Arizona education system in trouble... yet again

Last week Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas's top aide fired two Arizona Board of Education administrators, Christine Thompson and Sabrina Vasquez, both of whom openly supported the new Common Core standards. The recent firings were almost immediately deemed as a huge overreach on the part of the Superintendent.

Gov. Doug Ducey responded on Thursday by overturning the firings, saying Douglas had no legal right to fire the administrators without the permission of the Board of Education. This in turn sparked a response from Douglas stating that Ducey "thinks that he is both governor and superintendent." Douglas still stands by her decision, maintaining that she was well within her constitutional authority.

All in all, the recent drama has resulted in a government pissing contest, with each side standing firm in their decisions. A special meeting was even scheduled Friday to officially reinstate Thompson and Vasquez. The vote was almost unanimous, with Douglas being the only member with a dissenting vote.

While this drama was going on, the importance of their decisions was lost on both Ducey and Douglas. Both government officials seemed to lose track of what was really important — the Arizona education system. Instead of focusing on education, the fight quickly changed into a struggle for power.

Both Ducey and Douglas were completely uninterested in what the firings would mean for Arizona but were completely wrapped up in who had what power. This struggle perfectly illustrates the problem Arizona is facing. More often than not, Arizona officials seem more interested in making political statements than in enacting actual change.

The only reason education was even mentioned during this power struggle was in an attempt to gain legitimacy. The word "education" quickly lost all of its meaning in this fight and became a thinly veiled tactic used to undermine the other side.

This became perfectly clear when Ducey's office released a statement that said the governor "will continue working every day to improve educational outcomes for every Arizona child, and he hopes she joins that conversation." While this sentiment may seem great on paper, there is something inherently fake about it and for whatever reason, it reads more like a jab than a promise for progress.

Ducey's hypocrisy is made even more apparent when his current budget is taken into account. Ducey reaffirms his status as a budget hawk with his current plan to slash $384 million. In his plan, Ducey plans to slash $75 million from Arizona's public schools while budgeting $5 million for a new private prison. So while Ducey can talk all day about improving outcomes in education, when push comes to shove, education is the first thing to be cut.

This most recent struggle in the education system is not the fight between good and bad that most people hope that it would be. Instead, it is a struggle between two people who have no right to claim the moral high ground. Douglas did not have the right to fire two high-ranking administrators without the approval of the Board of Education, and Ducey cannot claim to support education when his politics do not back up his claims.

In this struggle between two wrongs, the Arizona education system is again left to suffer. Currently, there are no high ranking government officials willing to put aside their political differences — weird, since they're not crossing party lines — and work toward improving our education system. As long as people like Ducey and Douglas keep distracting the public from the very real problems facing our education system, students in Arizona will continue to suffer.


Reach the columnist at Alec.Grafil@asu.edu or follow @AlecGrafil on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.