Education Chat

Chat Transcript: Stuart Starky, Against All Odds

You’d have to be a fool or a dreamer to think you have a chance of beating Senator John McCain, but 8th grade math teacher Stuart Starky is neither. The political neophyte knows for certain he’s going to win, no matter what the vote tallies are on Election Day.

Stuart Starky: Against All Odds

About the Guest:
Stuart Starky, 47, has taught math full time for three three years at C.O. Greenfield School—a low-income south Phoenix school whose cinder block walls have caught bullets from drive-by shooters. Before that he was a salesman in California, Chicago and Philadelphia. Starky has never held political office, but he has a history of longshot campaigns against local political icons. He is currently the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, facing Republican incumbent John McCain.

Scott Cech (Moderator):
Good evening, and welcome to Teacher Magazine’s and’s Live Chat. Joining us from Phoenix is Stuart Starky, an 8th grade math teacher who’s taken on the unenviable challenge of unseating U.S. Senator John McCain. The senator has international name recognition, more than $1 million in his campaign war chest and consistently high voter approval numbers. Why would Starky choose to run against this man he has barely a prayer of beating? Because he has issues. No Child Left Behind, for starters: “NCLB is not about helping kids; it is about destroying the public school system,” Starky says. “Come on down to my school and let’s talk about helping kids.” But this is no vanity project. Despite the enormous odds stacked against him, Starky is in this race for the same reason he walks into his bullet-pocked south Phoenix school every day: to win.

I’m Scott Cech, managing editor of Teacher Magazine, and I’ll be moderating this discussion on Mr. Starky’s unlikely campaign, the classroom experiences that sparked it, and what lessons he thinks he can teach the Senate. Teacher Magazine extended an invitation to Senator McCain through his staff to join us, but he is regrettably unable to join us.

Let’s go now to your questions:

Question from Mark Buchmann, Lodi, CA:
How do you see teaching as adequate job experience for being Senator? I’ve been a teacher, and I don’t get how one has anything to do with the other.

Stuart Starky:
Teaching has only been a part of my life. I have been active in politics my whole life. I also have a background in political science...Most of all, my understanding of issues and policy and the way government works is strong.

Question from Matthew M. Delaney, Ed.D., NBCT, Whitman-Hanson Regional School District:
I have two questions: 1. What can you bring to US Congress from your experiences as a teacher that can provide a realistic perspective of effective ways to reform education to decision-makers at the national level? 2. As a single voice within a long-established “system” of policy and leadership, what impact do you expect to have that, short-term—will make a difference in our system of education; and long-term—will make a difference in the lives of our children?

Stuart Starky:
Thank you. First, what I hope to bring from the prespective of a teacher is the need to support classrooms. This means technology and class size funding. It means understanding the impact of special needs students on classes. It certainly means understanding in Arizona the impact of demographics on testing and labeling schools.

Second part. In the short term I hope to bring a fresh atittude to Congress. I hope to press upon my fellow senators that they are in need of getting back to the communities to understand the impact of their legislation.

Question from Mrs. Sarah Minnick, social studies teacher, Achievement House Charter School:
How do you think your class management skills will assist you in the Senate, if you should win?

Thank you.

Stuart Starky:
My skills in a classroom are focused on building my students selfesteem to learn before teaching them what to learn. I build teams and then together they learn. It is very successful. My classes are some of the most successful in Arizona when measured by stanford growth.

I hope to be a bipartisan builder on legislation.

Question from Rosetta Brown, MBA:
How has teaching math in a low-income school district prepared you for the seemingly tough Arizona Senator’s seat. What is a normal day at the school in comparison to a normal day on the sentate floor since politicians can act like children some days.

Stuart Starky:
Every politicain that has visited my school and that has been federal and state legislators all tell me... “Stu I could never do this”. The congressman from our area was a high school math teacher before going to Congress.

A normal school day is never normal.

Question from Nigel Mansfield, parent:
Mr. Starky, it seems like you really care about the kids you teach and are really involved with helping them. But why run for senate? If you want to help them directly, why not run for school board instead?

