top of page

Curiously Common: A Blog Series Keeping You Curious about the Common Nature of Education

By Elijah Mercer, CEI Education Policy and Communications Intern

Arizona is making strides to improve its instructional practices for teachers and students, but not without political push back related to Common Core as well as teacher quality criticism.

Up and Down Battle. While Arizona has adopted the Common Core Standards, the state’s battle to implement the standards has been rocky. Arizona adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in June 2010. Similar to Alabama, Arizona has made modifications to the standards.

Arizona decided not to adopt the CCSS national test known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC (Neff, 2014). While Arizona officials claim to have no problem with PARCC, Governor Jan Brewer announced in June that the state would not administer the assessment (Neff, 2014). Although an early supporter of PARCC, Arizona education officials decided against using PARCC since they ‘ different bids to provide standardized tests to more than 1 million Arizona students.’

Yet in March 2014, the Arizona Senate struck down a bill that would prevent the state from implementing Common Core Standards. Opposition argued it would cost Arizona millions in federal funding. The Arizona Department of Education receives over $1 billion dollars from the federal government to implement Common Core Standards (Arizona, 2014).

Some political officials and policymakers have questioned Arizona’s repudiation of the standards. For example, Arizona only modified the CCSS standards in name, changing their standards to the ‘College and Career Ready Standards.’ Other pundits such as Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute believe Arizona doesn’t want to ‘follow the crowd.’ Instead, Gass contends the state’s actions serve as a testament to please parties against the federal government controlling education.

Teacher Quality and Shortages. In addition to Arizona’s struggle to find its place in the Common Core implementation battle, teacher quality and effectiveness have come under fire too. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) gives teachers in each state an annual grade of A through F based on numerous factors; Arizona earned a ‘C-.’

Among NCTQ’s findings and ratings that may have contributed to the grade:

  1. Arizona is 1 of 9 states that DOES NOT require secondary teachers to take the Praxis or a content test in every subject they are licensed to teach

  2. Arizona offers a k-12 special education license that doesn’t account for grade and subject content specific knowledge

However, Arizona is 1 of 20 states that ties student achievement and growth to teacher evaluations–especially for tenured positions–and can result in a teacher’s dismissal The complete report of NCTQ’s national teacher ratings can be found here. The Center for Education Reports also ranks Arizona teacher quality low, noting only 43% of teachers meet the highly qualified mark. The standards for highly qualified in Arizona include state licensure or certificate, a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university or institution, and competence in the teacher’s content area as measured through an assessment (Dinnell, 2014).

Teacher attrition – how Arizona is meeting the need for teachers. Another issue that may contribute to Arizona’s ‘C-‘ rating typically not discussed is its outsourcing of teachers from across seas in the wake of a drastic teacher shortage. An October 2014 AZ Central article notes that of the 95,000 certified teachers in Arizona, only 52,000 are currently teaching this year; 43,000 qualified teachers are not. Another 21,000 teachers have retired in just the last five years. Decreased pay and increasingly rigorous teacher qualifications have led both rural and urban Arizona districts to recruit Filipino teachers instead. While these teachers struggle to acclimate to rural life, they do have Master’s degrees in the subjects they are supposed to teach. Most live together in the same apartment or house, and reduce paying for gas by carpooling. However, president of the Arizona Education Association Andrew Morrill knows outsourcing is only a short-term solution to a long term problem. “If we are going all the way across the world when we have qualified teachers right here in Arizona, we should be asking why they are leaving,” he said.

The average salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in rural Arizona is $33,550 annually, while urban cities like Phoenix report the highest salaries at $38,828 annually.

Seeing the Real Work Happen. Phoenix, one of Arizona’s most challenging and underperforming urban districts, faces many challenges. Between the struggle to increase student achievement and the large amount of non-native English speakers, Arizona’s poor are continuously entrenched in poverty.Yet, there is hope. Educators and school administration in urban Phoenix are constantly finding new practices to hold both students and teachers to high Common Core standards despite statistics.

At Echo Mountain Intermediate School in northeast Phoenix where 98% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, rookie teachers observed veteran Rachelle Samora’s fifth grade math class in action. By flipping a switch on a two way mirror, they were able to hear and see how Samora instructed students during a math lesson. This practice allows teachers in training to observe veteran teachers’ classrooms without disrupting the flow. New teachers from wealthier areas of Arizona come to watch Echo Mountain’s teachers perform as well. In fact, Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College actively hosts in-person classes during Samora’s and other teachers’ classes using the two-way mirror technology. One instructional practice called whole brain teaching, a tactic in which a teacher teaches a concept and then tells students to teach it to their peers, is particularly helpful and useful to new teachers trying to understand and implement Common Core Standards.

While it took a while for Samora and her students to adjust to the one way mirrors and cameras, they eventually grew to ignore them. Strong support from parents also helped lessen initial apprehension about widespread use of the technology in school as well. This is a great opportunity for schools vying for technology funding to improve teacher quality and help strengthen Common Core implementation. While Phoenix district officials did not provide immediate costs for the program, they suggest it is feasible to implement if resources and grassroots efforts are invested in the right places.

If teachers are continuously evaluated based for effectiveness, outside teaching rating organizations and teacher evaluation programs should levy resources to help rather than just criticize. Phoenix is one of the lowest performing cities in the country, yet teachers and school districts are implementing innovative tactics to improve student achievement within Common Core Standards despite a number of challenges. Teachers and educators across the U.S. can learn from the challenges and successes experienced in Arizona to continually work toward improving student excellence and teacher quality.


Arizona senate kills bill on common core standards. (2014, March 5). Associated Press. Retrieved  from

Cayton, R. (2014, February 7). Arizona fares poorly on assessment of teacher effectiveness. Retrieved from

Creno, C. (2014, October 1). Arizona teacher shortage forces schools to go international. Retrieved from

Dinell, S. (2014, February 26). Arizona’s education poor, and the future’ not bright, according to report. Retrieved 2014, from

Neff, B. (2014, May 30). Arizona ditches Common Core testing consortium. Retrieved 2014, from

Wang, A. (2014, 24 January). A window into best teaching practices. Retrieved from

This is the second in the CEI blog series on latest state level activities for Common Core State Standards and assessments.


bottom of page