Arizona Schools Focus on Science

In April 2007 the Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) announced an investment of $3.2 million into a K-12 Student & Teacher Discovery Program to benefit the Arizona Schools. The Arizona Schools grant are the third awarding of SFAz funds intended to create a top-notch science, engineering and medical core in Arizona. The foundation intends to create this by supporting and funding secondary and university level Arizona Schools.

Why Fund Science in Arizona Schools?

The state looked to the foundation to “strengthen scientific, engineering and medical research programs and infrastructure in areas of greatest strategic value to Arizona’s competitiveness in the global economy.” In addition to benefits to economy, educators in Arizona Schools are aware of a growing achievement gap that most affects minorities and low-income students. That gap is greatest in areas of math and science.

Arizona Schools are an oxymoron in education. Education Week rated them last in the nation for per pupil spending in January of 2007. Yet it rated Arizona Schools 14th in the nation on academic standards, and 20th in education alignment. On the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) the state came in 21st. Typically schools with lowest spending per pupil (like California) also rate poorly on other indicators of success; while the top spending states (like New Jersey) rank higher.

Superintendent of Arizona Schools, Tom Horne, wrote in his January 2007 district letter that although the national average is not a satisfactory goal, “… if our [Arizona] schools can bring our students to above the national average, even though we are last in resources, I believe we could be in the top 10 nationally if we raised our resources to the national average.” Clearly private funding from groups like SFAz is expected to help Arizona Schools reach that goal.

What Programs Will Benefit Arizona Schools?

Arizona Schools intend to use some of the funds for summer classes, teacher training and online courses. $225,000 will go to growing the Hands-on Optics Project run by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson. This program lets elementary and middle school students in rural Arizona Schools learn about optics from scientists in surrounding communities.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) award gives $525,000 to the development of underprivileged K-12 students. Arizona Schools will participate in the First Robotics Competition and FIRST LEGO® League Programs with these funds.

As Arizona Schools try to address issues like English Language Learner program funding, and equity across racial and socio-economic lines, debates over allocation funds will continue to heat up. This is why a national trend of philanthropic and corporate sponsorship of public schools has become so popular.

Whether Superintendent Horne will get the additional state funding he seeks for Arizona Schools is still unknown. But it’s certain that the funds provided by private parties will benefit the Arizona Schools in the 2007-2008 school year and beyond.