by David Safier
I'm breaking a BfA tradition by making an endorsement in the primary. But since I blog about education so often, I feel like I've earned the right to chime in on the Democratic race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
First let me say, both Penny Kotterman and Jason Williams are miles above any of the Republican candidates for the position. When I've heard the two of them in recent forums, both have presented ideas that promise to be a vast improvement over what Arizona has seen in recent years.
If I thought one of them had a better chance of winning the general, I would support that candidate, but honestly, I think both have the same underdog's chance of beating Huppenthal, who I assume will be the Republican candidate.
That being said, I have a strong preference for Kotterman.
One thing I like about Kotterman is her lengthy classroom experience — 18 years spent at a number of levels in the K-12 system. As a 30 year veteran of the classroom, I want a Superintendent who will envision children and classrooms when making decisions, not just theory and spreadsheets.There is no substitute for a deep, personal understanding of what goes on in the classroom day by day when you're thinking about what will help move children forward academically, socially and emotionally.
Williams taught a few years (three, I think). That's valuable, but I'm not sure it's enough time for the classroom and the children to seep into his bloodstream.
I also like Kotterman's experience as a certified, "traditional" teacher over Williams' experience with Teach for America. Without getting into the pluses and minuses of Teach for America, the TFA concept is a non-traditional model where intelligent people who have a desire to teach go through a short, intensive training period, then step into the classroom.
Conservatives are pushing for all kinds of school choice models these days, including the de-professionalizing of teaching. Not all of their proposals are bad, but the motive behind their ideas is to hack away at traditional public education until they transform or destroy it.
Kotterman, because of her background, is more likely to fight smarter and harder against these incursions into this country's great but flawed tradition of public education. My concern is that Williams, because of his background, will acquiesce to conservative proposals more readily.
The same thing goes for Kotterman's tenure as President of the Arizona Education Association. She understands, as do I, that the union makes mistakes, but she also understands how important the union's role is in protecting children's educations by standing up for teachers. Our Republican legislators have a visceral hatred of the teacher's union, and pretty much all unions. If they had their way, they would not just make this a "Right to Work" state. They would ban unions entirely.
Because of her time at the helm of the AEA working with the legislature and fending off conservative attacks, Kotterman has years of experience working in the political/educational arena. She will carry that invaluable experience into the Education Superintendent's office, which will make her a stronger advocate for what's right with teachers' unions, and also put her in an excellent position to negotiate with the unions and arrive at compromises that assure the proper balance between teacher rights and teacher quality.
Finally, I trust Kotterman's seriousness and integrity. I know it's a cliche, but I think she is determined to put children first when she is in office. To be honest, I've had the chance to sit down and talk with her on a few occasions, which has led to my sense of trust in her capabilities and her determination. I've never sat down and talked with Williams. But I'm a voter who listens to his gut instincts as well as his intellect when he's selecting between two reasonably qualified candidates.
A NOTE TO COMMENTERS: I expect and welcome comments on this post. But no cheap shots. No bashing of either candidate. If you do, I'll simply delete your comment, and whatever reasonable points you made will be lost along with the slams you may have thrown in.
I've tried to be honest and fair in my endorsement. Please do the same in your comments.