Legislation has failed to try and stop Common Core teaching standards in Arizona, but the issue could be revived later in the session. State Representative and teacher Paul Boyer will talk about the pros and cons of Common Core along with Amanda McAdams, a former teacher of the year.
Ted Simons: coming up next on Arizona Horizon, we'll hear from both sides on the debate over common core education standards, and we'll find out how the state managed to set a new record for exports last year. Those stories next on Arizona Horizon. Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. The state legislature recently killed attempts to keep Arizona from continuing to use common core education standards, but the issue remains controversial and tonight, we hear from both sides of the common core debates. Joining us now is state representative Paul Boyer, a tenth grade teacher against common core, and also, with us is Amanda McAdams, the 2011 Arizona teacher of the year, and she is in favor of the standards. Good to have you both here and thank you very much for joining us.
Paul Boyer: Thank you.
Paul Boyer: Let's get started here. What is common core? Why do you think it's bad for Arizona? These are a set of -- I don't disagree but Federal standards when 45 states have the same standards. The Feds expect all Arizona students to know. The reason why it's bad, is -- well, first, there are no magic standards, and no matter what standards that we adopt, teachers -- we still need to have excellent teachers in the classroom, and the biggest problem is Federal intrusion. If you look at the U.S. constitution, the word education is not mentioned once. Meaning, that it's left to the state. They have no business being involved in our education system.
Ted Simons: What is common core? Why is it good for Arizona?
Amanda McAdams: There are a set of standards that we are holding our students to meet a certain set of skills.So, our teachers have taken the standards, looked at what skills we have to meet, and we have built a curriculum that's going to elevate the students.
Ted Simons: And critics will say this was created by a group of Governors, a group of politicians, not educators, valid?
Amanda McAdams:I was not there for the creation. I was there for part of the editing. I did get to see the first, second and third drafts and was part of an Arizona coalition that got to give input before the final draft was released.
Paul Boyer: Can I go? The business community also had some major involvement in the creation, my problem with that is the emphasis on Vikings. I focus on, in my school, a liberal education, not in the political sense but a free education, and an education that helps students become a better person, a better student, and also civically minded.
Ted Simons: So what exactly do you -- do you disagree with the fact that this has a Federal Government tone to it, that it's overreach or do you disagree with the fact of what students are being taught?
Paul Boyer: It's more than a tone. It's Federal intrusion, so house bill 2180 says the state board shall require a menu of assessments, not the common core test or the az merit test, which has not been field tested yet, by the way. We have to get permission from the Feds to say, you know, we have a test that's more in line with the curriculum, so we want to use this test instead, and maybe the sat, the A.P., Cambridge exam. Several tried and true tests that we used, we should not have to ask permission from the Feds, and with the risk of losing 800 million, from the Feds, if we don't use this test.
Ted Simons: How do you respond?
Amanda McAdams: Well, so we went through a procurement process in Arizona, where many of those same companies he mentioned were part of that procurement process, and Arizona, themselves, selected the test. So, Federal Government was not telling us what test, but we got to choose it. He's right, it hasn't been field tested, so my vote is still out on what happened with az merit, but we're talking about the standards, not the assessment. The standards are a set of skills each student needs to reach.
Ted Simons: Is the Federal Government, though, as critics say, dictating Arizona education?
Amanda McAdams: No.
Ted Simons: How come?
Amanda McAdams: In my district, my teachers have taken the same set of schools, you can look at many state standards, and there are many in common. Talk about theme. That's a common standard. And so our teachers have taken that standard, and they decide what curriculum to build around that standard. No Federal Government is saying you have to use this textbook or novel or story. Absolutely not. My teachers developed that on their own.
Ted Simons: How do you respond?
Paul Boyer: It does and here's why, assessments drive curriculum or a test, so as a teacher I know that if my students will be tested on certain criteria, I need to teach to that. Since we cannot dictate what tests we offer to our students, it certainly is going to dictate the curriculum. We have a shortage right now in Arizona, and we're talking about what can we do to get high quality teachers in the classroom and retain those here. If you tell a teacher that by the way, on top of everything that you are doing right now, you are not going to have any autonomy in the classroom and you have to teach this curriculum that is driven by the Feds, we're going to have more mass exodus than we have.
Ted Simons: No more autonomy in the classroom.
Amanda McAdams: Curriculum is not dictated. It is dealt by teachers. The standards and the skills required of each grade level is what the standards dictate. Curriculum, 100%, teacher built with parent input with school board input.
Ted Simons: But I think that the argument is if the test says you have got to know a, b, c, the curriculum better be teaching it.
Amanda McAdams: To me that's a separate issue. We can talk about, is this assessment appropriate? I don't know how I feel about that assessment. We have not seen it. But, I do know that what we're doing with the standards in my district is a wonderful thing, and our students are progressing.
Paul Boyer: The problem is we have to ask the permission slip from the Feds to say, can we take this other assessment in lieu of the common core?
Ted Simons: Should there be not be some sort of regulation and guideline involved? When you are trying to get a mass assessment going?
Paul Boyer: From a state perspective, absolutely. We are in the education business. We determine what is and isn't acceptable as far as the standards are concerned, assessments, and then we allow local education areas to determine the curriculum. That's the way that we've been doing it. We should keep it that way. We should not hand over more to the Feds.
