The Bad News About Arizona Schools

As with any state, Arizona has high-performing schools and under-performing schools. However Arizona is different than other states in two regards. First, Arizona has taken a unique and aggressive approach to school choice. In Arizona, residents are allowed to send their child to any school in the state on a “space available” basis. The students can move across school or even district boundaries and the budget dollars follow the students. The term used in Arizona for this is open enrollment and it has become a staple of Arizona K-12 education.

The second thing that makes Arizona schools unique is the degree to which they fund (or rather don’t fund) schools. Arizona ranks 48th out of 51 (include the District of Columbia) in terms of per pupil expenditures across the country. On a relative basis, the State of Arizona simply does not provide its schools with as much monetary resources as other states provide to their schools. And the gap is significant.

Arizona voters do tend to be fiscally conservative. The state also is an early proponent of charter schools and, as noted earlier, school choice. The fundamental question is this: does the introduction of school choice and reliance on charter schools overcome this funding gap?

A recent research study identified the top 2% and 10% of Arizona K-12 schools based on their performance on the Terra Nova test. The Terra Nova is a nationally normed test that places schools into percentile rankings versus other schools on a national basis. It is highly regarded tool and is often a better measure of school performance than are state standardized tests.

The list below was compiled, in part, to assist parents in selecting from Arizona’s best schools for their child’s education. The list below represents the best 25 schools in Arizona among those with over 200 students. The results are based on the average Spring 2009 Terra Nova scores across all grade levels within a given school.

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