By Elois Zeanah, President
Alabama Federation of Republican Women
I’ll be watching the Alabama Senate on Tuesday with a lot of excitement. We could be seeing a new day dawning, when the states start to roll back the tide of centralization. It makes me proud to be an Alabama resident! I hope Alabama will be the first of the 40 states that have movements afoot to withdraw from Common Core. Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Alaska refused to cede control to Common Core from the outset. Undoubtedly, other states will join them. Let’s make Alabama first!
On the other hand, the possibility that Alabama would be a leader in education by repealing Common Core, which has deficiencies that will handicap our children, makes state school board member Mary Scott Hunter sad. This article will respond to her recent newsletter, explaining how she continues to misinform her constituents. She seems to think that renaming Common Core “Alabama Career and College Ready Standards” will fool her constituents. Ways Hunter tries to misinform readers will be contrasted with and follow bold reasons why SB403 has great promise to pass the Rules Committee on Tuesday and the full Senate.
Here’s why legislators will vote for SB403.
The Republican Party Platform advocates choice and competition in Education
There is no “rift in the Republican Party” as Hunter claims in her newsletter. It is she who has abandoned the Republican Party’s mission. Has she read the RNC Resolution that asks legislators to repeal Common Core to unlace the “straitjacket on academic freedom”? Has she observed that both Alabama’s U.S. Senators, four Alabama U.S. Congress Members, the ALGOP state executive committee, that National Federation of Republican Women and the Alabama Federation of Republican Women are all on record as opposing nationalized standards? So is almost every other national and state conservative group including tea parties. It is she who’s out of step with her own Party and conservatives.
Common Core standards put an end to choice and competition in K-12 education. Common Core is a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all model for all states, all schools, and all students. Centralized control of standards at the national level is a Progressive’s dream; conservatives believe in decentralized power and have always opposed giving away more local control. Common Core standards further federalize education and erode state sovereignty! Common Core strips parents and states of political power while the private owners of the Standards insulate themselves from legal liability by broad disclaimers for any damage their Standards cause.
Alabama’s K-12 problem is not its standards. The K-12 problem is that it ranks near the bottom of the fifty states in educational results. Common Core standards fail to address structural problems; so changes in curriculum to Common Core won’t fix that problem. Only innovations in teaching and the learning environment (through choice, competition, accountability and innovation), compared to those in other states will change that. The Legislature has begun to address those problems. The ARI and AMSTI are excellent examples.
Alabama has made great strides in improving reading and math scores
Hunter mis-states that “the way her son is learning Math and English right now, will go away.” Surely she is aware that English/Language Arts standards are not scheduled to be fully implemented until AUGUST 2013. Surely she is also aware that Common Core math just started this year and there’s been too little time to know how this is working. We DO have results of how our Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) and Alabama Math Initiative (AMSTI) have been working, however, and both have made Alabama a leader in education! Alabama leads the nation in reading gains in grades four through eight. Alabama has the second highest gain in math! These two innovative and effective programs are the ones that will go away under Common Core. Further, Hunter is aware of the scandal this year wherein the state superintendent misappropriated over fifty million dollars from these two proven programs, without the knowledge or authorization of the Alabama legislature, to implement Common Core reading and math.
Common Core will “dumb down” English and Math instruction
Hunter states that “Many students cannot do college level English upon graduation, many more cannot do Mathematics,” but she ignores the fact that Common Core will make matters worse. Education experts who served on the Common Core Validation Committees for ELA and Math state that Common Core does not strengthen high school English coursework and will not reduce post-secondary remedial coursework; and that Common Core will set our students back in math at least two years in comparison with their peers internationally. We have many specific examples of how Common Core ELA and Math “dumb down” education but Hunter continues to ignore these. (See attached)
Repealing Common Core will return control to Alabama parents, teachers, and the legislature
Hunter continues in her attempt to mislead others that Alabama did not adopt Common Core. In this newsletter, she states that Alabama has “no ongoing commitments” and that “our standards are ours.” She knows better.
Regarding “no ongoing commitments”: When the Alabama state board of education applied for a Race to the Top grant (February 2009, I believe – BEFORE the standards were even written), it committed to adopting Common Core standards whether it received the grant or not. Many of the forty states which “adopted” Common Core seem to have done so for the reason Alabama did – to become eligible for federal money the Obama Administration offered as “Race to the Top” funds in return for ceding control of developing its standards and adopting national Common Core standards. Alabama did not receive funds in phase one and re-applied in phase two. This is why Alabama is listed on the official Common Core website even today as a participating state. Alabama will remain committed to Common Core until and unless the Alabama legislature repeals Common Core, since the state board of education refused to withdraw and Mary Scott voted to remain a committed Common Core state. This decision surrendered Alabama’s educational authority.
