The contrast between candidates Cathy Jo Alberson and William P. Soules for the District 37 senate seat appeared in the Sun-News’s 1 October article and endorsement, and at the candidates’ debate on 3 October. I found neither the paper’s unexplained “fresh perspective” opinion of Alberson credible (she is the Second Vice Chair of the Dona Ana Republican Party—a fact not disclosed in her candidate’s bio), nor its once-convicted-always-a-convict opinion of Soules sensible (he and all other school board members violated an open meetings provision a decade ago).
The debate did a better job of giving an overall impression of what the candidates know or do not know about one of their most important issues: education. However, platitudes about its importance or recitations of K-12 problems should satisfy no one; only their proposed solutions should.
The candidates’ websites contain statements more or less detailed on education. I make allowances for their decisions to write long or short, specific or general, statements in this format. Even so, Alberson’s statement is inadequate because it mentions only one problem, literacy, and only one solution, third-grade retention. She gives no information about her qualifications or experience in public education. Soules’s statement links problems to solutions: curriculum enrichment, teacher support, educational leadership, and affordability of higher education. He details his qualifications and experience.
The differences in qualifications and experience are stark. Alberson has a degree in finance and a background in business. She has no formal training or professional experience in education, and homeschools her children—a significant but undisclosed fact with two implications. One, she has no parental experience with public or private school education. Two, for reasons unexplained, she finds schools not suited to her children’s needs or not to her liking. She is not alone in her concerns about the content or quality of public education. But her lack of training, experience, information, understanding, and empathy regarding public education makes her unprepared to address statewide issues and unsympathetic to constituent interests. Worse, given campaign funds from the Tea Party and the governor’s PAC, she likely shares their rigid political ideology on educational issues and, in the absence of a background in public education, would likely take direction from them on appointments and legislation.
Soules has considerable training and experience in public education. He has three degrees, including a Ph.D. in psychology and education. He has been a teacher, a school administrator, and a member of the LCPS School Board and the DACC Advisory Board. This range of experience indicates a long-term involvement with, and commitment to, public education as well as knowledge of the connections between education and jobs. Even in his relatively short statements of positions, he reveals a solid understanding of diverse and complex educational issues at all levels. He also shows an awareness of the level of expenditures on public education and the need to control costs. I am neither surprised nor dismayed that the NEA and the teachers union support his candidacy because his approaches and positions, developed long before this campaign, suggest independent thinking which happens to coincide with, not comply, with theirs.
I invited both candidates to detail their views on education at my favorite restaurant for face-to-face interviews, Ciro’s. I said that I would focus on education but ask some questions on a different subject (to see how they handled an issue involving conflicting values). My education questions were simple ones: What are your first three areas of concern, and what legislation would you propose or support to address them.
Alberson did not meet me for an interview. Last week, she accepted my invitation, then postponed it because of death and illness in her extended family. Tuesday morning, she scheduled a Wednesday meeting, then Tuesday evening abruptly cancelled it without explanation. She did not respond to my query what was I to think. But I think that I know what to think. Alberson is a stealth candidate who knows little or conceals much about her positions on education and sensitive social issues; see my blog next week).
Soules’s three areas covered different aspects of major issues with public education: funding, accountability, and emphasis. The first is state funding of local districts. Soules believes that difference among districts require an abandonment of top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches. Districts should receive block grants with general criteria to enable accountability. The second is state evaluation of teachers. Soules believes that teacher evaluation should be adapted to local circumstances, and multi-dimensional, with student performance as measured by test scores one part of the overall evaluation. The third is the attention and resources given to technical/vocational education. Soules believes that a greater jobs-skills orientation in K-12 public education will, on balance, do more for the future employment of more students than the preparation of students for the college-preparatory track.
The choice between these contrasting candidates is clear and all yours.