Horizon Honors graduation

Horizon Honors High graduates wait in the shadows to receive their diploma during their commencement ceremony at Bethany Community Church in Tempe Wednesday evening. June,1, 2011- Darryl Webb/AFN

Darryl Webb/AFN

Arizona’s future is tied to its education system. If our kids are college educated they are more likely to have better jobs with better pay.

A more educated and skilled work force will attract more high tech businesses to Arizona with the kind of jobs that pay well. These higher paying jobs create more spendable income, which drives retail sectors. And consumer spending is what really fires up an economy.

The good news is that Arizonans value education. A new statewide poll said Arizonans consider improving education to be one of the top three issues the governor and the Legislature should address. Twenty percent of the respondents cited education as important, trailing only immigration (24 percent) and jobs (22 percent) as the state’s top priorities.

Here is the bad news: Those polled were critical of Arizona’s K-12 public education system in regards to preparing students for college. Thirty percent said public schools were poor and 11 percent said very poor at this job.

Is this just sour grapes by an unhappy public? No. The experts agree with them.

Panelists at a Tempe Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum on the 2011 State of the Schools this past week all agreed that public education has to focus on doing better at getting kids college ready.

“A high school diploma is a pretty meaningless thing for those that want a lifetime of good employment,” said Mason Bishop, director of the National Industry Strategy Group at University of Phoenix.

“At the end of the day most people go to college because they want a good job and a good career.”

Another panelist, Rio Salado College President Chris Bustamante, said it is critical to get more kids to go to college so that Arizona and the nation can be more competitive in a global economy.

That is why we support Governor Jan Brewer’s education reform plan that calls for higher standards to be implemented in Arizona’s K-12 schools. The state’s future depends on it. Its vision: “A future where all Arizona students are prepared to succeed in college and careers and lead this state in the next 100 years and beyond.”

Virgil Renzulli, vice president for public affairs at Arizona State University, was correct at the Tempe education event when he said a major problem is that spending money to improve the education system is seen by most in Arizona as a cost and not as an investment.

Renzulli argued education is an infrastructure issue that is just as important as roads when it comes to driving a state’s economy. Turning up financial support for public schools and reforming and holding the public education system more accountable are the right things to do.

But the K-12 schools can’t do this by themselves – no matter how much money we pour into them or accountability measures we hold them to. Parents must make education a priority too by taking an active interest in what their kids are doing in school, making sure they do their homework and arrive at school on time each day, encouraging their children to read and do their best, and teaching them to pay attention and respect their teachers in the classroom.

Emerging giants India and China both have more honor students than America has kids. That is because both have giant populations and in recent years embarked on huge investments in educating their children and developing a culture of higher expectations and respect for learning. That means if the U.S. is going to compete internationally, then it better have more kids going to college and excelling once they get there.

It’s an investment we all – from the home to the Legislature to the schools and universities – need to make to ensure Arizona’s future.

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