PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal said Tuesday that he's still a strong backer of the state's new Common Core education standards and that he didn't flip-flop on that support during a recent debate.
Huppenthal sent out a video message Tuesday is an effort to walk back from a broad denunciation of the new standards he made at a debate last week with Republican primary challenger Diane Douglas. In answering a debate question, Huppenthal said he "never supported the Common Core standards."
That was a major change from the vigorous defense of the standards Huppenthal has put on for years that left Douglas "thunderstruck."
"Mr. Huppenthal says that he doesn't support Common Core standards," she said at the debate. "But we have a long 3 1/2 year history of him being out, going around this state and telling people that these are the standards that we absolutely have to have for our children need those standards."
Douglas is mounting a strong challenge to Huppenthal for superintendent of public instruction. Douglas didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday. Douglas strongly opposes Common Core, calling it a federal takeover of local schools.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Huppenthal said he did not change his position or `flip-flop" but was merely using precise definitions on an extremely complex subject.
He made a distinction between Common Core standards and Arizona's standards, renamed amid a conservative outcry last year as Arizona's Career and College Ready Standards. There's no difference between the two standards, which have been adopted by most states and were approved by the state Board of Education with little opposition in 2010.
"The context is everything," Huppenthal said. "And the confusion around and the impressions that are formed about the standards means that you have to define exactly what you're talking about. And in that debate I defined exactly what I was talking about."
Huppenthal's new statement says he supports the reading and math standards in place now. But he says he's fighting other standards for history and science. In the debate, he also said he stripped out controversial titles from literature readings lists.
"In the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, I support sound standards like using phonics to teach reading proficiency, letter identification, and learning multiplication facts by third grade. These are excellent standards," Huppenthal said. "However, I will always oppose any standard that presents an unbalanced debate on scientific topics like climate change, and I will always oppose any standard aimed at denigrating our Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution."
Huppenthal's denunciation of Common Core at the Aug. 5 debate came after he spent the last couple of years defending it from attack by opponents who believe they are a federal intrusion into the education system. In late June, at a press conference where he apologized for posting anonymous blog posts denigrating welfare recipients and other postings that were seen by some as racist, he said politicians across the country "folded like wet paper bags," when faced with critics of the standards.
"I didn't fold," Huppenthal said. "I went out there and I fought for our education system. And I fought for a set of standards that I independently came to the conclusion were a solid set of standards."
On Tuesday, Huppenthal said he would "oppose any law that removes responsibility for curriculum choices from local school districts and boards and charter schools. He also said he planned to partner with the next governor to review the standards."
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