Arizona Schools are slightly above average and that is pretty good news. When Superintendent Tom Horne released the state’s 2006 report card, it was with the news that Arizona Schools are usually placed either average, or slightly above, on indicators used to compare schools nationwide. The college entrance exams, the SATs and ACTs, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) all place Arizona Schools in the upper half of the nation’s public schools.
What’s even more interesting is that Arizona Schools are reaching this above average status while spending less money per pupil than every state except for Utah. Superintendent Tom Horne has stated that increasing state spending to the national per pupil average would propel Arizona Schools into the top ten. The state has yet to approve that funding.
According to numbers from Education Week magazine, Arizona Schools spend $6,010 per pupil annually. Compare this to the top spender New Jersey with $11,269, mid-ranker Virginia at $ 7,751, and bottom-of-the-barrel Utah at $5,132. The fact that Arizona Schools still manage to achieve above average rankings indicates that Horne could be correct in his assumption. Studies have shown a positive correlation between a state’s per student spending and its achievement. Arizona Schools appear to be doing something right.
That’s not to say that all is rosy with Arizona Schools. Student results on the statewide AIMS test consistently report passing rates of 70% or less. While this places Arizona schools squarely in the “expected performance zone” of the NAEP index, the numbers fall apart when looked at by race and ethnicity. Passing rates drop to about 60% for African-American students, 50% for Native American students, and 40% for children of migrant workers. When assessed using the national Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) marker, 1,249 of Arizona Schools passed, while 608 did not reach their goals.
Concerns over the achievement gap effect the nation, as well as Arizona Schools. Where Arizona Schools has a special concern is in the area of educating children who do not speak English as a native language. Funding for English Language Learner (ELL) programs have come under heated debate as the nation battles over border control and immigration policies. Whether complete immersion is providing non-English speakers with the skills to succeed, if and how to pay for children of undocumented immigrants, and instruction time devoted to these students are all topics of heated debate in Arizona Schools.
Some legislators feel that the state should not foot the bill for what they see as the federal government’s inability to enforce immigration laws and border control. Others insist that those issues don’t take away the state’s responsibility to meet the educational needs of every child in Arizona Schools. Given the state’s above average rankings (21st on the NAEP) in many areas despite concerns over minority and immigrant education, it will be interesting to see if the state does fund higher per pupil spending for the coming school year. And if Arizona Schools do make a higher investment, it will be exciting to see the results.