Tag Archives: Arizona Department of Education

Friday FUN photos from school: Festival Foothills Elementary

Second graders at the West Valley's Festival Foothills Elementary School meet Zion.

There were plenty of wide eyes and dropped jaws at Festival Foothills Elementary this week, as students enjoyed a visit from the Phoenix Zoo‘s Zoomobile.

Students in preschool through fifth grade participated in the zoo’s Predator and Prey Presentation, a chance to get up close and personal with the likes of snakes, scorpions and hedgehogs.

Face to face with Bernie the hedgehog.

Zookeeper Carrie Flood brought each creature around to meet the kids face to face. Students were asked to consider whether the species was predator or prey, based on its features. They decided Turbo the Turtle was prey and learned that Zion the king snake — a predator — eats rattlesnakes!

They met a cactus beetle and Bubbles, the whip scorpion. They learned that Bernie the hedgehog is a small but ferocious African predator who completely terrifies his prey.

Students “were very excited to have the Zoomobile visit this year,” says Principal Christina Strauss. “This is just another example of how Festival Foothills Elementary is providing exciting opportunities for its students despite tough economic times.”

Festival Foothills Elementary is a K-8 school located at  26252 W. Desert Vista Blvd. in Buckeye, 10 miles west of Surprise. It is part of the Wickenburg Unified School District.

Festival Foothills opened in January 2008 as a K-5 school, and has grown to include a preschool and middle school. One-third of the student population comes from neighboring communities through open enrollment.

The Phoenix Zoo offers two outreach programs, Zoomobile and Zoo to You, that align with Arizona Department of Education Academic Content Standards.

Want to see your school featured next Friday? Send your FUN photos to: editorial@raisingarizonakids.com.

Zookeeper Carrie Flood shows Turbo the turtle to Anthony Morales.


Numbers, sensibly

10 CheeriosTeaching new skills and concepts depends on understanding what the student already knows. This applies to adults as well as children. When kids enter school and learn to read they need to know their alphabet and have an inkling that letters correspond to sounds. Most kids learn the alphabet by singing the ABC song as well as seeing letters in books, on signs, on television, etc.

Math is the same way. Before kids learn 1+1=2, they need to know what numbers are and what they represent. They must develop number sense, which is the understanding that numbers relate to the real world. Young children have number sense when they know that three people can fit in their family car, but 30 could not.

A study by David Geary at the University of Missouri confirms scientifically what parents and teachers know: that number sense is as essential to learning math as the alphabet is to learning reading. The study followed 177 elementary school kids for five years to track the differences in progress amongst the group of elementary school aged kids.

press release about the study reports, “A long-term psychology study indicates that beginning first graders that understand numbers, the quantities those numbers represent and low-level arithmetic will have better success in learning mathematics through the end of fifth grade, and other studies suggest throughout the rest of their lives.”

Number sense is part of the standards as set by the Arizona Department of Education for first grade but number sense is part of a youngster’s life when parents count things and play games with quantities.

When I taught third, fourth and fifth graders, I still taught number sense, though with a more advanced perspective than one would for a preschool student. When teaching multiplication, I needed to make sure my students understood that multiplying two numbers in the hundreds would necessarily be in the tens of thousands or in the millions — not just thousands. Number sense bolsters estimation skills also.

From the National Council for the Teaching of Mathematics: “Researchers note that number sense develops gradually, and varies as a result of exploring numbers, visualizing them in a variety of contexts and relating them in ways that are not limited by traditional algorithms (Howden, 1989).”broccoli5

Hmmm. That’s a complicated way of saying kids should know that the five pieces of broccoli they don’t want to eat is four pieces of broccoli after they manage to choke down one piece of broccoli. 5-1=4 means very little to children without number sense, even though they may be able to count on their fingers and get the answer right on a worksheet. Kids understand math when they have number sense.broccoli4

Before you rush out to find a cool number sense smartphone app, remember, number sense is a real-world, three dimension experience, not the flat screen of a smart phone or computer. Numbers count things. With your child, count the number of Cheerios that fit on a spoon or in a cereal bowl, or discover what 100 Cheerios looks like. Or count all the socks that have no mates. In the car count the number of orange cars compared to the number of white cars.spoon full of cheerios

“Cognitive Predictors of Achievement Growth in Mathematics: A Five Year Longitudinal Study,” will be published in the journal Developmental Psychology. But really, you don’t need to read it. — Dan Friedman

The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman

Smaller class sizes benefit younger kids

More is not always better.

