by Kimber Lanning, Arizona Rural Development Council
Providing a world-class education should be a top priority for rural Arizona communities.
While some students in Arizona are receiving a world-class education, many are not. If we look at academic performance and high school graduation rates, we see that 23 percent of Arizona students do not graduate on time from high school and 25 percent of students are not proficient in reading by the end of the third grade, which is a key future indicator of student success.
The problems are exacerbated in rural communities, where the majority of rural communities (seven of 13) have graduation rates below the state average and nine of 13 rural counties have higher rates of third-graders who are not able to read at grade level, compared to the state average.
The success of our students impacts all of us, regardless if we have a child in the education system today or not. When we have a better education system, we will have a more skilled workforce that will enable our communities to attract and retain businesses, build a stronger economy, and improve the quality of life for rural Arizona.
But the reality is, the world has changed. The skills and levels of education that employers require have increased dramatically over the past few generations. A high school diploma used to be sufficient to ensure that a young person could get a good job, but now, the majority of jobs in Arizona require some type of postsecondary education or advanced training. This means that in order to get a good job, students will need to graduate from high school and be fully prepared for college, career training, or to pursue some other type of education or training.
Arizona is taking an important first step to ensure that all students will be better prepared for the jobs of the future. Across the state, schools are implementing new academic standards in English and math called the Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards (Common Core).
Academic standards are shared goals for what students need to be able to know and do in each grade. They provide a roadmap to educators, who then decide how best to teach the content to their students.
These standards, which are being taught in Arizona public district and charter schools today, provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn by each grade level in order to graduate and be successful after high school. The standards are designed to raise the bar for what our students need to know and be able to do in English and math. They reflect the knowledge and skills our students need for success in college and career.
The standards include a focus on critical thinking and require deeper levels of thought. In addition, they were designed to give students the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively, apply concepts, develop practical arguments, critique the reasoning of others, and more.
These are the types of real-world skills that will help prepare students for the jobs of the future.
As these standards are continuing to be implemented this year, it is important that we use our voices to tell the Legislature how important it is to provide funding for teacher training, new textbooks and other teaching materials, and an aligned assessment.
The standards provide a critical foundation to help us ensure that all Arizona students receive a great education, regardless of whether they live in a rural or urban community. I hope you will join me in raising your voice to ensure that all students in rural communities receive a world-class education.
Kimber Lanning leads the Arizona Rural Development Council as a part of her entrepreneurial and economic development work with Local First Arizona to cultivate vibrant, sustainable communities and inspire a higher quality of life throughout Arizona.