Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 2, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Superintendent of Public Instruction Debate


  • Republican incumbent Tom Horne debates issues regarding the office of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction with Democratic challenger Jason Williams.
Guests:
  • Tom Horne - Republican incumbent
Category: Elections

View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on Horizon special, a debate between the two men seeking the office that has an impact on your child's education, the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. That's next on Horizon.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions by the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Good evening. Welcome to Horizon. I'm Michael Grant. The superintendent of public instruction is elected to a four-year term in our state. Superintendent oversees the public elementary and high school system in Arizona. The office executes policies set by the state board of education, and is fourth in line to succession to the governorship. Republican Tom Horne is hoping to retain his job as superintendent challenged by Democrat, Jason Williams. Before we get to our debate tonight here's a quick look at some basic facts on each candidate.

Mike Sauceda:
Tom Horne is 61 and lives in Phoenix. He's an attorney. He is married and has two daughters and two sons. He's running as a clean elections candidate. Jason Williams is a 29-year-old resident of Phoenix. He is an educator and is single. He is not running with clean elections funding.

Michael Grant:
Joining me now to talk about education issues facing Arizona and say why they should be elected as Arizona superintendent of public instruction is the Republican incumbent, Tom Horne, and his Democratic challenger, Jason Williams. Tonight's debate is sponsored by Arizona citizens' clean elections commission which administers campaign funding and campaign finance law. Also sponsoring the debate is Arizona State University. Before we get to the debate, each candidate will have one minute to make an opening statement, order of presentation of that statement was chosen right before the show by random selection. Tom, you got lucky. You go first.

Tom Horne:
It's great to be with you, Mike. I think the issue that matters most to you in this race is the issue of social promotion. I believe that students should have to pass a reasonable test to graduate. Jason thinks even students who cannot pass a reasonable test should be able to graduate. Social promotion hurt education in this country. Teachers were told you can't hold kids back, because it hurts their feelings. Kids got the message even if they blow off school they go from grade to grade and get their diplomas and learning plummeted. Then the legislature said the students had to pass a reasonable test. A couple of years ago 60\% of the kids were failing the test. A lot of people panicked and wanted to abandon it. I said, no, based on what I know of other states if the kids know that we mean it, they will study harder and 90\% of those with the credits to graduate will pass the test. In fact, 94\% of those with the credits to graduate did pass the test and the result is learning has gone up, so that now we are exceeding the national averages, we're above average on tests that compare to other states such as the scholastic aptitude test and the ACT test. If Jason is elected social promotion will come back. If I continue, learning will go up.

Michael Grant:
Jason Williams, your opening statement.

Jason Williams:
Thank you, Michael. It's great to be on the show again. I'm excited to talk about the issues affecting our public schools, because they are not Democratic or Republican issues. They're Arizona issues. Preparing our children for the future is a value that we all share as Arizonans. Under the current superintendent's watch, however, we have several unreasonable challenges in Arizona 's public schools today. Despite his claims that we have a reasonable high school graduation test, the AIMS test, is it reasonable to ignore the nape scores that show that 50\% of our children are unable to read on grade level by just nine years old? Is it reasonable to argue about whether or not we have a 30 versus a 35\% high school graduation rate? Dropout rate? Is it more reasonable and productive to acknowledge the problems that we have and really work to fix them? I think given these challenges is it reasonable to elect a lawyer and career politician to run our schools or is it more reasonable to elect an experienced educator with a new perspective, can-do attitude and a positive message for our children.

Michael Grant:
I want to get back to AIMS and social promotion in just a couple of minutes but unfortunately, Jason, in the past, week, 10 days, we have had a number of tragic incidents, nationwide, concerning school security. And shootings. Are Arizona 's schools safe and, if not, should we be doing more?

Jason Williams:
Well, you know, during my time that I was teaching I probably served on the school safety committee for the state teachers union, and this was an issue that we looked at because, beyond making sure that our children have access to an excellent education, we have to make sure that they have a safe learning environment that parents can feel comfortable and confident. And so while we are thankful that in Arizona, we haven't been witnessing what we've recently witnessed in other states, we need to always be mindful of this issue and doing everything proactively in our power.

Michael Grant:
Are we doing everything that we can or should?

Jason Williams:
I think that we are definitely doing a lot of great things. Every day, which is why we don't see these incidences happening like we have seen elsewhere, but that doesn't mean we should ever take our eye off the ball.

