Common core remains Arizona school standard

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City is pushing legislation to largely strip state schools chief Diane Douglas of much of her control over employees of the Board of Education.

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City is pushing legislation to largely strip state schools chief Diane Douglas of much of her control over employees of the Board of Education.

PHOENIX -- Common Core appears to be here to stay, at least for the time being.

On a 19-10 vote the Senate on Monday killed legislation which would have allowed schools to develop their own academic standards. More to the point, those standards would not have to be linked to the Common Core standards that were adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010. Monday's vote comes less than a week after the House Education Committee voted to block the education board from implementing the standards.

But what the House thinks may end up being irrelevant unless state senators reach the same conclusion. And this is the second year the Senate has refused to scrap the standards.

The defeat came despite pleas from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, who called SB 1458 the "keep it local bill.'

In essence, she wants to turn the current system on its head: Rather than the education board adopting standards for all districts, each could come up with its own, subject to board review. The board also would have to approve at least four nationally standardized tests that districts could adopt without further action.

"This is the bill that fights one-size-fits-all education,' she said. And Ward said districts that like Common Core would be free to keep it.

Despite Monday's defeat, Ward gets another shot at the issue Tuesday, at least indirectly. She is pushing legislation to largely strip state schools chief Diane Douglas of much of her control over employees of the Board of Education.

SB 1038 would repeal language that now gives Douglas and all of her successors the right to "direct the work of all employees of the board.' Potentially more significant, it would clarify once and for all that the state schools chief plays no role in hiring or firing the board's executive director. That had been the practice in the past. But Douglas insisted she was within her rights earlier this month when she fired only Christine Thompson as the board's executive director but also Sabrina Vazquez as her assistant. Douglas backed down, at least temporarily, after Gov. Doug Ducey said she lacked the power. But the superintendent of public instruction insisted she was right and said she wants the law clarified or, failing that, threatened to sue.

Ward's proposal does provide that clarification. But even though both oppose Common Core, Ward's legislation does not necessarily do that the way Douglas wants. Despite that, Ward told Capitol Media Services other changes are possible when the measure is debated Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Greg Miller, who chairs the state board, is pleased with what he has seen so far.

"I think the proposed changes make it really very clear as to who's responsible for what,' he said.

Sally Stewart, Douglas' press aide, declined to discuss the specifics of what is now in the proposal. But Stewart said the language "is very close' and that Douglas "remains committed to working to resolve this matter, with minimal cost to Arizona taxpayers.'

The fight of who controls -- and can hire and fire -- board employees is central to the issue of whether the schools chief can effectively veto board decisions.

This is critical because the board has not only approved the Common Core academic standards but has directed its staff to implement a new set of tests linked to those standards. The board wants the AzMERIT -- Arizona's Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching -- to be ready to administer this spring.

Douglas, by contrast, won election last November largely on a promise to dismantle the standards. And Douglas, in explaining her decision to fire Thompson and Vazquez, essentially said they were thwarting her efforts, calling them "two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core.'

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia

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