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Transforming American Education

issue brief

Transforming American Education

July 1, 1999
EducationPre K-12

What’s going on in Arizona’s education system is really a backdrop for what’s going on across the nation. In Arizona, academic achievement and the motivation for children to be brilliant is increasing.

This progress is made more difficult by the antiintellectual impulses in our society. Let me give you an example. We have set very high academic standards in Arizona. They’ve been reviewed as the best in the nation by The Fordham Foundation. Yet it’s not uncommon for me to walk into a community meeting and have a school principal stand up and say, “I couldn’t pass a test based on these standards,” and be applauded by his staff and parents.

Think about the implications. You come in and say “algebra and geometry are great to know, it’s such a wonderful discipline for the mind,” and the response you get from parents is, “My daughter wants to be an actress. She’ll never need Algebra.”

Are we prepared to discipline our children’s minds? The reason we teach algebra and geometry is not because we believe that everybody’s going to be an engineer. Unfortunately, teaching for the purpose of creating a disciplined mind has been thrown out the window because we focus too much on preparing children for future jobs at too young an age.

I’ll ask my seven-year-old what she’s going to do for a living, and her response is different every day. She’ll come into my room and say, “Mom, I could be so many things.” Those are the best days for a parent. My job as superintendent is to create that possibility and that mindset for any child.

My definition of public education, beyond just embracing the power of the intellect, is this: A public education is that education which is defined by clear academic goals, is regularly measured, and with standards that are achieved. It is provided to any child living in a state who wants to come into that state’ s public education system, and it is equally supported by taxes that we all share in. And importantly, the schools children attend in this system are chosen, not assigned. This last point is a critical difference with the current system.

A child should not attend the school that’s across the street just because it’s across the street. There might be a better teaching methodology for a child somewhere else. It truly is the case that children are different, that families are different, that teaching methodologies are different. We embrace the fact that different people have different needs in every other aspect of our life except public education. There we have a “one size fits all” mindset. The best school for your child is always the one right next door. It’s goofy.