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New Dem Of The Week | November 30, 2020
New Dem of the Week: Janet Napolitano
Governor, Arizona

Since taking office in 2003, Gov. Janet Napolitano has strived to make Arizona "a great state to grow up in." Her education reforms, like her efforts to improve Arizona's security and fiscal health, have focused on innovation and increased efficiency through coordination between grade levels, regions, and fields.

Her first education reforms included a $25 million effort to phase in voluntary full-day kindergarten for all Arizona schools. Students who attend full-day kindergarten have demonstrated better language and math skills, higher 8th grade test scores, better attendance, and better social skills. Though this effort was directed at 5 year-olds, Gov. Napolitano deployed the program with an eye toward high school where Arizona has one of the nation's highest dropout rates and toward the job market students enter after graduation.

Now, Gov. Napolitano has broadened her reform efforts to consider preschool through post-graduate education, a grouping known in education policy circles as "P-20", as one holistic challenge with social, governmental, and economic implications. In July, she established a P-20 Council to work to better align the different levels and providers of education in Arizona and to ensure that the state's schools are producing the talent needed to grow Arizona's economy.

"We lose too many children along the way," said Napolitano. "Our job is to find the best ways to teach children, and to keep them in school. Perhaps even more importantly, we must teach them in a way that is aligned with business and the economy, so that when they graduate, they are truly ready to enter the workforce and are able to earn a decent living."

The council is charged with increasing the overall quality of education in the state, as evidenced by the number of students who graduate from high school, succeed in college, and join the workforce well-prepared.

The Council's membership reflects the diversity of stakeholders in Arizona's education system. The 34-member council includes a local school board member, the presidents of Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, a junior high school principal, and a vice president of General Dynamics C4 Systems. State Senators and Representatives serve as ex-officio members.

This month, the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices recognized the Council for its high school reforms that reduce drop out rates and increase college preparedness as part of its Honor States grant program.

Gov. Napolitano often says, "no education reform can happen without a qualified teacher to deliver it." None of the reforms the P-20 Council recommends will be possible without addressing the problem of teacher supply and the tension between quality and supply. In May, Napolitano created the Committee on Teacher Quality and Support to study ways Arizona can attract more qualified college students to the profession without lowering expectations. The Committee will report next week on ways the state can provide ongoing training that teachers want and increase teacher pay so that they are as valued in the marketplace as they are in students' lives.

Gov. Napolitano serves as co-chair of the national education task force "Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future." A recent report by the task force recommended enhancing early education opportunities, ensuring struggling students have sufficient time to learn, and placing high-quality teachers in every classroom. Napolitano identified the P-20 Council as evidence of Arizona's progress in those areas and reflected on the state's continuing efforts:

"The global economy is changing, and what our students need to know to compete with students from around the world is changing," said the governor. "Here in Arizona, we're already making the investment today so our state can lead the global economy tomorrow and beyond."



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