Schools chief candidates face off in debate

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PHOENIX (AP) — The candidates for Arizona's top education post sparred over the future of new academic standards known as Common Core during a televised debate Thursday, with Republican Diane Douglas calling them untested and unproven and Democrat David Garcia saying repealing them would be a step backward.

Douglas beat Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal in the primary while focusing on repealing the standards adopted in 2010.

"It's not going to prepare our kids the way it needs to. It's untested, unproven, it hasn't been shown to be internationally benchmarked," Douglas said of Common Core. "We were made a lot of promises in the beginning when it was put in place sight unseen, and that's not going to help our children."

David Garcia said backing away from Common Core would allow children elsewhere to jump ahead of Arizona's youth academically.

"What education is about is moving forward, new ideas, new questions, better answers, and the opportunities for our students to go out and find new ways," Garcia said. "That's what all of our discoveries are about."

Many members of the GOP establishment have endorsed Garcia because of his Republican opponent's strong opposition to Common Core, and Garcia noted that during the debate.

"Even within my opponent's party, her position is extreme," Garcia said. "Folks are ready to implement the high academic standards in the way that is best for Arizona. States developed these standards. States can change them."

Douglas disagreed, calling the standards federally driven and the core issue for the general election. She's called the tracking of student information in the standards something that communist China would do.

"The issue of this debate, this election, is who controls the education of our children," she said. "Is it is the Washington insiders and special interests of corporate America, or is it the parents of Arizona?"

Garcia, who has two school-age daughters, pushed back.

"If high academic standards were top-down, federally driven, akin to communist China, I would be against them as well," he said. "The reality is that's not what they are. What academic standards are are simply what students need to know and be able to do at the end of each grade level."

Douglas, a former Peoria School Board member, said she's worked on budgets and helped cut administrative costs. She beat incumbent Huppenthal after he was hurt by his admission that he made offensive anonymous comments on the Internet. He also was a strong supporter of Common Core, and Douglas focused her campaign on repealing the Obama administration-supported Common Core standards.

Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University, is a former associate superintendent of public instruction. He worked for the state education department and was a state Senate analyst. He's been endorsed by three former state superintendents of public instruction, one a Democrat and two who served as Republicans, and the Republican-leaning Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The superintendent has a large role in determining state education policy along with the governor, the Legislature and the state Board of Education. The superintendent is a Board of Education member and oversees the state Department of Education, whose main job is to funnel funding to school districts and charter schools.

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