the savvy parents--the journalists, lawyers and business leaders--hear quickly which are the better schools, the ones with terrific principals, the ones who have the business partners giving them computers, and they tend to dominate those schools," says Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities, a study of funding inequities in American schools. "They turn that school into a pretty little place, a boutique school. They become a Bonwit Teller in a district of K marts. And that's not fair." Kozol says that school choice attracts "in an insidious way" supporters who don't tend to think of the common good. He's seen it, he says, in his home state of Massachusetts, which has adopted a limited school-choice approach.
"We've seen again and again parents working hard to advance the interests of their own kids at whatever the cost to other children, who may be every bit as needy."
James Curlett, principal at Mountain View High School--a Mesa school brimming with overachievers--agrees that widespread open enrollment could harm poorer schools by robbing them of "peer role models." Curlett says his school's high academic reputation is largely attributable to elaborate efforts to honor students who set good examples academically. The school's booster club hosts elaborate end-of-the-year awards ceremonies--typically the kind of functions reserved for athletes--for top students. And Curlett, who is retiring after 17 years, early on established a Wall of Fame for the school's honor students.
"When it started, it was two pictures on a great big wall," he says. "You've got to find a way to get kids to believe that succeeding isn't something to be ashamed of." Though no statewide school-choice statute yet exists in Arizona, "there's more open enrollment than you think," says one local administrator.
In fact, more students here attend schools outside their neighborhoods than in some states that get credit for being educationally enlightened.
Minnesota, for example, legislated school choice in 1988, and less than 1 percent of that state's students have chosen to transfer between districts. That state's public school system is regularly lauded as one of the nation's best. But in even less stellar states where school choice has been officially encouraged, most kids won't leave the school that's closest to their homes.
In Arizona, where today's total public school enrollment (grades K-12) is about 700,000, more than 40,000 kids go to schools outside their attendance areas, and more than 10,000 commute out of their districts. Of course, a big percentage--something like 40 percent--of those who do transfer do so because the federal government has forced districts to desegregate.
Arizona Department of Education statistics show that about one-third of the state's transfer students who are not under federal mandate leave their schools to find a better academic atmosphere elsewhere. The rest, DOE says, transfer because the school of choice might be located closer to after-school day care, or for other reasons of convenience. Charter schools are often included in official school-choice plans, and have been frequently discussed during Arizona's reform movement. These schools are created by groups of teachers and/or parents who break away from a district (but not a district's money) to fulfill their own vision of what a learning environment should be.
Kozol, who lives outside of Boston, says he's wary of "conservative business folks" now pushing school choice and charter schools around the country. "They see it as a Trojan horse," he says, "a foot in the door for vouchers." @rule:
@body:Related to school choice--and conspicuous by its absence from the set of reforms included in SB 1101--is the controversial reform known as "the voucher system." Promoted heavily in recent years by political conservatives who believe it would create healthy free-market competition in American education, a voucher system would distribute tax money raised for schools to students, who then would tote their "voucher" wherever they see fit, to the public school on the corner or to the private academy or parochial school across town.
The huge philosophical differences dividing proponents and opponents of the voucher approach have kept it from being tested on a large scale anywhere in the country. The City of Milwaukee is trying a tiny pilot program, but large-scale examples don't exist.
Colorado voters turned down a voucher-system ballot measure last year, and surveys of Colorado voters after the election showed that the greatest opposition to vouchers came from people who didn't want taxpayer money to support private religious schools (the fastest-growing category of private schools in America are run by fundamentalist Christians), which they see as a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Polls done on the issue in Arizona are inconclusive, but Governor Symington has been a strident supporter of the concept, and it still figures in unofficial legislative debate. ABLE's earlier platforms supported voucher experiments, and some of the CEOs still actively promote the concept. But heavy education-lobby opposition has eliminated voucher talk from any recent serious discussion of Arizona school reform. "The education people will never come around," says legislator Graham, who favors voucher experiments. "We don't seem to work that into any conversation without someone going quite pale." @rule:
@body:One academic, writing in an academic journal, argues that limiting the definition of at-risk students to "poor, non-English-speaking and/or handicapped students" leaves out a few variables. He suggests expanding the definition to include "students who are characterized by two or more of the following factors: poor prenatal and medical care, premature birth, substance abuse/drug addicted at birth, poverty, physical or emotional handicap, abuse or neglect, malnourished, school-dropout parent(s), illiterate or semiliterate parent(s), teenage parent(s), migrant-worker parent(s), single female parent(s), AIDS (child or parent), divorced parents, working parent(s)/latchkey parent(s), mentally handicapped parent(s), non-English-speaking parent(s), unemployed parent(s) and incarcerated parent(s)."
Teachers strive mightily to avoid branding youngsters with the at-risk tag--it's not something you'd hear in a classroom. But the growth of this population in some districts has clearly begun to overwhelm the system.
At-risk students bring a whole new world of needs with them to school every day. "Things you would think would be taught at home," says one Phoenix grade school teacher. "Discipline. How to react to another person. Values. Morals. How to handle emotions. Self-motivation."
Schools around the country have been experimenting with programs that might help lessen the risks for at-risk kids. Research shows that the federal Head Start program, which offers preschool for disadvantaged children, works. Such preschool efforts, as well as all-day kindergarten and various in-class techniques, are proven winners in helping to prepare at-risk students for the remainder of their education. In Phoenix's Creighton School District, more than 60 percent of the students qualify for cheap or free meals. "Some of our children, believe me, have never been north of Camelback Road, or been south of Roosevelt," says superintendent Don Covey. "Their whole world is right here."
