Skip to main content

Is K-12 education keeping up with today's students?

November 08, 2013

When Sybil Francis co-founded the Center for the Future of Arizona with former ASU President Lattie Coor 12 years ago, she believed much of the state’s future depended on its young people and how well they are prepared to enter their communities as adults. The names of the center’s various initiatives and efforts – “The Arizona We Want,” “Beat the Odds Institute,” “Move On When Ready,” “Pathways to Postsecondary” – illustrate that improving education is one of the center’s, and Francis’, overarching missions.

Francis will offer an evaluation of U.S. education and the center’s vision for its future in a Nov. 12 presentation, “Is K-12 education keeping up with today’s students and the future they face?” Part of the ASU Foundation’s Presidential Engagement Programs 2013-2014 season, “K-12” will be presented from 3 to 5 p.m., free of charge (registration required) at Vi at Silverstone, 23005 N. 74th St. in Scottsdale. Parking is free for the event and space is limited.

Francis' position as executive director of the center is her most recent leadership role in a three-decade career as a public policy analyst and architect in the fields of science and education. She began that career working in the U.S. House of Representatives and later served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She was part of the leadership team of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City before moving to Arizona in 2002 when her husband, Michael Crow, became president of ASU.

In advance of her Presidential Engagement Program presentation, Francis offered some insights into American education, what works and what needs improvement.

What are the primary challenges facing American schools and their students?

We need to move from an industrial-era factory model of education to a personalized model. Today, students are batched together by age group, expected to learn at the same rate and study the same thing at the same time. We need to fundamentally transform our system to one designed to meet the individual needs of every student, and give students and teachers the tools they need.

What would that look like?

It would mean personalizing the educational experience of students and moving from a “seat time” system to a competency-based system. This process should start in kindergarten and progress through high school. The outcome we should be aiming for is that all students graduate from high school, college- and career-ready.

Are there challenges in education that are particular to Arizona schools?

Arizona’s education challenges are not that different from those faced by other states: stresses of insufficient funding, demographic changes, high rates of mobility and so on. Arizona has many outstanding examples of success, but we can also learn from the successes of other states.

How do shortcomings in the education system affect other aspects of our communities?

They reverberate throughout our communities. Lower education levels mean higher incarceration rates, so educational failures can impact how many prisons need to be built. Businesses may choose not to locate in Arizona because of an undereducated workforce, and that could impede economic growth and lower our tax base.

One of the initiatives you’re leading for the Center for the Future of Arizona is named Pathways to Postsecondary. What is that?

Pathways to Postsecondary will provide multiple educational options, starting as early as middle school, that will put all students – not just some – on one or more pathways to postsecondary education based on their interests, skills and academic ambitions. The pathways will be rigorous and flexible, leading to high-value educational choices, including postsecondary career and technical education, community college or university. This will require better alignment between high school and postsecondary preparation and expectations than we have today. But high school can no longer be viewed as an endpoint. A high school diploma is no longer sufficient for a person to succeed in supporting a family and enjoying a good quality of life, yet high school education has not kept up with this reality. We must align academic expectations of high school with what students will need to know and do when they leave high school.

Has the mission of the Center for the Future of Arizona evolved since you co-founded it in 2002?

Lattie Coor and I founded the center with the hope of catalyzing actions on issues of critical importance to the state; to help define and shape Arizona’s future through an action-oriented agenda grounded in research and based on what Arizonans say they want for the future. It wasn’t to be a think tank, but a “do tank” that combines innovative research with collaborative partnerships to improve the quality of life for all Arizonans.

Our mission has not changed. Certainly education remains among our highest priorities, along with the economic vitality of the state, the quality of life for Arizonans, and civic life and engagement. What has changed is that we are now into our 12th year of activity and have a number of initiatives under way that are going full throttle now.

Erik Ketcherside,
Communications Manager | Editorial Services
ASU Foundation for A New American University