Vote 2014: Superintendent of Public Instruction Debate

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Democrat David Garcia and Republican Diane Douglas, the two people running for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, debate education issues.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to this special vote 2014 edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a debate sponsored by Clean Elections. We'll hear from candidates competing for Arizona superintendent of public instruction. As with all of "Arizona 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. Interjections and even interruptions are allowed, provided that all sides get a fair shake. We'll do our best to see that happens. The state superintendent's office oversees all of Arizona's public schools, including charter schools. Two candidates are competing to be Arizona's next top schools chief. The candidates are, in alphabetical order: Former Peoria school board president Diane Douglas, and Arizona State University education professor David Garcia. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier we drew numbers to see who goes first, and that honor goes to Diane Douglas.

Diane Douglas: Thank you, Ted. I'm Diane Douglas. My husband and I moved to Arizona. We chose Arizona to raise and educate our daughter here. As she went through school, I began studying and serving our education system. It's not about a bureaucratic office or an ivory tower that turns our children into numbers. It's about a candidate who's been on the front lines of education and understands how to make the tough leadership choices. I've worked with school budgets and made those hard decisions. We searched out fraud and we cut administrative expenses when I was on the Peoria school board. I saw first-hand what students, parents, and teachers deal with on a daily basis. That's the type of experience that I will bring to the department of education to serve you and your children. Thank you.

Ted Simons: All right, thank you very much. And for our next opening statement, we turn to David Garcia.

David Garcia: Thanks Ted. I'm David Garcia and I'm running for Arizona state superintendent of public instruction. My education story is like many of our students. I graduated from Arizona public schools. However, my path was a little rough. I had to go through the military. I joined the army when I was 17 to get the money to go to college. I'm proud to say I'm the first in my family to graduate from college. I then had the privilege of getting a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Now, I have two daughters in public schools and I want them to be in great schools along with every other student in Arizona. In addition, I want them to be ready for the fast-changing world that they're going to face. I'm also in a great position with the experience to lead. I was the associate superintendent for the state of Arizona. That means I was in the office next door. I'll be ready to go day one and in addition, I've got the coalition of education and business leaders behind my campaign to have a positive impact on Arizona public education.

Ted Simons: All right, thank you both. Let's get started here Diane. What do you see as the superintendent's job?

Diane Douglas: Well, we know that the superintendent has to have an absolute leadership position and we have to set the tone and direction for education and we have to ensure that the education system that we have is directed and controlled by Arizonans and that's what I see as the superintendent's job. We can't have the education system mandated from outside.

Ted Simons: What do you see as the superintendent's job?

David Garcia: Superintendent is the leader of our k-12 system. They create policies and work with the state board and the state legislature, as important advocates for public schools. They also are the one that set the tone for the direction our public schools system should be going and in this case our superintendent is mostly responsible for making sure our students are ready to contribute and our state is ready to contribute to the 21st century economy.

Ted Simons: You have said that we have lost sight of what the founding fathers intended for education. What do you mean by that?

Diane Douglas: Our education system has turned into predominantly of job training and we have people in academia that have the audacity to refer to our children as human capital, as if the only goal they should have in life is to become worker bees. No, we have to educate the whole child. We have to make sure that our children are not only ready to contribute to society, but know how to be self-governing adults to perpetuate the blessings we've had in this country.

Ted Simons: You said we've lost sight of what made our education the envy of the world. Is that what you're talking about?

Diane Douglas: That's part of what I'm talking about when our children no longer study American history to understand what we've been given as a country, when they're not taught the basic skills that they need, that's why our children in too many cases just can't read the way they should because the academic ivory towers have turned us away from what works.

Ted Simons: You've been in some of those ivory towers and you're proud of it. Do you agree that we've lost our way?

David Garcia: Well, I agree that we need to continue to move forward. Education's always going to need to change. The world around us is changing. How our students get information, the world that they're going to be ready for, the use of technology and the idea that our students are going to be competing with students throughout the rest of the country and we need to get them ready. If we're going to get ready for a life, we've got to get them ready for that type of competition and to be ready to contribute.

Ted Simons: Have we lost sight of what our education system used to be? Was it the envy of the world and not anymore? Do you agree with that?

