Debate: Candidates for Superintendent of Schools

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A half-hour Clean Elections debate featuring the candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction; John Huppenthal (R) and Penny Kotterman (D).

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to this special edition of "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a debate, sponsored by the Citizens' Clean Elections Commission. We'll hear from the candidates for superintendent of public instruction. As with all of "Horizon's" debates, this is not a formal exercise. It's an open exchange of ideas, an opportunity for give and take between candidates for one of the state's most important offices. As such, interjections and even interruptions are allowed, provided that all sides get a fair shake. We'll do our best to see that happens. The candidates for superintendent of public instruction are, in alphabetical order -- Republican John Huppenthal, a state lawmaker. And democrat Penny Kotterman, a former teacher and former head of the Arizona Education Association. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier, we drew numbers to determine the order, and John Huppenthal goes first.

John Huppenthal: Thank you, Ted, and thank you for taking the time to engage in this important discussion on improving education. Let's face it, we have an enormous problem in Arizona, over 40% of our children lack basic reading skills in the fourth grade. This is unacceptable. As superintendent of public instruction, I won't rest until every child learns to read. And I'll empower parents with school choices and insist that every child learns English in a disciplined, organized classroom with a supportive teacher. To ensure our graduates attain high paying jobs, I'll place a renewed emphasis on math and science skills and cut administrative costs and put the resources into the classroom where they belong. For the past 18 years I've helped turn around schools and entire school districts using high standard and accountability system. As superintendent of public instruction, I'll spread this across all of Arizona to ensure that every child gains the high-quality education he or she deserved. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thank you, and now a one-minute opening statement from Penny Kotterman.

Penny Kotterman: Thanks Ted I appreciate that, Good evening, I'm Penny Kotterman. I have 18 years of classroom teaching experience in Arizona I have lived in the state and raised my family here. Arizona is at a crossroads, our schools are in trouble. You heard the dismal statistics about where we are with our education system and I think that's a result of failed leadership and misplaced priorities. In the last two years alone we've cut nearly a billion out of our programs and we can't afford that leadership, we can't afford to continue to balance the budget on the backs of our children. What we need to do under my administration as superintendent of public education is focus on quality teaching and learning and on common sense reasonable accountability systems and need to get back to the basics to invest in schools over the long term.

Ted Simons: Thank you, both. Let's get the discussion started. John, we'll start with you. Arizona at or near the bottom in many if not most education measurements.
John Huppenthal: First, we need to have good science in how we evaluate where Arizona stands -- the Rand Corporation is the nation's premiere think tank, they were given 10 million dollar grant to evaluate where the states rank and they've updated the ranking twice. The most recent rankings, Arizona schools, 21st in the nation. The stuff on the front page of the paper has bad science behind it. But 21st is not acceptable. We need 20% greater academic gains to lead the nation and have the best schools using the best science for ranking schools. That 20% is definitely attainable. We have school districts and a lot of schools getting much more than 20% greater than the national average and we can attain that if we use the high standards and accountability systems that we know work -- what we know in the high-performing schools and spread it across the state.

Ted Simons: Penny, it sounds like John saying we're above average as far as our schools are concerned.

Penny Kotterman: Well the Rand studies are one measure, there are many, many others out there. And it's almost disingenuous to say none of them matter. We are at the bottom in per people funding and we are dropping. We're at 2006 levels in education funding and I don't think money is the answer, but I think resources matter. We're at about average in our student achievement, but just think where we might be if we were investing in the schools over the long haul. We are way below average in teacher salaries and there are a number of factors that play into this where we are really. But that's not as important as to what we want to do to move the Arizona schools forward so we can have our students be successful in the 21st century.

Ted Simons: We've heard in the last legislative system a number of lawmakers say there's fat to be cut from districts, there's fat to be cut from education in Arizona. Do you agree?

Penny Kotterman: I think there's room for efficiency and effectiveness. But lets get serious, we've been cutting our budget significantly over the last decade. Lots of people think we're in this place we're in because of the downturn in economics. We're not, because we have made a concerted effort over the last decade to continually underfunded our public education system and we can make efficiencies and change things and every responsible administrator should be doing that, but that's going to get us where we need to be with investing in our schools.

Ted Simons: Are we spending enough on education in Arizona?

