A bill aiming to bolster math scores in kindergarten through fifth grade is heading to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk after nearly two hours of debate in the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 171 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would establish the Alabama Numeracy Act, which has the goal of boosting math education through the fifth grade.
The bill would also prohibit public K-12 schools from using curriculum standards commonly known as the Common Core, and establish an Elementary Mathematics Task Force, a Postsecondary Mathematics Task Force and an Office of Mathematics Improvement within the State Department of Education.
The bill would also require the State Department of Education to intervene in low-performing schools and require the hiring of more math coaches.
Although the bill does not create new math standards and specifically prohibits Common Core standards, some opponents of the bill have argued that it will continue the controversial standards under a different name.
Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, who carried the bill in the House, argued that the standards created by Common Core did not even originate from the federal government but with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.
Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Scottsboro, asked Baker, “Can you tell me what happened to math to make it so hard to teach?”
“I think, whereas before there seems to be some of the approaches to teaching math was done simply to get to an answer, you’ve memorized the steps or the process is to get to an answer,” Baker responded. “And yet, one didn’t really understand the how’s or why’s; how did I get that answer? And so I think that’s a part of what now is incorporated into more of the teaching … And so I think getting our students to think critically and not just trying to come up with an answer, but instead trying to better understand how and why that I was able to get to this.”
Hanes said he has heard Common Core takes it a step further and that if a child wrote that “five plus five equals nine,” they would be counted correct as long as they could show how they arrived at that conclusion.
Baker said he has heard other people say similar things but has never observed that happening in the classroom himself.
Hanes said that if math had been “so difficult to teach” during the time of “the greatest generation,” that “we’d all be speaking German or Japanese.”
Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, drew a correlation between the state adopting Common Core standards around 2012 and subsequently falling in math testing scores around the same time.
Holmes didn’t cite the source of his claims that test scores declined after Common Core standards passing.
Other Republican lawmakers voiced opposition to the cost of implementing the program and whether it addresses the core issue causing low test scores.
The Legislative Services Agency estimates the program to cost about $114 million annually, with $80 million of that dedicated to math coaches.
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Talladega, said the real problem is a lack of control in the classroom.
“Let’s don’t drop the fact that you can’t get that kid to pay attention,” Hurst said. “You can’t get that kid to mind, you can’t get him to shut up.”
The bill passed the House on a 76-24 vote and the Senate concurred with changes made, sending the bill to Ivey for signing.
“Only a third of our school systems, or 10 percent of fourth through eighth grade students, are proficient in math,” Orr said in a statement following passage of his bill in the Senate. “This is an alarming statistic that we cannot ignore any longer. There has been no urgency to attempt to improve math instruction in our schools, and the result is that we are failing these children. The responsibility falls on us to help propose solutions.”
“The Numeracy Act provides for the hiring of hundreds of math coaches to support our educators in the classroom – to help them, train them, and show them the latest techniques,” Orr continued. “It also establishes a framework for accountability to ensure student success.”