Eskildson: Arizona’s educators are preparing graduates for a half-century ago

Posted 9/9/21

At what level should education standards/goals be set?

Years and hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted across the nation providing unique “answers” to that question for …

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Eskildson: Arizona’s educators are preparing graduates for a half-century ago


At what level should education standards/goals be set?

Years and hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted across the nation providing unique “answers” to that question for every state, including Arizona, and then constructing tests to measure performance vs. those tests.

Unfortunately, the concept of fixed, statewide education standards makes no sense. High-tech employers and elite universities seek out the best — they demand nationally-comparable test (eg. ACT, SAT, GRE, MSAT) scores providing that information, and automatically update as pupil achievement improves. Why shouldn’t parents and the public be provided equivalent information?

Arizona did that in the early 1980s.

Pupil achievement and gains were tested annually using tests comparing performance with peers across the nation, as well as objective assessments of teachers, administrators and programs.

Teacher and administrator opposition, however, led to its early demise and replacement by Arizona-specific exams (AIMS) only involving three grades and unable to objectively assess personnel or programs, or provide comparisons with competing states. (Do they think the world ends at Arizona’s borders, or that Arizona graduates will never seek employment elsewhere?)

Forty-some years later, Arizona has killed the requirement that graduates pass the AIMS/AzMERIT tests, and continues using Arizona-specific exams (AzMERIT) that are meaningless to parents, employers and elite universities — with one exception.

Arizona high schools are now allowed to use the national ACT to test high-school pupils — much more useful, but far too late for significant corrective action. Meanwhile, a major new problem has developed with AzMERIT/ACT — they don’t provide information on how well Arizona pupil/school performance compares with other nations in today’s increasingly globally competitive economy.

Millions of former high-paying U.S. jobs have disappeared since the early 1980s — eliminated by automation, sent to other nations or now filled by foreign workers in America with far superior math, science and computer programming skills.

Experts now predict:

  •  Nearly half of current U.S. jobs will disappear or substantially change when Artificial Intelligence and robotics begin sweeping the nation around 2025; and
  •  The worldwide demand for top math/science skills will dramatically increase.

Currently, average U.S. high-school graduates’ math skills’ rank 35th in the world; 18th in science; and are estimated to lag those in world-leading nations by four academic years, three years in science. (Educators often claim U.S. pupils excel in critical thinking — that’s false.)

Arizona’s political and education leaders, however, aren’t talking about our existing poor performance vs. other nations or this coming tsunami of foreign competition.

Instead, they grind out misleading information about improving Arizona 4th- and 8th- grade NAEP scores and higher charter-school scores — “forgetting” that national 4th- and 8th-grade NAEP improvements have never moved up to high-school levels and that all three external reviews of Arizona charters have concluded that on average, their pupil gains trail those of public school peers, with a few exceptions.

I recently asked the head of Scottsdale Unified’s Math/Science Academy if he thought its pupils knew how far behind they lagged those in other nations.

“No,” he replied. Why? SUSD’s board and administration have deliberately withheld this information for almost two years, along with its years of declining high-school pupil achievement, declining Newsweek/U.S.

News/World-Report high-school ratings, the fact that SUSD’s relatively high scores vs. Arizona Standards in early grades decline at higher grades, and the fact that it no longer leads the Valley in high-school achievement scores.

SUSD, and most/all Arizona public schools deviate from education and management best practices/research findings in a number of important ways.
Those deviations favor teachers and harm pupil achievement in every instance.

And that’s why Arizona public schools waste enormous amounts of money while graduating pupils unprepared for the future! (Among the 79 nations tested, only Norway — longer school year and Luxembourg spend more/pupil than the U.S.)

As Arizona educators continue to prepare pupils for a half-century ago, nations already producing world-leading high-school graduates continue to improve — minimizing COVID-19 disruptions, experimenting with computer-assisted individualized instruction, and strengthening university STEM instruction.

Editor’s Note: Loyd Eskildson is a longtime Scottsdale Unified School District resident and former chief deputy superintendent of Maricopa County School Superintendent’s Office.