Gov. Doug Ducey walked a fine line in the contentious debate over Common Core, calling on the Arizona Board of Education to review and possibly replace parts of the K-12 education standards, but rejecting the wholesale replacement demanded by many conservatives, including some in the Legislature.
Addressing the board at its first meeting since he appointed five new members, replacing nearly half of the 11-member panel, Ducey urged the board to find areas where it can improve on the current standards by replacing them with Arizona standards. He asked that the review be opened to teachers, parents and others who want to be involved in the process.
Ducey emphasized his opposition to Common Core during his 2014 gubernatorial campaign, and said President Barack Obama’s administration has damaged K-12 education through funding decisions and waiver requirements, following decades of a “one-size-fits-all mentality” that ignores the innovations of states and education leaders. He called on the board to “make right the situation” with a review of the English language arts and mathematics standards.
“The focus needs to be on an Arizona solution. And (if) in any instance during your review you find situations where Arizona standards can outperform or improve our current standards, I ask you recommend replacement immediately,” Ducey told the board.“We can learn from others, but at the end of the day the standards need to come from Arizona and they need to help us achieve the objectives outlined in these comments.”
The board, which adopted Common Core in 2010, typically reviews Arizona’s education standards every five years. Board President Greg Miller noted that the board recently finished a review of its foreign language and physical education standards, and said it would complete the review of the standards sought by Ducey as quickly as possible.
“It’s unfortunate that the political process has been shoved into the process of the rigor of the standards themselves. It will benefit all of us to go through that process again and ensure that we’re all on the same page,” Miller said.
But Ducey did not call for the outright replacement of Common Core, known in the state as Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. He also told reporters that he believes proposed legislation that would abolish Common Core in Arizona is unnecessary. HB2190, which would bar the use of Common Core standards in Arizona, awaits a vote in the full Senate after the House and the Senate Education Committee approved it.
“I don’t think that legislation is necessary because we’re going to fix what’s wrong with these standards,” he told reporters after addressing the board.
Ducey also said Arizona would keep the AzMERIT test, which Arizona has adopted to test students on the new standards.
“AzMERIT is in all our schools and will continue to be in all our schools,” Ducey told reporters.
The comments echoed those made repeatedly by Ducey during his 2014 campaign for governor. Ducey frequently criticized the standards and the federal government’s role in education, but stopped short of advocating the repeal of Common Core standards in Arizona.
Nonetheless, Ducey portrayed the review as a massive overhaul of the standards, which he said were a “distraction.”
“We are going to set our own standards and we are going to take charge of them here in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “This is Arizona taking charge of its own direction, in terms of standards, keeping what works. And what doesn’t work, what’s problematic or what causes confusion and anxiety for these parents is going to be removed.”
Though Ducey’s comments stopped short of calling for the wholesale elimination of Common Core, the Ninth Floor touted his statement as a commitment to replacing the standards, saying on the governor’s official Twitter account that he called on the Board of Education to “review and replace” them with Arizona-based standards. Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said there were no discrepancies between that portrayal and the governor’s comments to the board.
“This (is) the quickest and most responsible way to replace Common Core,” Scarpinato said in an email.
Anti-Common Core legislators were bullish about Ducey’s comments.
House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said Ducey’s staff told him that the governor wants the see Common Core replaced.
“What I just heard is he does still feel that we need to repeal Common Core. That, to me, would be good,” Gowan said.
However, Gowan disagreed that HB2190 was unnecessary.
“Here we believe in the repeal of Common Core, as you’ve already seen. So we’ll keep working toward those ends,” he said.
The sponsor of HB2190, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said he was unfamiliar with Ducey’s comments and declined to comment. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said he hadn’t heard about Ducey’s comments, but was optimistic based on what he’d been told.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the governor wants to do and what changes he wants to make before we have any comments on what is or isn’t necessary. The mere fact alone that he’s willing to consider some of the parts, I think, is a good sign,” Lawrence said.
Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, who has sponsored anti-Common Core legislation of her own, said she hoped Ducey would reconsider his position on HB2190. But she too was optimistic about Ducey’s plans and said she hoped to see a “repeal and review governor.”
“I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt so we get to those great standards that we’re all seeking,” Ward said. “I hope that he has a plan to kill Common Core himself if he doesn’t think the bill’s necessary.”
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she trusted Ducey to do the right thing on Common Core, though she seemed uncomfortable with his comments on HB2190.
“I think that he’s going to make the best decision. He’s going to deal with this issue. I’m trusting that he will keep education in Arizona’s hands. Whatever methodology he chooses, I’m going to trust him right now, until he does something to disappoint us. So I think at this point we can see him moving forward to keeping that in Arizona’s hands. I’m still hopeful,” Townsend said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, who accused Ducey in February of surrounding himself with a “shadow faction” of Common Core supporters, also struck an optimistic tone. Douglas did not attend Monday’s board meeting because she was in Washington, D.C.
“My plan has always been to have a comprehensive process for standards which provides for a robust public participation and annual improvement of Arizona-developed standards,” Douglas said in an emailed statement. “Legislative action would apply more pressure to the Board of Education to support changes recommended by the public. Absent such action, my hope is that a thorough annual review will convince the board of the value of making reasonable changes to standards each year after listening to all Arizonans.”
In some areas, Ducey said Arizona would leave the standards unchanged, such as the requirements that students be able to read and do multiplication by the end of third grade. School districts that want to impose higher standards will be allowed to do so, Ducey said.
The governor’s comments come several days after he announced his first appointments to the Board of Education.
Ducey had two vacant posts to fill, along with the spot reserved for a university president. He also replaced two members appointed last year by then-Gov. Jan Brewer who had not yet received Senate confirmation.
The appointments included advocates from both sides of the Common Core debate. One appointee, Gilbert town councilman Jared Taylor, is a member of Arizonans Against Common Core, an advocacy group that opposes the standards, while another, Yavapai County schools superintendent Tim Carter, helped develop the standards.
Ducey also appointed former Democratic legislator Chris Deschene and Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director Chuck Schmidt. Arizona State University President Michael Crow was appointed to the university presidents’ seat.