School & District Management

Common Core a Litmus Test in Arizona Education Chief’s Race

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 22, 2014 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Common Core State Standards might be one of education’s most divisive issues, but in Arizona, the standards are having a unifying effect in the race for state superintendent, at least among some influential backers of the initiative.

Normally not inclined to back Democrats in high-profile state elections, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry decided earlier this month to endorse Democrat David Garcia for state chief. It cited his support for the standards and his position on charter schools.

In addition, three former state superintendents, including two Republicans, as well as the Arizona Republic newspaper, have endorsed Mr. Garcia, who has worked as an assistant director at the Arizona education department and as a peer consultant to the U.S. Department of Education.

His opponent is Republican Diane Douglas, who defeated incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal in the GOP primary last month. Ms. Douglas has made stopping the common core in Arizona the centerpiece of her campaign, declaring that the standards represent a takeover of local schools by the federal government and corporations.

Arizona lawmakers have stuck by the standards and rejected an anti-common-core bill earlier this year, although Mr. Huppenthal changed his position during the GOP primary, when he claimed he had actually opposed the standards.

The state’s intense focus on the common core shares the stage with school finance as top issues in this year’s campaign. Lawmakers are scrambling to respond to a state supreme court ruling last year, in Cave Creek Unified School District v. Arizona, that the state has violated the constitution by failing to increase education funding at the rate of inflation.

David Garcia, the Democratic nominee for state schools chief in Arizona, is a supporter of the Common Core State Standards.

Of particular concern for Arizona legislators is the extent to which, pending a court review, they will have to “pay back” schools by increasing budgets in future years to make up for the budgets in which inflation wasn’t funded. It’s the kind of school finance challenge that has bedeviled lawmakers elsewhere, including in Washington state, where the legislature has been hit by a contempt order for failure to come up with what that state’s high court considers adequate funding.

‘A Reformer’s Mindset’

Mr. Garcia has taken positions on the common core, finance, and other issues that have managed to win the Democrat support from the business community.

An associate professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, he says the standards are an appropriate step toward having more rigorous expectations for students.

But just as important—and an area where Arizona needs to do a lot more work—is finding an appropriate way to hold students, schools, and teachers accountable for the extent to which they meet what the common core requires, Mr. Garcia said in an interview.

“We need to get beyond the letter-grade system in Arizona, where 96 percent of school grades are based on test scores,” Mr. Garcia said, referring to the state’s A-F school accountability system. The types of measures that should be added to state accountability, he said, include participation in career and technical education courses and Advanced Placement course performance.

Mr. Garcia said he supports “great choices within the public school system,” and he sits on the board of a charter school, the Arizona School for the Arts. But he’s opposed to the state’s newest—and growing—version of school choice, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

That program allows parents to take 90 percent of the state public school funds designated for one student, and instead use it on private school tuition and classroom materials. In Mr. Garcia’s view, the aid improperly deprives public schools of resources.

At the same time, Mr. Garcia said, a failed 2012 state ballot initiative to extend a tax increase and direct much of the additional money to K-12 did not represent a good solution to the state’s funding challenges. Schools shouldn’t simply demand more resources without explaining how they would improve student achievement, he said.

Diane Douglas, the GOP nominee for state chief, has made common-core opposition a key facet of her campaign.

The last time the Arizona Chamber of Commerce endorsed a Democrat for statewide office was in 2006, when it backed then-Gov. Janet Napolitano in her re-election bid.

A spokesman for the chamber, Garrick Taylor, said that Mr. Garcia’s past work shows that he does “really represent a reformer’s mindset.”

“Mr. Garcia understands the importance of giving parents and teachers the tools to understand how kids are performing, and how they stack up against their contemporaries around the block and around the globe,” Mr. Taylor said.

By contrast, he said, Ms. Douglas is merely running a “one-issue campaign against higher standards.”

Simmering Opposition

Ms. Douglas, who did not respond to numerous requests for an interview, has made her opposition to the common core a key facet of her campaign. For example, she said in an interview with radio station KQCK last month that the standards represent a Washington program that will impose a “one-size-fits-all” education system on students while a few big corporations benefit.

She also stressed that the common core could be opposed on principle regardless of its content, although she warned that the initiative requires a new system of teaching math, “when very simple ways will work.”

“They don’t belong to us like our old standards did in Arizona,” Ms. Douglas told the radio station.

The common core is not the sole facet of her campaign, however. Ms. Douglas, who has served on a local school board in Arizona, has also highlighted her opposition to allowing English-language learners to be exempt from certain testing requirements.

In a debate last month with Mr. Huppenthal before the GOP primary, she also decried what she deemed local school boards’ loss of power to unelected business interests and to K-12 advocacy groups such as Expect More Arizona, a coalition of corporations, school administrators, and higher education officials that lobbies for closing achievement gaps and properly funding schools. Such groups want to dictate what is best for children, instead of leaving it to parents, in her view.

“We need a leader in our state department of [education] that will get these people out of the way and stop giving unelected power so much power over your children,” she said.

Whether or not Ms. Douglas wins, it’s probably too late to turn back the clock and eliminate the common core in Arizona entirely, said Jonathan Butcher, the education director at the right-leaning Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank that opposes the standards. (Neither he nor the institute has endorsed a candidate in the state chief’s race.)

But Mr. Butcher highlighted a vote this month by the Gilbert school board to officially oppose the common core, proving in his view that opposition to the standards still has life. A common-core compromise in the state could involve flexibility on the standards for some charter schools, Mr. Butcher suggested.

“Charter schools were meant to be unique alternatives to traditional public schools,” he said. “And they have told me directly that they are grappling with the idea that the common core is changing what and how, and in what sequence, they teach materials.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2014 edition of Education Week as Common Core Proving Litmus Test in Arizona State Chief’s Race

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Hour by Busy Hour: What a Principal's Day Actually Looks Like
From the time they wake up until they set the alarm at night, school leaders juggle the routine, the unexpected, and the downright bizarre.
Left, Principal Michael C. Brown talks on a radio at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., on May 17, 2022. Right, Boone Elementary School principal Manuela Haberer directs students and parents in the pick-up line at the conclusion of the school day on May 19, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.
Left, Principal Michael C. Brown talks on a radio at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., on May 17, 2022. Right, Boone Elementary School principal Manuela Haberer directs students and parents in the pick-up line at the conclusion of the school day on May 19, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.
From left, Steve Ruark and Lisa Krantz for Education Week
School & District Management Photos What School Leadership Looks Like: A Day in the Life of a Principal
A look at a typical day for one elementary school principal in Texas and a high school principal in Maryland.
1 min read
Principal Michael C. Brown, from left, talks to seniors Brady D’Anthony, 18, and Sydney Dryden, 17, at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Principal Michael C. Brown, from left, talks to seniors Brady D’Anthony, 18, and Sydney Dryden, 17, at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Steve Ruark for Education Week
School & District Management Schools Can Access Tons of Money for Electric Buses. Will They Use It?
Electric buses are growing more appealing as fuel prices rise, but some districts remain wary of the cost and logistics.
5 min read
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet reduces over 120,000 pounds of carbon emissions and leverages The Mobility House's smart charging and energy management system.
The new electric bus fleet at California's Stockton Unified School District is projected to reduce the district's carbon emissions.
Business Wire via AP
School & District Management Explainer Who Are Paraprofessionals and What Do They Do?
Paraprofessionals are a vital part of the classroom team with a wide range of responsibilities and skills.
1 min read