Arizona Legislature adopts sweeping education reforms

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
This session Arizona lawmakers enacted some of the most far-reaching K-12 education reforms in state history. The changes have received little attention from any Arizona media so far. But you can bet you’ll hear much more as the state implements the new laws.

Ten years ago Florida implemented a set of education reforms that transformed their schools from among the worst performers on national tests to among the best. Several of the bills that Governor Brewer has signed into law are modeled on Florida’s success.

–Arizona now will annually issue schools a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F.
–The state now will have a robust program for experts in math, science and other areas to teach their subjects without first getting a teaching certificate from a college of education.
–Lawmakers have curtailed social promotion by holding back some third graders who have yet to learn the basics of reading.
–Legislators expanded the sources available to launch new charter schools.
–Lawmakers increased the size and transparency of the state scholarship tax credit program and changed to the date for claiming the tax credits from December 31 to April 15.
–The Legislature also specified school districts cannot use “years on the job” as the only criteria when deciding which teachers to keep. The Arizona Department of Education will be required to develop teacher and principal evaluations that include how well students score on specific tests.

Each bill contains important policy changes that will improve education by holding educators accountable to parents and taxpayers. The “A” to “F” school labels and teacher evaluation reforms could revolutionize Arizona’s public schools if properly implemented.

We have many people to thank for these remarkable changes. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque, the executive director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, spent their valuable time here in Arizona. Key philanthropic and business community leaders aided with both their money and their time. Governor Jan Brewer and her staff made it a priority to win legislative approval of the Florida-based reforms. The chairmen of the Senate and House education committees, Senator John Huppenthal and Representative Rich Crandall, personally introduced several of the key bills. Most of the measures gathered strong, bipartisan support.

This year, Arizona lawmakers demonstrated with action, not just words, that they will not accept Arizona permanently sitting near the bottom of student achievement rankings. We will not see overnight improvement, and much hard work lies ahead. We have, however, taken the first vital steps to turning our school performance crisis around.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.


  1. Delusional Bill says

    I guess my biggest concern about the new laws will be if their implementation will mirror the rules regarding the AIMS test. If the new standards are dumbed down each year I’m not quite sure that the new law will be so earth-shakingly grand.

  2. Stephen Kohut says

    Now we just need to go away from reporting and evaluating based on normalized results and switch to the curriculum criteria reference scores already measured. The best way to explain this to people is as follows:

    Test: height evaluation of basketball players.

    Normalized: Johnny is in the 75 percentile (25% of kids are taller) in his school’s basketball team. Johnny is “relatively tall” on his team.

    Criteria Based: Johnny is 5′ 2″ tall. Johnny is a midget in the world of competitive basketball and gets his clocked cleaned by opponents.

    To make it worse 60% is considered a “passing” score on AIMS tests. So 60% competence in subject grade material is good enough? In whose world?

    It gets better. A student graduating 12th grade (high school) is judged passing by getting 60% right on an AIMS test evaluating 10th grade competence. 60% of 10th grade subject matter competence gets you a diploma from 12th grade. No wonder Johnny is ignorant and its our fault.

    This politically correct nonsense is why I’m running for school board.

  3. I’m just curious, Mr.–um, Dr.–Ladner: it’s uncharacteristic of folks to attach academic credentials (e.g Ph.D.) to their names when posting stuff on blogs.

    I’m sure you worked hard for that degree, but isn’t it a little silly to be trotting it out here? (Are you worried your words aren’t compelling enough on their own?)

  4. Poco Bravo

    Isn’t it strange that you’d take the time to post a response not to the content of the article but to nit pick over the author’s method of establishing his credentials to opine on a topic!

    Frankly, your tack seems interesting as it is little more than a lame brained “kill the messenger” gambit which denotes the mentality of an A.E.A. shill

  5. Some solid steps in the right direction. Transforming AZ education to excellence would do wonders for this state.

  6. Stephen Kohut says

    I sat in on the Casa Grande Elementary District Board meeting tonight (not the one I’m running for) and quickly discovered the lunatics are running the assylum. Their new technology plan had 24 full time IT people, 1 computer to every 6 kids, live white boards, and on and on and money and money. When asked if there was any data to show a correlation between all the money already spend on technology and student test scores the answer was no, we have no idea if it is had any impact but children are attracted to video games so it should make them happy. Plan and money was then approved. Anyone wonder why we spend a fortune on K-12 and get squat for results?

  7. Folks, if per capita student expenditures were the major reason for educational achievement, the public school system of Washington D.C. would be one of the nation’s finest!!

    ‘Nuff said?

  8. ……………….
    When asked if there was any data to show a correlation between all the money already spend on technology and student test scores the answer was no, we have no idea if it is had any impact but children are attracted to video games so it should make them happy

    “First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards.”
    –Mark Twain

  9. kralmajales says

    The biggest concern here is the overkill interest in charter schools when study after study is now showing that there is either no difference in these schools the average public…or worse…many are worse! And…folks…its public money going there….this isn’t private schools.

    We remain near last in funding. Last in the nation. I am first to admit that spending does not equal everything…but when you are last…or not even in the ballpark with most school districts, it is going to have an impact. It has here.

    And the legislatures solution is to cut more and more and more.

  10. The math textbook designed specifically for the AZ AIMS standards must weigh twenty pounds, is full of worthless color photos that add pages without adding educational value and distract from the actual MATH examples and equations, and too many of the examples skip steps, leaving the students in the lurch.

    It’s crap, and must have cost a bundle. The charter school switched to it this year to mirror the public schools, in order to conform to the AIMS, and their math has promptly fallen thru the floor, just as the public school math has done.

    We bought the SAXON MATH text. Not a color photo in it, just MATH, page after page of MATH. It’s lighter, less bulky and delivers such detailed and orderly examples, it practically teaches itself. Cheaper.
    But nooooo. As scores continue to fall, the schools continue to buy the expensive junk.
    Public school could have the world’s best math: Singapore Math, in English, outstanding organization, in schools for September at the same or less cost of the crappy texts.
    Nope. Even though homeschoolers and private schools are buying it, the public schools prefer the crap. They actually complained that the “unusual Chinese names might be confusing to students.” Say what? The multi-culti crowd suddenly all provencial?

    The money is there. How it’s being used is the problem.

  11. Stephen Kohut says


    GO out to and you will find that charters are disportionately represented in the best schools in the state. Charters work with a fraction of the money that the public piggy schools get and, if they do not put out a good product, their customer base leaves and they go under. Welcome to at least a hint of free market competition.

    Funding is not and has not been an issue. Using Dept of Ed numbers for all in 1970 spending per student in K-12 and adjsuting for inflation we should be spending $4K/kid/year. Last year the state average was $9.4K. If money was the issue than at over $20K/kid/year DC should have the best schools in the nation rather than the worst. The issue is not, has not and never had been money. It is curiculum, standards, expectations, quality teachers and involved parents. We were the most education nation in the world from shortly after our founding until about 30 years ago when the lib’s took over public education and brought us the wonders of “social promotion”, “new math”, and on and on. This needs a full reset and the fools in charge tossed out on their ears which is why I and others are running for school boards this year.

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