David Garcia: Everything's changing. If we go back, which is something my opponent has advocated for, we take a steps backwards and the rest of the world passes us by. What education is about is moving forward, new ideas, new questions, better answers. And the opportunity for our students to go out and find new ways. That's what all of our discoveries are about, asking new questions and getting new answers.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about common core. This has been a staple of your campaign. You are against common core. Why?

Diane Douglas: I'm against common core for many reasons. Because number one it's not going to prepare our children the way it needs to. It's untested, unproven. It hasn't been shown to be internationally benchmarked. We were made a lot of promises in the beginning when it was put into place. When it was put into place sight unseen and that's not going to help our children.

Ted Simons: You mentioned it rivals what's been done in communist China, do you really believe that?

Diane Douglas: I was making the comment about data collection and common core is one issue, it's not. It encompasses all of education and it has a massive data collection system with it.

Ted Simons: The idea that common core is a top down government control of our education system, do you agree?

David Garcia: Ted, if high academic systems were top down, federally driven, akin to communist China, I would be against them, as well. The reality is that's not what they are. They are simply what students need to know and be able to do at the end of each grade level. We've had standards in Arizona for over 20 years and every version has been better and modified from the one before. And what my opponent is advocating is that we go back to standards that are insular and apply only to Arizona and the reality is our students need to be ready to compete outside of Arizona and Arizona businesses need workers that are going to attract business from other states in order to invest in Arizona.

Diane Douglas: To assume that we don't know how to teach our children the skills in Arizona and that there aren't some skills that are absolutely countrywide, nationwide, universal, is just a ridiculous contention. We had Arizona standards, it's a shame that my opponent doesn't know the difference between the Arizona standards we had and the aims test, which was where the breakdown was, but that we have standards now that we can't control, we can't change, and we can't make sure they work for Arizona. That's a huge problem for Arizona education.

David Garcia: Ted, even within my opponent's party, her position is extreme. Folks are ready to implement the high academic standards in the way that is best for Arizona. States developed these standards, states can change them and I will tell you I am ready to be in the position as a national leader to make sure that the -- that there are academic standards, working best for Arizona.

Ted Simons: But the idea that common core was snuck through in the dead of night with no public debate and the parents were knocked out of the loop as far as discussing this and implementing this and again, President Obama's way of trying to get into Arizona education --

David Garcia: And absolutely not. You can go back and there were public hearings by the state board of education and even a crosswalk from Arizona academic standards to the common core standards so that the public could understand what was changing. This is a continuation of academic standards that we've had for a long time and at this point, if we want to get our students ready for life after high school and our state in the best position to become competitive and strong, we must benchmark to national standards.

Diane Douglas: We did not have public hearings. I was on a school board and I absolutely believed that the first people that would have heard would have been school boards when it was brought in, the race to the top application, we were never told that it would totally dismantle education the way that we know it and I can't help, but wonder when my opponent is speaking about national leadership, if he's looking to jump to another level.

David Garcia: I have never run for office. My opponent has run twice, and has lost twice. This is my first time. I'm not running for an office. I'm running for this office because I'm best qualified in order to move our state forward in education.

Ted Simons: Does it matter who's behind something like common core if Arizona educators want it and if Arizona parents want it and if Arizona students are educated by it?

Diane Douglas: First of all, we have absolutely nothing to prove that Arizona students are being educated by it to a higher standard than we had before. We are overwhelmingly hearing from Arizona parents that no, they don't want it for their children. They're disappointed, they're angry that it was snuck in the dead of night without their input. There were no public hearings. And now, it's about time we asked the parents of Arizona what they expect for their children and not academia telling them what they must expect.

Ted Simons: Untested, snuck through, it's not good for Arizona?

David Garcia: Let's be clear again. We've had academic standards now for 20 years. And every iteration has been better than the one before. I'm a parent. I have two daughters in elementary school. And I want them to be ready to move into the 21st century economy. Let me tell you, we've got issues in Arizona that were here before common core. They're going to be here after common core and these are going to be the issues we're going to have to address at the state. We've got funding that needs to be restored. We have teacher positions that aren't being filled. We have huge achievement gaps and outcome issues that need to be addressed. These are the issues that I'm going to focus on as superintendent.

Ted Simons: I want to focus on that in a second here, back to you and common core, this is basically what you've been running on. If you were to lose this election, do you see this as a referendum on common core and would you then say all right, the people have spoken, they want this for now?

