By Mary Scott Hunter and Tracy Roberts
We decided to write this opinion together because there is some concern in some corners about the strength and independence of the curriculum standards in our state. We believe that Alabamians have every reason to be optimistic about student achievement in Alabama if we stay the course with rigorous standards. This op-ed is an answer to questions we have individually received within our State Board of Education Districts.
Periodically, the Alabama Board of Education renews its standards for education in Alabama. These are the standards upon which local systems create and implement their curricula. In general, when thinking about curricula, bridge building, airplane building, etc., high standards are good, and ceilings are bad. In other words, we never want to create standards or systems that limit quality or growth.
In December 2010, the Alabama Board of Education adopted new standards in English and Math which included the “Common Core State Standards.” The 2010 Alabama Standards of Curriculum in English and Math also included Alabama specific content as well. We believe that the combination of the Common Core and additional Alabama specific content created better standards than the Common Core alone. These standards are known as the “Alabama Career and College Ready Standards.” Many states were adopting their own standards in much the same fashion as Alabama. However, Alabama, wary of outside intrusion, chose not to adopt any testing associated with the Common Core State Standards, and they firmly stated at that time and again thereafter, that the Alabama Career and College Ready Standards in English and Math would be owned and controlled here at home.
Many ask where the Common Core State Standards come from. The initiative was created and developed by the Counsel of Governors and the Chief State School Officers to have more rigor in American Education. The standards that were promulgated were known as the “Common Core State Standards” and are generally considered to be well supported by research and best practices and were more rigorous than the standards that Alabama previously had. The Common Core was not a product of the Federal Government. In fact, political figures and organizations that the GOP knows and tends to trust were and are supporters – Governor Jan Brewer, Governor Jeb Bush and the Bush Education Foundation, and The Military Child Education Coalition. The option to include the Common Core within states’ standards of curricula was optional for states, similar to an interstate compact agreement. Agreements among the states are not “Federal” but may be “national” in scope, and the Common Core was and is a national initiative but not a Federal initiative.
Unfortunately, problems quickly emerged. President Obama and the Federal Department of Education liked what they saw in the Common Core. Perhaps they simply saw the opportunity for more rigor. Perhaps they saw an opportunity for a national curriculum – which is specifically forbidden. In any case, President Obama and his Education leadership in Washington made a critical error. They allowed that Common Core be included on grant applications for Race to the Top dollars. Sadly, this inserted confusion and distrust into the initiative, and many people, authors of this opinion included, became understandably wary. Alabama did apply for Race to the Top in an early round, but RTT quickly showed its colors. It is a political tool and an agenda, and in hindsight, we are blessed not to have won any dollars which would have fettered our current education efforts. We are not now, nor do we expect to be pursuing RTT or any Federal dollars which would require our use of the Common Core.
State Board of Education members and Legislators who desire to stay with our current, rigorous Alabama standards (“The Alabama Career and College Ready Standards”) are sometimes criticized as “Supporters of the Common Core.” In reality, the supporters of The Alabama Career and College Ready Standards are simply supporting our Alabama Standards – not the Common Core. We leave the defense of the Common Core to Governor Brewer, Governor Bush, The Council of Governors, etc.
The Alabama Standards are ours. Yes, they include the Common Core, but they include additional content as well. They are rigorous, and they are requiring a lot of our teachers and students. They posture Alabama students to surge in their achievement. The implementation of these rigorous standards is ongoing and to undo that work would be a setback. A return to our previous, and less rigorous, standards would send the wrong message to the nation. It would frustrate teachers who have worked very hard to successfully teach the new Alabama Standards. Most importantly, a return to less rigor, would be lowering our expectations of our students. They deserve better.
1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be of courage; be strong.” We are determined not to allow fear to drive our decision-making. The best path forward is one that recognizes that we have a right to make an agreement with other states that is not tampered with by the Federal Government. We should defend our rigorous standards and never make any agreements with the Federal Government or indeed with other states that would tend to lower our Alabama Education Standards. Let us depart from this argument which tends to cause finger-pointing at each other and send the message to Washington that any intrusion into our education standards is unwelcome and will not be tolerated.
Education is a process that must be minded. Standards matter and they cannot be lowered. Coach Nick Sabin teaches us that over and over and over again. We are so close in Alabama Education to the Championship. We are innovating; we are striving; we are laying the foundation in a way that we never have before. Your State Board of Education and your Legislature is bravely tackling very tough issues in Education. Our shared goal is that every single individual student has a chance to put on the Championship Ring, and we can do it.
We invite you to the State Department of Education’s website to review the Alabama Career and College Ready Standards in English and Math. Should you find anything objectionable about them, please let us know so that we can improve. We commit that if we see any hint of Federal intrusion, we will be the Minutemen sounding the alarm. We are both mothers of children educated in public schools, and we desire that our children and every Alabama child have the very best opportunity to succeed. Urge your Federal Representatives to pass legislation that reduces the size and scope and reach of the Federal Department of Education as this is the crux of the problem. Let’s be united in the shared purpose of giving our children rigorous, high quality education that leads to good jobs.
Representative-Alabama Board of Education
District 1 (Baldwin, Butler, Covington, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Escambia, Mobile)
P.O. Box 7271, Spanish Fort, AL 36577
Email: [email protected]
MARY SCOTT HUNTER
Representative-Alabama Board of Education
District 8 (Limestone, Madison, Jackson, DeKalb, Etowah)
P.O. Box 18572, Huntsville, AL 35804
Email: [email protected]