Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas

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Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas gives us an update on the state’s education system as the new school year gets into full swing.

TED SIMONS: Arizona's school year is underway. Joining us now to discuss a variety of education issues is State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas. Good to see you again.

DIANE: Nice to be back, Ted. Thank you.

TED: Thank you for being here. So much to talk about. Let's start with the Board of Education. The president, Greg Miller, he resigns. Your thoughts?

DIANE: You know what, I am just honored to be working on that board, and I am delighted to whoever is on the board. We had a great meeting Monday with two new board members and we will move ahead. I made the citizens of Arizona some promises when I asked them for their vote and I intend to keep those promises to the best of my ability and that is working with the board.

TED: He said he resigned because fresh leadership was needed. Do you agree with that?

DIANE: That is his opinion.

TED: So you don't necessarily agree that fresh leadership is needed?

DIANE: I will work with whatever people come to the mix. I am delighted to do it. I'm honored to serve the people of Arizona.

TED: A couple more points on this. You said you would work with whoever comes on board. He said in his closing statement that you were unwilling to cooperate with the board.

DIANE: I cannot imagine what he meant by that. I was at virtually every meeting I could attend. The Department of Education is proudly at every board meeting and supplying the board with whatever information they ask for or need.

TED: So when he says you were "impeding board policy"--those are his words, it's one of the reasons he decided to get out--you say?

DIANE: I say we worked very cooperatively and collaboratively. We had our staff there whenever we were asked and we brought any issue to the board that needed to be brought to the board. I don't know what more could be expected of A.D.E., but we proudly serve the citizens of Arizona.

TED: Last question on this. The Board of Education is charged with creating state policy, agree?

DIANE: That is what the statue says.

TED: Right. The Department of Education--you-- is charged with enforcing and administering federal and state policy. Do you agree? It sounds like he doesn't think that you have those things figured out.

DIANE: Well I certainly think--absolutely. The department, to the best of its ability, administers the policy set by the board, but we have to do it within the confines of the resources we have available, number one. And number two, I think just like any traditional school district, generally it is the administrators of the district who brings policy recommendations to a board, because we are the ones who are the boots-on-the-ground and working with teachers each and every day.

TED: So they can create policy, but you bring in ideas--

DIANE: But we should be bringing the needs of Arizona teachers, administrators, and districts to that board to say, hey look, this needs to be fixed, this needs to be improved or this needs to be expanded upon. That's the role of A.D.E.

TED: Prop 123 funding. Do you think it is getting to teachers like it was promised?

DIANE: I don't know. There are so many different districts. We've seen many articles about many different districts' plans. Certainly, I advocate for it.

That was kind of a consternation for me, if you will, because I'm a big advocate and fan of our local control and our locally elected school boards. So, this is one case where I would have liked to have seen them have a mandate that would either go to increase teacher salaries or reduce class size, but it didn't come that way. I encourage, as I am out and across Arizona, please get it to our teachers.

TED: Are you seeing districts--as you are out in Arizona--are you seeing how they are distributing those funds, and are you pleased with how they are distributing those funds? Again some of them are going for infrastructure needs and into classroom needs, not going to teacher's salaries.

DIANE: Well I am disappointed if they don't go to teacher's salaries, because overwhelmingly what I heard as I was out on the "We Are Listening" tour last year and again this year is Arizonans want their teachers paid better. Doesn't matter whether we were in an urban area, rural area, "liberal" area, conservative, Democratic, Republican area--no matter how you slice and dice it, people say "we want our teachers paid better." Prop 123 did not come with that mandate, and since it didn't we have to trust our locally elected school boards. That's what people chose them to do.

TED: You want to see a stable, more sustainable revenue fund? Do you want to see that?

DIANE: I would love to see that. Before we released our plan "Arizona Kids Can't Wait," last year I came out on September 11th and requested that the legislature consider putting $400 million into our schools. We felt that was sustainable because we knew revenues were coming in higher than anticipated, we knew we had had carryover from the previous years. We should be using our state lands a lot better than we are. But we need to have sustainability for our teachers. They do God's work for our children.

TED: Accountability, as far as teachers and schools, especially by way of testing… the governor is big on this. Lots of folks are big on this. I don't think you are so big on this.

DIANE: I am not big on a one-day snapshot. We have our AzMERIT test, which is basically kids coming in one day towards the end of the year with almost two months of instructional time still left in the school year in many cases, and are given a one-day snapshot of their achievement. I trust our teachers more. I trust benchmark testing more that they are doing all along the course of the year.

We also need the feedback sooner. Because what good does it do if a child is in whatever grade they are in and the results don't come back until almost the next school year? We need feedback immediately. The point of testing is to ensure that a child has the knowledge they need to be successful or how do we fix it if they don't?

TED: Do you like the idea of schools being graded A-F by way of AzMERIT test scores?

DIANE: No. I think we need an accountability system, but that one snapshot in time… and not only are our schools graded on it, our teachers are graded on it, and it could theoretically have impact on their salaries or career advancements, our students are graded on it. Testing was meant to help students improve.

TED: You know that the idea of the A-F is a big deal for the governor, and accountability again through testing is a big deal for the governor. How are you going to work this out?

DIANE: We are going to do what we've been mandated to do. We will put together an accountability system and we will bring it to the state board for their consideration.

TED: Middle school math scores were up last year. Do we have any idea why?

DIANE: Personally, I think it is because Arizona wasn't so quick to jump on the Common Core bandwagon. The states that were early adopters, we have seen some drops in their scores when we look. But Arizona seems to be holding its own and I would like to believe it is because we had better standards to begin with and we were not so quick.

On that note, we released the draft of our revised standards and are looking forward to Arizona's input on them.

TED: Third grade reading scores were stagnant, and third grade reading is a big deal here as far as progressing and not progressing. What is going on out there?

DIANE: I just think we need to look at how we are--I think--preparing our teachers to teach reading. We need to ensure our schools and districts are using proper reading instructional methods. Phonics is the law of the land here in Arizona, and yet we don't always see that administered in our schools the way it should be.

TED: Last question. A recent poll showed you with a 16% approval rating. How do you respond to something like that?

DIANE: I think it is how you parse the numbers. First of all, I think it's a little bit ironic that when I'm not even on the ballot, I'm not even campaigning for an office, that someone does a poll on me. Love to hear who funded that poll, but you know what, I promised the citizens of Arizona what I'd do when I asked for their vote, and I intend to keep up with that.

TED: But when over 53% say you are doing a below-average or poor job. That has to concern you to some degree, doesn't it?

DIANE: That is why I am out talking to the people of Arizona. To get the information out to them.

TED: Are you encouraged from what you are hearing?

DIANE: I am delighted. Arizona's education system doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets from some in the state. We have shining examples of student achievement and I am proud to be the head of this department.

TED: Good to see you again.

And that is it for now. Thank you for joining us; I am Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

Diane Douglas: Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction

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