Diane Douglas: Well, that will certainly be the people's decision, but I think the primary was a referendum on common core. And the issue of this debate, of this election, is who controls the education of our children? Is it the Washington insiders and the special interests of corporate America? Or is it the parents of Arizona, the parents all across the nation, who have the first and foremost say in the education of their children?

Ted Simons: Last question on this. In order for common core, these standards and eventually a park test I would imagine to success, you've got to get buy-in, parents and teachers to agree. If there are parents, your opponent says she's heard overwhelmingly from parents that are against it.

David Garcia: I'm a parent and I want my daughters to be ready. I don't want us to take a step back as a state. I want us to continue to move forward. Second, I have the backing of business leaders and education leaders, for example, the last four Arizona teachers of the year are on board with my campaign. They're ready to teach to rigorous standards. They're ready to teach to critical thinking skills, and they're embracing high academic standards. And that is what I'm hearing from my perspective.

Ted Simons: Two recent Republican school chiefs have come out against your campaign, one of them said they were against extremism and nonsensical ideas. They were talking about you. How do you respond to that?

Diane Douglas: The issue is who controls the education of children? All due respect to one of those former education chiefs, she left the state in the middle of her term. So we need people who are here and who are committed to Arizona and that's what I am. I am committed to Arizona families.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about school choice, Arizona is a school choice leader. I am assuming both of you would like the idea for that to continue. If we're such a leader in school choice, why are we not a leader in academic achievement?

Diane Douglas: We have to be -- we are in many, many ways. One of the problems with things, such as common core, is they're one size fits all and when you expect the same outcome for every single child, we're talking about precious human beings here and we have to nurture their talents --

Ted Simons: Are you saying -- is the reason the academic achievement is not there too much testing, too much what?

Diane Douglas: We have been driven by the test. What I saw when I was on the Peoria school board was instead of making sure the children were in all of their academic content, we would pull them out because we were driven by the test and fear of the test and it's even worse now that teachers, performance pay and their evaluation and principals' evaluations are going to be determined by what happens in a snap shot?

Ted Simons: I know you're for school choice, as well.

David Garcia: I'm for school choice because I don't think there's the best school out there, but there's the best school for your child. I have two children, seven and five, they're very different. Sometimes, I think they have different parents and I'm glad we have different options available for students to match their interests with the interests of the school. Now on assessment, I have been clear with a plan on how to address and make education more relevant. We'll still have standards. We'll still have assessments. They just won't count for 96% of how we evaluate schools. And in its place we're going to put in real world indicators that matter, that get students ready for life after high school and let me give you a few examples. Getting a career in technical education certificate, A.P. credits, certification in a programming language, proficiency in world languages, finishing a rigorous curriculum, those are outcomes that would be fantastic to get our students ready for the world of tomorrow.

Diane Douglas: And I guess if my opponent hadn't been hiding in academia he would realize all of these things have been going on in our schools in Arizona. We have a phenomenal program. We're part of the west mechanic program in the Peoria school district and that has done wonderful things for our district.

David Garcia: Here's the thing. It's happening, schools aren't getting credit for it and I would like that to happen and speaking of hiding, my opponent has been hiding quite a bit from previous debates and other opportunities for the two of us to be together so that the public can see the difference between us and this is a situation accusing me of hiding, I actually think my opponent's been hiding for the last few weeks.

Diane Douglas: I have not been hiding. We have been meeting and greeting voters all over the state. We've been doing interviews on radio and in print. But we are not here to talk about what my opponent would like my campaign schedule to be. I'm here to talk about education.

David Garcia: Let's talk campaign schedules for just one second. The first week of October there are five debates in four different counties. I have confirmed my attendance to every single one of those and I'm asking my opponent to do the same.

Diane Douglas: I am not allowing you to run my campaign schedule. I thank you very much for wanting to be my scheduler, but I have a very capable wonderful woman doing that and I'm here to talk about education.

David Garcia: I want to be clear that the answer is no.

Ted Simons: Let's get back to the idea of school choice and let's get to charter schools. Some would say that charter schools are not doing as well as public schools. Are charter schools good for Arizona?

David Garcia: I think charter schools are great for Arizona.

Ted Simons: Why aren't they meeting expectations?