John Huppenthal: You have to go to the facts. 2009, we set a record in per pupil funding in our district schools. Over $9,700 per student, that's the total spending. And you have to count the total dollars and the truth is we have many schools that spend significantly above that but when we analyze their outcomes, there's not any necessary correlation between spending and outcomes. West Phoenix union school district, their teacher salary, $67,000. And Mesa, $47,000, and yet Mesa performs at a higher level on an apples-to-apples basis. Answer is it's how we spend the money and get the results and making sure we're using high standards and accountability.

Penny Kotterman: Well, I don't know where the $9,000 comes from. It's not state funding. Since 2009, what we've done is reduce our education funding to 2006 levels. That's out of the governor's own budget. I think when you make broad generalizations about funding and you tie it strictly to student achievement, Phoenix union high school is a high school district. Mesa is a K-12 district.

John Huppenthal: Hold on. Mesa is a K-12 and they have a high school component.

Penny Kotterman: But you're not comparing -

Penny Kotterman: And every high school in Phoenix union does not under-perform every high school in Mesa. These arguments take us off where we need to be. How are we going to invest in our education system and restructure our funding system so we're investing and prioritizing.

John Huppenthal: But these arguments don't take us off where we need to be, because you have to look carefully at the science of where our students rank, and those at the top are operating differently than the ones at the bottom. Doing a better job moving resources into the classroom and we're going to be under a resource-constrained environment for a number of years now and we can't say woe is me. We have to keep moving. We know we can improve results in a resource restrained environment. High standards, accountability, discipline in the classroom.

Penny Kotterman: I think there's one thing we agree on, we have to use this opportunity in Arizona to move ourselves forward. But for me, the truth of the matter is we've got to take this opportunity to set goals for what it is we want our schools to be like and then decide, what that's going to be and then move ourselves forward and that's going to take an investment in the future. The auditor general's report talks about the under-resourcing of our schools and the correlation between those school districts that use more efficient spending and their student achievement. It's not a one-to-one correspondence. It's never that simple. We've got to focus on class size and those things that have been harmed by the continuous reductions in our budget.

Ted Simons: Lets talk about where we go from here. Race to the top. There was a blueprint, a compromise and folks don't get along that well, and work on this application. Is that a good blueprint for Arizona?

John Huppenthal: There's dangers with the federal government involvement in our education system, we have to carefully weave our way through. There's potential gains tapping into the research there, but let's go back to where we are now and what we can do for ourselves and that starts with accountability. We have to have accountability at the school district level. We know now, based on other states, that accountability at the school district level is a powerful device to create the teamwork necessary to move school districts forward. School district accountability is something I was an advocate for and I got it through the legislature despite the opposition of other policy makers and it's a key piece of what you've got to do, it's not enough. What they also did in other states is made a concerted effort to reading first and foremost in dedicating themselves to breaking through and other states moved their literacy rates 30% relative to Arizona. I've taken the time to study how they did it.

Ted Simons: Race to the top guideline, good thing to look at?

Penny Kotterman: I think it's fraught with all sorts of difficulties for us particularly right now. We have passed three pieces of legislation in the last session and attached no resources to them and modeled them after the state of Florida where they've made supposedly tremendous gains based on some of their data, but there are things you need to know about Florida, Florida has a per pupil funding level that's $2,000 higher than ours and fund full-day kindergarten, which our legislature voted to cut, they fund preschool education which we voted to put on the ballot and take away. They actually put their money into resources for tutoring and support for students who are not successful and we took that out of our department of education budget. It's a problem when you look at a model that says we're going to create new programs for race to the top for our lowest and most difficult -- lowest schools and most challenging students and done what -- then what we do is cut out from underneath them the support necessary to make it work.

John Huppenthal: Let's go back to what Florida did. They had accountability at the school district level. It cannot be understated how important that is. Voters and parents had a clear idea how their school district was performing relative to others. That created powerful motivational forces. When you take a school district like Tucson unified school district where the students are deteriorating every year, their parents don't know that, their voters don't know that and it's reprehensible that they're slapping a label on the Tucson unified school district. They spend more than the statewide average right now to get the job done for their students and they're failing and we need to hold them accountable. But it's combining that with the reading technology that they developed in Florida.

