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Hot school issues: AIMS, charters, vouchers





The winner of the contest for superintendent of public instruction may make fundamental changes to the way Arizona runs charter schools and administers the AIMS test.

The six men – three Republicans, two Democrats and a Libertarian – in the race for schools chief each has his own solution to bolster the state’s beleaguered public education system.

Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards is a hot-button issue, with four candidates opposing it outright.

For Democrat Rob Rich, eliminating AIMS as a high-stakes test is his top priority. He wants to combine it with the Stanford 9.

As a junior high principal, he objects to how AIMS tests eighth-graders on math concepts that some haven’t learned yet.

Former state Sen. Keith Bee, a Republican, opposes AIMS as a graduation requirement. He suggests schools return to testing at the beginning of each school year. AIMS is given in the spring, and test results are returned at the start of the next school year.

“If you set the standards at each grade level and you’re pre-testing and post-testing your class and holding the students accountable at the grade level, you don’t have to worry about a high-stakes graduation test,” he said, “because the children will not have been moved along if they didn’t meet the standards.”

His top priority is to get more money into classrooms.

Democrat Jay Blanchard prefers one standardized test, the voter-approved Stanford 9. Assessment tests have been “a mess” through the terms of the last four schools chiefs, he said.

Incumbent state schools chief Jaime Molera is pushing to reform AIMS.

He wants to refine an alternative, the Equivalent Demonstration of Standards Proficiency, which allows students to do a project instead of taking the test.

“We should not back off the academic standards, but how we test them should not be one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Republican Tom Horne said Molera’s idea would lead to “thousands of parents” doing their children’s AIMS projects.

He is calling for a back-to-basics approach in the classroom that he says will lead to success on a high-stakes test. And, he added, “there needs to be a standard for higher achievers, an honors designation, so we’re not just bringing up the bottom.”

Although Arizona leads the nation in the number of charter schools, the candidates disagreed on whether they should exist.

Bee, a longtime charter school supporter, said the state has all the charter school laws it needs. Enforcement of existing laws is the key.

Molera said that under his leadership the past 14 months, those laws have been strictly enforced.

The issue of charter schools drove Blanchard to enter the race. He wants to make them as accountable as other public schools. Rich believes in a “level playing field” that he said ultimately would make neighborhood schools the choice of parents.

Horne, who claims to have been key to the creation and proliferation of charter schools in Arizona, opposes state certification for charter school teachers. Public school teachers must be certified by the state.

He and Bee said school vouchers are illegal under the Arizona Constitution. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled they are legal and gave states the option of setting up a voucher plan.)

Horne and Bee said charter schools make vouchers a moot issue because they give parents a choice between public schools and charter schools. A voucher system would include private schools.

Molera supports vouchers and expects they would survive a legal challenge.

Blanchard opposes vouchers altogether. “The answer is to give public schools more choice. Let (Tucson Unified School District) have a couple of high schools that have more of the attributes that Salpointe (Catholic High) has, like mandatory parent participation and strict dress codes.”

Because private schools account for about 10 percent of student enrollment statewide, Rich doubts they would have room for all the students who may want to attend them under a voucher system.

“We need to stop tinkering, tackle the issues, and help the children in need. If we are going to improve schools, we have to improve social services,” Rich said.

Libertarian John Zajac is unopposed in the primary. His views will be examined in a story published closer to the November election.


At www.tucsoncitizen.com, you’ll find stories, a calendar of political events, links to candidate Web sites and maps of legislative and congressional districts. Click on the site’s Election 2002 logo.


Jay Blanchard

Birth date: Nov. 3, 1946

Party: Democratic

Profession: Educational psychology professor at Arizona State University, state senator

Education: Ph.D. from University of Georgia in reading education; bachelor’s degree and master’s of science in teaching degree from Drake University in Iowa

Political experience: State senator, precinct committeeman and vice chairman of District 30

Web site: www.Blanchard2002.com

Top issue: Leadership and stable funding

Endorsements: The Arizona Republic, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Rod Rich

Birth date: Jan. 19, 1949

Party: Democratic

Profession: Junior high principal

Education: Bachelor’s degree in social studies education and master’s degree in counseling from Purdue University in Indiana

Political experience: Volunteer in 1969 as college student, supporting Birch Bayh for the U.S. Senate

Web site: www.azkids.org

Top issue: Eliminating high-stakes testing

Endorsements: Arizona Education Association, AFL-CIO, National Association of Social Workers, Arizona chapter of ACORN, Arizona Human Rights Fund and Planned Parenthood

John C. Zajac

Birth date: March 25, 1957

Party: Libertarian

Profession: Producer and director of radio and TV commercials

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Stanford University in California

Political experience: Secretary of the Arizona Libertarian Party since 1997; precinct committeeman since 1995

Top issue: School choice and competitive testing to replace AIMS

Web site: None

Endorsements: None

Keith Bee

Born: Dec. 5, 1965

Party: Republican

Profession: Business owner (Bee Line charter bus company, serving Tucson and Phoenix areas)

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business and agriculture from University of Arizona

Political experience: Two years in Arizona House of Representatives; eight years on Arizona Senate (served on Senate Education Committee)

Web site: None

Top issue: Fiscal accountability to get education dollars to the classrooms for students and teachers

Endorsements: Arizona Education Association, Tucson Education Association

Tom Horne

Born: March 28, 1945

Party: Republican

Profession: Attorney at Horne, Ducar, Lorona and Slaton, LLP

Education: Bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University in Massachusetts; law degree with honors from Harvard Law School

Political experience: 24 years on Paradise Valley Unified School District school board (in 10th year as president); four years as legislator (vice chairman of House Education Committee and chairman of the Academic Accountability Committee)

Web site: www.tomhorne.com

Top issue: Ensuring academic excellence with a required high school test to receive a diploma; enforcing the ban on bilingual education to promote English proficiency.

Endorsements: English for the Children of Arizona state Reps. Mark Anderson, Linda Binder, Dean Cooley and Lowell “Mike” Gleason

Jaime Molera

Born: March 31, 1968

Party: Republican

Profession: Superintendent of public instruction (appointed May 2001)

Education: Bachelor’s degree in communications from Arizona State University

Political experience: Education adviser and chief of policy for Gov. Jane Hull; director of policy for ex-Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan; and state director of community services and the school-to-work initiative for Gov. Fife Symington

Web site: www.molera2002.org, not currently active

Top issue: High academic standards for all children

Endorsements: U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake, J.D. Hayworth, John Shadegg and Bob Stump; U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl; Professional Fire Fighters Association of Arizona, Charter Schools Association and Arizona Charter Schools Association

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