David Garcia: Charter schools at the high end that do really well and charter schools who may not have the highest assessment scores. Here's what's exciting about school choice in Arizona, charter schools have allowed schools to get smaller and more specialized. And its something I'd like to see our public schools have an opportunity to do as well.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Diane Douglas: That is something I have absolute experience in when I was on the Peoria school board. We started growing our system from what was basically a one size fits all system to offering magnet programs and special traditional programs so that parents could find the need that they wanted to fill within the system, but absolutely parents have to be the driver of their children's education.

Ted Simons: Do you think for-profit charters are good for Arizona?

Diane Douglas: I think that anybody who doesn't believe there is not a ton of profit in education, even in the public schools system, is fooling themselves.

Ted Simons: Is that a yes or no?

Diane Douglas: Whatever works for the parents and they need to decide that. We need to give them the tools that they have to pick and believe me, if those for-profit charter schools are not serving the need of the parents, those parents will be walking and leaving.

Ted Simons: For-profit charter schools, for-profit education in general, your thoughts?

David Garcia: I think this is an opportunity to talk about an issue we have, another one we need to address and that is our school funding system in Arizona. We've got two school funding systems, one for traditional public schools and one for charter schools. We need the opportunity and the leadership and I've worked at the state legislature on budget issues to handle these types of issues, and what we have right now, the situation where we need one system for all schools we call public. And that includes to me that means less regulation on behalf of our traditional public schools and more transparency on behalf of our charter schools, but this is a major issue that we need to address, our school funding, our school finance system is 40 years old. We've been patch-working it for a while, and it's time to start over and simplify.

Ted Simons: So yes, or no? For-profit education in general?

David Garcia: In this case, we want to make sure that charter schools, any school is getting the job done. I will tell you that the charter school association has been very rigorous about closing down charter schools that do not meet expectations. And as a governing body, I have been in agreement with their direction.

Ted Simons: As far as the legislature reinstating inflation adjustment education funds, this is being worked out, but some money has to go back, will likely have to go back. Will you push for that money to go back? And where should that money go?

Diane Douglas: What we need to talk about is what's really important in education funding, ted. And that's finding a new way, not just to tweak funding formula but ways to get money into education without further burdening our taxpayers or crippling our economy in Arizona and one of the ways I propose to do that is by using our state land trust. It was set up for Arizona schools. It was intended to help fund the schools, but yet in 100 years, we've barely sold any of that land. We need to put that land to work so it creates new property taxes that go to our schools.

Ted Simons: So do you want the state to fight that inflation adjustment funding? Do you want the state to fight it or bring it on let's use it?

Diane Douglas: I want to advocate for how it is used if the legislature -- the legislature or the governor will decide what direction they're going to go on that appeal.

Ted Simons: Are you going to push for that money?

David Garcia: My opponent talks about the will of the voters. The will of the voters was to have an inflation increase, that was very clear. And I think it's a travesty that our voters had to sue their own leadership in order to bring that to fruition. We need an advocate at the state department of education, at the legislature for our public schools. It was the voters' will, and I think that that money should get to schools and classrooms.

Ted Simons: Tucson unified school district ethnic studies program ended. Is that good for Arizona?

David Garcia: I think as an issue of local control, I think this is a situation where actually the Tucson unified school district has made some modifications to that program to fit with the law that is best with Tucson unified and somebody in favor of local control, I would say it's a program that is continuing down there and should.

Ted Simons: It was a hot-button issue, some said the program made students resent America.

David Garcia: I took chicano literature in college. I went to university of Chicago and had lunch with Milton Freeman. One does not make me a Marxist, but well educated and we need those same kind of perspectives for all of our students.

Ted Simons: Tucson wanted to have this program in place and the state said no. Was that a good decision by the state?

Diane Douglas: The reason that the state said no is because it was a segregated system and that's what we decided was not appropriate, many, many years ago in education. That we need to educate our children and work with them together so they can understand the issues that they're all facing and that's not what was happening in Tucson and I understand that it's back again.

Ted Simons: How is it a segregated system?

Diane Douglas: Because Hispanic children were put into certain programs and other children were not allowed in.

David Garcia: Hispanic children were not put into programs. What the program was is -- it's a class from the perspective of Mexican Americans in the United States. By the way, we have history from the perspective of many people in the United States, but the class was for every student, any student could enroll in that class.

Diane Douglas: That was not the facts.

Ted Simons: So you're saying segregation, you're saying no segregation?

David Garcia: What my opponent said -- [ Overlapping Speakers ]

Diane Douglas: That is why the law was changed to ensure that programs would not be segregated.

