Rachel Yanof, Executive Director, Achieve60AZ

Originally published on AZCentral.com

There is a lot of talk about “returning to normal” and what that means, post-pandemic.

Over the past few months, in the scramble to move to online and distance learning, the challenges of our education system have been exposed like never before. As a former teacher, principal, school-system leader, and now head of an organization that supports the statewide goal to see 60 percent of Arizonans have a certificate or degree by 2030 – I propose that we can never go back to “normal” in education.

I laud educators for their tremendous work in this moment. They have shown that the system can be nimble and responsive, and make big things happen.

Now, we need to scale that change and build for the future, designing a system that addresses the most underserved and, ultimately, meets the needs of all students.

Arizona’s educational system has been wildly disrupted. It’s time to reimagine it. 

In my career, I’ve had to fit into the existing education box, then find ways to think outside of it. With that in mind, Achieve60AZ is launching a new blog series, “Road to Attainment,” expanding on what we’ve learned during this time from education, business, and community leaders, parents, and students.

We hope you’ll engage with us as we explore the possibilities, including:

Early start. What if school starts at age 3? Research shows an early start would position all students to achieve more through extended opportunity for play, access to healthy food, and learning social skills. Parents with stable childcare are able to work more and attend school to better their family’s economic status.

Year-Round Calendar. Other countries see better performance from students when they go to school year-round. As a teacher, I remember spending the first six weeks of every year reteaching from a summer off, exacerbated for students who are less likely to go to camp or without consistent access to books and computers. With a year-round model, students have stable access to food, counseling, and infrastructure basics like air-conditioning or heating, and internet. 

Extended school day. Right now, working parents must rely on family or pay for before- and after-school care in order to accommodate a 40-hour work week. A longer school day could integrate activities kids need: outside time or more recess, longer lunches so they really eat the veggies, regular art and music, and longer class periods for deeply-engaging projects and experiments.

Achievement-based learning. Currently, rules say a learner is “ready” when they have been in each class for a prescribed time. Why not, instead, create competency-based classes, work-based learning, and meaningful apprenticeships worth credit for high school and postsecondary students, at scale? This pandemic has taught us that learning is not a function of time, but mastery of content.

Employers as education leaders. Employers must rethink how they are investing in their workforce. Now is the time to push for innovative career training, expanded education benefits, and rethinking employees as lifelong learners – all changes that serve employees as well as the current and future needs of the workforce at large.

Taken individually, each of these changes helps increase opportunities for learning. The larger task is integrating many changes and designing a system that has the potential to dramatically change educational outcomes.

In the old normal, African-Americans, Latinx, and American Indian students still trail in all academic areas, as do students with special needs. Most distressingly, income is still the main determinate of educational success.

Big shifts are uncomfortable, but, if we all can forge ahead through the discomfort, and support our leaders when they do things differently, even bigger successes are the reward.

Our kids’ future will be defined by COVID-19 response 

I have spent a lot of time with my three young kids lately.  A lot. Their generation will be defined by our society’s response to COVID-19.

We must use this moment to lay the groundwork for a better future. Achieve60AZ exists to keep Arizonans focused on the ambitious education goals we have set for all learners.

Going back means we will not meet our Education Progress Meter goals — metrics that were set intentionally to get students on track for academic and career success.

Together, we can write an Arizona story that starts with a pandemic, but ends with every student achieving, every adult working, and our state thriving.  

Join the conversation at Achieve60AZ.com/RoadtoAttainment. Let’s seize this opportunity and create a better normal, where Arizona is a leader in education and economic prosperity.

Rachel Yanof is the executive director of Achieve60AZ, an initiative of more than 150 organizations committed to achieving the goal of 60 percent of Arizona adults obtaining a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030. 

5 thoughts on “The opportunity to rethink Arizona’s education system is now

  1. “Arizona Standards’ for K-12 is idiotic. Arizona’s K-12 pupils should match the achievements of other states and nations. Our 12th-graders are about 3 – 4 years math levels for leading nations – that’s a disgrace and a recipe for failure.

