March 22, 2012

We must urgently tell lawmakers to prevent further cuts to education, Arizona Daily Star

By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Mayor Greg Stanton, Special to the Arizona Daily Star

Today, the number of U.S. jobs that require education beyond high school has doubled from the 1970s. To bring employers to our state, and keep them here, an educated work force is essential.

Improving our education system, reducing the dropout rate – these are key to Arizona’s economic future.

This is why we’re asking Arizona’s business community to advocate for education. Employers need a quality work force to be competitive. Beyond that, business people want their children to have quality schools. So do their employees.

While there’s still time during this legislative session, we all – the business community especially – need to tell our state Legislature to draw the line at more cuts to public education. It’s bad for our economy and our children.

Massive cuts totaling more than $1 billion have crippled our schools with teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms and fewer supplies. Teachers have been forced to buy supplies out of their own pockets, when they can’t afford it, to help their students. This has to stop.

It’s critical that our business leaders work closely with our education leaders. When it comes to supporting our schools, it’s an all-hands-on-deck issue. There is no organization that can say “it is not my problem.”

Creative partnerships between the business community, local government and our schools, as well as getting business leaders involved directly in school-based programs, are big parts of the solution.

Once we look at education as an economic development issue, it’s clear why this is needed. We all bring something to the table. Schools have educational expertise. Businesses know the skills they need in a work force and have operational expertise. Government has other resources that can complement and reinforce what our schools are doing.

There are many things we can work together on, but there’s one basic goal we should strive to meet: Our children need to achieve reading proficiency by third grade.

Research shows that one in six children who don’t read well by third grade drop out or fail to graduate from high school on time. That’s four times the rate for children who do read well.

Why third grade? Because that’s when children move from learning to read to reading to learn. That’s when a problem with reading becomes a problem with learning.

Last year, just 26 percent of Arizona’s public schoolchildren – a little more than one in four – were proficient readers by fourth grade. In fact, Arizona is 40th in the nation for fourth-grade reading proficiency.

Research also shows what works in getting children to read well – and it’s not endless drills. It’s engaging kids in what they read, with question and answer and discussion. Most fourth-graders who score in the top 25 percent on reading proficiency say they read for fun almost every day.

This kind of quality interaction between students and teachers requires smaller class sizes, teacher training and development, books and supplies. It requires all of us, including our business community, to get involved.

When we meet with schools to see how best we can partner with them – as government or business organizations – third grade reading proficiency needs to be at or near the top of our list.

More than a million children are enrolled in Arizona’s K-12 public schools. With a great education, they’ll be well-equipped to make Arizona competitive in a global economy. Our business community, our state Legislature, our local governments and all of us need to do what we can, today, to make sure that happens.

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