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Area schools oppose Senate bills looking to block Common Core

Published 8:05pm Tuesday, March 11, 2014

As lawmakers in the state Senate began the debate this week on two bills aimed at gutting or repealing the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards — often dubbed “Common Core” — the Alexander City and Tallapoosa County school boards passed resolutions Monday defending them.

Senate Bills 380 and 443 were introduced by State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) to oppose the Common Core standards adopted by the state school board in November 2010 and put into practice for mathematics and English students statewide.

Monday night, school boards across the state, including the Alexander City and Tallapoosa County boards of education, passed resolutions opposing both bills.

“Both Senate Bills 380 and 443 would undermine the ability of (the) local school system to prepare public school students for the rigorous curricula and career expectations facing them upon graduation from Alabama public schools,” the Alexander City Board of Education wrote in its resolution. “The Board firmly expresses its strong opposition to both.”

Alexander City School Superintendent J. Darrell Cooper said the College and Career Standards were written at the state level to address concerns that Alabama students were not being properly prepared for careers and often needed remedial courses in key subjects when they entered their freshman years of college. The standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in November 2010.

“We feel like it’s (the state school board’s) constitutional authority to do that, and the legislature is overstepping (its) boundaries in trying to usurp that authority,” Cooper said. “We’ve put a lot into this already, so to step back to the standards from 1999 and 2003 would be a big step backwards. Who’s going to pay for us to go back and realign all those resources?”

Senate Bill 380 aims to “terminate the adoption and implementation of the curriculum standards commonly known as common core … or the College and Career Standards,” according to a summary of the bill introduced by Beason and cosponsored by area Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and 13 other Republican senators.

Senate Bill 443 aims to place a moratorium on the adoption of common core-style standards in subjects beyond mathematics and English language arts — which have already been implemented in classrooms — and give authorization to local school boards to “opt out and to implement an alternative curriculum for those subject areas in the local school system,” according to the bill’s summary.

Whatley and Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh are among the cosponsors of that bill, which was also introduced by Beason.

Tallapoosa County School Superintendent Joe Windle also opposes the bills, noting the “responsibility of directing the day-to-day (operations) and the curriculum of students in the public schools system” lies with state and local school boards.

“Why don’t they fund education the way public education needs to be funded and get out of legislating what we ought to be teaching?” Windle said. “If these career and college ready standards are not doing what we need to do for public education, it is the state board’s job somewhere down the line to determine that it’s not working and we will do something else. It is not the legislature’s job, and we need to support (State School Superintendent) Dr. (Tommy) Bice.”

Alexander City teachers and administrators have spent untold hours, Cooper said, attending professional development sessions and preparing curriculums and lesson plans to conform with the ACCR standards in English and math.

The county board’s resolution worried it would “render useless” those extensive preparations.

Conservative groups have lauded Beason for his opposition to the standards, which they say are an unwarranted intrusion into state and local decision-making by federal education officials in Washington, D.C.

Cooper acknowledged that national Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s requirement of national standards to the federal Race to the Top grant program unnecessarily politicized the standards, which were written by the National Governors Association to “increase the rigor” of American school lessons. But they were adopted and, in Alabama’s case, enhanced by state and local school officials who only used the NGA’s proposal as a template.

“I think it was a mistake by Secretary Duncan to do that, because that’s what brought out the negative press,” Cooper said, noting Alabama schools received no Race to the Top funding. “So there’s no money tied to this, no strings. There is nothing the federal government can hold over our heads in these standards.”

Windle said Monday night that around two-thirds of county and city school boards across Alabama adopted measures opposing the effort to gut ACCR standards.

Cooper said the effort to make Alabama public school instruction more rigorous will ultimately “help our state by better preparing our kids to compete in a global economy,” pointing to strong support from the Business Council of Alabama and other pro-business and military groups.

It’s unfortunate, Cooper said, that so much of the opposition to the enhanced standards has been fueled by pundits “making stuff up,” or cherry-picking reports of classroom lessons and reading materials that represent decisions by particular school systems or even individual teachers in other states.

“Specific curriculum (decisions are) developed at the local school or even classroom level,” he said. “I just haven’t heard a good argument for this being an intrusion by the federal government.”

Beason’s bills were being debated before the Senate Education Policy Committee Tuesday.

That committee will vote whether to send the bill to the floor for a full debate. If passed in the Senate, the bills would still require debate and passage in the House and the signature of Gov. Robert Bentley.

As chairman of the State School Board, Bentley voted in favor of adopting the College and Career Ready Standards in 2010 in spite of opposition from many of his own party.

Outlook staff writer Robert Hudson contributed to this report.