Douglas: K-12 schools moving ‘one step closer’ to improvement

Arizona’s top schools chief, Diane Douglas, said she will focus in 2016 on improving schools’ basement-level academic performance and will closely watch a May election to see if voters will put more money toward schools.

Douglas, the Arizona superintendent of public instruction, spoke in January about her education successes last year and her plans in the year ahead in her annual State of Education talk to Arizona legislators.

She said she is “hopeful” for the future, but remains “skeptical” about education in Arizona, noting that the state remained at the bottom of national rankings. Education Week magazine’s annual State of the State rankings gave Arizona a D+ for academic performance, showing there is still progress to be made.

“2016 will be a year that brings us one step closer to having the best education system in the nation,” Douglas said Wednesday.

Douglas touted Arizona moving further away from Common Core last year. The Arizona Board of Education in October severed the copyright that accompanies Common Core, according to azcentral.com. The vote allows the state to set its own curriculum standards, which Douglas advocates. Common Core, known officially as Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, is part of a national education standard that has come under fire in several states.

“I remain committed to the idea that Arizona children deserve the very best standards and that only Arizonans should decide what those standards look like for Arizona children,” Douglas said. “I will do everything possible to ensure that the standards reflect the unique needs of our students.”

Douglas said she considered the Legislature’s decision to put Proposition 123 on the ballot as a victory for Arizona education. Voters will decide in a May 17 special election whether to increase funding to schools by $3.5 billion over the next 10 years.

Douglas later told reporters she would not officially endorse or oppose the proposition.

“I think that it’s a very complex issue,” Douglas said. “I absolutely support more funding for our schools, but I think voters have to look at those issues, look hard at the proposition and make their own decision.”

Douglas said in her State of Education speech she will push for new legislation to advance her education plan, which includes a more secure process to protect student information. She also will focus on getting teens who are among the region’s “disconnected youths” – those who neither attend school nor work – back into school. Douglas also said she wants to expand parental rights, such as allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized testing.