  2. This is truly wonderful in theory.What is proposed in this article would be extremely beneficial but it requires a fully funded education system. As of right now the system hasn’t been put back to pre 2008 recession funding. The question becomes will Arizona be willing to pay for this? Based upon the current actions of our state legislation the answer is a hard no. I too have a dream of a better education system that prepares students for the workforce of the future with jobs that don’t even exist yet. Educators are forward thinking and hard working we just need the funds to make these dreams a reality!

    1. If we do anything, it will be to reduce the amount of money we’re paying for a failing education system. That money goes to unions and admin’s, not to teachers and school rooms. Unions and admin’s funding have risen 10 x over the last 15-20 years while teacher & class rooms have remained absolutely flat. As a taxpayer, I’ll vote NO on school bonds until I see substantial improvements in K-12 education.

  3. Dear Friends,
    I pray this quick response finds everyone staying healthy and protecting themselves. First, let me begin with my disclaimer. I am the Senior Director of Admissions for the University of Dubuque (UD) Adult Learning Program here in Tempe AZ. What that means is that I am responsible for all the recruitment and enrollment here at UD.I truly enjoyed this article as it has vision and a sense of real purpose. Several points that I agreed with in particular were the following: 1. Year round schedules in my humble opinion are fantastic. They provide stability for the teacher, student, and the families of our most prized possession, our children. They provide an uninterrupted continuity that helps student progress and retain the information being taught. 2. Longer school days I believe would enhance our students greatly. Bring back Physical Education and lets break this cycle of sedentary behavior and obesity. Bring back the Arts, so many schools have cut music, drama, band, choir and not to mention the vocational studies. Bring back the woodshop class, The automotive shop. the welding programs just to name a few. 3. The third subject that I agreed with is Achievement Based Testing and curriculums. For so many decades we have been an educational system of time or longevity. Just because a student has spent 8 months in class does not always mean that they are ready to forge ahead. Conversely, some of our students may grasp concepts quicker and easier, lets open the doors for them to excel. Lastly,, I truly believe in the mission of Achieve60AZ, I think it is going to take a concerted effort from all levels of our state government and all of us involved in education. One previous respondent noted funding and she was “Spot On”. We have to be willing to pay the price now for the future of our students or we will be paying the price later. A paradigm shift needs to take place as well in the thinking that the three major schools are the only option for our students. If we truly aspire to reach 60% then additional choices, schools (such as the one I am employed by), and programs need to be spotlighted as well. We need a clear and concise action plan on this challenging yet achievable goal. Sixty percent can be achieved but it will take Vision, Action Plans, Metrics in place to measure progress, Collaboration, FUNDS, and the ability to see this Goal through without giving up when this is no longer the popular topic.
    Bobby Zavala
    Senior Director of Admissions
    University of Dubuque LIFE Tempe

  4. I too agree with the concept of year round schooling, longer school days to incorporate broader content and public provision of earlier learning. I have concerns about how Achievement Based Learning gets implemented although I like the concept. Students currently are provided learning opportunities by developmental age groups. If we could find a way to allow students to progress through curriculum by demonstrating mastery and allow for interaction with developmentally like age peers, Id be in agreement.

    The problem I see is the cost. Some how we have come to think Education is an expense. It is not an expense it is an investment. Not only in the future of our society but right now. Every bit of my tax dollars that go to fund education go back into the “business” of our society. Teachers buy groceries, gas, houses, cars… Schools buy power, supplies, furniture, busses, fuel… When we as tax payers invest in our Educational system we are creating the circle of economic growth and industry.

    In my version of year round schooling we begin by employing teachers 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, year round. We provide earned vacation time and holidays. We also have built in collaboration and PD time. That would mean a few more “holiday” days for children, but perhaps we offer child care during those times to allow consistency for working families. I also believe it would work best as a State wide schedule in terms of time and wages. This would even the playing field for schools to not have to compete for staffing based on salaries offered and benefit cost could be reduced because of the larger pool.

    This investment would be a great way to turn our tax money into economic growth, immediately and in the future as a result of an improved Educational System.

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