By Dale Brethower
Some say: “Common Core is about having standards. Shouldn’t we at least have minimum standards that are uniform across this great land of ours?”
The “about standards” people argue that education is of great national importance. It is unreasonable to believe that school districts everywhere in the country have access to all the important information about education that is available to national experts; it is unreasonable to believe that school districts everywhere in the country know enough and care enough to do a good job of educating the nation’s children. We should have a set of common standards, arrived at by a careful process involving national experts and state governments that guide every school in every state in the nation toward, at least, a minimum common core of academic standards.
Some say: “Common Core is a threat to local control of our schools. Centralized control always and everywhere assures inefficiencies and invites abuses. Shouldn’t parents, community members, and local taxpayers have more say about what happens to the children in our local schools than nameless unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?”
The “local control” people argue that no matter how much experts in general know about educating children, those experts do not know the children living right here, in our local community. Children living in urban America have different life experiences than children living in rural America. The families served by big city schools live in vastly different cultures than the families served by small town schools. Distant experts cannot set relevant and reasonable standards for this unique community. Communities all across this great land have exercised local control for more than 200 years. What problems would Common Core standards solve? And are Common Core standards the best way to solve them?
I could probably patch up both sets of arguments to make them stronger or more persuasive but that is not my purpose here. My purpose is to say that there are good arguments on both sides. Preparing better arguments supporting “my side” of the issues and attacking “the other side” is an absurd, though common, approach to any controversial topic. It is especially harmful in discussing a topic as important to my family and my community and my nation as education.
We in Arizona know firsthand that Common Core is a hot button issue. Diane Douglas, AZ Superintendent of Education, was elected based upon an anti-Common Core campaign. Influential politicians, including Governor Ducey, elected Governor in the same campaign cycle, and his people campaigned against Douglas and for Common Core. Perhaps that was because the Feds offered significant financial inducements to state governments in return for support of Common Core. Or perhaps Governor Ducey had other reasons. But it is clear that the interactions between Superintendent Douglas and Governor Ducey have not been helpful in support of education in AZ. Our elected leaders are in conflict. I am quite sure that the conflict is not truly in my best interests or the best interest of the children and taxpayers of Arizona.
Experts in conflict resolution know a lot about resolving conflicts—I’m not such an expert, but I read a lot. The procedures are sensible but not easy. One procedure goes something like this:
- First, agree on what is at issue. (Maybe educational quality? state funding? local control? legal or constitutional issues? political power? There are likely to be several issues.)
- Second, each side states the views/arguments of the other side as clearly and simply as possible. The starting point for discussion is reached once each side can state “the other side’s” views (to the other side’s satisfaction).
- Third, gather the facts and principles relevant to each issue. Some facts and some principles will be disputed. Simply record what is agreed upon and what is disputed. Devote significant, perhaps most, consideration to what is agreed upon; public policy should be built on areas of relative agreement.
- Fourth, publish the results of the first three steps so the parents, politicians, and taxpayers have an opportunity to inform themselves.
- Fifth, blast at “the other side” mindlessly in public or behind the scenes; political beasts can’t help it.
The fifth step will happen whether or not I like it. But if steps like the first 4 are followed we-the-people have a chance to be informed and weigh in. That would be better than the one-sided exercise in futility we are witnessing now; it does not bode well for Arizona education. But it is standard fare in the press and among politicians.