Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has joined the barbarians at the gate.
Huppenthal flip-flopped Tuesday on his position on Common Core, saying he “never” supported the learning standards. His new stance comes just two months after he spoke at an Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop forum on K-12 education issues, during which he implored education and business leaders to do a better job selling the virtues of the standards to voters.
“Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, the barbarians are at the gate,” Huppenthal said, referring to critics of Common Core who want to repeal the standards and have been successful in other states.
“We have people who are cleverly undermining what we’ve done. This is not a small thing… We need everybody at the gate to say, ‘No.’ And this is important for our Republican Party, too. If you want to show that Republicans can’t govern, let the barbarians in,” he said later in the forum.
States like Indiana that have abandoned Common Core this year have created “chaos” in their education systems that will take years to recover from, Huppenthal said at the forum.
He acknowledged then that his outspoken support of Common Core, known officially as the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, could harm his re-election chances.
“I have put my career on the line to stave off the barbarians, I very likely could lose this election,” Huppenthal said. “But I’m okay with that, because I feel like I did the right thing.”
But at an Aug. 5 debate with Republican opponent Diane Douglas, whose campaign is centered on repealing Common Core, Huppenthal proclaimed that he had fought tirelessly against the new education standards.
“I have never supported the Common Core standards,” he said.
“I stripped those out of our standards – any kind of recommended book list. I blocked Common Core literature,” he said at the debate, which was hosted and moderated by conservative talk show host and activist Shane Krauser.
Huppenthal said he also “blocked” new science standards – which are not part of Common Core, which deals only with math and English – because they are “indoctrination standards” that teach man-made global warming.
Huppenthal speaks at a candidate forum August 5 (video courtesy WesternFreePress.com)
Huppenthal’s answer left Douglas nearly speechless.
“I’m kind of thunderstruck, quite frankly,” Douglas said, before responding that Huppenthal barnstormed the state to convince conservative voters to support the standards.
Huppenthal then conceded that he supports some of the Common Core standards, including phonics, letter identification and teaching reading in kindergarten. He said he wants to keep the best of the standards and decide which ones should be scrapped after holding a series of evidentiary hearings.
Huppenthal was not immediately available for comment.
At the May Capitol Times forum, he told the education and business leaders in the audience that the standards represent conservative victories and supporters need to start selling them on their specifics.
“These are a good set of standards. Can they be improved? Absolutely,” he said.
Huppenthal at an Arizona Capitol Times education forum May 13
Common Core, a set of math and English standards the state Board of Education adopted in 2010, has pitted Democrats and moderate Republicans against the more conservative wing of the GOP and has become a litmus test in the primary election. The standards, renamed the Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards last year, were incrementally implemented by grade level and all grades were learning under them in the 2013-14 school year. Students are scheduled to be tested on them for the first time in early 2015.
Douglas has been labeled as a single-issue candidate, beating the drum against the standards, promising to abolish them, and characterizing them as a federal takeover of education.
Huppenthal’s comments at the May forum set off attacks on him on Twitter and caught the eye of conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who urged her 703,000 followers to support Douglas.
Malkin, who calls the learning standards a product of big government and big business cronyism, called Huppenthal a “pro-Common-Core bully” and “smug Common Core peddler.”
If Huppenthal survives the primary, then he will likely go against Democrat David Garcia, a supporter of Common Core who thinks accountability should be measured by an array of factors such as graduation rates, rigorous curriculum, and advanced placement courses instead of a just a standardized test.
Garcia said Huppenthal’s new position shows a lack of leadership.
“He’s in a fight for his political life right now and he’s doing whatever he thinks necessary and saying whatever he needs to win,” Garcia said.