The following ran in The Arizona Republic on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
A great friend in the Legislature said, “Some of my friends passionately agree, and some of my friends passionately disagree. And I am a guy who is passionate about standing with my friends.”
I am, too.
So here are a few thoughts for my friends about House Bill 2190, a legislative proposal under consideration in the Senate, with a goal that seems to be that Arizona’s students are taught the things that matter most, without political overtone or subtle indoctrination contrary to Arizona citizens’ desires.
These are goals we can all agree on: Arizona should adopt high academic standards for our public schools, and outside influence should not dictate the content of our standards.
But this proposal cannot achieve those shared goals. HB 2190 seeks to disrupt the work of the State Board of Education by creating a new committee to restart the process, while prohibiting the use of any academic standards that are “substantially the same” as other standards that we or other states already have in place.
What, then, shall we do about teaching multiplication tables? Should we forgo phonics instruction? Eliminate requirements to teach persuasive writing? (Which I admit is a fragment, but for persuasive purposes.)
All of those basic and essential skills are part of Arizona’s current academic standards. Seeking to inoculate Arizona from outside meddling by making our academic standards unique or exclusive to the Grand Canyon State would result in us not being able to teach the things we all believe our students need most.
We need high standards. What we do not need is for out-of-state organizations to have the power to change what we believe is essential. Well understood.
But while it is rational to worry about undue influence, it is also possible that what we want and choose in Arizona will align with other states. Shared beliefs or actions do not imply coercion; rather, they can be evidence of sound ideas.
I take concerns about undue influence seriously. People who have no fear about the dangers of centralized influence in education have never fought for school choice or for local decisions about who earns the right to teach. There is a real and ongoing power struggle in our body politic for control over the levers by which we influence our children. I deeply appreciate the tenacity required to chart an independent and high-quality direction for our state.
We must not cede state control, but neither should we cede common sense or discredit the goodwill and rational acts of the state education board members and professional educators in Arizona who set the current academic standards in place.
There is significant disruption to schools when the blueprint guiding their work is constantly under assault. Adding a brand-new statewide committee to deliberate on this will not be reassuring.
The State Board of Education has already acted to remove Arizona from any collaboration on standards or assessments that would require agreements from outside our state. Their work going forward should be to ensure that Arizona maintains control over the process of developing the clearest, most academically challenging and highest-quality standards for what students will be taught in our public schools, even if many of the rigorous standards are used by other states as well.
With so much evident passion over this issue — expressed by all of my friends — I hope we are able to focus on striking that critical balance.
Lisa Graham Keegan is executive director of A for Arizona and a former state superintendent of public instruction.