The two candidates for state superintendent of public instruction have strikingly different visions for the future of the Common Core State Standards in Arizona.
Democrat David Garcia, an associate professor of education at Arizona State University, says he wants the standards to continue evolving with the state’s education system.
Republican Diane Douglas, a former Peoria Unified School District board member, has made repealing the standards the centerpiece of her campaign.
Arizona is among 45 states that have adopted the Common Core, which aims to provide consistency and high standards for what students learn in math and language arts from kindergarten through high school.
Last year, facing opposition to the program by conservatives, Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order keeping the standards but renaming them Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.
Schools began implementing the standards in 2010, and they went into effect for all grade levels during the 2013-2014 school year.
In a debate sponsored by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, Douglas said she wants to give the power of determining education standards to parents.
“It’s about time we ask the parents of Arizona what they expect for their children, not academia telling them what they must expect,” she said.
Douglas, who defeated Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal in the August GOP primary, said the main issues of the election are who has power over the education of Arizona students and forcing children to conform to a one-size-fits-all set of standards.
“We have standards now that we can’t control, we can’t change and we can’t make sure that they work for Arizona,” said Douglas, who didn’t respond to an interview request. “That is a huge problem for Arizona education.”
In an interview, Garcia said if the standards were withdrawn from schools it would mean education in Arizona would cease to evolve.
“Stopping the Common Core means we take a step backwards,” he said. “We need to continue to move forward; that is what we do in education.”
Garcia said that voters are largely unfamiliar with the Common Core as an issue.
“It’s become kind of a tag line and a source of fear, particularly for my opponent,” he said. “Even other Republicans aren’t out there pushing for stopping the Common Core in the way that she is. I think that the opening is there because most folks don’t understand what it is.”
Douglas’ stand against the Common Core didn’t help her with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which despite almost always endorsing Republicans for statewide office has endorsed Garcia in the superintendent’s race.
President and CEO Glenn Hamer didn’t respond to phone messages seeking comment on the endorsement, but in a July column he noted that his organization has strongly endorsed the more rigorous Common Core standards “because employers know how critical an educated workforce is to businesses and our larger economy.”
Jim Haynes, president of the Behavior Research Center, a Phoenix-based polling firm, said that the Common Core can be intimidating as a political issue for those who aren’t up on it.
“People who are really wound up in the education system feel strongly about it; the average person doesn’t know Common Core from the core of an apple,” Haynes said.
Zachary Smith, a professor of politics and internal affairs at Northern Arizona University, said Douglas’ advantage in the race has more to do with Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the state than her stance against the Common Core.
“Republican registration in the state, that is a natural advantage to any Republican running in a statewide raise,” he said.
However, he said independents are paying attention to Garcia because of his support for the Common Core.
“Garcia will have that advantage,” he said.
• In 2009, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competitive grants to motivate schools to adopt the Common Core, standards that aim to provide consistency and high standards for what students learn in math and language arts.
• Following the announcement Gov. Jan Brewer in 2009 took steps to adopt the Common Core standards in Arizona.
• After standards were released for mathematics and English language arts in 2010, Arizona schools started implementing them.
•2013: Common Core gets a new name under an executive order by Brewer: Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.
• To date, 45 states and the District of Columbia have implemented the Common Core standards. Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Indiana decided not to.