From the new blog…
Having used techniques in the critical-thinkers toolkit to analyze one important educational policy issue (how to improve and expand civics education in the US), it’s now time to turn those methods loose on another matter that’s defined K-12 education for decades: academic standards.
To see how detailed analysis of one aspect of an issue can shed light on wider matters (as well as expose hidden premises that are really driving arguments over standards-based education), let’s focus on answering one question that titles this piece: Is Florida really abandoning the Common Core?
This story made headlines in both the news and educational press when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order calling for the state to abandon Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics standards and create new standards based on the needs of Florida students. Priorities for these new standards include Florida becoming “the most literate state in the nation” and (harkening back to previous discussions) increasing the role of civics education in the state.
The first step when trying to think critically about an issue is to identify biases, emotional reasoning and other factors that might distort judgement (especially our own). For example, Governor DeSantis is a Republican which makes it easy to rally around or oppose his decision based our own partisan alignment.
While blind allegiance to a party line is a common source of distorted reasoning, arguments based on partisanship should not necessarily be dismissed out of hand. Party affiliation aligns with a collection of values, after all, values that often provide insight on how complex issues can be framed.
But partisanship can also blind us to other equally valid insights that emerge from partisan enemies, which is why we need to continually monitor our own thinking (i.e., meta-cognate) to make sure we are aware of why some opinions register with us more strongly than others.
There are also other biases that we need to be aware of, beyond partisan ones. For example, many people (including me) respect the work that has gone into creating the Common Core standards and appreciate the value of standards that don’t dramatically (and unnecessarily) vary from one state to another. Among other benefits, “standardized standards” makes it much easier for educators to share resources they have created to meet their own state standards with educators in other states teaching identical or equivalent standards.
Teachers, as well as others involved with implementing educational initiatives on the ground, may also have what I will call a “here we go again” bias that makes them instinctively (and justifiably) hostile to decisions being made by people far removed from the classroom that might impact them in dramatic ways (especially decisions that undo work they have been asked to do for years to meet the demands of previous distant decision-makers).
One way to control for bias is to recognize at the outset that anything as complicated as the implementation or revocation of academic standards is not a single decision, but rather represents many decisions, each of which has potential positive and negative consequences that cannot be known in advance.
Recognition that we are dealing with a complex issue might explain why the initial response to DeSantis’ executive order has been relatively mild. In other political debates over education, it is not uncommon for partisans to characterize their opponents in narrow, inaccurate ways, using ugly terms such as “The Republican war on education” or “Obama’s dumbed-down standards” to describe opponents in ways designed to shut down vs. open up debate.
Lack of hostility (at least for now) in discussions over Florida’s announcement might indicate that we have a window to engage in rational debate over a controversial topic that impacts every student in the nation. So, with our biases in check, let’s jump in.