Spotlight on Success Program to Benefit Arizona Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

For many years, the Arizona schools have experienced a lot of negative publicity that affects its ability to recruit talent, garner extra funding, and keep students in the public school system. Current superintendent Tom Horne says that much of this publicity is unwarranted and unfair to the Arizona schools that have made many positive strides toward improving education.

To counter this unwanted publicity, Horne developed the Spotlight on Success program for the Arizona schools. Basically, the program works to put as much positive publicity about the Arizona schools into the public spotlight as possible. The superintendent, himself, seeks as many opportunities available for public speaking and voicing his opinions and facts about the Arizona schools to the media. His goal is to emphasize the positive inroads Arizona schools have made both in his public statements and when quoted in the media, and he to refutes any false negative publicity with ruthless tenacity.

Not too long ago, many newspapers within the state of Arizona and across the nation carried a negative story where a Kansas company designated Arizona as the “dumbest state in the country”.  The story was quite untrue. Arizona schools students performed above the national average in Terra Nova (the only nationally-normed test), which is taken by essentially all Arizona schools students. Though Arizona schools ranks 49th out of 50 states in expenditures per student, the funding handicap has not affected the ability of the Arizona schools to educate their students above the national average. Horne is quick to remind the media of these statistics.

Another example of false negative publicity is that the Arizona schools have one of the highest dropout rates in the country, according to the “Kids Count” measurement. Horne says the count is incorrect, since the census was used for the measurement — otherwise, whenever the census reporter was told a child between the ages of 16 and 19 was not attending school, it was used to blame the Arizona schools.  Many of these children were beyond the control of the Arizona schools, such as children from other countries who have never been enrolled with the Arizona schools, or those who had attended only private schools. If the Arizona schools do not know a child exists, they have no opportunity to educate them.

Three national organizations that keep valid comparative statistics on graduation rates across the nation are Manhattan Institute, Urban Institute, and United Health Foundation.  Their most recent figures are from 2002, and all three report that the Arizona schools are at the national average of about 70 percent (plus or minus one percent). Since 2002, the Arizona schools graduation rate has grown from 72.7 percent to 77 percent. According to Horne, unless the rest of the country has had an equally dramatic growth in graduation rates, the Arizona schools are now substantially above the national average.

Horne plans to continue his efforts to refute the erroneous negative publicity about the Arizona schools, which he believes continue to do an excellent job in improving their educational standards.