Governor calls for far-reaching school reforms in State of the State Address

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
The Founders, in their genius, created a government system where our 50 states function as “laboratories of reform.” Arizona can lead the way for other states in policy areas where we excel and build upon other states’ success for our own benefit.

Last fall, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Foundation for Excellence in Education President Patricia Levesque testified before a joint meeting of the Arizona Senate and House education committees. Their compelling data on public school improvement clearly made an impression. Legislators in both the Arizona Senate and House have introduced bills based on the Florida reforms.

Last week in her State of the State address, Governor Jan Brewer called upon the Arizona Legislature to adopt elements of the Florida reform model. Regarding alternative teacher certification, Governor Brewer noted:

Isn’t it astonishing that in Arizona today, Bill Gates or Craig Barrett would not be
considered qualified to teach students about computer science?

Governor Brewer went on to discuss how school performance is labeled:

I’m urging the Legislature and the state Department of Education to
immediately replace our school labeling system.
Our current system rates schools as “excelling”, “highly performing”, “performing plus”, “performing”, “under-performing” and “failing”.

Who understands that?

How about this?

We assign simple letter grades-“A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “F”.

Our kids live by those grades every day–so should our schools.

Governor Brewer also emphasized the importance of parental choice, and said the following about social promotion:

We must have the courage to tell parents the truth when their children are not doing well.

Frederick Douglas said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”.

Sadly, too many of our children are still unable to read as they should by the end
of third grade.

Yet, we continue to promote them to more advanced classes, knowing that at
every step we dim the light of their promise.

We must stop promoting children who cannot read by the end of third grade.
And we should know well before third grade those students who are falling
behind and get them the help they need.

The Governor’s support comes not a moment too soon.

Regardless of what happens in the difficult legislative session ahead, we will still have a failing school system in place when the budget smoke clears. If we have the courage to embrace reform, we can create an education system that equips young Arizonans with the reading and math skills they need to succeed. The Governor and policymakers who embrace these reforms have our appreciation today, and that of future generations tomorrow.

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


  1. Where’re the reforms of the TEACHERS who haven’t made sure the third graders have the skills they are supposed to have at that age?

    If schools have kids who are in third grade and can’t read, why haven’t the school adminstration and teachers already CHANGED the curriculum and teaching that produces that outcome? They’ve let that fester for years?

    WE had a kid in second grade who couldn’t read. The First grade teacher got half-way thru, lost focus, and fizzled out so her entire class wasn’t prepared for second grade work. The second grade teacher didn’t have the intellectual curiosity to figure out why half the class could read and the other half couldn’t. They were just “behind” or they were “not focusing” (using vaguely clinical terms to hint at learning disabilities) Not her problem.

    The mothers whispered that they were all sending their kids to PRIVATE PHONICS TUTORING run by a woman who’d taught at a CHristian school for years. That was the half of the class that could read. Four sessions with the tutor and our kid could read. The second grade teacher had no idea why there was such a dicotomy of readers and non-readers, and worse DIDN’T CARE.

    One teacher here commented, after admitting he had no curriculum, no syllabus, no lesson plan, no textbook for math, that it was okay because he found that QUOTE “after awhile the kids just get it.” No they don’t, their parents have to explain everything to them at home, cause the “teacher” didn’t bother to in class.

    There is constant dodging in the rhetoric that fails to hold the SCHOOL STAFFS – in direction (leadership) and in classroom performance for their work product. Just always insinuates it’s all the kids’ fault.

    Third grade in home schooling requires no more than 3 hours a day to complete all the day’s requirements. Kids are in public school 7 hours a day. Twice the hours, half the results.

    It’s curriculm and instruction. First, second and third graders love to please and love to learn. It’s EASY to teach them, but the teachers have to TEACH and use a curriculum that gets results.

  2. Good points wanumba. The changes in teacher retention laws last year will go a long way in clearing out the poor, but tentured, teacher and allowing adminstration to actually prune the staff.

    If the state has standards that actually are embedded in the curriculum with adherence tested and monitored on a regular basis not at years’ end, benchmarked for results, and then follow up with all salary increases tied to merit…we would really be onto something!

  3. Stephen Kohut says

    All teachers and admin pay for the following year should be based on the past year’s student performance as measured on standardized tests at the beginning and end of the school year. If the class advanced 1 grade level you get average pay. If it advanced 1.5 grades, you get 1.5 times average pay. If it advanced 0.5 grade level …. oh crap! You get what you measure and pay for. Anyone with private business experience will tell you that. Education is not considered rocket science by anyone other then the protected, unionized, solialist idiots currently in charge.

  4. ………………….
    Ann Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 3:27 pm
    The changes in teacher retention laws last year will go a long way in clearing out the poor, but tenured, teacher and allowing adminstration to actually prune the staff.
    As you said, a step in the right direction.
    Teacher colleges should also be required to graduate teachers with subject competencies. What a concept that a math teacher actually know his or her math! “Facilitators” is just an excuse to get in union employees without subject competencies.
    Stephen Kohut Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 4:18 pm
    You get what you measure and pay for. Anyone with private business experience will tell you that. Education is not considered rocket science by anyone other then the protected, unionized, socialist idiots currently in charge.

    Absolutely private sector ingenuity is required. An X Prize for schools: best combo of scores, no homework, and shorter school days.
    ALas there’s so much busted with the system, it’s hard to mention one thing without bringing up ten other associated problems to correct.

  5. Just wondering. Is Superintendent of Arizona Schools an elected position or appointed position?

  6. Elected. You must be new to the state. It is called Superintendent of Public Instruction.

  7. Thanks. We are newly returned after 20 years out.

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