Stuart Starky:
I am asked this a great many times. My answer is we need to work on the foundation of the community and those issues can be dealt with by Congress. Trust me I am always before the school board.

Question from Diane S. Sherman 2b President USA 2004:
Stuart, Hi with all due respect if I may please ask with no child left behind in our public education system--Could you please satisfy the who, what, where, when, why, and How we as a people the richest country in the world can allow our children to suffer and the parents who then feel they must place there children in private schools or charters when we have the tools that are needed for quality education. It seems to be a shuffle of money and the bottom line the children lose and one child lost is too many. Thanking you in advance for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Diane

Stuart Starky:
I wish I could answer your question... The people who created NCLB are not the people who care about regular kids in regular schools. My opponent Senator McCain said at our last debate.... not one member of congress sends their kids to public schools. WHY are they then forming our public school policy?

Question from Beth Scruggs, English teacher, Gretna High School:
What are you thoughts on the “No Child Left Behind” campaign and what would you do to change it?

Stuart Starky:
I would throw away the NCLB Act and frame funding based on a cost to provide services to children. I would then monitor the growth of the individual child to measure if a school is successful. Currently we measure different groups and expect the scores to remain the same or improve.

Question from Lois Golden, student University of Phoenix Masters program elementary education, Michigan resident:
Under the NCLB enacted but not funded by the federal government, do you believe that more students will be left behind then in previous years? Also do you believe that accountability only on the teachers and school district’s will raise our children’s educational achievement levels?

Stuart Starky:
I have stated that NCLB already fails our students because it does not support or measure growth of individual children. In Arizona 67% of our high school students failed our state-wide standardized math test (called “AIMS”).

We need accountability to measure why only 7 to 8% of our parents attend conferences. We have started a PRIDE program which holds students after school if they do not have their homework or a parent does not sign the homework. We are trying to spread accountability.

Question from ?:
Most people seem to support No Child Left Behind, but some consider it underfunded. I have a more serious concern about it. (By the way I recently retired from teaching high school and middle school math.) I do not like to see the government, or even education departments, set totally unrealistic goals. This reminds me of efforts in the late 80s and 90s to make the US number one in the world in math and science by the year 2000. Do you think we would be better off setting much smaller, but achievable goals [than what NCLB calls for]?

Stuart Starky:
I believe we should set a goal that each child grows a year’s worth of learning and is on grade level. I do not support school-wide standards because it is too easy to miss a goal based on one class. Finally, we currently test kids in English only when over half our students are non-English speakers. How do you want us to pass that test?!

Question from Earl Hoffert, Virginia:
You call for the elimination of NCLB, but that doesn’t appear likely to happen. Short of overturning it outright, do you see any things that can be done to improve the law?

Stuart Starky:
Thank you.. YES we can fund the tutoring programs, keep our resource officers that were removed from the federal grant programs, and fund new technologies in the classrooms that make learning easier and more challenging to today’s students.

These are quick steps that can make an immediate impact.

Question from Lisa Holman, college students:
DO you think it is important for students to know basic knowledge of a subject in order to pass? If so how would you test these children differently from No Child left Behind?

Stuart Starky:
Yes I do. I test for basic skills as part of my curriculum all during the year. The difference with NCLB is that it does not measure the one childs growth. NCLB compares one years child to another year’s child in deciding our labels.

As teachers we have our state standards, and we are required to benchmark test our students. When one of my students fails a benchmark, I tutor them in that specific area.

What I do not like about testing is I have plenty of students who know a procedure but have trouble with it as a word problem. On our (standardized) test last year, students were asked to measure liquid from a juice dispenser. My Hispanic students do not know what a juice dispenser is.

Question from Joanne Kaminski, Reading and Writing Curriculum Coordinator, Milwaukee Academy of Science:
We have several students that are non-readers in regular classrooms that are not special education students. What is the best way to service them in the classroom?

Stuart Starky:
I am afraid this is not an area of expertise for me. I can tell you that my non-English-speaking students build “vocabulary walls” from their text or questions or my lectures that they do not understand. Then we learn the words, and I am always telling my students, “Draw me the picture of what is happening here,” so I can be sure they understand the problems.