Penny Kotterman: I don't think you can have an accountability system without the resources to support it. Let's take that example. The accountability system we have in place is one that the legislature put in place and it has ratings systems for school districts and parents know what they are and it does compare schools across the state. But we're basing it on flawed data. We rate our school districts on flawed data and it's not understandable for parents and principals can't use it to leverage improvements in schools. We spend more time focused on trying to pass a test than teaching and improving instruction. It's got to have broader criteria than just assessment scores and do something more than assess and rate and compare. If you don't put resources into the endeavor so you can use it toward improvement, it doesn't do you any good.

John Huppenthal: We got to the core of one of our disagreements. I believe in accountability at the school level and the individual teacher level.

Penny Kotterman: I don't disagree with you, we see how --

Penny Kotterman: With all due respect, repeatedly in debates, made statements you would not have graduation standards.

Penny Kotterman: You just said I don't agree with the accountability at the school and -- I do. I agree with accountability. I just have a different view how it should be measured and I'm happy to tell you what that is.

Ted Simons: You've mentioned accountability numerous times at various levels. How do you do that?

John Huppenthal: Number one, start at the school district level and this is the most critical piece to understand how Florida made those huge gains. You start with very scientific approach and you have to have testing and you measure, you don't hold it against the school if a child comes to them at the 20 percentile. But you measure their academic progress over time and that was the genius of the Florida system. Their letter grade is based on academic progress over time.

Ted Simons: Ok, How would you?

Penny Kotterman: I believe it starts at the opposite place. I think it starts in the classroom, and I do, by the way, agree with high standards and high expectations for high school graduation. What I don't agree with is high stakes testing, there is a difference. For me, what we ought do is emulate our education system after models working not just in the United States but around the world and how we build them in the classroom level so that teachers can use the data and have district and statewide assessments that we can use to compare the standards and have national and international benchmark assessments that we can sample so we know how our kids are doing up against the rest of the nation and the rest of the world.

John Huppenthal: Well again, let's make it very clear that I support in order for a child to graduate, they have to pass a test. My opponent does not support that concept. That's the meaning of a graduation standard is. I support a letter grade for a school district based on the science and evaluating the progress of students. My opponent does not support that. This is a critical piece. I would go one further than Florida. In addition to the academic process, that's not enough. The history of that is that they fail. We need to keep in place the people part. You have to measure what percentage of teachers say their school is an excellent place to work. That has to be a critical part and the engagement of parents.

Ted Simons: Let's move on to teachers. How do we attract, how do we keep good teachers in Arizona?

Penny Kotterman: I think we need to raise the level of expectation for the teachers coming into the profession. I believe strongly the way we'll eventually raise our quality of teach -- our teaching workforce is to make sure those coming into the profession meet a high standard of entry and those in the profession are constantly provided with relevant professional development related to the needs of their students and the needs of their own professional growth.

Ted Simons: Performance pay?

Penny Kotterman: I do believe in performance pay and we might find more agreement. Because performance -- they have to be based on a number of factors. Not just test scores but performance satisfaction, professional development and those things. But let me say, Ted, that there is --

Ted Simons: I do want to get the teacher thing in here. How do you attract good teachers in Arizona?

John Huppenthal: Our experience is performance pay is critical. And doing it right is important. When I started in 1993, I went over 700 research studies and found no working models and started it as a pilot program in Arizona and statewide. A lot of school districts aren't doing it correctly, but we're a pioneer and it's based -- anybody can support performance pay and there's some of us who did the research and went out to school districts and implemented it and made it work.

Ted Simons: You were going to say something.

>> It started in the '80s with the career ladder program that the center is talking about. You can read a lot of research. I've actually participated in career ladder and I've participated in national and international conversations about performance-based compensation and read my own share of research. But the reality is performance-based compensation, not unlike for other professions, it is a complex endeavor, it isn't simply done. We're on the right track and don't get enough credit nationally but we're building a new teacher evaluation and administrator evaluation system that will help us move it forward.

Ted Simons: Do career professionals need certificates to teach?