Michael Grant:
Tom, are the campuses secure enough? Do we need to go to more drastic measures such as weapons screening at every school? Other things? Or are we adequately protecting kids at school?

Tom Horne:
About 3\% of our schools have metal detectors. That's a matter for the school boards to decide. At the state level we've been involved in extensive education programs, training administers to, in turn, train their teachers and their students to be on the lookout for people who might become violent, teaching kids conflict resolution, being able to spot kids that might be violent, keeping strangers off the campus. I was criticized by the American civil liberties union because when there was an election I told the schools to be careful because there had just been a slaughter at Beslon. But I thought that was a wise thing to do. We didn't interfere with anyone's voting but we have been especially careful to keep strangers off the campuses and keep them as safe as possible.

Michael Grant:
Let me go back to AIMS and social promotion. A number of people feel even though we got the AIMS test, it's been dumbed down to such an extent that really what we have got is still social promotion. How do you respond to that?

Tom Horne:
Well, I respond as follows. There was a reduction in the math percentage you had to get to pass the math test. That was a recommendation of 160 teachers, task force, the vote was nine to one on the state board. I voted against it. I voted against it, because only 3500 kids were affected by it out of 63,000. And I said to the State Board, if you do this, the focus will be on the fact that you lowered the test score which only helped 3500 which, who could have taken it again and would have benefited from the studying. And people lose the big picture that 63,000 kids studied hard and passed the test because they learned what they needed to learn and they acquired the skills they need to acquire. The other aspect of that is augmentation passed by the legislature where the legislature said you can take grades and add that to your score. I opposed that. I will oppose its extension. It was only a two-year bridge. That raised graduation from 94\% to 98\%. I think the 94\% is a good figure. Students should have to pass the test to demonstrate skills objectively and that's what I stand for.

Michael Grant:
Jason, give me your views on the AIMS test as a high-stakes test. And also your views on whether or not we have dumbed it down to a point that why the heck should we even care?

Jason Williams:
I mean, as many people might have caught in the July 16 edition of the East Valley Tribune they asked that question. You know, is the AIMS test worth anything, because it's been dumbed down so much. I mean the 98\% passing rate was for the students that actually didn't drop out of school. We had actually lost 15,000 children before they even took the test. And I think here we've seen that we have a very unreasonable test in the sense that the passing scores have been lowered. We have changed the test consistently every year. We have hidden data, especially with our English language learners that resulted in more failing schools once the department of ed. at federal level forced us to do this. I think I used the analogy in the business sector, if a C.E.O. went to the stockholders and said we are only going to give you one indicator of our success, they would laugh at us. And I think right here we have the same thing going on. We have to look at multiple indicators for student achievement.

Michael Grant:
If you don't have something go like the AIMS test, how do you warrant that the high school diploma you show somebody is really worth anything?

Jason Williams:
Right now we have social promotion happening in the schools. And we don't have a reasonable test to guarantee that the diploma actually means something. I think it needs to be kept, the bar kept high. It needs to be rolled into a portfolio that allows us to look at multiple indicators for student achievement.

Michael Grant:
Tom, conversely, though, is it unfair to, you know, roll the dice based on just one testing instrument?

Tom Horne:
It would be if it were one test. But the students start to take the test their sophomore year. They get five chances, two their junior year, two their senior year. If they don't pass the fifth chance the senior year they get a sixth chance in July as long as they have the credits to graduate in the remediation program. I persuaded the State Board to have the state pay for them to take it as many times after as that they want to, so when they show the skills, they get their diploma. We're giving them free tutoring; we're giving them results before the summer, so they can have some remediation before I took office. That didn't happen until September. We're giving results based on concepts so they and their tutors know what to study. We're giving them work books on the things they need to study, individualized. We are doing everything but getting them up in the morning, and they are getting the skills, they are working hard. They have acquired not on the knowledge to pass the AIMS test, 63,000 of them, not 3500 referred to by Jason, but they're now performing above the national average on national comparison tests.

Michael Grant:
Let me shift to state land. It is as both of you know an education-related subject, because proceeds from the state land trust -- its primary beneficiary is education. Two propositions going before the voters in November. One referred by the legislature, the other supported by environmental groups and also the Arizona Education Association. Which one of those two do you feel Arizona voters should approve?

Tom Horne:
I am support, the latter one. I think it's a reasonable compromise.

Michael Grant:
The A.E.A. one?

