Skip to main content

Arizona joins U.S. education reform agenda

March 10, 2009

Responding to an unprecedented global economic slowdown, top officials in three more states announced their commitment to the “Tough Choices or Tough Times” reform agenda, a major redesign of state education systems intended to help students succeed both in school and the workforce.  

Late last year Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Utah became the initial states to announce their commitment to implementing recommendations of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce in its “Tough Choices or Tough Times” report. Today, three other states – Arizona, Delaware and New Mexico – announced that they, too, have signed on to this aggressive agenda for education reform.

Reforming K-12 education is one of the key concepts of ASU President Michael Crow’s vision for a New American University. The university is approaching the subject on a variety of fronts. Education reform has also been a key mission for ASU President Emeritus Lattie Coor and the Center for the Future of Arizona.

The commission proposes a practical approach to dramatically improving the performance of the nation’s students by adopting the powerful instructional systems, based on the highest international standards, the most successful countries have used for many years.  Additional recommendations include: recruiting our teachers from the top third of college graduates and increasing their pay to make that possible; revamping the high school-college transition; reallocating education funding to high-priority strategies for improving system performance; pre-k for all; putting more of our education funding behind students from low-income families; and changing the way schools are managed to give teachers much more influence over the way schools are run, while holding them accountable for the results.

“Forty years ago, the United States had the best educated work force in the world,” says Marc Tucker, co-chair of implementation for the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. That has not been true since then, and our standing relative to our competitors continues to decline. Nothing, not even the current economic crisis, has a more important bearing on the standard of living that our grandchildren will be likely to enjoy as adults. With these additional states, the momentum behind this effort continues to grow, providing us with further momentum, and we are talking with other states that are also very interested in joining.”

“Our vision is a world-class educational system in which all New Mexico students are prepared to succeed in a diverse and increasingly complex world,” says New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. 

“‘Tough Choices’ connects us to national leaders who can help us reach this goal. I call on the governors of other states to join us – and if they don’t, they need to ask themselves, ‘Why not?’”

“Delaware is leading the nation in the effort to transform American public education for the 21st century,” says Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. “It has committed to Vision 2015, an effort to remake every aspect of our public education system, and as governor I support it. We are ready to work with the National Center on Education and the Economy to develop a plan to enable the operation of a pilot project based on the principles laid out in the Tough Choices report in a handful of volunteer districts.”

“Tough Choices or Tough Times,” which was the focus of a 2006 TIME magazine cover story, incorporates many features of the world’s most successful education systems. Each state is zeroing in on the part of the agenda that best fits its needs right now.

Arizona’s commitment to “Tough Choices” is grounded in its history of innovation in education, including its pioneering charter school laws and P–20 approach to meeting the needs of the 21st century workplace.

“I support ‘Tough Choices or Tough Times’ because its goals align with a number of our initiatives and accomplishments,” says Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

Examples that Horne cited include: Alignment of high school math and science graduation requirements with university admission requirements; strengthening of college and technical education (CTE) academic content; initiation of Education and Career Action Plans to support student academic and career goals; and alignment of Arizona’s high school graduation rate to the National Governors Association recommendation.

Delaware is implementing “Tough Choices” via its Vision 2015 plan that is creating world-class academic standards that meet the needs of college and work. It’s expanding the scope of state support for early childhood education by providing state subsidies for all 3- and 4-year-olds from families with low-incomes. Delaware is also working to improve teacher compensation and empowering school-based staff to lead.

“Recently a lot of experts have said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste and we are certainly in an economic crisis,” says former U.S. Labor Secretary and Senator William Brock, co-chair of implementation for the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. “But we will pull out of it, as will the rest of the world. Let’s use this as an opportunity to focus on how we can educate our students right the first time to meet world competition. Leadership requires tough choices and, as we have seen today, these leaders are prepared to make them.”

Media contact:
Adam Shapiro,
(202) 667-0901