Penny Kotterman: Second career people?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Penny Kotterman: I think anyone who teaches needs a certificate. How they get it, I think varies. That's important to me. If you're going to have a profession of teaching, there has to be expectations and standards and criteria for getting into it. There's a big difference between somebody who is 18 years old and entering the college of education and someone who has a career of experience and also wants to become a teacher.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

John Huppenthal: I think there should be many avenues into teaching and particularly our top mathematicians and science majors out of our universities and top history majors, I think they need to be able to get into the teaching profession with minimal entry burden and it's sad, but our colleges of education in Arizona have really deteriorated. The national council on teacher quality criticized them for adequately preparing them to teach reading. And we've seen the results in our stagnating reading scores. As superintendent of public instruction, you get a seat on the board of regents. I've made that a staple of every single speech I have made that I'm going to take on that seat and confront our colleges of education on the whole issue of preparing teachers. They're not doing a good job. They need to improve.

Penny Kotterman: I think over the last several years we've watched the legislature erode the criteria for entering the profession and encourage the state board of education to let anyone who wants to teach go into the profession. What that says to me as a career professional and as a teacher who taught for eighteen years, I have a bachelor's in education and master's in education. I'm proud of that. But when you look at the colleges -- the teacher quality is one entity. There are many who have found a very different result and it's disingenuous to say we're graduating thousands into the profession who can't teach reading and it's also not true that those people are the ones teaching in our schools because we draw teachers from all across --

John Huppenthal: It's a specific issue and it has to do with whole language versus phonics. Whole language has been nuclear bombed by the very best research. Whole language is still alive and well in our colleges of education and that's a detestable thing. It's victimizing students across this country. The best language says you have to have phonics with a variety of structures and we have people in our college of education who are advocates for whole language and doing damage to the teaching profession.

Penny Kotterman: I disagree. I have never seen research that shows we're nuclear bombed. Whole language is nothing more than a terminology for providing a variety of different kinds of reading techniques to teachers so they can meet the needs of the students they have. My kids have a combination of phonics and literacy awareness and vocabulary development and phonetic spelling and I don't know what kind of reading program you call that. But teachers know they need a toolbox of reading options and go into the classrooms and assess where their students are and provide the right instruction for those kids.

Ted Simons: We're running out of time. We have had a lot of folks emailing about adult education. What happened it to it and how come?

John Huppenthal: We had a 30% budget decline and we had $3 billion wiped out. Painful choices had to be made and the key is how do we recover. We involve the community colleges and the outside entities that depend on students with GED and we're reorganizing resources and stretching those out to get the job done. The adult education, critically important, the GEDs, granting them are important for a wide range of occupations and opening up those jobs.

Ted Simons: Getting the job done?

Penny Kotterman: I think that's an excellent example of doing one thing and talking about another. You cut the funding and say, by the way, we're going to find another way to take care of it. We cut funding that resulted in larger class size and loss of librarians and nurses and health aides in our schools and put supply budgets in jeopardy and we cut adult education and career and technical education and reinstated it and cut professional development for teachers and cut for AIMS and we're going to find other ways to deal with this. I want to make sure we say these are the things our schools should do and how do we move forward and do them?

Ted Simons: Let's get to the statements. Each candidate will deliver one-minute closing statements. And going in reverse order, we start with Penny Kotterman.

Penny Kotterman: It's great to be able to participate in a spirited conversation. I think the next superintendent of public instruction needs a deep understanding not just from a research background but from a practical point of view about what happens in our school from day to day and we need someone who understands teaching from kindergarten through the university level and who has been there and done those things and that person is me. The next superintendent of public instruction needs to focus on what we can do well -- we need to bring promise back to the issue of public education. Arizonans don't have faith in their public schools. We need to return their faith. It's going to be tough work. We've got issues in front of us, like budget deficits that we're not going to pull out of any time in the near future. So we need to get busy working with the business community and education community and other experts and restructure our resource allocation and decide what we want our school systems to be for the 21st century.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. And a one minute closing statement now from John Huppenthal.

John Huppenthal: Thank you, Ted, and Ms. Kotterman. It has been a spirited discussion. Arizona's public education system -- declining test scoring and children unable to read and lack of accountability can no longer be tolerated. We need a fresh innovative approach based on top education research. To improve education, reading needs to be front and center and English learned by all students and math and science skills have to be emphasized. For over 17-years I've dedicated my life to helping support and critical resources using high standards and accountability systems, I've turned around schools and entire districts and an important distinction, I'm proud that four out of Arizona's top five school districts use my methods. I won't rest until every child receives a quality education he or she deserves. Thank you.

Ted Simons: And thank you both for joining us.

John Huppenthal;Penny Kotterman;

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