The Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has launched an initiative with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce known as A for Arizona, an effort to rapidly increase the number of A quality public schools in the state.
The Tucson Hispanic Chamber and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce have chosen to lead this initiative for a number of reasons. First and foremost, exceptional public education for all students in Arizona is demonstrably attainable. Let’s review the current status of our state’s public schools: Arizona educates 1.1 million students in 2,023 public schools. About 1,400 of those schools are public district or magnet schools, and 606 are public charter schools. Of those 2,023 public schools, 499 have earned an A grade from the state. Of those A schools, 177 are public charter schools.
Twenty eight of the low-income A-rated schools are public charter schools and 59 are public district or magnet schools.
Two things are clear to us: Lack of income does not mean lack of student ability; and excellence is found in public district schools, public magnet schools and public charter schools.
The Tucson Hispanic Chamber and the Arizona Chamber want to focus our efforts on understanding the work of these A quality schools. We will place particular emphasis on successful schools in low-income communities and in communities with a majority of Hispanic students.
We are not interested in whether these schools are district, charter or magnet public schools. We want to understand their work and if it would be possible for them to expand their impact. By studying the work of schools who are succeeding with their students, we can seek ways to expand their impact through their growth, replication or the creation of other schools like them in Arizona. We would also like to know what supports would be necessary for these leaders to increase their impact by teaching other school leaders who have decided to get their schools to A.
This initiative represents a significant shift in the traditional business community support for education. Business is frequently asked to support programs and policies that serve low performing schools. The thinking has been that A quality schools are “fine” and don’t need support.
They may not need us, but we desperately need them. Arizona needs hundreds of new or improved A quality schools, most urgently in low-income areas of the state. Not only do we not have enough A schools currently, but Arizona will grow by about 20,000 students a year over the next decade, and we must ensure that the new schools built to serve these students will be excellent.
It is important for our chambers of commerce to lead with what we know. Our organizations focus on attracting new members and businesses that will grow the quality of Arizona’s economy. We understand the value of leading with our best teams, and we cannot afford to ignore Arizona’s best schools, teachers and school leaders in the struggle to provide every student in the state with an excellent education. The chamber does not seek to tell these schools what to do; we seek to learn what they do, and how we can help them and others to do more of what works.
We have learned that excellence is a decision; and those leaders, teachers and schools that have decided to seek excellence are achieving it through a high degree of skill and very hard work. Sometimes they get the job done with the support of our state’s laws, and often they do so in spite of them. We want to know how to make this state the best possible environment for the best possible schools. That begins by understanding what the best schools in Arizona want and need in order to do their work.
The A for Arizona initiative will join already powerful statewide efforts to raise public expectations for high achievement by highlighting these schools and leaders. We will seek to prove that A level education is possible in every community, and to redefine Arizona as a state where significant and rapid gains in achievement are a hallmark of public education.