Friday, September 04, 2015

Transparency and Centralized Control Don't Mix

There was a short article in the Voice of the Establishment (Demzette) today about Education Director Johnny Key and the "revision" of Arkansas' education standards. The point of the article was to stroke the Director for bringing "transparency" to the process of revising the standards by web-casting them. Since Arkansas is still a part of Common Core, one wonders just what the significance of the process might be? If Arkansas can really revise the standards as we see fit, it's not "Common Core". If we can't, then we can't really "revise" the standards. We can only tinker with them subject to the limits which others set for us.

But what really struck me was the last line:
State officials said they want the process to be open but are concerned about balancing openness with protecting educators from being inundated with social media, emails and phone calls, Key said.
 The difficulty here is that they have inherently conflicting goals. They want centralized control of setting mandatory standards (as opposed to having say, suggested standards unattached to high stakes testing which each district could choose to keep or cast off as they wished). At the same time, they want "transparency" in how the central authorities revise those standards.

It doesn't work. With so much power in so few hands, and in one room, of course there is going to be intense lobbying from various groups to try and shoehorn their agenda's into the standards. Beyond the professional lobbies, if you get the proceedings before the public eye, it is only natural that members of the public are going to want to give input when they see something they feel is going wrong. In a "transparent" and centralized process the few "deciders" will be deluged with people who want to put their two cents in. Transparency and centralized control simply do not mix. You must pick one or the other. I favor localism and transparency over centralization and secrecy.

I strongly suspect that, since Arkansas is legally still fully subordinate to Common Core, the committee to "revise" the standards largely has their hands tied anyway. In other words, what we get "transparency" on is not the effort to truly revise our own standards, but we only get to watch the tinkering on the edges of what little leeway is left to us in determining our own educational standards while 90% of the actual decisions were made elsewhere in near total secrecy. This show is to placate those who want the illusion of influence. Those with real influence have already made the standards and dictated the amount of "revision" that they will permit.

If I am right, and these people are so predictable that it is getting hard to be wrong about them for someone who is willing to put aside emotion and consider things objectively, then they might be able to pull off both the appearance of transparency while maintaining centralization simply by having the "transparency" in one place (where only small decisions are made) and the real decision-making in another. The real pros won't even bother watching these proceedings or lobbying the members. They will just be bombarded by emails from concerned parents who think that these people in this room will be determining the education standards for their children.

Until the Arkansas laws which put this state under Common Core are repealed, this process is part of the elaborate illusion of self-government (which some are content with frankly) and not self-government itself.


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