Tom Horne:
Yes.

Michael Grant:
Okay. Jason, how about you?

Jason Williams:
I probably spoke this morning at the prop 106 press conference in support of it, because anything we can do proactively to preserve critical funding for public schools while also preserving Arizona's natural beauty is something I am excited about.

Michael Grant:
Any concern at all on your part - and then I will go to Tom for his response - that you are basically taking up to 700,000 acres 7, 8, 9\% of the assets off the table for education support?

Jason Williams:
Well, again, like I shared in the primary debate that we had where this question came up, Michael, I think we have looked this long and hard and this is something that's going to guarantee in a proactive way that we have the critical funding we need for public education.

Michael Grant:
What about that concept?

Tom Horne:
The preserved land actually raises the value of the other land, so I think ultimately we come out ahead. Since I have given you two short answers, Mike, I just want to take a minute to respond to something, because Jason said I hid English language scores. I told him in an earlier debate that wasn't true, and he's repeated it again here, so I brought the state report card, which we sent out 800,000 of. I'm going to give it to you Jason, page 7. Will you look at that, and please tell the audience whether or not I did report the English language learner scores on page 7 of the state record card which we sent out 800,000 copies.

Jason Williams:
Well, I would --

Michael Grant:
I was going to get to English language learning. Let's do it this way.

Jason Williams:
I would just encourage the viewers to speak with Chad Colby at the Federal Department of Education that called this a complete sham in the fact we had hidden the scores for two years, which is why we went from 200 to over 600 failing schools. 112 of which were a direct result of these scores being hidden from the state report card. So it's been well documented. It's well known within the education system that this has been happening because supposedly we had an oral agreement in accordance with the state superintendent, and, you know, I'm obviously not a lawyer. I am an educator, and I know something that important you get it writing, and you wouldn't have an oral agreement.

Tom Horne:
Michael --

Michael Grant:
Sure.

Tom Horne:
Jason doesn't want to answer, so I will show you page 7 of the state report card reports the English language learners. It's completely untrue. I think the state superintendent of schools ought to be someone to tells the truth. I also want to respond to this idea that I am just a lawyer, I'm just a politician and Jason is an educator. I have 26 years in education policy. I was 24 years on the school board for Arizona 's third largest district, 10 years as its president. Four years in the legislature. Chair of the academic accountability committee. Four years as State Superintendent. In addition to my public service, I learn the curriculum as a father of four children who went through Arizona public schools right through 12th grade. Jason's 29 years old. He taught for two years. He's never been fully certified in any state to teach. He was on an intern certificate, and he chose to use his time in his two years of teaching to be elected to the California state teachers union.

Michael Grant:
Okay. Quick response on that.

Jason Williams:
I just think it's interesting that someone that hasn't spent a day walking in the shoes of our teachers have tried to undermine that type of experience and perspective that I am very proud to have. And I'm very thankful that I have that experience guiding all the decisions I make, because I do think that this is a critical choice that the voters have between whether or not a lawyer or a teacher is better suited to run the schools. Especially given what we see. And again, going back to the data, it wasn't until our hand was forced by the federal department of ed. this year that those scores were then reintroduced, which is why the number of failing schools sky rocketed.

Michael Grant:
Let me go to the related subject of English language learning. That's going to be going back before the court in Tucson. What do you think is the correct solution on English language learning?

Jason Williams:
Well, I think here that if the state superintendent, with all due respect, had been spending more time in the classrooms and less time in the courtrooms then he would know that the level of funding that we have to support our English language learners is far too low. The study done by the Republican-controlled state legislature showed that we needed at least $2,000 extra per child to successfully get our students to achieve proficiency statewide. And apparently, the State Superintendent thinks that 432 dollars per child would be sufficient. I've always argued that we should have aggressive language acquisition programs for our children in every single school which would require the funding at the level the state legislature dictated.

Michael Grant:
I will go to Tom in just a second, but quick follow up. There is data from the Nogales school district that indicates operating on the current allocation of money they made significant progress on English language learning in the past two, three, four years. What do you say to that?

Jason Williams:
Well, I think we need to celebrate success when it happens, and I think it's great that we have a handful of schools in Nogales that are successful. But we can't just cherry pick when you are state superintendent. We have to be focused on what is a solution that's going to reach every single child across our state in every single school? And clearly, if it was the case that the funding was going to be sufficient for that we would be seeing that success in a dramatic way replicated all across the state but again that study, Michael, that I articulated proved the point we do have to dramatically increase the funding to accomplish that.

