Grading Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Common Core

Doug Ducey at a campaign rally in Phoenix, AZ.Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)
Doug Ducey at a campaign rally in Phoenix, AZ.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Editor’s note: Below is a Common Core report card on Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) complied by Lisa Hudson, an attorney and mother who is a leader fighting Common Core with Arizonans Against Common Core.

1. Has he spoken out and acted against Common Core?

Governor Ducey’s 2014 campaign platform mirrored that of every Republican gubernatorial candidate across the country; the economy, jobs, immigration, and shrinking government, to name a few.  The most hotly contested issue on the would-be governor’s platform was the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the impact of federal government intrusion in matters of local authority.  It was an issue that had the potential to make or break a candidate’s campaign, and it remains an issue that will impact a governor’s legacy.  Common Core had divided voters on both sides of the political spectrum, and the aspiring governor’s position was clear.  He opposed Common Core and was going to do something about it.

At every opportunity along the campaign trail, then-candidate Ducey expressed his anti-Common Core sentiments.  His website lauded plans to “…. resist overreach from the federal government, including Common Core, and protect our schools from federal intrusion into the state and local responsibility of local education.”

As Ducey stumped through Arizona in quest of the governorship, he used anti-Common Core rhetoric to boost his popularity and lead him to a comfortable win.  Unfortunately, that was the last voters heard of “overreach” and “federal intrusion”.  Almost immediately, the freshly minted governor appointed Common Core cheerleader Lisa Graham Keegan to his subcommittee on education.  He also appointed Matthew Ladner to the subcommittee.  Ladner is a close associate of Jeb Bush, whose stance on Common Core was an albatross around his neck throughout his failed bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

Now, more than a year later, the Governor looks more like an establishment Republican politician who won’t publically embrace national standards, but hasn’t exactly fought valiantly against them.  Politicians have short memories when it comes to campaign promises.  Ducey, who had no real political experience until his run for Treasurer in 2010, seems no different.

In March 2015, legislation was proposed to repeal and replace the already beleaguered Common Core.  HB2190 passed in the House, and the Senate Education Committee.  The bill had strong support from parents, teachers, and, obviously, legislators.  Governor Ducey, however, came out against HB2190, going so far as saying he would not support a legislative effort to eliminate the standards.

“I don’t think that legislation is necessary because we’re going to fix what’s wrong with these standards,” Ducey told reporters after speaking before the state Board of Education, referring to Common Core as a “distraction.”  Not surprisingly, the bill died in the Senate following a 16-13 vote.  In the end, Common Core survived at the hands of Governor Ducey.

To appease the vocal bill supporters, and because standards “review” remains the soup du jour of governors throughout the country, Ducey ordered the State Board of Education to “redevelop” statewide academic standards and assessments.  An Education Standards Development Committee was created with instructions from the Governor: “Begin by reviewing the English language, arts and mathematics standards in their entirety to ensure that our children are well-served by the standards you develop with full transparency, standards that are Arizona’s standards.  In any instance during your review you find situations where Arizona standards can outperform or improve our current standards, I ask you recommend replacement immediately.”

Curiously, on the same day Ducey made the token gesture to review standards, he told reporters that Arizona would keep the AzMERIT; the standardized test adopted by the Board of Education to assess students on the Common Core standards.  “AzMERIT is going to be in all our schools,” he said. “And it’s going to continue to be in all our schools.”  He suggested the vocal objections to the standards were, “misdirected and mistaken.”

Ducey’s comments back-peddled from his original anti- Common Core rhetoric and dug Arizona deeper into an education quagmire.  While he came out of the blocks solidly opposed to Common Core, and later ordered a review of the standards, nothing has been done to move the process forward and parents remain under considerable stress as testing season begins again.  The conflicting messages bear significantly on his score.

Grade:  D+

2. Does he understand and has he made a specific commitment to protect state and local control of education from further federal intrusion?

Anything Governor Ducey has done or said since taking office has been little more than lip service.  Ducey wanted Washington out of local education decision making but overlooked (ignored?) an early opportunity to cancel Arizona’s Memorandum of Understanding with the National Governor’s Association (NGA), and the Chief Counsel of State School Officers (CCSSO), signed by then-Governor Jan Brewer, and former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne.  While the point is now moot pursuant to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it highlights the Governor’s tendency to tread water on the issue and keep Arizona bound to the Common Core machine.

With the bell tolled on HB2190, Governor Ducey ordered the creation of the Standards Development Committee (see above), but failed to put a timeline in place for completion of the review.  At a recent meeting of committee members, Arizona Department of Education representative, Carol Lippert, stated that they are “. . . only now starting on the standards,” and have “…really just begun to do the revision.”  One year later, the committee’s failure to carry out the Governor’s order is obstructionist.  Governor Ducey is aware no progress has been made yet has withheld public comment.  His silence is deafening: Common Core is going nowhere fast.

