Education innovations leading to student gains

The results are in, and the implications are clear, something big is happening in Arizona schools.

At the first stop of the Age of Agility tour, presented by America Succeeds, Dr. Matthew Ladner, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, presented the newly released National Assessment of Education Progress data for Arizona. The data displays exactly what Ladner expected, Arizona students are improving, the needle is moving in the right direction.

Arizona students outpaced the U.S. average achievement gain from 4th to 8th grade in every subject, both in district and charter schools. Arizona is one of only two states to make statistically significant gains across all subjects.

The data also solidifies that the growth and success of Arizona’s charter schools is not causing harm to district schools, both are improving at rates worth celebrating. Furthermore, Arizona charter school students lead the nation in achievement gains, outscoring all statewide gains and topping all charter schools nationwide. 

Open enrollment is largely to thank for these across-the-board achievement gains, creating a decentralized system in which students and their families can select the school that best fits their needs, giving them the greatest possible chance to excel.

“Every empirical indicator that we have says that the system is doing better and better at equipping our children,” said Ladner.

Of course, there is a long road ahead, and Ladner believes more can be done to incentivize success and improve transparency in our education system, but Arizona is off to a great start.

“It doesn’t get talked about enough what is happening here in Arizona classrooms, for Arizona students. This kind of innovation does not happen without leaders who have vision, dedication and talent,” said Lisa Graham Keegan, executive director of the Arizona Chamber Foundation.

Kirk Adams, chief of staff for Governor Doug Ducey, described the state’s education system as a standout, full of innovation and improvement all in the name of doing right by our kids and improving our workforce. While tech and autonomous vehicles get most of the attention, the mindset of disruption is making waves in the education system as well, to the benefit of our students.

The event followed with a panel of business leaders who work at the intersection of education and the workforce.  The panel featured Jessica Pacheco of APS, Steve Macias of Pivot Manufacturing and Cheryl Oldham of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The discussion delved into what it would take to close the achievement gap and prepare students to succeed in the workforce. The consensus of the panel was neither party will have the luxury of sitting back and watching the other fix the system. It will take a collaborative effort on behalf of business owners and educators to prepare our students and build the workforce of the future. The panel made clear that business leaders are all in, ready to enthusiastically embrace this collaboration.

Jody Kent of Universal Technical Institute spoke on workforce training from the lens of a career and technical education provider. Kent equated the struggling labor pool to the rapidly changing workforce and inability of the education system to adapt along with it.

“We can’t let outdated paradigms, or our own biases, block the way to success for all kinds of kids,” Kent said.

Kent described the path to prosperity that technical education provides, emphasizing that research shows that industry-education partnerships are the most effective way to create work-ready graduates in the new economy.

“Together, we need to commit to a system that creates opportunity, prosperity and security for all our students,” she said.

Ava Montoya

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