Douglas: Farewell from the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction

I believe we have no greater duty as a state than to educate our children.

Not merely to make them “worker bees” or “college applicants,” but to enable them to pursue their dreams with their God-given talents and to ensure they become successful citizens to protect and perpetuate our republic.

Diane M. Douglas

As Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, my top two priorities have been the success of our students and accountability for the taxpayer dollars the Arizona Department of Education allocates and oversees. My strategic plans for Arizona education — the AZ Kids Can’t Wait plans — focused on ways to improve student achievement and recommendations for increased education funding and teacher pay.

I was proudly able to keep my campaign promise to the citizens of Arizona –– repealing Common Core. Arizona once again controls its standards. Three long-term problems, which prevent our students from receiving the education to which they are entitled, are addressed in our new standards.

We strengthened phonics reading standards. We were the first state to have implemented foundational writing skills, i.e., cursive writing standards. We now expect memorization of basic arithmetic facts –– addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Furthermore, we resolved longstanding, incorrect allocations of Title I and IDEA funding. EVERY federal grant has been audited by an independent firm to ensure the accuracy of the allocations going forward. NO money was missing, and ALL funds went to the designated programs, albeit in the incorrect amounts.

Our new grants management process allows districts and charters to begin receiving their funding July 1 –– the first day of the fiscal year. This allows schools to staff and fund the programs that help our students be successful.

Arizona was also one of seven states nationally to be awarded a federal grant that connects rural students and schools with high-speed broadband.

While the Office of Indian Education remains unfunded by the legislature, we have supported these underserved students through savings within ADE. It’s imperative that our legislature supports our Native American children.

The implementation of the new IT system, AzEDS, is estimated to be saving our taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by eliminating duplicative or incorrect student counts.

Yet there are ongoing issues that must be addressed by either the legislature, the Arizona State Board of Education, or both.

ADE is not authorized by the legislature to expend but a small portion of the funding it allocates for the oversight of the parental choice Empowerment Scholarship Account program. This makes it difficult to retain the staff necessary to provide vital customer support to parents and oversight of taxpayer dollars.

The “Menu of Assessments” and changes to certification (allowing general education teachers to provide instruction to special education students) both potentially jeopardize all Title and IDEA funding to our most vulnerable students.

Funding to support academic standards development and implementation has not been appropriated by the legislature. This lack of funding is how Arizona became ensnared in the Common Core Standards.

The legislature increasing teacher certification renewal from six to 12 years depletes the funding used to investigate “bad actor” teachers all while incidents of inappropriate or unprofessional behavior are on the rise.

While all are important, these funding or policy issues are not the most pressing concerns jeopardizing our children’s education and our country’s future. We must return our focus to the true and original intent of the American education system, which is pursuit of truth, knowledge for its own sake and the betterment of our children as educated citizens. The lens of the labels –– White, Black, Hispanic, Special Education, Economically Disadvantaged, etc. — must not prevent us from instilling scholarship, character and humanity in ALL our students.

Currently 56 percent of our third-graders can’t read or write with minimum proficiency. We have known for decades Why Johnny Can’t Read (Flesch, 1955). English is a phonic, NOT a symbolic language. Yet whole language/look-say/word memorization is how reading has been taught for the past 100 years, creating millions of functional illiterates, dyslexic and learning-disabled students.

Forty-seven percent of our third-graders can’t solve basic arithmetic problems. We’ve been using unproven tricks and gimmicks rather than simple memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables, which has been proven successful for eons.

I’ve always found it paradoxical that the same education “elitists” who think it impossible for a third-grader to memorize (“drill and kill”) a few hundred arithmetic problems somehow think it possible for the same student to memorize the word symbols for the 5,000-6,000-plus words in his/her expressive vocabulary.

These problems cannot be resolved from the Superintendent’s office. Arizona won’t improve these unacceptable results and close achievement gaps until Arizona parents demand their elected school boards mandate and ensure ALL elementary teachers are trained so that these core skills are taught with explicit phonics programs and require math fluency of all our students. The mastery of ALL other subjects and academic achievement are dependent upon the successful acquisition of these foundational skills.

Nonetheless, I am so very proud of the many achievements of my dedicated staff over the past four years. I sincerely thank the citizens of Arizona for allowing me the privilege of serving you and our precious children as Arizona’s Superintendent. It has been an honor and a blessing.

May God bless our state and our students.

Editor’s Note: Diane M. Douglas was the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2015-18.

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