Arizonans this week are celebrating Dobson High School graduate Julie Johnston being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a member of the winning USA Women’s World Cup team. In that spirit, AZEdNews is highlighting a year’s worth of some of the most cover-worthy news about Arizona public schools.
Some think it’s about time to focus on progress and success.
As Arizona strives to raise student achievement, retain teachers and increase K-12 funding, there are many organizations working unrelentingly toward making sure that Arizona continues to move in the right direction, said Reg Ballantyne III, vice president of the Arizona State Board of Education.
“The passion of educational professionals at every level in making a difference is palpable, even in the face of barriers and obstacles still yet to be removed,” Ballantyne said.
Every day, AZEdNews highlights accomplishments like these in its originals stories, Stories by You section and the News Roundup. For more of these stories and others like them, please go to AZEdNews.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
A leader in closing student achievement gaps
Arizona is 4th in the nation on reducing the reading gap among students who qualify for the national free- and reduced-lunch program. Arizona is also 8th in the nation on fourth-grade math achievement gains, and 16th in the nation on eighth-grade reading achievement gains, according to the 2015 Quality Counts report, “Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown.”
Outstanding high school graduates
This year, 57 Arizona high school graduates were honored as Gates Millennium Scholars. Each student will be awarded a scholarship that can be used to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major and selected graduate programs at accredited colleges or universities. The program removes the financial barriers to education for high-performing, low-income African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American, and Hispanic American students. Among the recipients are seven Tuba City High School students and four Phoenix Union High School District students.
After-school programs ranked 6th in nation
Efforts over the past decade to improve Arizona’s after-school programs have earned the state the 6th highest ranking, according to America After 3 p.m.: Afterschool Programs in Demand by the Afterschool Alliance. A focus on reinforcing school-day lessons through fun and enriching learning opportunities and an increase in access to federally funded grants that support them were key contributors to Arizona’s success.
School choice pioneer
Twenty years after the Arizona Legislature authorized open enrollment, charter schools, and three tax-credit programs, Arizona parents have many options to choose the school that best fits their children. Many Arizona school districts promote the many choices and unique learning environments they offer.
Go to resource for teacher-developed curriculum
As Arizona schools seek to boost student achievement and adapt curriculum to Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, many are turning to a homegrown approach pioneered in Southern Arizona showing the kind of success that is attracting the interest of school districts outside the state.
Beyond Textbooks, the online resource and collaborative community created by teachers and district leaders in the Vail Unified School District, is used by nearly one-third of all districts in the state, as well as several charter schools and an independent preschool.
Making inroads in teacher retention
In ASU’s iTeachAZ program, 92 percent of teachers who have been through the program in the past three years are still teaching in Arizona, compared to a 80 percent national retention rate of first- through third-year teachers and a 76 percent rate among Arizona first- through third-year teachers.
Exceptional career preparation
This year more than 150,067 Arizona high school students in 110 districts and 229 high schools were enrolled in career and technical education, said Jeanne Roberts, deputy associate superintendent of career and technical education with the Arizona Department of Education.
“Ninety-eight percent of Arizona high school students who earned three or more credits in a single career and technical education program area graduated,” Roberts said. “Ninety-seven percent passed AIMS reading and 89 percent passed AIMS math.”
Increased dual-language immersion programs
In kindergarten, Arizona students learn to spell simple, frequently used words, count by fives and so many other useful skills. At dozens of local neighborhood public schools throughout Arizona, many now also learn a second language through dual-language immersion programs.
Dual-language immersion programs have grown from a few hundred nationwide to nearly 1,000 in the past three years. In Arizona, there are more than 40 dual-language programs in public schools, and the number keeps growing.
Uniquely effective business & education partnerships
The University of Arizona College of Education’s Teachers in Industry program is an innovative, award-winning professional development and degree program for science, technology, engineering and math teachers. It is the only program of its kind in the United States and was recently honored by Change the Equation.
Participants complete coursework at the University of Arizona and spend their summers working for pay at Arizona businesses in STEM fields, giving them a substantial income boost for the years they are in the program, as well as rich hands-on job experience.
The program was created through a partnership between the university, Tucson Values Teachers, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, and Tucson-area STEM businesses and industries, including Raytheon Missile Systems, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Tucson Electric Power, the Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and Texas Instruments.
Nutrition and physical activity trailblazer
Yvette Hernandez, lead physical education teacher at Stanfield Elementary School, helped her district become the only one in the state to achieve Gold with Distinction status from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for excellence in nutrition and physical activity. Over the course of five years, Hernandez integrated nutrition into physical education, shared ways teachers could use brain breaks of physical activity in the classroom to refocus students, and the school provides high-quality nutritious meals for students. Hernandez was recently honored as Rural Teacher of the Year for Pinal County by the Arizona Rural School Association.