Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #24

Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s 14,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over grouping higher-performing students into separate classes 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Oklahoma State Board of Education censures two school districts for violating state law
  • Three Republicans ran in Aug. 2 primary for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction; incumbent Kathy Hoffman unopposed in Democratic primary 
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey
  • School board candidates per seat up for election

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On the issues

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

The debate over grouping higher-performing students into separate classes

Educators and policymakers have long debated whether grouping higher-performing students into separate, more challenging classes (also known as tracking) is a good policy. For example, in 2014, the San Francisco Unified School District implemented a detracking policy that eliminated accelerated math classes in middle school, prompting concern from some parents. In 2021, the California Department of Education proposed a similar change in a draft of non-binding math guidelines. Those guidelines are still being debated today. 

In this section, we’ll look at two perspectives on the issue. 

Frederick Hess writes that higher-performing students should have opportunities to take more challenging courses. Hess says eliminating gifted programs from public schools would hold back students who master content and would reduce opportunities for low-income students to excel since they would not have the financial resources to switch to a more challenging private school.

Jo Boaler writes that school districts like San Francisco Unified that eliminated or partially eliminated gifted programs experienced improvements in achievement. Boaler says separating students into different classes teaches them that they have fixed abilities and are not capable of excelling in a subject. 

Gifted Education Is Under Attack | Frederick Hess, Forbes

“Of course, gifted programs should be inclusive and should be reformed as necessary to ensure that they are. At the same time, Nobel laureate David Card has concluded that ‘a separate classroom environment is more effective for’ gifted learners—especially those who are disadvantaged. … It’s useful to ground this discussion by asking two straightforward questions. First, when it comes to chess, soccer, trumpet, singing, or dance, do some children have exceptional gifts and stand to benefit from exceptionally challenging instruction? Second, does this also apply to endeavors like writing, algebra, and biology? If one accepts that people are born with an array of talents, and that students and society benefit when schools cultivate those talents, the conversation about gifted education should be how to do it fairly, responsibly, and effectively. Unfortunately, de Blasio-style attacks on gifted education are likely to disappoint on all of those grounds. After all, when schools abandon gifted learners, affluent families have options: They’ll move their kids to private schools or pony up for tutors, enrichment programs, and online courses. It’s low-income students who will get lost along the way.”

OPINION: Separating ‘gifted’ children hasn’t led to better achievement | Jo Boaler, The Hechinger Report

“Many believe that children learn more effectively in schools or classes with similar learners, but are they right? … [A]fter San Francisco Unified de-tracked math, the proportion of students failing algebra fell from 40 percent to 8 percent and the proportion of students taking advanced classes rose to a third, the highest percentage in district history. … Eight Bay Area school districts found similar results when they de-tracked middle-school mathematics and provided professional development to teachers. In 2014, 63 percent of students were in advanced classes, whereas in 2015 only 12 percent were in advanced classes and everyone else was taking Math 8. … Why do these results arise? It seems to make sense that learners who are ready for different content are grouped together, and students who are high-achieving push ahead and take advanced classes, but there’s a problem with such an approach. We are at a point where the negative impacts of fixed-ability thinking are undeniable. And when we separate students into different classes, the message we send them is that their ability is fixed. When students, instead, embrace the knowledge that there are no limits to their learning, outcomes improve.”

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on all of the roughly 14,000 districts with elected school boards.

States with school board filing deadlines in the next 30 days   


The filing deadline for districts holding Nov. 8 general elections is Aug. 12. However, candidates have an additional five days to file if no incumbents file by Aug. 12. The extended deadline does not apply if the incumbent is not eligible to run for re-election. Click here to see a full list of districts whose general elections we’re covering Nov. 8. 

Upcoming school board elections


We’re covering the following school board general elections on Aug. 4.


We’re covering the following school board primary elections on Aug. 9.


We’re covering school board primary elections in 24 districts on Aug. 23. Click here for a full list of districts. 

Oklahoma State Board of Education censures two school districts for violating state law 

On July 28, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-2 to downgrade the accreditation status of Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools. The Board said the districts violated a 2021 law supporters say prohibits the teaching of critical race theory. 

The Board’s action against Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools is the first time the law has been enforced in the state. 

The Board downgraded Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools from “accredited” to “accredited with warning” for incidents this year and in 2021. The Tulsa Public Schools 2021 incident stemmed from a high school teacher’s complaint that mandatory staff training material contained “statements that specifically shame white people for past offenses in history, and state that all are implicitly racially biased by nature.” The Board downgraded Mustang Public Schools because of a teacher’s January 2022 anti-bullying lesson. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed HB 1775 into law on May 7, 2021. HB 1775 includes a list of concepts teachers, administrators, and other school staff are prohibited from including in courses, such as the idea that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” and “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” 

When he signed HB 1775, Stitt said, “I firmly believe that not one cent of tax payer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.”

