The Star endorses Penny Kotterman for state superintendent of public instruction. Her combination of teaching and managerial experience grounds her in both the challenges facing the classrooms of Arizona's public schools and the big picture of improving the entire education system.
Kotterman, a Democrat, is running against John Huppenthal, a Republican state senator who has served as the Senate Education Committee chairman. Each offers a distinct vision for education in Arizona. Kotterman's dedication to public education is more substantive and is better for kids and the state.
Kotterman's real-world experience in the classroom gives her insight that recent state superintendents have lacked. Instead of coming from a purely managerial or ideological bent, she knows what has worked and what hasn't - and, more importantly, she understands that one size in education most certainly does not fit all.
Additionally, Kotterman knows the limits of the state superintendent's authority and supports local control of school districts by their elected governing boards, which are empowered to set policy and curriculum. Huppenthal pledges, according to one radio ad, to home in on the Tucson Unified School District and stop what he thinks is wrong with it - a campaign pitch appropriate for a seat on the TUSD Governing Board, but certainly not the state superintendent.
Kotterman has led the Arizona Education Association, which is the state teachers union, and her time there gives her insight into how state policy plays out in schools and how decisions made by the State Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction directly affect kids. We are confident she will draw on her full experience and develop ways to improve teaching, but also find methods of getting ineffective teachers out of the profession.
One of Kotterman's strongest assets is her focus not only on knowing how kids and schools are performing now, but moving the conversation forward to figuring out what works and replicating it. She does not advocate top-down edicts that require every school to use the same lock-step education approaches, instead believing that the state superintendent and Board of Education should set the benchmarks for student outcomes - students must know x-y-z - and "let school districts decide how to get there."
If a particular method isn't showing progress in educating kids, then it should be discontinued. But if a method is successful, it should be copied, she said.
Arizona has been a laboratory for experiments with public education. We were an early adopter of charter schools, and while a few have been highly successful, most show no better performance on state standardized tests than traditional schools. Kotterman rightly advocates more scrutiny of how charter-school operators use state money - many directors pay themselves handsome salaries, for example - but she supports the concept of charter schools to offer families choices within public education.
What Kotterman does not advocate, and what Huppenthal does, is allowing taxpayers to give money to private-school tuition organizations and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. This siphons millions of dollars out of the state's general fund and away from the large majority of Arizona kids who attend public schools.
Arizona was also ahead of the game with publicly labeling schools and evaluating them based in large part on students' test scores. For years the state and school districts have tracked kids' performance and measured schools' ability to make kids achieve. We know the results, and they're not good.
Arizona needs a plan to drastically improve public education for every child, in every school. Kotterman is the best person to lead the fight.
Arizona Daily Star