Alabama Will Keep Its Common Core Standards--For Now

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 11, 2017 4 min read
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Alabama officials have, for now, tabled a resolution to rescind its adoption of a set of common reading and math standards for its students.

At their Aug. 10 meeting, members of the state’s board of education indicated that the best time to tackle the standards would be as part of the normal standards-revision process. Alabama’s math standards are due for revision in 2018-19 and its English/language arts standards in 2019-20.

“I guess my point is we have a process in place by which we review standards, and this would be a mammoth undertaking when it was done correctly,” said board member Cynthia McCarty. “I’m all about rigorous standards, but I also believe we have to have educators involved at every level telling us what works in our classroom and then we need colleges and higher ed. and industry telling us what they need, and where we’re weak.”

Under the proposed resolution, the state would rescind the standards formally on Aug. 1, 2018 and immediately commence writing a new draft. But at the meeting, board members seemed reluctant to make any changes to the standards outside of the state’s usual standards-revision process.

Are the Standards Too Weak?

The state adopted the standards in 2010, and has altered them several times since (excising, for example, an appendix that spells out examples of texts that could be used at each grade level in reading). This has led to some confusion. At the recent board meeting, even Alabama staff weren’t able to say definitively what percentage of the current standards were directly based on the common core.

The research and evaluation group Abt Associates once did an analysis of nine states’ tweaks to the Common Core, including Alabama. It concluded that those nine states kept about three quarters of the standards the same, and mostly clarified or added to the other quarter. Few actual standards were dropped.

Beleaguered Alabama schools chief Michael Sentance seemed to favor a quicker timeline for revising the standards. At the board meeting, he claimed that the common-core standards were not internationally benchmarked with the highest-performing nations’ math practices.

Similarly, he seemed to question the common core’s emphasis on nonfiction text. “Fiction has a higher level of vocabulary more diverse vocabulary that informational text, and higher levels of critical thinking involved when you’re reading fiction when you’re trying to work through a story. There are studies that a literature based curriculum correlates with higher achievement scores,” he said. Read local reporter Tricia Powell Crain’s take, too.

In fact, much of the debate at the meeting had to do with whether the standards were too low—though they are widely considered to be more rigorous than what the state had before.

Sentance acknowledged that creating new standards would touch on nearly all aspects of the state’s K-12 system: “It’s not simply textbooks and so forth, it’s teacher preparation, the tests we have to give to teachers; all of these kinds of things would have to be aligned to standards. They can be done, but it takes time to do that.”

National Action?

With the focus on instruction, the debate was a far cry from some of the more heated rhetoric that has surrounded the standards in Alabama. In fact, some of the state’s board members have sought for years to do away with the common core.

Board member Betty Peters has repeatedly denounced the standards as a form of nationalization or federal takeover of education. (The U.S. Department of Education didn’t create the common-core standards, but it did offer states financial incentives to adopt them.) Those fears seem to be shared by other state policymakers, who have for several years running introduced a number of bills to kill the standards, though none has ever passed.

The most recent such bill, introduced in April by Rep. Barry Moore, would do away with the common-core standards and revert back to the reading and math standards that preceded them. Like Peters, Moore has said in interviews that the standards are “indoctrinating” students in liberal viewpoints.

A few years back many more states were traducing their common-core adoptions, but that activity seemed to level off recently—until the election of President Trump, a common-core opponent, seemed to give that movement more juice.

Earlier this summer, New Hampshire decided not to entertain revisions to its common-core standards that were being pushed by its state superintendent—though it is likely to revisit the topic next year.

Photo: The Alabama statehouse.—Mark Goebel/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.