Governor Ducey's Remarks to the Arizona State Board of Education

News Release

March 23, 2015

Good morning members of the State Board of Education and guests here today. I would like to share with you my vision for K-12 education in Arizona.

Right now there are three entities that set K-12 policy:

  • The Governor’s office,
  • The Legislature, and
  • This State Board of Education.

One could argue that, with three chefs in the kitchen, that’s a recipe for lack of accountability. I want to state to you, unambiguously, that I view my job as ensuring that there is alignment between the three entities, so that there is clarity around our mission and that we’re all working towards the goal of significantly improving the educational experience that all our kids receive.

For me, there are five words that I want to have associated with Arizona education:

  • First is “choice.”
  • Second is “excellence.”
  • Third is “accountability.”
  • Fourth is “results.”
  • Fifth is “everyone.”

Let me explain a little further about each of these.

First is choice.  Parents and children need quality choices so that they can choose the education that’s best for them.  We are fortunate to live in a state where we have already moved significantly down that path.  In Arizona, we have many more choices in education than parents elsewhere in the nation. 

Public schools, private schools, religious schools, charter schools, online schools, and homeschooling all give our families choices that aren’t available in many other states.  This is a critical element of educational success, and I ask this Board to continue these achievements and – if anything – to accelerate the pace of reforms that give more choices to more families. 

Second is excellence.  That’s not a word we get to use enough when talking about our state’s K-12 education system, even though we have three of the ten best schools in the country – Basis Scottsdale, Basis Tucson North and University High School.  So we know how to do it.  We just need to do it more frequently and more widely.

Despite these successes, we know we are below the mark in relation to other states in student achievement, particularly in reading and math. And our own measurements of success do not provide us the real picture.

For example, when you compare what Arizona reports as proficiency in 8th-grade reading and math vs. what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tells us, that part is discouraging.

  • Arizona tells our citizens that 70% of our 8th graders are proficient in reading, when according to NAEP only 28% of our 8th graders are proficient at reading. That’s an astounding difference—and 6% lower than the national average—we can do better.
  • Also, we are told our 8th-grade proficiency in math is 59% of kids; NAEP says it’s 31% AND 3% lower than the national average.   The disparity is smaller, but still way too large.

But there are two major problems with the data:

  • First, Arizona’s scores are too low – unacceptably low.
  • Second, we’re giving false assurance to too many parents that their kids are well prepared for life or college--when in fact they are not.

So we need to commit ourselves to achieving excellence.  And when we see excellence, we should understand who and what creates it and export those best practices to other schools so that they can benefit from it.

This Board – along with my office and the Legislature – needs to design policies that get Arizona on a path to significant improvement in the quality of education.  It won’t happen overnight, and it’s a long-term proposition, but it can be done and we need to make that our primary focus.

The third word that I want to emphasize is accountability.  It is a word that is vastly under-utilized when it comes to education, and I want this Board to know that it’s a word I take very seriously. We need to set the example by also being accountable. And in doing so, we will create a culture that flows through the education chain to governing boards…to superintendents…to principals….to teachers…to parents …and ultimately to the students themselves.

Where we see mediocrity we should call it for what it is – and demand that the people responsible for that school – from the elected governing board members to the superintendent to the principal and to the teachers – up their game and make meaningful improvements.  And if they can’t summon the will to do it, then they should step aside and let someone else take charge who can.

Where we see failure, we can’t sit idly by and do nothing.  It’s not the children’s fault that they are locked in a failing school, but our kids are the ones who pay the price for the failure of the adults around them to provide the environment where they can learn.  We have a moral obligation to give our kids the best we’ve got.

The fourth word I want to emphasize is results.  As you know I come from the world of business, where people are measured by results.  Government is a different world, where process seems to be a higher priority and results often take a back seat.  We’ve just gone through our state’s budget process, and discussions about education were all about funding levels.

Between federal, state, and local dollars Arizona is spending approximately $10 billion dollars to educate just over one million school children in our K-12 schools. Now it’s time to focus on how we best use the resources we have. I would far prefer to focus on “are the kids learning”, “are kids reading”, by looking at results and—ultimately-- “are the kids graduating and prepared for what’s next” by looking at our graduation rates.  Our children would be far better served by focusing on the answers to those questions than the ones we often find ourselves debating at the State Capitol.

During the budget process, I also highlighted my “Classrooms First” Initiative that emphasized spending money in the classroom—on teachers and students--rather than on bureaucracy and administration.  That focus will be a permanent feature of my administration.  We are spending money in the wrong places, and not enough in the classroom where it really matters.  I ask for this Board’s help in maintaining focus on classroom spending and ensuring that school districts have their priorities right when they’re spending taxpayer money.

The final word I want to emphasize is everyone.  All the words I’ve used so far – choice, excellence, accountability, and results – don’t work if they don’t apply to all children in all corners of our state.  It shouldn’t matter what your zip code is – if you’re a child in Arizona you deserve our absolute best.  We’ve accepted that public education is a key responsibility of the state, and we need to ensure the benefits of our actions apply to all.

Two other items before I conclude:

One--I have spoken for some time and have not yet said the words “Common Core.”  As you know, I am against Common Core, and I openly opposed it in my run for this office.  That has not changed. I think the current Washington administration has hurt K-12 education by involving itself in recent funding and waiver decisions—and frustrated parents to no end…not to mention the damage done by a consistent—federal government-- one size fits all mentality--ignoring the innovation of individual states and education reform champions over the past 4 decades. 

It’s also important to know-- I have high expectations and I am for high standards.  You can’t have excellence without them.

Therefore, I’m calling on this Board to make right this situation.  Our state needs to act so we can move forward.  Begin by reviewing the English Language Arts and Mathematics standards in their entirety to ensure that our children are well served by the standards you develop—with full transparency. Standards that are Arizona's. Standards--that our parents and teachers bring forward together.

This review should include input from people at all levels of education from every corner of our state – including parents, teachers, principals, and content experts – and the focus needs to be on an Arizona solution.  And in any instance during your review, you find situations where Arizona standards can outperform or improve our current standards, I ask you to recommend replacement immediately.

We can learn from others, but at the end of the day the standards need to come from Arizona and they need to help us achieve our objectives.

I call on President Greg Miller and the members of the State Board of Education to work with the Superintendent to ensure that we get this done collaboratively and as quickly as possible. It’s time for our teachers and parents to have certainty so we can carry on with the important work of educating our students.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the appointment of President Michael Crow to this board.  As you know, I am an ASU alumnus, and I have marveled at the job Dr. Crow has done at bringing real innovation and vision to a very large, public institution…what is affectionately known by Sun Devils as The New American University.

Just look at a few of the accomplishments he has made over the years at that institution:

  • The W.P Carey School of Business, now recognized as one of the best schools of business in the world.
  • The Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering is in the top 50 engineering schools in the nation.
  • The Barrett Honors College was recently named one of the top three honors colleges in the nation.
  • The ASU-Downtown campus has revitalized downtown Phoenix to a vibrant epicenter of business and entertainment.

From exemplary programs to the innovations in online learning and on and on – we have living proof that good people can make huge contributions both to education and to the quality of life in Arizona.  This Board can learn from an innovator's example, and can adopt his commitment to excellence and results for everyone - and from that we will all benefit.  He is an incredible resource and we are fortunate to have him in our great state.

Thank you and I would welcome any questions you may have for me.