Former Intel Corp. CEO Craig Barrett

AP file

Last week, Gov. Jan Brewer appointed 17 educators, business leaders and public policymakers to her Arizona Ready Education Council to help improve the performance of the state's public classrooms. This group will be looking at test scores, graduation rates, teacher training and other issues as it works toward raising expectations for students, teachers and schools.

Sound familiar?

Over the years, there have been similar state committees and panels convened to make recommendations to governors and lawmakers on how to improve Arizona's public education system.

We've seen academic standards raised high and then lowered again on the AIMS test. We've watched full-day kindergarten come, go, and come again. We've seen school districts implement a variety of "performance pay" programs for teachers, some of which are little more than teachers getting extra pay for setting - rather than meeting -- goals.

We've increased the number of schooling options for parents dramatically with the proliferation of charter schools, tuition tax credits for private schools, a range of resources for home schools, and a booming number of online schools.

We've listened to some crafty language as lawmakers and lawyers have tried to create voucher programs without using the controversial "V" word, the latest being "empowerment scholarship accounts."

And then, there's the endless annual debate over state funding.

The bottom line: After all that, Arizona still lags behind other states academically.

But we're hopeful that Brewer's new council may actually be able to make a difference. That's because it's being chaired not only by state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal - but also by Craig Barrett.

Not only is Barrett the retired CEO of Intel; he's also the president and chairman of one of the most successful chains of public schools in the world - the BASIS charter schools.

And, he is an outspoken critic of public education in Arizona. As Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services reported last week, Barrett told the Arizona Commerce Authority last March that if Intel were looking today for a site to build an entirely new operation, Arizona would not even be on the list of Top 10 choices. Thank goodness Intel located here long ago. Imagine where Chandler, the East Valley, and our state would be without the high-tech super-giant that employs thousands and gives back so much to our community.

In a wide-ranging interview with Fischer, Barrett said Arizona's public school children are doing far worse than the national average.

"We're kind of the bottom 10 or 15 percent of states," he said.

He acknowledged that Arizona is "not terribly high" on funding per student compared to other states, but rejected the notion that more tax dollars will improve the end result.

Instead, Barrett suggested that it's more important to pay each teacher according to the business practices of supply and demand. In other words: If there's an oversupply of P.E. teachers and not enough science teachers, you pay the science teachers more.

In the same story, Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, cautioned against someone new coming to the table and brushing aside ideas that have been explored for a new solution.

"It usually represents an incomplete understanding of the problem," Morrill said.

That response is a common one from Arizona's public education world. And frankly, it's tiresome.

No, we don't want to see someone come in and wreck aspects of the system that do work, or suggest changes that make no sense where teaching, learning and working with children are concerned. And, unlike his BASIS schools, Barrett will have to deal with the fact that public education serves a range of students - and not just those who are college-bound.

But sometimes, it takes someone who has knowledge of something but remains on the outside to see the problem and how to fix it. Barrett is knowledgeable, but he's not part of the education establishment. And what this former Intel CEO doesn't know, we're confident he'll learn pretty quickly.

We urge everyone - especially those in the education sector - to give his ideas a chance.


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