Editor’s note: Brenda Barton represents Northern Gila County in the state Legislature. She submitted this transcript of an interview Kelly McManus with Stand For the Children, a national K-12 advocacy group.
Kelly McManus: Do you believe academic standards are important? What role should the state play?
Rep. Barton: I consider them to be somewhat necessary, but our complete educational emphasis shouldn’t be only standards-based. Children are wonderfully diverse, each is unique. It stands to reason therefore that there can be no “One Size Fits All” when it comes to their education. Rigid universal standards are fine in industrial applications and assembly line operations, but not for children. Our education system, unlike those in more conformist societies is comprised of many different school districts each reflecting its own community. The state should follow its own drummer and direct through government action with appropriate funding the development of academic standards developed for Arizona by our own higher education community within our state. All students, as it was when I graduated high school should be prepared for either continuing education or education in a vocational trade. It’s the state’s responsibility to provide for the education of our children, it’s how we elect to accomplish that task which allows us the opportunity to design, evolve and develop the means.
Kelly McManus: What role should the state play in holding schools accountable for student academic growth and performance?
Rep. Barton: Products are evaluated daily by consumers. Products priced in discord with the consumers’ expectations of quality and price remain on the shelves while those deemed to meet quality and price expectations receive an enthusiastic response from consumers; no matter their actual cost. The price and perception of quality equation is also applied by consumers to education. As a business model, schools are producers of a product, our children’s education. The role of the state should be regulation of quality control, and the resources of taxpayers should be directed to those producers meeting the state’s standards for quality performance. Those schools unable to meet expectations should be put in mandatory reorganization under new management until they once again meet expected quality and resource management standards. Then, with proper guidance and training, the school would revert back to local management.
Kelly McManus: As a legislator, what is your plan for ensuring every classroom has an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal?
Rep. Barton: Some direct actions I would like to take would be to require every school board member in Arizona have at least one or more students in the local school system as a condition of standing for election to the local school board. We should also consider our increasing admission and academic standards for our schools of education. We can’t have excellent output if we’re not grooming and developing excellent input. School principals should have the authority to hire, promote, and terminate faculty based on performance. Lastly I would consider term limits for school board members.
Kelly McManus: Arizona has long been a leader in the availability of school choice. What will you do, if anything, to ensure parents have quality choices?
Rep. Barton: I will commit my efforts to continuing the advances Arizona has made in providing parents with choice in the education of their children. I would like to see efforts made to aid the public in understanding that Charter Schools are as much public schools as their local District Schools, the difference being management models. The Arizona Constitution provides that the state shall provide for the education of our children, it does not however specify how we accomplish that task. This leaves Arizona ample allowance for innovation and creativity in the “how” we accomplish that mandate.
Kelly McManus: What is your plan to grow the state’s revenue and ensure additional resources are spent wisely in education?
Rep. Barton: If by “growing revenue” you mean raising taxes at the state level, I have no plans for such. Ample provision is made through local revenue means to properly fund local schools at the levels the local community deems appropriate. It is up to the local education community to communicate and clearly demonstrate that the revenues they receive are being properly and appropriately applied.
When revenue enhancement is discussed I refer to the state rankings on education expenditures per student. The latest figures placed Arizona near the bottom of the list. While this at first glance seems negative, you have to note that New York State is at the top of the list outspending Arizona by over 2:1. Do students in New York state score higher academically, have a higher rate of life success following K-12? According to the national per-student expenditure graphics you might think so, but look into the data and you may find out differently.
Kelly McManus: I’ll just open this for any closing thoughts you would like to share with Stand for the Children:
Rep. Barton: Thank you Kelly. First of all, I’m a grandmother and a great-grandmother and from this perspective I am gravely concerned and interested in the outcome of this educational dialog we find ourselves engaged in. I consider education from K-College to be of prime importance to Arizona’s economic future. I consider we have the adequate revenues to accomplish this task however it’s the allocation of our educational resources that requires adjustment. Since the launch of the U.S. Department of Education in the mid-1970s education has become increasingly mired in special interests and questionable federal mandates that have little direct impact on the academic and life skills achievement of our children. Why is it that my generation, with a single school principal and their assistant, a handful of dedicated teachers and often over 30 kids in a classroom could put an American on the moon using slide rules? Did ancient Egypt have these issues when they educated architects and built the great pyramids? Then again, schools when I was a child were not petri dishes for social experimentation and they weren’t mired in regulations and paperwork.