Ted Simons: The idea that the Feds don't know Arizona kids, don't know Arizona education, the diversity of a southwestern state like this is something that perhaps, the quote/unquote Feds are not aware of. Is that a valid argument against common core standards?
Amanda McAdams:No, they have not designed the test. We did a procurement process, and a committee got to select which assessment Arizona chose to make. And we will have Arizona teachers involved in creating items for that assessment.
Ted Simons: Do you agree with that?
Paul Boyer: Well, I have not seen the az merit test but it's my understanding that we opted out of the park assessment, which was a consortium of 20, 30 states. And my understanding is the current test is another consortium so it's very similar to other states, as well. My point is, it should be Arizona specific. I don't think that we're dense enough in Arizona that we cannot come up with a test on our own.
Ted Simons: Well, but I think the question also arises what makes Arizona so special as to not -- to think that neck do a better test than what is being developed on mass with everyone involved.
Paul Boyer: Well, that's why my menu of assessments, it could be the sat, the Cambridge exam -- these are all tests we've been using in some cases for decades. We should have the freedom to do that for our curriculum is in line with that. We should not have the Feds coming to us and saying you have to take this.
Ted Simons: I am hearing Federal overreach here amongst critics, and we hear about this a lot. Is it a valid criticism?
Amanda McAdams: It's misinformation. The Federal Government did not select our test. Arizona did. And if we chose to work with multiple states on that test, I am ok with that. It was a tenth grade graduation standards, and we wrote that test, and I think that we have room to grow in our assessment writing ability by collaborating with other states. I think that that's a great thing.
Ted Simons: So you think this is a step down, a step back from aims?
Paul Boyer: The assessment or the standards?
Ted Simons: Yes.
Paul Boyer: Well, the assessment, yes. The standards, I'm reviewing them on my own right now, so I, actually, adhere to the social studies' standards, I teach literature and history so I don't have to adhere to the common core standards currently. So I am reviewing them right now, line by line.
Ted Simons: But I guess my question is, and we have had similar conversations in the past. If red China comes up with a test, and a standard. That really works, and is good for kids, would you not use it simply because of the people who developed it as opposed to the results it might get?
Paul Boyer: I teach the genetic fallacy and not to avoid that. In other words, you look at the substance of the argument rather than who is giving you the argument, but we should have the freedom and the autonomy. Maybe we come to the conclusion 75% of the standards we'll keep, clue the fruit and spit out the seeds, but, we should have that autonomy and not the Feds say, if, and I have right here, some guidance from the Feds, saying, if you opt out of the assessments, the one assessment that every student in Arizona has to take, then you are in jeopardy of losing all title one money.
Amanda McAdams:He's right but we selected that assessment. It was not mandated by anyone.
Paul Boyer: By we, though, you mean the state board of education, that is -- that jumped in head first on the common core standards.
Amanda McAdams: It was a separate committee who investigated the assessments, and there were multiple ones to choose from, and that committee spent weeks researching and investigating, and to, to select the one that they have.
Paul Boyer: The committee was pro common core.
Amanda McAdams: I don't know that to be true.
Paul Boyer: I do.
Ted Simons: But, if the committee were anti-common core, I mean, that would yield a different result, you would not be opposed to that.
Paul Boyer: Again, I would like to see the assessment itself. I would like to use assessments that we have been using, and let's see how this assessment, other assessments work at other states, why rush into this right now, why don't we see the results, and then we can continue to use what we are doing.
Ted Simons: Are we rushing into this and take a more measured approach?
Amanda McAdams: I agree, we need to see the assessment. I don't know, I won't know until we see the assessment, how I feel about the rigor of the items and the rigor of the prompts the students are asked to write about.
Paul Boyer: We saw the bill of goods, told that you can opt out of the standards, and you can opt out whenever you want and no big deal. We're told and in the committee I am told this is going to cost millions of dollars, and teachers have invested so much time and effort, and you cannot pull the rug out, and we're also told that standards are different, and than the assessment, so, it won't dictate the curriculum. Well, again, it does dictate curriculum because there is the assessment.
Amanda McAdams: but with good teaching. Any good teacher goes above and beyond when the assessment is below where they want their students to go.
Ted Simons: Would it be a good thing for Arizona education if, after all of this, common core, were scrapped?
Ted Simons: A good thing for Arizona education? For Arizona kids?
Paul Boyer: I think that there is a way to do this, in such a way that it is great for Arizona kids, and that's to have a review process of the standards and to have a multiple list of assessments to give the freedom for teachers in the classroom.
Ted Simons: Should the districts -- should the districts be able to opt out, basically, and do their own thing?
Ted Simons: Why not?
Amanda McAdams: Again, we had a committee that selected the assessment, if our standards go across the board for all students, and these are the skills they need to meet and we selected the assessments, how can you compare districts and how can you look at teachers and students to know if they are meeting the standards, if the assessments are different quality and lengths and content.
Paul Boyer: I think that we need to put a bit more trust and confidence in the districts and charters.
Ted Simons: It sounds like the districts and charters like common core.
Paul Boyer: Not all of them.
Ted Simons: A majority.
Amanda McAdams: 77%.
Paul Boyer: And that's fine but for the minority that don't, they should have the freedom not to. That's all.
Ted Simons: I think that we have got to stop it. Good conversation, and good to have you both here and thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
Paul Boyer: Amanda McAdams:Thank you.
Paul Boyer:State Representative and Teacher; Amanda McAdams:Former Teacher of the Year;