Since the 1970s, researchers have studied the impact of smaller classes on helping students learn more effectively. In this initial study out of Tennesse, researchers found that the gains students get from smaller classes carry over even when they move back into average-size classes later in their education. They also discovered that economically disadvantaged students reaped the greatest benefits from smaller classes.

In the late 1990s, a national study was done by the Policy Information Center called “When Money Matters.” This study also found that students performed better in smaller classes with fewer than 20 students. The gains were larger for both younger (fourth grade) and inner-city students than for the older (eighth grade) students.

In times of budget cuts, classroom size is often impacted. To save money, many state-funded schools are being forced to enlarge classroom size, adding pressure to teachers who already struggle to meet the individual needs of each student.

So it came as good news last week when we received notices from two East Valley school systems that remain committed to small class sizes. Gilbert Public Schools announced that its Kindergarten Prep program will keep classes at a 10:1 teacher-to-student ratio. Registration begins Monday, Feb. 15 for this program for 4-year-olds, which nurtures beginning skills they will need to learn and socialize successfully once they do start school.

And at San Tan Learning Center in Gilbert, the school board voted recently to change its maximum kindergarten class sizes from 25 to 22 students in  the 2011-12 school year. San Tan offers a free public charter elementary program for grades K-6 and a private, fee-based Montessori preschool.

Our annual Schools, etc. book is a comprehensive guide to education that includes information about teacher-student ratios at the Valley’s private, charter and public district schools. Learn more.Veronica Jones

A planning guide for postsecondary education

Arizona’s middle and high school students have an additional resource to plan for success in postsecondary education.

The Arizona College and Career Planning Guide, developed by Expect More Arizona, Arizona GEAR UP and Northern Arizona University is available to every eighth, ninth and 10th grader in the state, and online to all students.

Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.

Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is helping to champion the partners’ “dream big and go for it” message to all Arizona students. In an opening letter, he tells students that postsecondary education is critical to their future success. The former two-time NFL MVP has long been an advocate for children and education.

“Every kid in Arizona has the potential to go on to succeed in postsecondary education,” Warner says. “Like an athlete, they just need encouragement, a willingness to work hard, and the right playbook to help them get there.”

The Arizona College and Career Planning Guide is designed to be that “playbook,” including an overview of postsecondary pathways such as career and technical training, community college and university study.

Checklists outline the required coursework from eighth grade through 12th grade, steps for applying to college or post-high school programs and financial assistance. The guide features careers that are in demand, how to choose industries to match the interests of students and a chart demonstrating the financial benefit for continuing education. The Arizona Department of Education, students, counselors and educators contributed to its development.

“Too many students start thinking about what they want to do after high school late in their academic careers, and then they aren’t fully prepared for the various options available to them,” says Teena Olszweski, Arizona GEAR UP director. “Our goal is to start those conversations earlier and provide a tool students can use to make sure they’re taking the right steps to make their dreams a reality.”

Studies have shown that two-thirds of future jobs will require a college degree or some form of advanced training.

“Postsecondary education is a requirement for today’s students and the workforce of the future,” said Paul J. Luna, chairman of Expect More Arizona. “The Arizona College and Career Planning Guide is a resource that leads students to a seamless transition to postsecondary education.”

Listen to our podcast with Kurt and Brenda Warner.

Read “A Conversation with…Kurt and Brenda Warner.”

Arts education – making do with limited resources

The first statewide Arizona Arts Education Census shows that many Arizona schools have found ways to deliver arts education programs with few dedicated resources.

Results from the statewide research show that nearly 90 percent of Arizona students have access to at least one arts education program. But half of the schools responding to the survey reported no budget for curricular support in arts education — and almost eight out of 10 schools spent less than half a penny a day on arts education.

