More than 150 people jammed into the September 24th Arizona State Board for Education Meeting to witness or speak about proposed new academic standards. It pitted the activists wanting to move education forward with an agenda for tomorrow against the enthusiasts who wanted education to reflect the nostalgic features of yesterday.
It had one group of educators and their allies advocating for tomorrow, wearing shirts that said “students deserve an accurate science education” holding up signs before the meeting that said, “Protect Science Fact, not Science Fiction (one sign said fairy tales).” They wanted the Board of Education to approve the proposed higher and creative thinking Science and History Standards that were unmolested by the inner review team comments of the lame duck Superintendent, Diane Douglas, and her reviewers.
There was another group of educators and their allies championing yesterday, among them the recently defeated former Superintendent candidate Bob Branch, who wanted to promote a more nostalgic approach to education standards, one that is exemplified in aspects of the Hillsdale Education Program that conservative private and charter school advocates advocate. This program would take us backward to standards that somewhat emphasize more regurgitation of sanitized historical facts, is perhaps reflective of a time when people held greater traditional and devout values and is more Eurocentric (or to be cruder white-centric).
There was Republican Diane Douglas, the current Superintendent of Public Instruction, defiant in the first board meeting following her primary loss, speaking out on what she called the “fake news” and distortions depicted by journalists on her participation in the standards review and their perception of the Hillsdale Standards.
Finally, there were the two nominees to succeed Douglas, Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs who spent the first part of the meeting listening in on the board proceedings. This writer, who has interviewed Ms. Hoffman twice, joked with her that this might be a good opportunity to take measurements of the superintendent’s chair since she may be occupying it in a few months.
Drama Before the Meeting
The drama began days before the meeting with Superintendent Douglas proposing the agenda item to consider the Hillsdale Charter Standards in place of the current Arizona Standards that many local educators had worked many months on revising. These standards, the envy of conservative private and charter school educational activists like the DeVos family have generated controversy in the public school sector for its sanitized Eurocentric Humanities emphasis and overtures to sectarian sensibilities.
This move by the Superintendent, along with the revelation of the inclusion of a noted creationist in the Science Standard inner review process and the controversy with the proposed revisions by that team, infuriated mainstream public, charter, civic, and sectarian advocacy groups who packed the board meeting room before the meeting.
Those who could not fit into the room because of Fire Marshall concerns sat in the adjoining waiting room where people could wait to make a public comment or watch the proceedings on the television where the meeting was streamed on YouTube. It was telling to see one table where there were advocates of the new science standards (without the Douglas revisions,) wearing their pro-science shirts and at another table were, proponents for the traditional Hillsdale Program. All that separated both groups seated at different tables was an ATM machine. In a word, priceless.
Public Comment During the Meeting
There were roughly 50 individuals that were allowed to offer public comments during the meeting. The video links to the meeting are below. Most of the comments concerned the standards and Hillsdale. Most were well informed. There were a few that were not.
Comments for the standards and against Hillsdale
One speaker, commenting on the standards process, stated that these revisions were long overdue, noting it had been 13 years since the last modernization of the Science and History/Social Studies Standards.
In reference to the new History and Social Standards and their emphasis on promoting higher order thinking and creativity skills:
- “Less on what and more on how.”
- “Newly created history and social studies further the intent to make great citizens.”
- “How we can now use an event and apply it to what we have learned as students for citizens and careers.”
In reference to the new Science Standards, there was more comment on the proposed revisions by Superintendent Douglas and her team that needed to be taken out. Examples of this include:
- “Enough is Enough. There is no place for religious dogma in science class…”
- “ Evolution, climate change, and science facts need to stay.”
- “Creationism and Intelligent Design should not be taught on a religious basis in public schools. That is bad pedagogy and bad theology.” This comment was from a Methodist Reverend.
- “Stop putting your beliefs on our children.”
Some speakers did speak on the merit of the Science Standards. Curriculum Specialist and Educator Barbara Reinart of the Scottsdale Unified District praised the 110 science educators and organizations like the Arizona Science Education Leadership Association (AzSELA) for their contributions to the process, noting that “20,000 students would benefit from the new standards” and “if we want a tech economy, we need to have a quality scientific education program.”
The comments regarding Hillsdale were mixed. While some advocated the program because of its “classical education” aspects and its perception that its history program is “taught properly,” others ridiculed the idea, calling the standards “isolationist,” the promotion of “cultural fear,” “more curriculum than standards,” and “pro-Christian emphasis.”
A Defiant Douglas lashes out
After the public comments were given and other items on the agenda were covered, a defiant Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas lashed out at her critics on the Science and History Standards and the replacing of all the academic standards with Hillsdale.
With regard to the Science Standards, Douglas stated:
- Creationism and Intelligent Design were not in the standards.
- There is more coverage of evolution and climate change (albeit without being named) in the new proposed standards than the 2005 Science standards.
- Her goal is to promote standards that encourage thinking, questioning, and exploration as opposed to “blind acceptance.” Oh, the irony. Later she said, “kids are not being taught to think. They are being taught to emote.”
- The attacks on her and the noted creationist Dr. Joseph Kezele was “fake news” (oh the irony) and “uncalled for crudeness.”
- She is being accused of “holding Christian views” by the “secular left,” saying such “mean-spirited people should not be allowed in the classroom.”
With regard to the History and Social Studies Standards, she actually made an insightful comment, noting that those proposals with its emphasis on higher order thinking are counterproductive if not built on the solid foundation of the knowledge of historical, government, and economic facts.
With regard to replacing the current Arizona Education Standards with those from Hillsdale, Douglas backed her claim that the current state standards and attempts at reform (a trend she claimed was based on money, power, and the insane attitude of trying it again and again) had not markedly, based on test scores, improved student achievement with many children needing continual remediation even when they first attend college if they do not give up beforehand. She claimed that the Hillsdale Standards are the “gold star” in academic preparation because they are:
- Written in English and not “Educationese.”
- Has existed since 1884 and was used from the beginning to help educate women and minorities.
- Is well detailed in history and the sciences (including evolution and climate change).
- Parents, “the people who know what is best for students (unlike teachers) will be able to understand them.
She recommended that the board seriously consider the implementation of the Hillsdale Standards in place of the current Arizona ones at the October Board Meeting.
It should be noted that no other board member echoed or openly shared the Superintendent on her comments regarding the standards or replacing them with Hillsdale.
The two nominees
While in attendance, neither Kathy Hoffman or Frank Riggs asked to be heard and they had both left before Superintendent Douglas spoke. In an email response to a query sent before the meeting, Ms. Hoffman relayed that she did not think “the board will pass either of the suggested changes because it undercuts extensive work from educators and field experts on our state standards. It would create chaos for schools to implement such drastic changes to the state standards.” Mr. Riggs has not given any comment on Hillsdale but has given mixed responses in two education debates (see the Sunday Square Off Link below) on the teaching of Creationism/Intelligent Design in the classroom.
While Superintendent Douglas did make some valid points on the need for students to have a strong foundation on facts while mastering higher order thinking skills included in state standards (we do not want local districts across the state repeating the Texas mistake of omitting key historical figures at random like Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller), the State Board would be wise to adopt the new standards in Science and History and Social Studies because they will better prepare students for tomorrow. It is perfectly acceptable if there are features from other standards like Hillsdale or other states that can positively reinforce the proposed standards. Those should be considered. What should also be considered to make the educational experience better for our children tomorrow and the day after is restoring the joy of learning, increasing time on task possibly by having longer school years and days that will allow more exposure to the Humanities and Sciences, and properly compensating our teachers and staff while showing them the respect and appreciation they deserve.