On a side note, in March 2015, a little known bill passed unanimously in the Senate.  Ostensibly, the bill was designed to add a small business owner to the governor’s Regulatory Review Council.  A floor amendment in the Senate expanded the governor’s authority to remove board and commission appointees – including those previously appointed by other governors and whose jobs were protected by the length of their terms.  The bill, signed in to law by the governor in April 2015, makes the members of government entities at-will employees; including the State Board of Education.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s Deputy Chief of Staff, said, “Ultimately the governor is held to account for the conduct and performance of these boards and commissions, so it stands to reason that he has the ability to get rid of bad apples.”

If ever there was a bad apple on a state board, it would be the President of the State Board of Education and appointee of former Governor Jan Brewer, Greg Miller.  Miller sat on the Board of Education when the standards were adopted.  He has been a staunch (and caustic) proponent ever since, breeding hostility between board members and fighting to maintain Common Core at every turn.

Governor Ducey, despite statutory authority, has not removed the virulent Miller.  In fact, there are currently three open seats on the State Board of Education to which the Governor needs to make appointments.  It’s unclear why he hasn’t filled the positions, but his failure to do so begs the question: what, exactly, is he hoping to avoid?

The current legislative session has been equally disappointing for voters who trusted the Governor’s promises.  Strongly backed by voters, SB1455 would have allowed a parental opt out of state standardized testing without subjecting parents and/or students to punitive actions.  The bill died on the senate floor, but has been brought back for reconsideration.  Sources say Governor Ducey will veto the bill if it lands on his desk, which has made it difficult to secure the necessary votes.  This isn’t the first education bill to die a mysterious death once the Governor hints he won’t sign it.

Another education bill proposes to override the will of the voters and strip power from Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, under the guise of “clarifying” duties.  There is no love lost between the establishment Governor and a Superintendent who has been very proactive in her mission to remove Common Core from the state and reinstate local control. After legislative maneuvering, a new bill number, and a 20-page amendment, the bill was released to the House Education Committee after subtle pressure from both the Senate President and the Governor’s office, according to sources.  The bill has since been held in committee after it was vehemently opposed by voters.  But given the bad blood brewing between Ducey and the one person who has publically called him out for his failure to fight federal intrusion in education, no one will be surprised if it eventually resurfaces.

Governor Ducey has continued to disappoint his constituents and can no longer be seen as friendly to the grassroots effort to remove the standards and maintain local control of education.  If anything, his actions paint him as strongly in favor of Common Core despite claims to the contrary.  Looking ahead, the Next Generation Science Standards have been released by the CCSSO and the NGA.  Arizona has not adopted them as of this writing.  Whether Governor Ducey takes a stand against adoption of another Common Core standard, or whether he will contine to tread water remains to be seen.

Grade:  D+

3. What efforts has the Governor made to protect student and family privacy interests against the rising demands of industry and central planners for more personal student data?

Governor Ducey has done nothing to protect students and their families from data collection and release of personally identifiable information.  Not just a little nothing.  A lot of nothing.

In April 2015, a group of grassroots lobbyists met with the Governor to put together a plan to remove the Common Core standards from Arizona.  During that meeting, Governor Ducey was questioned about the Arizona Department of Education’s ongoing release of student personally identifiable information (PII) to third parties without parental consent.  The governor seemed generally uninformed on the issue, but promised to investigate.

About two months later, the governor spoke at a luncheon of southern Arizona constituents and afterwards made himself available for questions.  Referring back to the April meeting, I personally asked the governor what actions, if any, he had taken to protect the privacy of Arizona students and their parents from the release of their private, personal information.  Governor Ducey dodged the question by pointing the finger of responsibility at another un-named “duly elected official.”  It didn’t take algorithms or data points to identify the official about whom he was speaking, or to recognize how uncomfortable the question made him in a room full of his constituents, most of them parents and grandparents.  Suffice it to say, an investigation has not taken place.

The Governor has never made a public comment about the need to protect students from intrusive data collection or the release of personally identifiable information without parental consent; the proliferation of which has continued under his leadership.  On a positive note, the grassroots movement was allowed to weigh in on proposed online student data privacy legislation, which allowed a successful push back on legislation that left a gaping hole in privacy protection.

As concerns over student privacy are mounting, Arizona has an opportunity to lead the fight to protect students and their families, as well as teachers, from the invasive collection and distribution of private data.  Governor Ducey has all but ignored the dilemma facing parents whose children’s privacy is at risk, only avoiding a failing grade in this category by giving activists notice of a bill that would have further compromised student privacy.

Grade: D

Conclusion

Overall, Governor Ducey has failed in his handling of the most sweeping and disastrous changes in education policy in history.  The strings attached to education funding turned states into puppets of the Department of Education.  Voters believed the Governor’s campaign rhetoric that Arizona would not be held hostage to what he referred to as “purchased obedience.”  But his promises have amounted to nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors.  Governor Ducey is a darling of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Chamber loves Common Core.  The Governor would have to make a nearly 180 degree shift in his allegiance to the Chamber and make voter’s concerns his priority before his score could improve.  At this time, a change seems unlikely.

Ending the Common Core System: D+
Protecting State and Local Decision Making: D+
Protecting Child and Family Privacy: D

Overall Grade: D+