Through vigorous pursuit of grant money and district budget-override funding, Creighton has attempted to counteract some of the things on the long list of negative variables affecting at-risk students.
Children who entered William T. Machan Elementary School at 20th Street and Campbell as kindergarteners in 1988 were in the first classes to receive special attention paid for by the extra money, and are now in the fourth grade. Compared with transfer students, the fourth graders who have spent their whole academic careers at Machan have lower absenteeism and higher reading and math test scores. The same tests place their study skills at almost a full grade level higher than the transfer students. In 1988-89, third-grade teachers at Machan, using a wider definition than the free-lunch program, identified 70 percent of their students as at-risk. In 1991, the same teachers said they would categorize only 49 percent of their students that way.
"We had a vision of what we wanted to do with the kids," says Machan principal Lynn Davey. "The extra money gives us the resources do it. The money has been invaluable."
@body:Invaluable dollars are addressed in SB 1101, and likely will be part of whatever reform that emerges from a special session. But almost everybody who has followed school reform says Arizona's system of school funding--districts tax property holders; state tax funds equalize differences between poor and rich districts--needs an overhaul. Though it's similar to funding plans used by most states, critics say the system leaves poorer districts unable to pay for capital improvements such as new buildings, gyms, et cetera.
During the weeks following the most recent legislative session, rail birds were guessing that the legislature would hold off on reform until the next full session, in January 1994, but appoint a committee to study school financing in the interim. Some observers hoot at the prospects of this legislature reworking Arizona's school-funding formulas. After all, this is the body that has failed to fully fund the costs of inflation in Arizona schools for the past several years, and for the last two years has played accounting tricks with school funds to offer cranky citizens mostly meaningless tax cuts. As this story went to press, speculation about a special session doesn't mention school finances at all. The legislature will find some money--nobody's saying where--to ante up the $170 million or so educators want for their programs at the special session. For now, a systemic examination of the state's school-finance structure, including a look at Title XV requirements that state government places on schools, is nowhere to be seen.
Well, not exactly nowhere.
"It's an entirely wealth-driven system," says Tim Hogan, director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which has filed suit against the state in hopes of forcing a more equitable funding formula. "I don't think any serious reform of this system is going to get done without the courts telling the legislature that the laws are unconstitutional." Ironically, also suing Arizona on a school-related issue are key members of reform-minded ABLE. In 1990, the legislature created a special tax for mines and utilities--typically large landholders in rural areas--to raise more money for schools statewide. ABLE stalwarts Arizona Public Service Company and Phelps Dodge are parties to a lawsuit claiming the tax is unfair. The tax reportedly costs APS about $70 million a year, most of which goes to schools.
APS spokesman Marty Shultz sees no irony in his company suing to lessen its own contributions to public-school funding while at the same time reaping the considerable public relations benefits of participating in a big-business group of school-reform activists.
"We have always been champions of funding equity," says Shultz, adding that APS favors a revamping of Arizona's school-funding mechanisms. "We shouldn't be singled out because we own a lot of property. We're a utility. Our taxes eventually bear a cost to our customers." @rule:
@body:Discussion of tax overhaul, however speculative, finally explains a lot about the keen interest big business shows in school reform. Social altruism and work-force needs are the marquee motivations for the efforts of ABLE and others, but, as one participant in this round of reform put it, "It's naive to think that businesses will discharge themselves of their own pecuniary interests to forward education."
Redesign of the school-funding mechanism in Arizona--at least the kind of sweeping changes promoted by muckraking author Jonathan Kozol--are not likely to occur in Arizona anytime soon. Only a small percentage of this state's voters have school-age kids. And an even larger bloc--the elderly ensconced in places like Sun City--traditionally disfavors contributing anything to public education. Meanwhile, Arizona's per-pupil spending languishes in the bottom half of American states. Some 30 percent of Arizona's children don't finish high school. Closer to home, about half of the students who enter the Phoenix Union High School District as freshmen don't make it to graduation day four years later. Among the residents of Arizona's state prisons, more than 80 percent are high school dropouts.
If you've read this far, you can do the math. Still, school reforms that would be discussed in a special legislative session this summer go far, in Arizona terms. ABLE will be able to say that its time and money hasn't been wasted; its leaders' political stock will rise. Education interests will not be viewed as obstructionists. The coalition of the two groups will be rightly hailed as historic--as long as some reform passes soon. Legislators and the governor--ever more aware of the looming political presence of grocer Eddie Basha, an education advocate since his service on the Chandler School Board in 1968 and a possible candidate for governor in 1994--will be able to say they reformed Arizona education. But do these reforms go far enough?
Forget, for a minute, the at-risk kids who have all but overrun public education here. Consider instead the other 400,000 students, the economically and intellectually gifted students who will be the ones to compete in the world marketplace with hypereducated kids from Japan, Germany and, lately, Indonesia.
If you're still reading, there's a high likelihood that you see your kids in this category. How well-served will your children be by these first tentative reforms? How much difference will site-based management make as schools try to adapt to the results of ever-accelerating research on intelligence and learning? And what about technology? The vast advances made in education computer software? Telecommunication? The real education revolution is occurring every day, beyond the bounds of any political public-school reform. Sixty million Americans learned to use computers in the last decade; almost none of them did it in a classroom. And in Arizona, where only a few districts have begun to pursue the educational media that 21st-century citizens will live and work with, teachers are still lacking technologies from the 19th century. "I'd give my left foot," says one Tucson elementary school teacher, "to have a telephone in my classroom.
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