David Garcia: But my opponent said the students were put into the program, that's simply not true.

Ted Simons: Academic improvements. How should we reward schools? How should we reward teachers in terms of just trying to get a better system out there? A better product if you will? How do you do that?

Diane Douglas: I don't think that comes from just merely dangling a carrot and money in front of a person's face. We need to make sure that we have content experts in our classroom and we need to make sure that people come to teaching for the love of teaching to share their passion and love with students and we're turning everything into an economic equation and that's very sad to me.

Ted Simons: Do you think teachers are making enough money right now?

Diane Douglas: I think we have to look at a compensation system that rewards or compensates is a better choice of word, compensates our teachers not just for being in a classroom for so many years and for just having so many levels of education. We have to look at what they're really doing with our children, but that can't come from just a standardized test because then we've seen the results become merely a testing program.

David Garcia: I agree and again, we have standardized tests, but other indicators that get students ready for life after high school, AP credits, proficiency in multiple languages, those need to be included in our schools.

Dianhe Douglas: They have to be driven by the students, though, it has to be the students' passion that wants to go that direction. Now, we're steering children into directions.

David Garcia: Again, I'm not talking about now and I'm not talking about going back, I'm talking about getting ready for the future. We can change this. We can make those options available so students can choose the one that's best available for them. You may be a student that's ready for CTE classes and that interests you. That should be available to you.

Ted Simons: So should academic improvement be used to fund or compensate teachers in districts?

David Garcia: I think outcomes should absolutely and those should include standardized test scores, as well as the other measures that I mentioned.

Ted Simons: And you say?

Diane Douglas: We've been doing that for years with prop 3100 where we've been able to compensate teachers for outcomes and have them work as school teams.

Ted Simons: The evaluation or accountability system, we're basically saying tests can be used and you're saying tests not a big --

Diane Douglas: They need to be used very, very carefully. I'm sure when you were in school, we used standardized testing, but it was a small tool that helped us see where our children were going. We weren't making it to serve the system rather than the children. Every time we talk about education, it seems to be more and more about the grownups every day and our children keep getting lost.

David Garcia: I don't think it's true at all. What we're looking for is a system and I'm not sure what classrooms my opponent has been in. I was in a classroom in Friday, rich in literature, rich in activities and conversation, getting students ready for life after high school, with critical thinking skills. Teachers aren't just driven by the assessment. They're looking for much more than that.

Ted Simons: All right, each candidate will now give a one-minute closing statement and going in reverse of the opening remarks we start with David Garcia.

David Garcia: Thank you. Ted, I appreciate the opportunity. I am running and I am running because I know that I can make a difference in Arizona. There is a clear choice. My opponent has made ending academic standards her singular issue and has lost the support of education and business leaders along the way. I also come into this position qualified having worked and run a state agency and having worked with our education leaders. My opponent comes in having been part of a parent-led recall and also somebody who does not have the experience to lead. And finally, I'm not hiding. I'm ready to go out and speak to voters about my position, about my plan and my concern is that my opponent has been hiding because she doesn't have answers, because she doesn't have a plan. We need to move forward. Get our students ready for life after high school for a state that's competitive and strong and that's exactly what I'm going to do. So please I look forward to your vote in November.

Ted Simons: All right, thank you very much. And now, with her closing statement, Diane Douglas.

Diane Douglas: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for tuning in this evening. It's not enough to say that we must get rid of the federally mandated common core standards. We have to have a replacement to take its place and that means we have to align our classroom curriculum with standards that are owned and controlled by Arizonans, not controlled by federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. or ivory tower academics or quite frankly people that just want to make a dollar of our poor children. You parents, you know what your parents need, to be well educated and you were never invited to this table to ask what you needed for your children. Our classroom teachers were never invited to the discussion, yet they're the ones that bring learning to life every single day for your children. Our plan is simple: Common sense back to the classroom, local control to the schools, and make sure parents have the tools they need for a great education for their children. Thank you for your vote.

Ted Simons: Thank you. And thank you for watching this special vote 2014 debate featuring candidates for superintendent of public instruction. "Arizona Horizon's" next debate will be our governor's debate, it's set for Monday, September 29th, a special 1-hour Clean Elections governor's debate, here on "Arizona Horizon." That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great evening.

David Garcia:Democratic Candidate, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction; Diane Douglas:Republican Candidate, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction;

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