After more than a year of rewriting education laws and other efforts by legislators, the Arizona Department of Education announced on Dec. 23 that Arizona will receive one of seven federal “Race to the Top” grants totaling nearly $200 million.
Arizona is set to receive $25 million of the federal grants.
This approval comes after two failed attempts by the state to receive this grant. Initially, officials applied for $250 million, but were approved this year for only a fraction of that.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said in a Dec. 23 statement that he was satisfied with the federal aid.
“I am extremely pleased and encouraged by Arizona being awarded this money to further our state’s educational goals of creating highly effective classroom learning environments for our students,” Huppenthal said.
Half of the $25 million grant is expected to go to public and charter schools in an effort to replace old learning standards with more stringent state standards, known as the Common Core State Standards.
Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, Washington, D.C. and two territories formed CCSS to create a common set of state standards across the nation.
Another $2.3 million is expected to train teachers to meet the new learning standards while $2.5 million is expected to update the state’s educational data system.
An unstated amount of the grant is expected to aid Governor Jan Brewer’s Arizona Ready Council. The council’s goal is to improve the state’s K-12 education system as well as to focus on the enhancement of STEM, which caters to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
While the Arizona State Board of Education adopted CCSS in June 2010, the grant will help set these standards in public and charter schools across the state.
According to the Arizona Department of Education, some benchmarks of CCSS include a focus on critical thinking and problem solving for K-12 students.
In the same statement released by the Arizona Department of Education, Brewer said the grant is expected to be important to both Arizona’s education system and its economy.
“This funding will play an important role as Arizona sets higher standards for its students and teachers,” Brewer said.
The state’s plan of implementing more stringent education standards is part of Arizona’s new educational goal to help improve third-grade literacy, high school graduation rates and increase the output of bachelor’s degrees by higher education institutions within Arizona, such as ASU.
Journalism freshman Stephanie Habib, who graduated in 2011 from Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, mentioned that Arizona’s educational goals are a step in the right direction as long as the process to achieve them isn’t made easier in an effort to quickly improve statistics.
“The only way that educational standards in Arizona will rise is if administrators, teachers and students are held to a strict standard, for which there would have to be very real penalties for failure,” she said.
One reform listed in Arizona’s grant proposal is holding back third-graders who cannot yet read in an effort to improve third-grade literacy.
Criminal justice freshman Kyle Kowalski, who graduated from Phoenix Desert Vista High School, has doubts as to whether the grant will actually improve Arizona’s education standards.
“If they use the money right, then there is a good chance,” Kowalski said. “It’s not only the schools that need to be helped, but also the students need centers to help them.”
Although the grant will not be used for student help centers to monitor academic progress, the Arizona Department of Education plans to rebuild the state’s educational data system. The rebuilt system will be used to track both a school’s and a student’s academic progress.
Habib said rebuilding the educational data system is a quick solution to monitoring large classrooms.
“Teachers and administrators are faced with 40-student classrooms and aren’t able to closely monitor each person they are responsible for,” Habib said.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org