With the defeat of incumbent Jaime Molera in the primary, the race for superintendent of public instruction is between Jay Blanchard, who won the Democratic primary; Tom Horne, the Republican who ousted Molera; and Libertarian John C. Zajac.
Blanchard, who has a Ph.D. in reading education, was elected to the state senate in 2000. He has written widely on education and his books, articles and speeches have focused on teaching and learning.
For the last 30 years, the 55-year-old Gilbert resident has taught in classrooms around the state including teaching Arizona's teachers as a professor at Arizona State University.
"From Peach Springs to Tuba City, from Yuma to Willcox, from Phoenix to Tucson, I have been in Arizona classrooms working with teachers and students," said Blanchard. "I know Arizona education from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the legislature."
The candidate emphasizes the need to improve learning, enhance school discipline, increase parental involvement, and reduce the dropout rate.
"I consider our local school boards as part of the solution not part of the problem," Blanchard said. "The preemption of local school board control by state government is not acceptable. I believe local school boards understand the education challenges of their communities better than the Arizona Department of Education."
Blanchard also believes that parents must play a major role in the education of their children.
"Successful schools and excellence in achievement come from dedicated teachers, motivated students and parents who support both," he said.
Republican candidate Tom Horne has been a member of the Paradise Valley School Board for 24 years and served in the state legislature from 1996-2000.
A lawyer, Horne believes the superintendent of education must constantly emphasize academic excellence in schools. He also feels schools must emphasize discipline.
"Students interfering in the learning of others will not be tolerated," he said as a school board member.
Horne also promises to work to limit administrative costs to no more than 5 percent of any school district's budget. He claims to have demonstrated the efficacy of such an achievement in his own school district where administrative costs have been reduced to 2.7 percent.
As State Superintendent, Horne also promises to have all students reading by the third grade. "I will see that it happens by giving special attention to those children who need it, and by insisting that students not enter fourth grade unless they can read," he said.
In a philosophy statement Horne penned for the Paradise Valley Unified School District, he wrote, "We will not compromise with mediocrity, no matter the occasion of excuse. We categorically reject the lax standards that have infected American public education, and affirm that the greatest satisfactions are to be found in the hard work necessary to reach standards of excellence."
Libertarian candidate John C. Zajac is secretary of that party.
He believes the solution to Arizona's "abysmal" education system as evidenced by a high school graduation rate of 65 percent is competition. As it exists now, the state's school system is a monopoly run by the government, an education model borrowed from Russia and other socialist and totalitarian states.
"Under our constitution and enabling act, public education must be nearly free and controlled by the state," Zajac said. "But these conditions don't preclude creating a new system of school choice where every parent in the state will receive a voucher to send their child to the school of their choice."
Zajac also advocates eliminating the state teacher licensing system, calling it a scam to keep supply low and salaries high.
"Teaching is a talent," he said. "Good ones you keep; bad ones you fire."
Some other thoughts by Zajac include:
The state's AIMS test should be one of a variety of tests parents can choose from to determine what and how well their kids are learning.
State teacher licensing should be eliminated. University education degrees are a union scheme, Zajac said.
The state's new student-tracking computer program is like having Big Brother looking over a child's shoulder. The system, which is nearly up and running, determines where each Arizona student is attending school.