Originally Published: April 17, 2015 1:01 a.m.
COTTONWOOD - Tim Carter isn't an all-out supporter of Common Core. Nor is he an all-out opponent.
Carter, who is both Yavapai County's superintendent of schools and a recent appointee to the state Board of Education, faced criticism as the Senate considered his nomination, by opponents who said he was too cozy with the Common Core standards.
"In my view, there are a lot of great standards here. There are some poor standards here. There are some standards here that probably need to be changed," he said, speaking Tuesday, April 14, at a meeting of the Mingus Mountain Republican Club in Cottonwood.
The club asked him to speak along with Gina Ray, a Chandler parent who opposes the standard.
Carter used the speech to explain the legal framework that grants powers to local, state and federal education officials.
He explained most of the decisions about schools are made closer to the schools themselves.
"Education is not, has never been and - unless we amend the (U.S.) Constitution - will not be a federal power," he said. "Congress can't regulate it. The president can't regulate it. It is a state power."
He said most of the decisions about education in Arizona are made by the state Board of Education and local boards.
"For our governing boards of local school districts, they have about as much authority as anybody around, because implementation is completely - 100 percent - up to local boards," he said.
Carter addressed the two criticism he hears most frequently about Common Core: where they came from and how they're implemented.
"There are lots of different stories out there about where Common Core came from," he said.
Though Common Core was the creation of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, critics call it a federal takeover of education.
"I get it. I understand it. I agree with it," Carter said.
Regardless of where Common Core originates, he emphasized that in Arizona, the decisions about curriculum ultimately reside at the local level.
"I hear criticisms about how Common Core requires that textbook. No it doesn't," Carter said. All the decisions on when Common Core is used, who teaches it and the methods are used, are the governing boards', he said.
"We have 583 charter schools in this state. We have 227 districts in this state. So about 860 different entities that can implement it about 860 different ways," Carter said. "Local control is alive and well in Arizona."
He said the ire at federal and state officials about Common Core are frequently misdirected.
"Folks, if you're unhappy with those things, you need to talk to your local board, either your district board or your charter board," Carter said. "Those are the folks who have the absolute authority over those things."
He noted Common Core is a divisive issue, with many people taking hard positions either for or against it. But he questioned how so many people can have such strong opinions, when so few have read the standards.
When he polled the room of about 50, about a dozen said they had read parts of the standards, and just a handful had read them in full.
"How can we have such strong views about something that we haven't read?" Carter asked. "That's like having a view on Jesus Christ and never having read the Bible. I don't understand it. That's like having a view on the sanctity of our state and federal government and never having read the state or federal constitution. It makes no logical sense to me."
He said that's the reason he advocated for the state Board of Education to spend 8-10 months, maybe longer, conducting hearings around the state, asking commenters to cite the specific standards they oppose, what's wrong with it and how it could be improved.
"We're going to ask you to come and tell us what's wrong with the standards. If there's a standard here that you don't like then you need to tell us," he said. "If there's a consensus around those statements, then the state board would be foolish not to take those ideas and implement them."
He said eliminating standards outright isn't an option for him.
Without standards, he said, "We're going to have a very hard time with our students competing with admission to college and military academies and for jobs."
He said standards serve a critical function for parents and administrators as a tool to measure the quality of education across schools.
"If we want to eliminate state standards altogether, and as long as the state of Arizona is willing to eliminate the accountability ... then I think that's what voters in Arizona need to tell the Legislature to do," he said. "That would be a significant departure from what I'm hearing around the state."
Ray followed Carter by taking her remarks in a different direction.
She admitted when she read the Common Core standards several years ago, she didn't see anything objectionable.
"There's not a real lot here that's really that bad," she said.
But when she began seeing implementation, she changed her mind.
"It's not about Common Core," she said of her objections. "It's not about the standards."
The federal government's role in education predates the Constitution, but Ray pointed to the creation of the Department of Education's creation as a cabinet level position in 1980 and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 as significant federal intervention in states' rights.
She brought up several issues related to Common Core, though not directly part of the standard, that create a slippery slope to the invasion of privacy rights for students and their parents, and erosion of the ability of local administrators and educators to run schools.
"First come standards," she said. "Curriculum is going to be next. I guarantee that."
She said the solution is for parents to be more involved in their children's education and for the public to demand officials curtail high-stakes testing and data collection.
Ray is an active advocate with Arizonans Against Common Core and contributed to the creation of the optoutaz.org website that gives instructions for parents wishing to opt out of state standardized tests and associated data collection.
Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen