Last night, voters had a chance to see which of the two candidates for Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction (current Superintendent Kathy Hoffman or former one Tom Horne) would best serve children in the next four years.

Please click below to watch the debate.

After the close to half-hour exchange, it was very apparent that Mr. Horne was not the ideal individual to shape education because unlike the fact-based positions taken by Superintendent Hoffman, Mr. Horne relied on omissions on test scores, denialism with regard to COVID, fear-mongering in reference to resources for the LGBTQ community and Critical Race Theory, hedging with regard to vouchers, and evasions regarding his relationship with David Stringer.

Omissions and Inaccuracies on Test Scores.

From the beginning of the debate, Mr. Horne wanted to emphasize that test scores while he was Superintendent, were better than they are under Ms. Hoffman’s Pre-COVID.

While that may appear to be accurate if one looks just at the numbers passed from year to year, Mr. Horne left out several key facts.

  • The first test results that were released in the Kathy Hoffman era were during the 2018/19 school year when she was only Superintendent for only five months. The new Superintendent was not in a position that year to help shape assessment policy to a large extent. The next two years were testing years associated with COVID concerns. Last year, with normalcy largely returned to most public schools. the scores started going up again. Superintendent Hoffman said that the state is moving in the right direction but acknowledged that more work needs to be done.
  • The decline in test scores act started with Horne’s Republican successor, Diane Douglas, with the implementation of the new AZ Merit assessment from the prior AIMS tests. People should remember that the scores on that test did not count in the first year which caused a sharp decline in results. Furthermore, the decline also coincided with Governor Doug Ducey and the Legislature taking away the requirement that children must pass the statewide assessment in order to graduate. Taking that requirement away and the option to take the exam again in the fall and summer, removed the incentive for students to perform well.
  • Following the debate, Hoffman campaign officials commented that “comparing test scores from Tom Horne’s administration to Kathy Hoffman is like comparing apples to oranges. The AIMS test, the standardized test used during Tom Horne’s administration, was not as rigorous as the test we see today. The passing scores on AIMS represented a minimum expectation for what students should be able to do. Now, with our current test, a passing score is no longer a minimum expectation but instead a score that represents what is needed for students to be successful in future grades. Lastly, during Tom Horne’s administration students performed below the national average in every metric according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”

So Mr. Horne’s assertion that test scores fell because of Superintendent Hoffman’s leadership is extremely baseless.

Denialism with Regard to COVID-19.

In Mr. Horne’s reality, schools should not have stayed closed for so long because of the COVID-19/Coronavirus Pandemic. He accurately noted that children were not as susceptible to the virus as anyone else. That drew a subtle rebuke from Superintendent Hoffman and the moderator Ted Simons. Hoffman commented that she has had to make condolence calls to families of teachers who had died from the Coronavirus. Simons pointedly asked Horne what could have happened to the adults if the schools had reopened sooner.

Fear Mongering with respect to School Discipline, Q Chat, and CRT.

Mr. Horne indulged in quite a bit of fear-mongering (and race-baiting,) claiming that Superintendent Hoffman and Arizona teachers did not focus on disciplining students, and encouraged children, without parent supervision, to engage in Q Chat (where he repeatedly used the inappropriate slur queer,) that left them vulnerable to hackers and predators, and that history classes engaged in Critical Race Theory (CRT) where he claimed teachers branded children as either oppressed or oppressors according to the color of their skin.

With regards to the disciplining of students, that argument may have more credibility if Mr. Horne had not voted on several occasions to restore the teaching certification of an instructor who admitted to viewing child porn pictures in the classroom.

In reference to Q Chat, Superintendent Hoffman noted that the resource has been recommended by both the Center for Disease Control and the American Health Association and charged that Mr. Horne was engaging in the culture wars to spark division and hatred.

Furthermore, if one goes to that resource page on the Arizona Department of Education website, the viewer will find many resources for parents and children to access.

Ms. Hoffman continued that train of thought with Mr. Horne’s emphasis on taking away CRT, saying that history teachers should teach accurate history along with cultural empathy and that the former Superintendent’s priorities for schools were misplaced, relaying that the education leader of the state should focus on issues like:

  • Ensuring the mental and academic health of the students.
  • Providing for full-time preschool and kindergarten.
  • Recruiting and retaining teachers while paying them what they deserve.
  • Expanding the school safety grant program.
  • Reducing class sizes.
  • Fully funding schools.
Superintendent Hoffman reminded the viewers that Mr. Horne launched a similar anti-multi-
cultural attack against Tucson’s Mexican Studies program, an act that was declared
illegal because it was racially and politically motivated”

Hedging on Vouchers

Superintendent Hoffman, who was attacked early in her term for actually wanting to bring accountability to people who had Private School Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (the data did show several embarrassing transactions among the applicants,) maintained her opposition to expanding these scholarships-vouchers and noted, as an example, a private school in Snowflake had fleeced families of autism students by taking their money and then closed the doors without notice.

Mr. Horne expressed support for the voucher expansion as a way for poor families to apply for scholarships. When it was brought up to him that most of the people applying for the scholarships were from families whose children never attended public schools, he hedged, saying he would like to look at the final data before deciding to ask for tweaks of income caps on the program.

Evasions on David Stringer.

Perhaps the worst part of Horne’s performance was the breathtaking evasions of his association with David Stringer. If you believed just his comments from the debate, one might get the impression that he hardly knew Stringer, the disgraced former legislator who is a confirmed racist and convicted child sex offender who contributed to the former Superintendent’s campaign, volunteered to help in the Prescott area, and who Horne said was innocent of the sexual offenses in a televised interview.

Superintendent Hoffman and, to their credit, the moderators were having none of that.

Hoffman rightly blasted Horne, calling his defense and support for Stringer “horrific” and  “a complete lack of judgment.”

Concluding Thoughts

In her closing comments, Superintendent Hoffman repeated her belief that the future of Arizona starts in our schools. She subtly said that Mr. Horne and his ideas belonged to the past and that she, based on her travels to schools around the state since she first ran for office and has been Superintendent, was prepared to lead the Department of Education for the next four years.

Horne, in his closing remarks, repeated his inaccurate (false) claims that Ms. Hoffman is responsible for low test scores, did not acknowledge that it was his Republican colleague, Doug Ducey that took away the assessment graduation requirement, and said he would have hearings on schools and districts that had low test scores.

Afterward, the Superintendent posted on social media:

Voters have 54 days to decide which person should lead the Arizona Department of Education and shape public school policy.

People that watch Tom Horne’s bouts with omissions on test scores, science denialism for school employees during the pandemic, fear-mongering of the LGBTQ community and CRT, hedging on vouchers, and evasions with regard to his association with racist/sex offender David Stringer, should conclude he is not the person who should helm the Department starting in January 2023.

Superintendent Hoffman has ably led the Department through the Coronavirus, has continually supported policies that help and lift up children and educators, and has, unlike her opponent, conducted herself with professionalism and strong ethical standards.

This should not be a difficult decision for voters on November 8, 2022.