“The truth is, they’re good standards,” said former Jacksonville City Schools Superintendent Eric Mackey. “I would encourage you to please review the facts before you vote.”
Mackey was one of about 80 people who signed up to speak at a joint session of the education committees in the Alabama Legislature Wednesday. Lawmakers are considering a pair of bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would require the state to back out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort to establish uniform academic standards across state lines.
When the program was first launched four years ago, Common Core was primarily of interest to education experts and state policy wonks. Concerned about reports that the quality of high school graduates was uneven, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created an organization to write a single set of standards for core subjects in K-12 education. Before the Common Core project, academic standards varied, sometimes widely, from state to state.
Since then, 45 states, including Alabama, have opted into Common Core standards in English and math. But the spreading use of Common Core has some critics saying the new standards open the door to a federal takeover of Alabama’s school curriculum.
“Only when you’re in a factory, on an assembly line, does standardization lead to excellence,” said Betty Peters, a member of the Alabama State School Board.
Opponents of the new standards said Common Core surrenders control of the state’s school curriculum to the federal government and allows the state to transmit personal data about students to Washington. They also said the standards were adopted without input from the public.
School officials countered every claim as less than factual.
State School Superintendent Tommy Bice said the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards — Alabama’s version of Common Core — were adopted after four hearings across the state and one before the State Board of Education. He pointed to wording in the board’s final resolution that states that Alabama retains the right to control its own standards.
Asked what would happen if the standards were repealed — leaving the state with no approved academic standards — Bice said he wasn’t sure. Standards are always set at the state level, he noted.
“There’s nobody to call other than ourselves because we own it,” he said.
Teachers from across the state also spoke, saying they’d already seen positive results from the new math standards, which focus less on memorization and calculation and more on explaining real-world uses for math.
“Rigor is the difference between graphing a line and talking about what the line models,” said math teacher Kitty Morgan. “That’s what we’re talking about.”
Mobile fifth-grade teacher Amy Lowe said one of her students recently told her he’d decided to become a mathematician, rather than a professional football player, because he was beginning to understand how mathematicians think. Lowe said the new standards encouraged that thinking.
“They’re our standards, they’re also my standards,” she said. “I have ownership in these standards.”
Elmore County teacher Judy Welch said she’d been involved in the creation of Alabama’s standards before Common Core.
She said the new standards worked well.
“These standards are strong, they’re rigorous,” she said.
Several county superintendents spoke in favor of Common Core. Most said the standards worked, and some said repealing them — when other states have adopted them — would send a bad signal to industries looking to locate here.
Some critics of Common Core said the new standards would lead the way to liberal indoctrination of students.
“These standards open a Pandora’s box,” said Sharon Sewell, who said she was Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointment to the state’s school textbook committee.
Sewell said that in reviewing textbooks aligned to Common Core, she’d found texts that encouraged students to “delve into morally corrupt and liberally biased conversations” and assignments “where they’re supposed to think like a Muslim or think like a terrorist.”
In comments after the hearing, Sewell said she found those passages in books suggested for the classroom last year. Sewell said she objected to the books and they were never adopted by the school system.
Supporters of Common Core said the standards were only rules for what students should be learning, and didn’t dictate what texts or lesson plans teachers should use.
“Teachers maintain control over lesson plans,” Bice said.
The meeting closed without a vote, and it’s not clear when the Common Core ban would come to the House or Senate floor — if ever.
Committee chair Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, said the house version of the Common Core ban was in subcommittee. That could lengthen its trip to the House floor; today is the ninth day in the legislative session, which is limited to 30 days. Committee member Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, said he hadn’t made up his mind on the bill yet.
Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, said he probably wouldn’t vote the bill out of committee. He cited the ban’s possible influence on industrial recruiting.
“The impact on jobs would be too great, if Alabama is viewed as moving backward on something most other states are doing,” he said.
Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.