No love lost: Incoming schools chief has little good to say about other educators

Gary Grado//November 10, 2014

No love lost: Incoming schools chief has little good to say about other educators

Gary Grado//November 10, 2014

Diane Douglas
Diane Douglas

The people who Diane Douglas said are from the “ivory towers” are eager to meet with her and find out the rest of her ideas besides repealing Common Core.

Douglas, who narrowly won the race for state superintendent of public instruction, ran an unconventional campaign, spurning opportunities to speak with education groups, answer their surveys or debate her Democratic opponent, David Garcia.

Douglas’ campaign mostly consisted of meeting in friendly confines, speaking with conservative radio-show hosts and barnstorming with fellow Republicans.  She also took shots at the education establishment, saying they are “people in the ivory towers that actually have the audacity to refer to our children as human capital.”

Her fascination with getting rid of Common Core and her claims that it is a mandate of the federal government has Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children Arizona, concerned she doesn’t understand the job of the superintendent of public instruction.

“One of our major concerns about her was running on a political issue where the issue itself doesn’t have a lot of bearing for the superintendent,” Gau said. “You know it’s a State Board of Education decision, it’s a State Board vote, so her ability to actually do what she ran on as a political issue doesn’t really exist and so we are concerned she has a lack of understanding what this role really is.”

An independent expenditure committee associated with Stand for Children spent $393,844 on ads and mailers to defeat Douglas and support Garcia.

Douglas’ spokeswoman, Sandra Dowling, said she took a vacation immediately after the election and wasn’t available for comment.

Dowling said Douglas asked her to form a transition team to help her work through issues and set a timeline for accomplishing goals.

Dowling said it is nothing new for the education establishment to be against a GOP candidate.

“From Diane’s perspective her mind and her heart and her head are open to reaching out to everybody and making this work for kids themselves, not develop any turf battles,” Dowling said.

She said Douglas has a base of teachers and parents and she expects to sit down with education leaders if her lead holds and she takes office.

Common Core is a set of learning standards adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010 and fully implemented last year in public schools.

The standards, known in the state as Arizona’s College and Career Ready standards, have become a hot-button issue in legislatures around the country, including Arizona. Some Arizona lawmakers tried to pass legislation to either repeal the standards or change them dramatically in the 2014 session.

Douglas’ campaign was centered on repealing the standards.

Tim Ogle, president of the Arizona School Boards Association, which represents 240 school districts around the state, said the association invited her to a discussion during the race, but she declined.

Douglas declined many offers to meet with groups or fill out their surveys. Ogle said he and others with the association are going to try and schedule some time with Douglas.

“I think the purpose of a conversation like that is to become familiar with her beliefs because we’re really not very familiar and to give her the opportunity to converse with us about her hopes and fears for the Department of Education,” Ogle said.

Ogle said at some point he will also want to speak with her about her objective to rid the state of Common Core because the association’s feet are firmly planted in support of the standards.

“If Mrs. Douglas has another strategy, then we’re anxious to know what it is,” Ogle said.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, said Douglas did not respond to an invitation to speak with his group during the campaign.

Although he also has his concerns about Douglas, the union has a professional and ethical obligation to try and work with her.

“In the end we are not going to turn our back on the superintendent of public instruction. That would be a disservice to members, a disservice to a mission to building a quality public education system,” Morrill said.

He said there are so many complex issues surrounding education he doesn’t believe there will be no common ground with Douglas.