Duncan: Here’s what I see for the future of Arizona education

Posted 1/20/21

What do you think Arizona’s K-12 schools will look like in 2031? Does the prospect excite or dishearten you? After a year of countless hardships for families, we could use some positivity.

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Duncan: Here’s what I see for the future of Arizona education


What do you think Arizona’s K-12 schools will look like in 2031? Does the prospect excite or dishearten you? After a year of countless hardships for families, we could use some positivity.

That’s why, this National School Choice Week, I’d like to share why I’m hopeful about the future of Arizona education.

Before jumping into the future, let’s start by acknowledging where we are today: weathering the pandemic and the educational challenges it has brought. Those challenges have been immense, especially for vulnerable students. Still, many Arizona families have fared better than most — thanks in part to school choice.

When I first started working in education in Arizona, I was blown away by what I found: Arizona is one of the most innovative of all 50 states when it comes to learning and choice.

We have traditional public schools with flexible open enrollment, diverse public charter schools, private schools, magnet schools, full-time virtual schools, and homeschooling — not to mention micro-schools before they became a national headline.

For years, our schools have been ahead of the curve in flexible learning, offering blended models, International Baccalaureate programs, early college tracks, collaborative relationships with universities and much more.

The flexibility built into our system has given a leg up to many schools in responding to the pandemic. It is precisely this innovation that gives me hope that the future of Arizona education will hold even more student-centered options and smarter learning.

I believe schools of the future can look even more nuanced than they do today, with more learning pods, more schools offering hybrid models, and more families intentionally utilizing choice. I believe the schools of the future can offer even more learning and career opportunities to students via community partnerships, like how Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University already partner with schools.

I believe schools of the future can be more attentive to where students are in their learning cycle, so there can be more growth based precisely on a student’s starting place.

For example, incorporate more multi-age classrooms. A third-grader excelling in math where she demonstrates mastery will be grouped with fourth-graders for math, rather than sit through a class that doesn’t engage her. Students will be empowered to grow at their own speed. This system would allow students to not only succeed at their own pace but will reduce retention rates.

Maybe such a positive outlook feels unrealistic for parents stuck in a confusing school application process, or their child has had a negative experience in a school that didn’t quite fit. As a mom, I understand how critical and stressful choosing a school can feel.

Thankfully, many excellent Arizona resources exist to support parents in finding a school that fits their child now. The very best advice I have for parents today is to take advantage of these wonderful resources.

At Choose A School AZ, we provide workshops, spread information and assist parents in school and scholarship applications. You can also find information on websites like the state Department of Education, Schola.io, Love Your School, or the Arizona Charter Schools Association. These can help you think about what criteria are important to you and what your deal breakers are in picking a school.

They can also help you understand whether you’re eligible for assistance through Arizona’s opportunity scholarship program, which subsidizes private school tuition for families who meet specific guidelines.

This School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30), the quality school choices, and family resources we already have in Arizona are worth celebrating. If we continue to innovate and expand assistance for families navigating choice, the education scene in 2031 will indeed be unique.

Barbara Duncan has worked in education for over 30 years as a teacher, an administrator and an education consultant. She is currently the vice president of Quality Schools for the non-profit organization Choose A School AZ.

Arizona, education