Brad Clark, the general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Education, advised downgrading Tulsa Public Schools to “accredited with deficiencies,” a less severe demotion than “accredited with warning.” Board member Brian Bobek, however, said the violation was serious enough to warrant a stronger response. Board member Estela Hernandez, who voted for the demotion, later said the Board’s decision was “sufficient in this case because we need to send a message that the deliberate breaking of the law needs to be on probation.”

Board members said they voted to downgrade Mustang Public Schools to “accredited with warning” to stay consistent with the decision they made about Tulsa Public Schools. 

Two board members voted against downgrading the districts, including Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Carlisha Bradley. Hoffmeister said, “The penalties are heavily weighted against Tulsa Public Schools because of an obsession or peculiar focus that the governor has with them and their superintendent. And then Mustang became collateral damage.”

The districts have one year to make changes and improve their accreditation status. The Oklahoma Department of Education could revoke the districts’ accreditation altogether if more violations occur, forcing the districts to close. 

Three Republicans ran in Aug. 2 primary for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction; incumbent Kathy Hoffman unopposed in Democratic primary

Arizona held Republican and Democratic primaries for superintendent of public instruction on Aug. 2. Incumbent Kathy Hoffman (D) ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Three candidates appeared on the ballot in the Republican primary—Tom Horne, Shiry Sapir, and Michelle Udall. Tiffany Asch and Kara Woods ran as write-in candidates in the Republican primary. 

As of this writing, the Republican primary had not been called. With an estimated 80% of the vote counted, Horne led with 42.8% to Sapir’s 31.7% and Udall’s 25.4%. 

According to Politico’s Juan Perez Jr., “The heated contest to oversee public schooling for more than 1 million children marks a test of how a swing-state Democrat might hold onto their office as the Republican Party increasingly builds an offensive on reshaping education.”

Hoffman, a former pre-school teacher and speech-language pathologist, was first elected in 2018, defeating Frank Riggs (R) 51.6% to 48.4% in the general election. Hoffmann was the first Democrat in the state to win the office since 1995. 

Horne served as the state attorney general from 2011 to 2015. Before that, he served as the Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003 to 2011. Horne said he would focus on fighting critical race theory, stopping cancel culture, and promoting patriotism and quality education. 

Sapir, a real estate broker, said she pulled her children out of the public school system when, during the pandemic, the school implemented remote instruction. Sapir listed her priorities as empowering parents and putting children ahead of special interest groups. She has also said  “education needs to return to the basics.” 

Udall was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2016. She has also served as a school board member. Udall said she ran to oppose “school closures, contentious mandates, and critical race theory.” 

The Republican candidates spoke out against pandemic policies that closed schools and criticized what they called critical race theory. Udall said, “​​You can teach the facts, you can teach what happened, and you can help students understand the horrible things that people went through and the horrible outcomes that racism brings. Students need to know that history. Those are skills and knowledge they need to be successful. Whereas critical race theory and the gender identity stuff, those are not.”

Horne has campaigned on a similar platform: “I want to get rid of the distractions, which in addition to being distractions from academics, are inherently evil and immoral and backwards in emphasizing race and sexuality rather than teaching kids to treat each other as individuals.” 

Sapir has emphasized her status as an outsider, saying, “I am not coming from the education apparatus at all. We are where we’re at because of the people that have been in politics in education.”

Hoffman said she will focus on policies to reverse pandemic-related learning loss in students.

Hoffman criticized her Republican opponents for having “this very negative rhetoric of distrust around our public schools in a time when our schools need our support more than ever.” 

Hoffman has at times clashed with Gov. Doug Ducey (R) over pandemic policies. In April 2021, Ducey rescinded a universal school mask mandate. Hoffman said Ducey’s action “destabilizes school communities as they end what has arguably been the most challenging year for education.” 

The superintendent of public instruction oversees the state’s public school system and directs the Department of Education.

Arizona is one of seven states holding elections this year for superintendent of education. The position is elected in only 12 states. The superintendent is appointed in the remaining 38 states. 

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. 

In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also populate the information that appears in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.

And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!

School board candidates per seat up for election

Since 2018, we’ve tracked the ratio of school board candidates to seats up for election within our coverage scope. Greater awareness of issues or conflicts around school board governance can result in more candidates running for each office. Click here to see historical data on this subject.  

This year, 2.42 candidates are running for each seat in the 1,156 school board races we are covering in districts where the filing deadline has passed. The 2.42 candidates per seat is 22% more than in 2020.