Arizona Education Competition is Good Public Policy

Arizona Education Competition is Good Public Policy

The introduction of meaningful competition into any arena drives improvement whether the objective is to improve a product or a service.  Take for example the competition between Apple and Samsung, a constant battle over who can make a better device.  In the service industry we need only consider what businesses we prefer to patron and why.  The same has been proven to be true in education.


The National Assessment of Educational Progress operates on an annual budget of over 120 million dollars and tests a random sample of over 150,000 students to make its comparisons.  NAEP measures results at the 4th and 8th grade for all 50 states, and is considered by many educators as the “gold standard” of educational measurement.  2015 NAPE data shows:

  1. Arizona 8thgrade African Americans placed number one in the nation in math up from 6th in 2011.  Arizona Black students not only outscored Black students in Massachusetts and Connecticut, they outscored Black students in all 49 other states.
  1. Arizona 8thgrade White students placed sixth in the nation in math up from 20th in 2011.
  1. Arizona 8thgrade Hispanic students achieved the fifth highest math gains in the nation to place 11th in the nation, up from 35th in 2011.
  1. Arizona placed number one in the nation in combined reading and math gains from 4thgrade 2011 to 8th grade 2015 (4th graders in 2011 were 8th graders in 2015).


Arizona students were able to achieve these great math accomplishments with great academic gains.  Blacks, Whites and Hispanics placed 1st, 1st and 5th in math academic gains from 2011 4th grade to 2015 8th grade.

Arizona also did well in reading with Blacks, Whites and Hispanics ranking 14th, 7th and 29thin scores at the 8th grade and 17th, 3rd and 14th in gains.

While the 2015 NAEP test results were first reported in October of 2015, Arizona’s demographic rankings have never been reported and a completely false presumption lingers in the media that Arizona’s public education ranks 50th in the nation.


From 2011 to 2015, US NAEP math scores fell the first time ever.  Also, reading scores did not improve.  The percentage of parents grading their child’s school an “A” tumbled from the highest number in the Gallup poll’s 47 year history, 36% in 2011, to one point away from the lowest number, 24% in 2015.


Competition is the principal policy in which Arizona is dramatically different from the rest of the states.  Arizona’s results suggest that competition works. Arizona has the greatest number of charter schools per capita with charter student counts increasing from 106,882 students in 2011 to 161,136 in 2015.   This was an increase from 10.2% to 14.9% of all students.   Arizona’s tuition tax credits for education further intensified that competition by providing over 32,000 partial scholarships by 2014.  Also, by 2014 Empowerment Scholarship Accounts provided full scholarships to another 1,400 students.

Of course people improve results.  Motivated students read more, pay attention in class and form better attitudes towards education.  Supported teachers organize their classes, involve parents and inspire their students.  Great principals support teachers, involve parents and help discipline students in a positive way.  The competitive environment in Arizona ensures that this is happening more and more for every student, parent and teacher.

Arizona teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and policymakers should be celebrated for these incredible results.  But, these achievements haven’t even been acknowledged.


Public education improvement in Arizona faces organized resistance.  This resistance is:

  1. blocking expansion of the most powerful school choice element, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts;
  1. reducing the choices of parents of our most at-risk students, shutting down some of our most effective schools and burdening them with a glut of paperwork;
  1. forcing all schools to adopt specific forms of education, specific philosophies of education and specific school organization techniques instead of allowing innovation to flourish.


Sources of Information

Ranking of 8th Grade Blacks, Whites, Hispanics 2011 to 2015 math

Student Counts for Charter and District Schools

Tuition Tax Credit Data

Empowerment Scholarship Account Data


Data compiled by:

Mr. Tom Patterson is a retired emergency physician. As an Arizona State Senator and Senate Majority Leader in the 90s, he was the author of Arizona’s original charter school legislation as well as its public school choice laws. He was part of the leadership that enacted the nation’s first tuition tax credit program.  Mr. Patterson is the past chairman of the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona School Choice Trust, which provides private school tuition scholarships to low income students. He is currently the chairman of the Compact for America.

Mr. John Huppenthal served on the Education Committee in the legislature for 18 years, from 1993 through 2010, chairing it for ten years. Mr. Huppenthal was the Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2011 to 2015.  Mr. Huppenthal has a degree in Engineering from NAU and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from ASU.

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