Michael Grant:
Tom.

Tom Horne:
The four schools in Nogales had better results for kids who are English language learners in 2003 who passed all three AIMS test in 2005, over 70\% of them that are native English speakers state-wide, and they did that on current funding. So the difference isn't funding, the difference is leadership. A little known aspect of the legislative bill was that they gave us the funds for 26 people to give technical assistance, so we'll document what they're doing and we'll bring that to the other schools. Now, nobody has advocated harder for 28 years than I have for more resources for education. But this is something to be decided by us who are elected representatives, not to have a lifetime federal judge come in and micromanage our system and dictate to us. I think unlike Jason, I think the Arizona people are smart enough to rule themselves through their elected representatives and they don't need a lifetime federal judge come in and dictate to them.

Michael Grant:
As you know though, sometimes this is a federal standard and sometimes states unreasonably say no. Are you saying that the federal court in Tucson or any place else shouldn't have any jurisdiction whatsoever?

Tom Horne:
Absolutely. I think that what we spend on our English language learners, we spend about 5,000 dollars per student. We are spending an extra $350 on every English language learner. Nogales has proven that with that much, they can out-perform our average of our native English speakers. I would advocate for more at the legislature. I think we do need more resources in education. But it's up to our elected representatives to do it. It's not up to have a federal judge come in like a dictator in a small country and dictate to people and tell them this is how much you will tax yourselves. This is how much you will spend. I think Arizona voters are smart enough to rule themselves through their own elected representatives.

Michael Grant:
Charter schools, do they need more or less regulation?

Tom Horne:
Charter schools are a, have been a tremendous benefit to Arizona education, and I say that as someone who spent 24 years on a traditional school board, and they made us better. When people would say let's eliminate this advanced placement program or let's eliminate that arts program, because it doesn't have enough kids, someone else would say, if do you that you lose your best kids to the charter schools, so it made us do better. In addition, parents have a wide range of choices. If they are not crazy about the local public school, they have, they could have a progressive school a strict school, a high performing school a school that's there for kids who aren't making it in the public schools.

Michael Grant:
So that argues for less regulation? The same level of regulation?

Tom Horne:
No, I do have a designee on the state charter board, and I put pressure on them to revoke charters of charter schools that are not performing well academically, but most of them are performing well academically and they are a big addition.

Michael Grant:
Charter schools, their role? Should there be more regulation? Less regulation? Have we hit a nice goldilocks kind of medium?

Jason Williams:
I think charter schools provide a wonderful diversity of options and choices for parents within the public school system. And I'm fully supportive of having options and choices within the public school system. I also think given that our state constitution stipulates we should have a general and uniform education available to all children, we have a responsibility to make sure that all the schools within the public school system, both charters and traditional are providing a fair and consistent opportunity for children and that there's accountability. So that means, for example, on funding that both our charters and traditional schools should be equally funded and then also on the other realm of teacher certification there should be consistency there, as well.

Michael Grant:
The charters, the charters will say if do you that, we're no longer an experiment. We are no longer an incentive to the public schools and system.

Jason Williams:
No, and I appreciate that argument, but teacher certification doesn't affect what the actual charter of the school is. We are simply talking about, does the state deem that a particular teacher is highly qualified to be in the classroom? Beyond what the federal department of ed. stipulates, because we have federal requirements, and then we have state requirements. And I disagree with the state superintendent that in the charters there should be an uneven approach here where we say, well, the federal should only apply to them. But for the traditional schools, we should have federal and state.

Tom Horne:
If you make rules on charters and the traditional district schools exactly the same, there's no reason to have charters. The glory of the charter schools has been the experimentation, the demonstration of things. That's really the difference between having myself as a reformer, because I represent all the people, the teachers, principals, students, parents, citizens or somebody who was a California state teachers union official who wants to make everything the same, because the teachers union is a status quo organization. They want to keep things the way they always have been. I want to reform things and have them improve.

Michael Grant:
Sure.

Jason Williams:
I mean, I would like to respond to that, obviously.

Michael Grant:
Very quickly.

Jason Williams:
Here again articulating my point. Tom likes to say things and claim that it's what I'm saying when, in fact, it's not. I am saying that we should have fair and equitable approaches for all schools within the public school system. So that everyone has equal funding and expectations.

