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Updated Jul 15, 2014 - 8:04 pm

Huppenthal, GOP challenger Douglas debate schools

PHOENIX — Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal sparred with his
Republican primary challenger, Diane Douglas, Tuesday evening in a debate that
focused on the state’s new Common Core school standards but also touched on
anonymous blog posts Huppenthal made that forced him to apologize.

The debate between GOP candidates for superintendent of public instruction
featured tough exchanges as Huppenthal defended Common Core as a program he was
trying to craft to meet Arizona’s conservative standards and Douglas called it
federal government overreach that prevent teachers from working with students.

Huppenthal again apologized for blog posts that denigrated welfare recipients
and other postings that were seen by some as racist because they demanded that
Spanish-language media be eliminated. But he said voters are looking at
improvements he’s made in school oversight.

“When I go out into the community and talk to people, what they’re interested
in is how we’re moving education forward,” he said.

But Douglas said he just couldn’t back away from his own words.

“I don’t know how one repudiates their own statement and makes comments that
it was what was in their mind and in their hearts,” she said, going on to
criticize Huppenthal for allowing Department of Education employees to treat
teachers opposed to Common Core with disrespect.

Douglas, a former Peoria Unified School District board member, called Common
Core “top-down government control of our education system.”

“The federal government has no role in local education whatsoever — they’re
using our money to coerce us to do things,” Douglas said.

Huppenthal, a former state lawmaker seeking a second term running the
Department of Education, said he has a strong record of fighting the federal
government, including winning court cases that eliminated a Tucson schools
ethnic studies program and fighting off changes to the state’s English learning
program. He called that program especially a success.

“We have an absolute requirement that students learn to read, speak and write
English before they move into our regular classrooms — and that program has been
a spectacular success,” Huppenthal said.

Responding to moderator Ted Simons’ question about whether she was a
single-issue candidate focused on Common Core, Douglas said that was the biggest
issue out there.

“Common Core isn’t a single issue — Common Core is the issue of education,”
Douglas said. “It tells us what we must teach and how we must test our
children, which will control curriculum. It tells us how we must evaluate and
compensate our teachers. It tells us how we how we must grade our schools. And
it has a data collection system on children that rival communist Chinese.”

Huppenthal said Douglas is embracing a flawed and politicized description of
Common Core. He called the reading standards, for one, “an absolute
conservative victory that we are teaching reading through phonics.”

“I’m going to partner with the next governor and very systematically do a
review of these standards to ensure that we keep all of our conservative gains
and we address any issues that conservatives have about these standards,”
Huppenthal said.

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