Beating the Odds for School and Student Success

Education is the surest path to greater individual success and one of the most important investments an individual – or our state – can make. Study after study confirms this. Those with more education, especially a college degree, do better economically with higher wages and less unemployment, and they have a higher quality of life, including longer life expectancy and better health.

Recognizing the crucial need to increase educational attainment in our state, Gov. Doug Ducey and education and business leaders have endorsed a goal to increase the number of Arizona citizens with a certificate or degree after high school to 60 percent by 2030. 

Yet, ensuring every student has access to a quality education is one of the great challenges of our time. Consider this: In Arizona, college going and completion remains uneven and continues to trail the national average, according the Arizona Board of Regents Fiscal Year 2020 Postsecondary Attainment Report. Only half (approximately 52 percent) of Arizona’s 2018 high school graduates enrolled in a two or four-year degree granting institution within one year of graduation, as compared with just over 69 percent of their peers nationwide. In the most recent year for which we have data, 46 of Arizona’s 515 high schools did not send anyone to a two-year or four-year college upon graduation. And, 110 of Arizona’s high schools saw no graduate enter a four-year college one year after graduation.  

Of the many factors necessary to solve the equation to increase educational attainment, ensuring we have great schools is foundational, which requires strong principals and qualified teachers.

This has always been true, but never more so than during this time of pandemic-caused disruption and uncertainty. Schools must adapt to an ever-changing education landscape and ensure students receive instruction with the least interruption possible.

That’s why we’re so grateful for the work of Gov. Ducey, Regent Fred DuVal, the Hunt Institute and the Center for the Future of Arizona. As part of the recent “Great Leaders, Great Schools” summit, they helped bring together education experts to discuss leadership best practices and provide executive training to current and aspiring principals and district leaders across the state.

The Beat the Odds School Leadership Academy is a great example of how we are supporting school leadership in Arizona. This innovative program provides professional development across the state for school and district leaders at every level of experience. A key objective is to help Arizona attract, train and retain more of the leaders we need to help ensure students graduate prepared for college or career. Gov. Ducey has generously allocated $700,000 from the federal CARES Act to expand the academy and serve more schools.

The Arizona Teachers Academy is another example of how Arizona is beating the odds for school success by addressing teacher shortages. The academy offers a year-for-year tuition waiver scholarship for students who commit to teach in Arizona public schools. The three public universities and select community colleges operate a unique academy offering undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to earn their teaching degree tuition free. To date, more than 800 students have completed a program.

There remains a lot of work to do. But through innovative programs like Beat the Odds and the Arizona Teachers Academy, we are making real progress in ensuring great schools have great leaders and teachers. The results are better outcomes for all student learners in every community.

That’s something we can all celebrate.

ABOR Chair Larry Edward Penley also is a fellow of the Center for the Future of Arizona.

Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales, a recent participant of the Center for the Future of Arizona’s Beat the Odds Leadership Academy, also serves on the Boards of the Arizona School Administrators Association and the Arizona Association of Latino Administrators. This year, she was honored with the ASA Distinguished Superintendent Award.

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