State Schools Chief-elect

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State Senator John Huppenthal discusses his goals and priorities as the next Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Ted Simons: State senator John Huppenthal has long been involved in Arizona education policy, having served as chair of the senate education committee. His next job, superintendent of public instruction. Here now is superintendent-elect John Huppenthal. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

John Huppenthal: Thank you for inviting me.

Ted Simons: You've got a couple thousand schools, you've got about a million or so kids, you've got a lot of folks to be careful to kind of monitor and be careful monitoring. Are you ready for this?

John Huppenthal: I'm ready. We know that where it starts. If we expect schools to support parents and to support students, we have to support those schools and those school districts. So we're going to put in place a system of acute excellent service levels to districts and schools, superintendents, school boards, parents, all the way down the line. Teachers. So that we have a culture of -- so when they call the department asking questions and needing support, we have a culture of excellence. We're going to be doing this in a challenge, the department has already shrunk from 478 down to 438 members, and undoubtedly we'll be shrinking more. But we have to show -- we expect school districts to offer -- we have to show the same thing. We're going to put the metrics in place, they'll be open to the public to see just how well we're doing supporting those school districts.

Te Simons: You mentioned accountability, accountability for school districts, obviously very important for you. But how do you account -- how do you encourage, how do you reward progress in schools?

John Huppenthal: Well, as we look across the nation, see what's working, we're really looking at that accountability at the school district level. It's where we have accountability right now. People elect a school board. They really need to have voters informed about how their district is performing in a very scientific basis relative to other districts. We think that will galvanize school districts dramatically. Particularly when we add two new accountability measures. What percentage the teachers say it's an excellent place to work, we'll see dramatic school districts doing a different job in supporting teachers, and what percentage of parents say their child is getting an excellent education. We'll see a difference there as well as the academic gains.

Ted Simons: You're talking a lot here, obvious about metrics, it's a very human endeavor. How do you have a dynamic there?

John Huppenthal: Well, the metrics are measuring the human side of it. That's one thing we want to bring in place that's been missing from other school reform efforts. They just by focusing on test scores you can dehumanize your processes and in the end not motivate your students or engage your parents. By including teacher job satisfaction, that's a very human aspect. It's that teacher energized everyday when they come into work? We think that's revealed by what percentage their school is an excellent place to work, and the same way with engaging parents. The most critical element in the process. Getting that teacher into conferences, what percentage say their child is getting an excellent education.

Ted Simons: Obviously when we talk accountability and testing and such, AIMS test has to come up. Are you going keep it, push forward, change it?

John Huppenthal: Well, AIMS test comes under for a lot of scrutiny and abuse, but the studies I've seen say it's a fairly good job of measuring what it purports to measure, which is mathematical skills and reading skills. And we're going to do a complete scrub-down out. We want to introduce history, we want to introduce civics into that mix and science. And we want to scrub it down to make sure it's doing the very best job in math and reading too. Continual operation, but also we have to have an accountability, it's a pretty good test right now, we need time prove it some more.

Ted Simons: For those who say all aims done is encourage teachers to teach to the test, and from what you were talking about with accountability and these things you'll find out having school districts or schools or teachers basically trying to please instead of trying to get the job done and teaching little minds. How do you respond?

John Huppenthal: Well, I think it's the mix of the whole thing. You have to see -- what you want to see is a school district which is doubling the nationwide academic gains. And you measure that through tests. If they're getting that they'll view that as enforce can. If they're not, they're libel to abuse the test. You also want to see that great relationship in parents and supporting teachers. You want to see all three. High parent rating, high teacher ratings and academic gains. Those go hand in hand. They're not at odds with each other.

Ted Simons: You were among those who look at Florida as a model perhaps for Arizona. Some folks more than others. Let's talk about Florida a little bit here, because they do things there differently than here. Do you still want to model Arizona after Florida's reforms? Some of those reforms are based on spending more per pupil, which I don't think we'll be doing here for a while.

John Huppenthal: I think as you look at Florida, they did a lot of things. And so it's like a jigsaw puzzle. You have to look for clues as to which things were more effective. As I look through there and I see their reading gains were higher than their math gains, and I see all the work being done at the Florida center for reading research and how powerfully effective that was, I want to move that technology here to Arizona, every school district should be highly familiar with what they did and how they broke through those higher levels of literacy. They moved their literacy rates 30% relative to Arizona for low income minority students. That's powerful stuff.

Ted Simons: Is that is what is holding back third graders? You wind up with fourth graders taking third grade classes, which naturally would improve the scores. How do you work that in Arizona?

John Huppenthal: Well, the things that were powerful about the Florida retention model -- retention didn't work in New York, it didn't work in Chicago or Arizona in the late '70s. So I've been very leery about retention. The thing that was different about Florida, was all the early warning alerts to parents, your student -- your child is not on track to be able to read by the end of third grade. Those early alerts were to me the most attractive thing about it. There are questions about retention, and the long-term effects of retention. We need to follow those and be guided by the ongoing studies of what's going on in Florida. There are some concerns and I'm open to further deliberation on those.

Ted Simons: Very good. Tuition tax credit law. Controversial here, "East Valley Tribune" with a report staying it's not working the way it's supposed to be, a flawed system. How do you feel about that? Any changes necessary for that program?

John Huppenthal" I'm a proponent of vouchers, and I -- my preference would be a voucher system for school choice. Every child should get a public education in the school they choose. I'm a full-blown proponent of school choice. The tuition tax credit is an imperfect way to provide, that but it's the best way we have that's legal.

Ted Simons: Last question, I know educators right now are watching this and saying, uh-oh, he's a proponent of vouchers, he's going to they think favor charters over public schools, in your position as you oversee both of them. How do you convince those in education right now that you are going to fight for them?

John Huppenthal: Well, I'll just give you one example, and it's called the career ladder program. I have spent more hours on that career ladder program than any other policymaker in the -- in Arizona, and perhaps the United States. It's a program that's only available to district schools, it is only -- it's probably the only successful ladder program in the nation. The whole thing has collapsed from 14 states to just four states. Our district schools educate most of our students, that's where most of my energy will go, to improving, and so you'll judge my performance and my willingness to work for district schools.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thank for joining us.

John Huppenthal: My pleasure.

John Huppenthal:Superintendent of Public Instruction;

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