As a teacher and policy maker, I am immersed in the education issues of the day, many of them hard to resolve. In the midst of this political storm, teaching and learning continues. In fact, in the last decade, Arizona has quietly emerged as an education powerhouse.

As a state, our students lead the nation in academic gains as reflected on our NAEP scores, “the nation’s report card.” This is happening primarily due to regional pockets of excellence that are exploding and building on one another’s success.

It’s clear how important these schools of excellence are for our students, but it’s not as well known how critical they are to teachers.
These systems and schools, small and large, urban and rural, district and charter illustrate the mutually beneficial aspects of learning for students and teachers. Teachers with leaders who provide the culture to support students and advance their learning are much more likely to stay in the teaching profession.

Not only do these schools change students’ lives, they also help teachers fulfill the calling that inspired them to teach in the first place.

As a teacher and legislator, my best days are when my students thoughtfully discuss the significance of historical events, or the great books and the ideas found therein. I might have the most difficult day at the legislature, but none of that matters when my students have thoughtful, soul enlarging discussions on some of the best ideas that have been argued and discussed for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. That’s a great day.

Research on teacher retention tells us many teachers, particularly our newest educators, leave the profession when placed in high poverty schools with large achievement gaps. Interestingly, what Arizona’s best high-poverty schools have taught us is that teachers stay if their leaders believe all students can learn, help students who are behind catch up, and build a school that is focused on positive outcomes for every child.

Keeping these teachers year-over-year is one reason why I wholeheartedly support the governor’s results-based budget proposal.

Funding the work of high performing schools not only changes students’ lives but also holds enormous promise in mitigating the loss of frustrated teachers. Building the teaching corps needed to put a highly performing school in every zip code will require a focused investment in growing these schools, keeping their teachers, and investing in the mentoring of other schools hoping to improve.

Teachers succeed when good leaders with a no-excuses culture embrace learning for all. These schools of excellence offer part of the solution to growing our profession by ensuring we don’t just hire teachers, but retain them.