Question from Rebecca Brite, Assistant Principal, Stovall Middle School, Houston,Tx:
How will you help political advocates of NCLB understand that a Learning Disability is more than a gap in a student’s educational background?

Stuart Starky:
Great question... We are very focused on our special needs area at Greenfield and making great progress in building our program. When the testers tell us that our learning disabled should test at grade level it shows they have no idea what Learning disability means.

I think every policymaker should have to visit a school and spend a class with a child with a learning disability.

Question from Lisa Holman, college students:
What approach would you take to lower illiteracy?

Stuart Starky:
Thank you... at the adult level fund programs to teach reading (we lost the funding and grants to put a program in our school for parents).

At the elementary level I would stop socially promoting students to ensure they can read by the third grade. At our school we lost the technology teacher who was to help us with a new technology-based reading program.

We need to slow kids down so they can learn.

Question from Van Hughes, Instructional Teacher Leader, Technological Studies Department, Schenley High School, Pittsburgh:
Technological Literacy (not just computers)is one of the most important issues facing the next generation of Americans. What will you do to insure that the curriculum is properly positioned in the academic program and funded on a par with other educational initiatives?

Stuart Starky:
Thank you... At our school we lost our technology teacher due to budget cuts. I actually started teaching as a sub in technology.

At my campus I have over 300 donated computers on our campus. I just reached my goal of one computer for each of my students in my classroom. I am committed to having America reach the point where our students have full access to computers and the qualified teachers to implement technology in our curriculums.

Question from Ray Moran; husband, father, educator, coach and post-graduate student at Capella University, Henry County High School, McDonough, Georgia:
What is your philosophy regarding athletics and extra-curricular activities in public schools? Should these activites be eliminated? Should these activites be supported? Thank You for your time and for continuing in supporting the spirit of democracy. Sincerely, Ray Moran

Stuart Starky:
I believe sports, art, and music make full students.

I believe we must keep these programs in schools. I coached girls’ volleyball and boys’ basketball until this year (I got kind of busy).

In Arizona we have hundreds of charter schools that do not offer these programs, and we need to address this issue.

Question from Regina L. Siquieros, Program Coordinator, American Indian Language Development Institute, University of Arizona:
How would you actually help schools throughout Native Country promote, maintain and integrate indigenous language represented and do you believe this is connected to students’ success in the dominant culture?

Stuart Starky:
Thank you.

I have traveled to most of the reservations in Arizona and understand the need to have culture and heritage be part of the environment of learning.

While my school is mostly Hispanic, I believe we must teach and absorb our students into English. I support bilingual education as an immersion into English, however, and not a mandatory English-only program. Students can learn more earlier if we adapt to their language.

Question from Mitsi Martinez, Maestra, Escuela Elemental Tomas Carrion Maduro, Bayamon, Puerto Rico:
Ante la desintegracion de la familia, centro educativo primario ¿Como educar a nuestros niños y jovenes dejando fuera de nuestro curriculo y actividades co- y extra curriculares la base cristiana fundamento de nuestra nacion?

[ translation: “In the face of the disintegration of the family, [which should be] the primary education center, how can we educate our children and our young people [by] leaving out of the curriculum and activities, including extracurricular activities, the fundamental Christian base of our country?”]

Stuart Starky:
Thank you.

In our school we deal with the pressures of poverty and broken families daily. This is very prevelant among our African-American population.

We as teachers spend a great amount of time and resources trying to teach responsibility to our students that should be a given at school. At the same time the federal government has reduced funding for support programs in these areas. I hope to restore that funding.

Question from Chapman,Librarian, St. Anne:
What do you think about school vouchers?

Stuart Starky:
I oppose them. In Arizona it would not fund school choice--it only helps our wealthier citizens pay for schools they already send their children to. We need to fix our public schools and make them the schools we would want our children in.

Question from Elizabeth M. Vasquez, teacher, Taos High School:
What is your view on schools that base more then 75% of a child grade on testing? I feel like it’s an atmosphere in schools brought on partly by NCLB. My son’s elementry bases 89% of his grade on tests. How to you fight that kind of mentality? Do you think we should?

