Diane Douglas on Testing and the Classrooms First Initiative Council

I was at Wednesday night's sparsely attended meeting with Ed Supe Diane Douglas. About 30 people showed up in the main library's conference room to hear Douglas talk about what's going on in Arizona education, a far cry from the packed auditorium at her Pima Community College event in April, 2015. Maybe the small crowd was because it's summer, when parents and teachers' minds are on other things, or maybe it's because Douglas is no longer new news as she was last year.

Most of the meeting was made up of audience comments and questions, but Douglas made a few statements that were worth noting, on state testing and Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council.

Douglas once again made it clear she's no fan of the overuse of standardized testing. "We need to test our students less," she said. And she indicated that results of the state's AzMERIT test are being misused. "[Standardized] testing was never intended to be an assessment of a teacher, a school or a district," she stated. Douglas said she is working on a more comprehensive A-F school grading system that will include more factors than a school's state test scores.

Douglas only spent a few moments talking about Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council, whose task is to propose ways to shift around education funding without adding new revenue. She's a member of the council, and it looks like she shares some of my skepticism about the group's unspoken agenda. (My recent posts on the subject are here, here and here.) Douglas said she was concerned that the council was "a special interest group," though she didn't mention what that "special interest" might be. However, a statement she made soon after is probably a clue to what she was alluding to. She said she is a supporter of charter schools, but she also noted that, 20 years after charters were set up in Arizona, 85 percent of students still choose to go to district schools, and we must be sure we do nothing to harm those students. I'm seeing dots connecting those two statements, which would mean she worries that charters will come out the funding winners in the council's final proposals, to the detriment of school district funding. She's spoken before about her concern that the pro-charter faction has outsized influence in the governor's office. In a press release from Douglas in February, 2015, Douglas wrote, "Clearly [Ducey] has established a shadow faction of charter school operators . . ." Douglas has tempered her language since then, but I get the feeling her sentiments haven't changed all that much.

Douglas also spoke a bit about her concerns about federal interference with states' control of their schools and about the burden of school-related regulations. Those are areas where we part ways, at least in the degree of our concern, which isn't surprising given that she's on the political right and I'm on the political left. We agree that the federally imposed, high-stakes testing regimen is destructive, and we both have concerns about a nationally standardized, Common Core curriculum. But I want the federal government to maintain an active involvement in making sure people's rights are protected in the schools—religious, ethnic and gender rights, among others. Too often, the push for state's rights, in the schools and elsewhere, has been a way of allowing a narrow-minded majority to discriminate against members of minority groups. And the call for deregulation is often a cover for allowing financial and ethical abuses to go unchecked.

However, as I've said in a number of posts since Douglas assumed the Ed Supe position, I continue to be surprised, pleasantly, about how many times we agree when it comes to education. I'm convinced she genuinely cares about giving Arizona children—all Arizona children—the best possible shot at getting a good education. The superintendent position doesn't give her a great deal of power. The legislature and the State Board of Education pretty much control the show. But she continues to use her limited authority and her bully pulpit to nudge Arizona education in what I think is generally a positive direction. Whenever I can find common ground with someone on the other side of the political aisle, as is the case here, it makes me happy, and hopeful.