“The results show a remarkable dichotomy,” says Robert Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. “On one hand, we know that there are opportunities for students across the state to access arts education programs, but at the same time limited or no funding exists to support these programs. Some of our Arizona children are attending schools where they receive limited arts education and in some cases they receive none at all.

“One fact is very clear: the arts make a difference. Children receiving art instruction as part of their education have greater success in reading, mathematics, thinking and social skills, and are more likely to stay in school.”

The census, conducted between March 15 and September 15, 2009 by New Jersey-based Quadrant Arts Education Research on behalf of the Arizona Department of Education and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, produced responses from 409 charter and district schools representing 236,645 students in every county and school district in the state.

Funding for the census was provided by the Arizona Arts Education Research Institute (AAERI), a partnership of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Arizona Department of Education, College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona, College of Arts & Letters at Northern Arizona University and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. Additional funding was provided by the Arizona Community Foundation.

Highlights of the census are being released today at the first Joint Arts Education Conference at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Download the full report.

“It is important that the vast majority of Arizona schools are showing that they value arts education by providing access to the arts for their students,” says Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The Arizona Department of Education is eager to learn from schools that are providing high quality and rich arts education programs in these tough economic times, and to help schools having difficulty in providing the arts find workable solutions. Arts education is a vital component of a well-rounded education, and one which every Arizona student should have access to.”

Some highlights of the report, which also includes recommendations for parents, educators and students as well as for policy changes and adaptations:

• 87% of students have access to some dance, music, theater or visual arts in their schools.

• 55% of schools provide the required instruction in music and visual arts while 21% reported no arts classes or courses for students.

• 90% of schools with music and 76% with visual art use certified arts specialists.

• 56% of schools have updated curricula reflecting the Arizona Academic Arts Standards.

• Only 39% of high schools weight arts courses equally with other academic subjects and only 12% weight advanced arts courses equally with other advanced academic courses.

• General music and art are most popular in elementary and middle schools, general art and dance most popular in high schools. More high school students are enrolled in dance than in band, orchestra or theater.

• Charter schools are significantly less likely to provide arts courses for students or have highly qualified teachers providing instruction than district schools.

• More than 134,000 students attend schools every day with no access to arts education taught by a highly qualified teacher.

The Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics in Tempe, New School for the Arts and New School for the Arts Middle School in Phoenix, StarShine Academy of Phoenix, Ash Creek Elementary School in Pearce, Center for Educational Excellence in Tempe, and South Mountain High School in Phoenix led the top 10 percent of Arizona schools for arts education based on the Arizona Arts Education Index, which was created using responses to the census.

Voters concerned about the state of education

Arizona voters are still seriously concerned about the state of education in Arizona.

When asked during a recent poll about the quality of the state’s educational offerings, 43 percent of voters said that they were concerned, 15 percent said they were frustrated, and 12 percent said they were unhappy with the state’s education system. Only 13 percent were satisfied, optimistic, or happy.

The poll was commissioned by Expect More Arizona and conducted by Lake Research Partners and American Viewpoint, Inc.

“You can tell that there is discontent,” says Nicole Magnuson, executive director of Expect More Arizona. “I think that there is recognition that Arizonans are concerned, but the fact that Prop 100 passed shows that they are willing to support improvement.”

The survey found that voters feel very strongly about the declining quality of  education in Arizona.

“In their [Lake Research] work across the nation, most people who are a little discontent say it [quality] is staying the same, but Arizonans are actually saying that education is declining, which is a different trend,” Magnuson says. “What’s important to realize is that there are incredible things happening in education in Arizona, but we just need more of it. We need to look at how to raise the bar and hold higher standards for our students and teachers to ensure that the students are succeeding at every level.”

The Arizona poll found that 44 percent of voters believe that the quality of education is declining and 38 percent believe that education has not changed. Seventy percent of the voters said that the quality of the statewide system is fair or poor, but believe that their regions are doing marginally better. While 43 percent ranked their local education system as excellent or good, 50 percent rated it fair or poor.

Forty-three percent of the voters ranked the economy and education as the most important issues facing Arizona and nine-tenths agreed that economic development and job growth rely heavily on improving education across the entire continuum. Only 48 percent believe that Arizona is a good place for young people to start a career.

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