Stuart Starky:
I appreciate that... My kids in math class do not take tests for grades; they take tests for improvement and to set a course toward what they have to learn next. One of my arguments with NCLB is the emphasis placed on test scores for labeling purposes. I would rather have my kids leave my class knowing how to do math. We can fight the mentality you refer to by measuring the growth of the individual child, rather than by mandating school-wide results.

Question from Lyle Hunt, New Jersey:
With regards to education in Arizona--what, exactly, is Sen. McCain doing wrong? Why are you challenging him, specifically?

Stuart Starky:

1. His support for the war in Iraq 2. His belief that NCLB is a good way to hold schools accountable. 3. I believe we need universal health care (he does not). 4. I want to raise the minimum wage for working families 5. AND SO ON...and on

Question from John Davidek, Social Studies Teacher, Flint S.W. Academy, Flint, MI:
Your opponent, Senator John McCain, wrote a book on his virtues and values. WHAT are YOUR virtues and values that distinguish you as a candidate for this important office?

Stuart Starky:
My opponent is an honorable and very decent man whom I admire and respect. This race is about issues and policy, not about his personal dignity.

Question from David Anderson, Student, Madison Central HS:
Would you support a national law that would create a universal education curriculum so that if a student moves to a different state, they will be able to continue where they left off and not get behind other students for her age?

Stuart Starky:
I believe that more and more state standards are being tied to national standards, so that should be happening.

IF you disagree please e-mail me again.

Question from Genivieve, teacher:
What makes you different than other teachers? What sets you apart? Discuss your methodologies, please.

Stuart Starky:
Thank you... my classroom is certainly different. I let my students work in teams, and every one of them has a computer now to get into my computer-based program for math.

I lecture before my class for only 10 or so minutes of a 90-minute period--the rest is all one on one.

I am, if I may say so, a very inspirational teacher, and that motivates my students. After this Live Chat, I’m off to pizza night at the school’s local pizza place. That involvement builds relationships.

In Arizona, my classes grow about three years according to their testing, and I believe it is my delivery style and depth to each student that makes that happen. Now let me say I do not think I am any more special than many...

Question from Lisa Holman, college students:
Is there certain ideas you like about the no child left behind such as the lunch plan that benefits SES students?

Stuart Starky:
There are many. My problem is, it is all wrapped around testing for accountability purposes. My point is, why label my school a “failure” and my kids “underperforming”? Imagine if you went to Starbucks and instead of the Venti latte you got the “failing latte” or the “underperforming mocha.”

I support a program that helps kids call it anything you want. But put the dollars and the effort in individual kids.

Question from lois Golden:
I saw your response to socially promoting students and thinking that they will be able to read by the third grade and your comment of the technology teacher let go who was to help with a reading program for students. Question: Should we not have more special education teachers in the early elementary grades in order to distinguish learning disabilities early so to ensure help to students who need it before they get further behind their peers and what types of programs would you recommend to be instituted on the school level to ensure that these students are getting the needed help so that they will have a chance to succeed?

Stuart Starky:
Definately... We need to recognize learning disabilities as early as we can. We have already caught 2 students this year who have a reading disability in the 8th grade. Their prior year report cards never mentioned it--they were just “dumb” or couldn’t do the work... We do not catch them all, but every one we do is a tremendous victory.

Question from David Anderson:
As one who tries to achieve his goals no matter what the odds are or what society says, what advice do you have for teens in a similar position?

Stuart Starky:
David, we fight this battle on our campus and in our community to inspire kids every day. But we also have to inspire the communities that have already given up.

When I first started teaching, they told me, “If you win one kid a year, be happy.” I am so motivated by the many wins I have every year.

I come from a very modest upbringing--worse then many of my students. Today I am running for the United States Senate. THEY CAN DO ANYTHING!

Scott Cech (Moderator):
Thanks for all the great questions, and thanks to Mr. Starky for joining us. We’re out of time, so we’ll have to leave the discussion there. A transcript of this chat will soon be available on the Teacher Magazine web site. To read my story on Mr. Starky in the current Teacher Magazine, you may link here:

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