Our Standard Model of Education

Rethinking Education in Arizona -  Part 1 of 3

For decades, Arizona has championed school choice and has passed many reforms focused on improving outcomes in our state’s education system.  It is true that we have seen some improvements based on standardized test scores; however, the clear majority of our youth continue to struggle in gaining the reading and math skills necessary for college and career success. Further, the 21st century demands a much broader range of skills and attributes in future employees than our schools are designed to meet.  To get to a world class education - one that is relevant for a complex and changing world -  it’s worth looking deeper into our current models for learning.  

With the acceleration of technology and globalization, our communities have become more interconnected, diverse, and uncertain than ever. Our state’s education system, which is intended to prepare our future leaders and workforce, must adapt with it; however, the model of education we have today is largely the same as it existed when our public school system was founded, resulting in students who are too often disengaged and bored.  While our youth have a natural sense of curiosity and ability to learn, these traditional education models are not producing students who are motivated and prepared for a meaningful path into society at the rate our state demands. 

By 2020, about two-thirds of all jobs will require more than a high school diploma, yet in Arizona only 40% of 3rd graders have demonstrated proficiency in the state’s expected reading skills. This outcome drops to 28% for the state’s fastest growing demographic, Hispanic/Latino students. Only 34% of 8th graders are proficient in math and drops to 24% for Hispanic /Latino students.  These outcomes have resulted in nearly one-fourth of the high school population not graduating on time and only 50% of graduates attending a postsecondary institution[1]. As a country, we’re also at risk of losing our competitiveness. In 2012, among the 34 countries participating in the international PISA exam, the United States performed at or below average in both math and reading. Further analysis of the exam results suggest that U.S. students lack an ability to solve math problems requiring a deeper level of learning with application to real world situations[2]. 

The 20th century model of education was created in an industrial era to prepare students with a foundational level of knowledge and academic skill. This model has played a critical role in the development of our state’s workforce for decades, but a changing and complex global economy is now upon us with an increasingly diverse student population. The 21st century demands more than basic academic knowledge; it requires a lifetime of learning and the ability to apply the learning across multiple disciplines. To navigate in this information rich and innovation focused world, students must develop skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, as well as character traits such as self-responsibility and grit.  The skill and will to do something with knowledge as well as the demonstration of purpose and character sets a student apart. The system currently lacks quality methods of developing and measuring these skills and traits in youth while also falling short in meeting a foundational level of proficiency in academics, especially in our most vulnerable communities.  Perhaps our standard model of education has lost its effectiveness. 

[1] Data on proficiency rates was found at expectmorearizona.org/progress, and is based on 2014-15 AzMERIT results.

[2] PISA results from 2012. http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/PISA-2012-results-US.pdf