By Larry Lee
Pardon me while I scratch my head, but I’m still confused as to what all the “common core” talk is about.
And if the truth be known I suspect the vast majority of Alabamians don’t know common core from apple core. Still, this doesn’t stop the mention of it from stirring passion in some, especially the well-meaning folks who call themselves Tea Party types.
One reason I’m confused is because I don’t know which Republican to believe.
John Legg is a Republican state senator who chairs the Florida Senate Education committee, a former teacher and lives near Tampa. A few months ago he wrote an article Why Conservatives Support Common Core State Standards.
He said, “The movement to Common Core asserts higher-order thinking across the disciplines and concepts, which will yield a higher quality of comprehension for students, ensuring they are prepared for college, the workforce or to become a business owner/job creator. Common Core is a set of academic standards and does not pose an identity or security risk to students.”
On the other hand our own Republican state senator Scott Beason spoke a few days ago to an anti-Common Core rally in Montgomery. He read his fifth-grade daughter’s reading assignment about the benefits of hybrid cars and called it an example of socialist indoctrination since the implication was that hybrid cars do not cause as much pollution as ones with internal combustion engines.
(Wow, my sister has a hybrid vehicle. Did not know she was a socialist. She may be the only one to ever graduate from Auburn University.)
Two Republican state senators. One supports Common Core, one doesn’t. Which one should I believe?
At this point, trying to sort through my confusion I did what I usually do when it comes to education issues—I went to the experts. In this case, school superintendents, principals and teachers who are largely being ignored in this debate. I doubt that, unlike Senator
Beason, they are experts on hybrid cars and socialism, but I do think they know a lot about education.
They quickly got me to understand that Common Core refers to standards—not curriculum. I also learned that Alabama used the Common Core, adjusted them to fit Alabama students and adopted the Alabama College & Career Ready standards.
As one teacher explained, “These standards encourage teachers to help students think, apply, and create, instead of ‘sit and get’ instruction. Students make relevant and real-world connections across the disciplines.”
What do the experts think about what Alabama is doing?
Of the 50+ I talked to, not a single one disagrees with the move.
“I have seen teachers re-energized. One first-grade teacher came to me with tears in her eyes and said that she had been in a rut and what she is now doing has brought joy back to her classroom,” said one longtime principal.
“We just had a school that exceeded national benchmarks in all content areas. I asked why this happened. The principal said that her teachers are finally able to teach again,” said a central office specialist.
“The standards are about doing what is right for the children, their future and their success. I don’t understand why adults in today’s society try to use children as a bargaining chip to promote their own agenda,” commented a Torchbearer school principal.
“We are spending time teaching teachers how to stop surface teaching and start expecting deeper use of and knowledge connected to writing and reading…developing a love of learning,” explained a superintendent.
“I love the college and career ready standards. It enables us to see how we measure up. I believe that Alabama schools are as good as those in other states,” said a principal.
“These standards are stronger than any we’ve ever had, no question. As long as we can teach and assess how we want, I’ll stand behind them 100%,” stated a principal of 20 years.
From a teacher of two decades, “Our new standards are one of the best things we’ve done in Alabama. We’re all finally saying that ‘sage on the stage’ teaching is ineffective and teachers must get students invested in their own learning. Less rote memorization and more thinking and application.”
“The legislature needs to pause, take a breath and consider the repercussions of their decisions. Teachers, children and parents are simply in the boat without a paddle and the legislature is the wind shifting directions without knowing why, when, or where,” summed up a superintendent.
After going through these comments—and many more—I’ll throw out a suggestion. Perhaps some elected officials should visit a few schools rather than speaking at rallies. I’ll even give them a ride in my car, which is not a hybrid.