The two Democrats running for state schools superintendent took turns Monday night lashing out at Tom Horne.
Jason Williams and Slade Mead each chided the Republican incumbent for his support of AIMS as a graduation requirement, as well as his decision to fight a federal judge’s order that the state isn’t spending enough money to teach English to students for whom it is not a primary language.
The challengers argued that Horne, elected state superintendent of public instruction in 2002, lacks the leadership to run the state’s 1.1 million-student public school system.
The pair disagreed on only a few issues during a televised debate. But Williams said he has something in his background to give him the edge: He’s been a teacher and has served as executive director of the Phoenix chapter of Teach for America, which encourages new college graduates to teach in rural and inner-city public schools.
“I really think we have to ask ourselves the question of who should lead Arizona schools moving forward: Another politician or an experienced educator?” he asked. “Isn’t it time our state school superintendent was a public school teacher?”
Mead, by contrast, is a sports agent.
But Mead cited his experience not only as someone with children in the public school system — Williams is single — but also as a school board member, sitting on the state Readiness Board and serving on the Senate Education Committee for two years as state senator.
“One thing I can bring to the table is bringing people who I know and have worked with to the table to try to fix some of these problems,” he said.
Mead called Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards a “charade,” pointing out that the test was revised and the minimum passing score was lowered before the diploma requirement kicked in for this year’s senior class. He also was critical of a legislative decision to award students bonus points for A, B or C grades.
He claimed that all those adjustments mean someone actually could pass the math portion by correctly answering as few as six of the 56 questions.
Horne, however, opposed lowering the passing score, which was approved by the state Board of Education. Horne said he was outvoted by appointees of Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.
Williams said there is nothing wrong with AIMS — as long as it’s used solely as a “diagnostic tool.”