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ASU works to familiarize students with education initiative

After results from a statewide poll indicated that Arizonans would spend their tax dollars to improve K-12 education and bring the state up-to-par with international rankings, University officials are working to familiarize students with an initiative connected to the poll.

The ASU Foundation sent an e-mail to all faculty, staff and students in late August to introduce students to a Center for the Future of Arizona plan to improve education standards, among other goals. The center is a nonprofit headed by former ASU president Lattie Coor.

The University wants to familiarize students with potential improvements to the K-12 education system in the state in case they reach the ballot in the future.

“There is a tremendous need in Arizona to connect with younger voters,” said Pat Beaty, senior fellow and project director at the Center for the Future of Arizona.

The center’s initiative, which calls for improvements in education, health care, job creation, infrastructure and energy, is based on the results of a three-month poll conducted between 2008 and 2009.

In the poll, citizens were asked to rate the quality of public schools in their communities and only 19 percent said their education systems were “very good.” Citizens gave a higher overall rating of 30 percent to the quality of colleges and universities as being “very good.”

Those are not high ratings, Beaty said.

The poll included six possible investment opportunities for K-12 education improvement.

Together, the Center for the Future of Arizona and Gallup created the poll, which was conducted between December 2008 and February 2009.

The Arizona We Want initiative was created in October based on results found by the poll, according to the initiative.

With the polling and analysis completed, citizens now must look to political leaders and community organizations to implement the changes, the report said.

Citizens who were polled were asked to indicate which option would serve as the most beneficial solution for the state’s education system. The most supported option was offering school-based programs that allow students to gain academic and career preparation skills that are customized to each student's needs.

Higher graduation requirements in math, science and language ranked second.

When it comes to meeting international standards, Arizona is not even close, Beaty said. It was surprising that the first two items on the list were of most importance to citizens, she said.

Rather than taking the easier route of allocating extra funds to areas that need them, citizens selected to better the education system by raising the standards of what a quality education is, she said.

“Citizens set very high goals compared to where Arizona is today,” Beaty said.

The third most selected option was the controversial idea of higher pay for teachers whose students consistently show academic progress.

Several education students at ASU didn’t think this was a good option.

“If pay were to rely on how the students perform academically, the teaching world would get ugly,” secondary education sophomore Ashley Rogers said. “Not to mention students would feel a lot more pressure, which would not make for a healthy learning environment.”

The fourth item was additional money and resources for schools that show improvement in their students' performance. This was followed by higher pay for all teachers and additional money and resources for low-performing schools.

“The fact that one goal receives more support than others does not necessarily mean that people don’t think other goals are important,” the report said. “Choosing one may mean that it’s of more immediate and personal concern.”

Beaty said education is the key to civic participation.

“The reason education is so important is that on a statewide level, it is the key to economic development and, on a personal level, it’s the key to per capita income down the road,” she said.

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