New report: Widening education gap in Arizona - Tucson News Now

New report: Widening education gap in Arizona affects students and the economy

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A new report shows half of Arizona high school graduates don't meet requirements to get into the state's public universities.

The rate is even worse for minority students.

It's a challenge that's only going to get worse.

The alarming statistics come from a study just presented to Arizona lawmakers.

The study is called the "Arizona Minority Student Progress Report 2013--Arizona In Transformation."

It's produced by the Arizona Minority Policy Analysis Center (AMEPAC).

It's already known that Arizona spends less on education than almost any other states.

The report notes that, as demographics in the state continue to change, that policy stands to hold back Arizona's economy.

The report finds a significant demographic change in Arizona.

It says minority students have outnumbered white students in preschool through 12th grade since 2004.

Then in 2012, Hispanics alone outnumbered white students in Arizona schools.

There's also the dismal finding in the report that only half of all high school graduates are eligible to attend a state school in Arizona.

"When we disaggregate that, we see that kids of color are much less likely to be eligible for admission to the U of A, to NAU, to ASU," says University of Arizona Professor Education Dr. Jeffrey Milem.

He says poverty and other forces play a part in that.

Milem and College of Education graduate student Patrick Bryan are two of the study authors.

Bryan says there's a cycle that benefits Arizona and students.

When a young student is surrounded by family and friends who have gone to college or are headed there the students sees that opportunity for himself or herself.

Then there's another cycle in families where no one at home or at school goes to college or has been to college.

"If you never see that, you can never buy into that part of the American Dream. And so it seems cut off. It seems unrealistic. And that would not be good for the states," Bryan says.

Milem says of the new majority in Arizona schools, "We saw it coming. We knew it was coming, but I don't think we've done enough to think about that and plan for that in ways that really need to be done to enhance the educational outcomes for kids in Arizona."

Milem says the report notes that another study finds fewer than 20 percent of all Arizona high school graduates are, what's called, college ready.

"That's a profound problem, particularly when we think about, in the new economy, the types and levels of education that workers are going to need to be successful land to serve the economic needs of this state," Milem says.

High paying jobs, such as in the high-tech industry, need an educated workforce.

"They're not likely to come to a state where they can't find a workforce to fill the jobs they're going to have in those industries," Milem says.

Milem explains that the report recommends training more teachers, especially to be culturally more competent as the demographics change.

He says the report also recommends revamping the curriculum in schools that are not graduating students with the minimum requirements to get into college.

Milem says investing in education pays off for a state in several ways.

"Folks who have higher levels of education have a higher quality of life. They pay more taxes because they make more money. They're healthier. They live longer. They draw on less public resources," Milem says.

Milem says in the American democratic principle and ideology, education is the great equalizer.

"If we want to be who we say we are as a society, as a country, as a state, then we need to do better at this. We need to invest in all kids to give them the sorts of opportunities and the chances that we want them to have, that are aligned with the things we say we believe most in," Milem says.

Read the report here.

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