Education Montana Politics

A Must Read for Conservatives Who Blather About Local Control of Schools

On Sunday, the Missoulian ran a piece explaining how the state and local school districts are working to develop new standards for science across the state. It was a much-needed piece in an era when Republicans repeatedly claim that there is no local control over what students learn.

The piece ably explained something that few people outside of education really seem to understand: that the state, in collaboration with local teachers, establishes standards, broad guidelines and expectations for student learning in every curricular area. Then local districts, often alone, but sometimes in voluntary partnership with other districts, develop curriculum, the specific instruction and content that is used in those districts to meet the broad standards.

It’s an arrangement that Montana schools have always used: partnership to write the broad guidelines combined with local autonomy about how to implement them. Conservatives who demagogue about the Common Core, for instance, seem unwilling to admit or learn that even under these new standards, the curriculum is written by local teachers in their own communities. And just as your local board will open up discussion about curriculum to the public, the state will do the same with the new science standards. As the story notes:

The proposed standards were created by committees of educators, administrators and community members. They will be open for public input, and are slated to be up for approval this fall.

All in all, the Missoulian piece was a useful explanation of a process that conservative opponents have politicized across the nation, leading to states abandoning the teaching of climate science and valorizing the slaveowners of the Confederacy. At the root of that politicization is a deliberate effort to mislead the public about how standards and curriculum are developed, something the Missoulian piece explained well.

Here in Montana, conservatives claimed, for instance, that the Common Core standards were adopted without public input, despite 12 public meetings about the adoption of the standards.

The increasingly heated (and often entirely irrational) debate about education standards, whether they are the Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards would certainly be improved if conservatives understood the difference between a state standard and local curriculum, and even more so if they told the truth about what those standards really mean.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • The Common Core standards were adopted without public input *into the standards*. This is widely acknowledged. The fact the those standards were *adopted* after public input does not change the fact the standards themselves were adopted in a relative vacuum.

    But the fact the curriculum is developed locally ignores the fact that the DoE can reject any curriculum at will and without explanation. And it can then apply its own measurements that negate the efforts of local jurisdiction.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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