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Would Douglas’ stand against Common Core doom the standards?

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PHOENIX – If her current lead holds, Arizona will elect as superintendent of public instruction a tea party Republican who has made eliminating the state’s version of the Common Core State Standards central to her campaign.

Diane Douglas’ stance on the Common Core has aroused concerns among education advocates and contributed to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s decision to endorse Democrat David Garcia.

Should Douglas win, does that mean she could eliminate Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards?

The short answer: No, at least not on her own.

The superintendent of public instruction’s role is implementing policies, including the decision to adopt the Common Core standards, that have been approved by the State Board of Education. The superintendent is among the board’s 11 members but has just one vote.

“Regardless of who is the superintendent, the fact remains that it is the State Board of Education’s role in what the state standards are going to be,” said Jonathan Butcher, education director at Goldwater Institute, an independent group that advocates for limited government. “It is not as though any superintendent could simply flip a switch when they walk in and Common Core would disappear.”

However, Douglas could use the position to influence the Legislature, according to Chris Thomas, the Arizona School Boards Association’s director of legal and policy services and general counsel. While the State Board of Education determines the standards, the Legislature also has the authority to step in and make a final decision if needed, Thomas said.

“As superintendent, you’re the implementer,” Thomas said. “But she also has the power of the pulpit in her position, so she could certainly work with the Legislature, people of same mind, to change some things.”

Douglas didn’t respond to an interview request by late Wednesday, and an aide said Garcia wouldn’t comment while the race was undecided.

There has been some sentiment among conservatives in the Legislature for doing away with the Common Core standards, with Republicans offering several unsuccessful bills during the last session.

A bill by Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, that would have prevented the state Department of Education, Board of Education and schools superintendent from adopting federally mandated educational standards, curricula or instructional approaches made it to Gov. Jan Brewer, who vetoed it.

What Republican Doug Ducey, Arizona’s incoming governor, may do about Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards remains to be seen. He told The Arizona Republic in March that while education standards are important and necessary, “Ideally, such standards should come from the state itself and not be imposed top-down from Washington.”

Earlier this week the State Board of Education adopted AzMERIT, an assessment that will replace the AIMS test. Thomas said it’s been a long process preparing districts for the Common Core standards, from investing in professional development for teachers to adopting the new assessment test.

“We’re in midstream at this point, and if we were to stop that right away, it would be very disruptive to the learning environment for our students,” Thomas said.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have have adopted the Common Core standards, a state-led initiative to establish the English and math benchmarks schoolchildren should meet at the end of each grade. The goals include better preparing students for college and ensuring consistency of instruction.

Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, a nonprofit education advocacy organization, said that some schools that were early adopters have been using the standards for almost four years.

“We need to stay focused,” Esau said. “I think the most helpful thing for Arizona students and educators right now is to stay the course and allow them the space, the time, and provide them the resources they need to implement the standards effectively and to move forward.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry plans to work with the winner of the superintendent race, said Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of government relations and communications. He said the chamber supports the standards and would encourage the new superintendent not to go back on them.

“While we have some policy differences with her (Douglas), I expect that we’re going to be able to have a productive working relationship,” he said.