Michael Grant:
Teacher pay, I think a lot of people think, well, number one, they do think we ought to pay teachers better. I think that's the generally held belief. I think they also believe, though, that better teachers should be paid better. And I don't care what you call that if you call it career ladders or merit or whatever. Do we cover that side of the equation adequately or not?

Jason Williams:
Like I shared last time, Michael, as someone started teaching at $28,000 a year, I understand intimately the need for us to be better supporting our teachers, so that we can not only recruit but retain excellent teachers, because at end of the day, talent is the number one priority. It has to be. Because no matter what programs or systems we put in place, if we don't have excellent people, at every level through our public school system, teaching our children and running or schools then we are not going to get the dramatic results we need.

Michael Grant:
Do we send the right teachers the right signals? And for that matter, bad teachers the right signals -- with their pay?

Jason Williams:
What I feel very strongly that we need to do on this issue is not only do we need to keep fighting for what the governor has been fighting for which is having an aggressive starting teacher's salary to help us recruit people but we should have also what's called performance incentives in place, so beyond the traditional pay raises that teachers get for the number of years they are teaching or course work that they take, they also can have access to significantly more money over time based on their impact on student achievement.

Michael Grant:
Teacher pay. Incentives. Career ladders, other mechanisms.

Tom Horne:
Yes, I am a strong supporter of career ladders. Proposition 301 provided for merit pay. Performance pay. 40\% of the amount of prop 301 was used for that. School districts evaded it. I have asked the legislature for enforcement power to try to make them abide by it and hope to get that next year. But passed this house it got stuck in the senate last year, but hopefully next year, we can get it through both houses. As far as the amount of pay, I have advocated strongly for more teacher pay. I proposed a $3500 per teacher increase, permanent increase in their salary. Would have cost $150 million. The legislature and the governor agreed on $100 million. I think that's inadequate, and I will continue to fight for more pay for our teachers. We've got to be able to retain our highly qualified teachers and attract more talented people into teaching. That's what will make our accountability measures really work.

Michael Grant:
We are now out of time for this debate between the candidates running for state superintendent of public instruction. Each candidate will be given one minute for a closing statement. Order of presentation, again, chosen randomly and, Tom, you go first.

Tom Horne:
Thank you, Michael. And thank you, Jason; thank you, everybody for watching. I'll share an interesting statistic with you. We compare the United States with other countries on math and science with something called timms. And in fourth grade the United States performs third out of 18 countries studied. Not bad. But in high school, it's 18 out of 21 countries studied. Not good. So something bad is happening between elementary school and high school. It's not the schools. If it were the schools we wouldn't be doing so well in fourth grade. It's a sociological thing. In the United States kids know they can get away with blowing off school, and Germany and Japan, China and India, there are a lot of social pressures for them not to do that. The way for us to turn this around and have our students perform is to say, we are holding the schools accountable and the teachers accountable. We're definitely doing that, but we're also holding the students accountable, so that they know they have got to acquire the skills that they need to succeed in the 21st century, or they're not going to get a high school diploma. When we did that, they studied hard, they increased their test scores, and that's why we are now exceeding the national average. We need to continue doing that. Not going back to social promotion and having learning plummet again.

Michael Grant:
Jason, your closing statement.

Jason Williams:
Michael, again, thank you. Thank you, Tom. For the past four years the current superintendent has tried to get voters to believe his fairy tale, but we know the reality of tests being manipulated, passing scores being lowered, data being hidden and now 650 schools labeled as failing this year, alone. We have social promotion under Tom Horne right now. It's time for us to be truthful to our students, our teachers, and our parents. It's time for us to focus on not just waiting until students pass a single test in that last year of high school. Because that's too late. For me the choice is about getting the most out of our children, instead of getting the least out of our children. It's a choice that's based on common sense. We look for an attorney general, we look for someone who is a lawyer. When we look for a surgeon general we look for someone who is a doctor. Isn't it time our state school superintendent was a public school teacher? So, I ask for everyone's vote on November 7. And I ask everyone to join me on that day and saying to the current superintendent in the spirit of the AIMS test he loves so much time's up, Tom. Pencil down. Pass your test forward.

Tom Horne:
It's an untimed test.

Michael Grant:
Jason Williams, Tom Horne, thanks very much for joining us for the debate. Our thanks for you watching as well. Tomorrow, we will have the clean elections debate between the candidates running for Arizona Secretary of State. I'm Michael Grant. Good night.

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