Senate Education Committee Chairman John Huppenthal Defends Wanting to Change School-Labeling Methods

Yesterday, Jeb Bush came to town to offer advice to Arizona lawmakers about how to fix the ailing K-12 education system.

As we reported yesterday, the most publicized recommendation that came out of the two-hour meeting was a push to change the way Arizona labels its schools from a method that uses  words like "performing" or "performing plus" to an A-F grading system.

Seemed rather impotent to us.

How changing the way we refer to schools can change the way they perform is beyond us, but state Senator John Huppenthal, chairman of the Senate Education Accountability and Reform Committee, says it is the first of many steps in improving Arizona's schools.

"There is little confusion in an A-F labeling system," Huppenthal tells New Times. "There is a lack of clarity in 'performing' or 'performing plus.' I'm always asking myself which is which."

While simply changing how we refer to schools is a small step, Huppenthal says, it's something that worked in Florida, a state that has seen some of the highest improvements in education in the country.

"The big thing is that you have a state that did some big things, and we need to look at all the pieces and everything that was a part of that," Huppenthal says.

Florida did a lot of things that dramatically improved their schools, he says, and a key factor was the formula for rating schools.

Huppenthal says the most important thing Florida did was place more emphasis, in terms of labeling, on tracking a school's worst students. This forced schools to teach even the dumb kids or its rating went down.

Another element of Florida's plan was to emphasize the importance of tutoring. Former Florida Governor Bush even vowed to tutor three struggling kids himself.

If Bush was teaching Florida kids stuff like reading and basic language skills, we can only hope he has a better handle on the pronunciation of "nuclear" than his brother.

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James King
Contact: James King