Regarding “our standards are ours”: As an adoptive state, Alabama loses control over content. Alabama must adopt 100% of Common Core standards. It cannot change or delete or substitute anything, and it may allow only a token amount of additional content (up to 15%), which won’t be covered on national tests. Alabama added only 2.5% of additional ELA materials and 14.5% of additional math materials. For Hunter to refer to these token Alabama-specific materials added as “Alabama standards”, while having to implement 100% of Common Core, is disingenuous. The standards are NOT ours, they are copyright by trade associations and belong to the NGA/CCSSO, which is working in partnership with the federal government.
Speaking of federal backing: Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation stated to Alabama legislators on April 18th: “Federal backing has cemented the effort as one to establish national standards and tests that will define what every child in America must learn in school. What the federal government funds, it ultimately controls. That’s the biggest concern with Common Core, and why I consider these to be national standards and tests that threaten Alabama’s education sovereignty….National standards will strengthen federal control over education while weakening Alabama schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers.” So when Hunter states in her newsletter that “Alabama is safe,” I disagree on several levels.
Alabama is NOT safe from outside interference in our education when entities outside our state make choices of what Alabama students will learn and parents, teachers, and legislators have no ability to change this, even when there are problems. By repealing Common Core, Alabama legislators will un-lace the “straitjacket on academic freedom” (as the RNC Resolution puts it) in Alabama.
Repeal of Common Core will allow Alabama to set our own standards and answer only to Alabama parents and taxpayers.
Hunter stated that she told her third grader that what he was “studying now in Math and English (sic – not implemented until August 2013!) could go away. He asked, ‘Well, what will we learn?’ Good question.” I would like to answer her third-grader’s question.
To start, Alabama could go back to our previous standards. Alabama had good standards. They were rated B+ by the Fordham Institute, which ranks state standards nationally and was paid millions of dollars by the Gates Foundation to advocate for Common Core; and which stated in a recent letter to Alabama that it “would not be crazy” to return to its previous standards. By the way, Common Core was also rated B+.
While it is rising from the bottom,
· Alabama leads the nation in reading gains in grades four through eight as a direct result of its ARI.
· Alabama has the second highest gain in math because of our Math Initiative. These are proven to work.
· Alabama was one of only eleven states to score a grade of “A” for our superior history standards.
· The gap between black and white students narrowed by 4 points since 2003.
· The gap between students from low-income families and other students narrowed by 5 points since 2003.
Despite the fact that our Alabama standards are good, we can still strengthen them. There are six other states that were graded “clearly superior” to Common Core. Why not check out their standards and see if we want to model them? In addition, we know that choice and competition always improves education. Our legislature should offer more school choice options.
Why would Alabama settle for “common” when we don’t have to. Why straitjacket Alabama to standards owned by someone else, controlled by someone else, and which aren’t even research-based or internationally benchmarked? Why give away parental and state control over what our children learn of our own free will? The federal government takes enough of our personal freedoms by force. Why voluntarily give them more?
In conclusion: For years now, Ms. Hunter has claimed that Common Core has rigor and is an improvement on previous Alabama standards, yet she shows no proof. It would be far more productive for Ms. Hunter to explain WHY she believes education experts are wrong when they say Common Core lacks rigor, is not research-based, is not internationally benchmarked, will put our children at least two years behind countries with the best standards, and will handicap our children’s future since they will not be prepared to be independent thinkers and good citizens or college-ready. (Examples are listed in the attached document.) So far no one has been able to refute these education experts. Can she?
Lack Rigor and International Benchmarking
The Heritage Foundation: Common Core has fatal flaws
· Reading levels are lowered. Reading standards for 12th grade students will be at the 8th grade level.*
· Standards do not prepare students for authentic college-level work.*
· Standards are not internationally benchmarked.*
· Standards will not reduce post-secondary remedial coursework.*
· Standards emphasize skills, not literary or cultural knowledge for citizenship.*
· “Standards are designed to lead to a uniform, federally controlled, and intellectually undemanding curriculum.”*
· Classical literature will be reduced and replaced with “informational texts”. This drastic decrease in the instruction of classical literature at the high school level necessary for success at the university college level will ill prepare students. Informational texts are written at a low level of thinking skills at around a 6th or 8th grade reading level.*
· Will set American students back at least two years in comparison with their peers internationally
· Defer fluency in division to grade 6 **
· Defer Algebra to grade 9 from grade 8 **
· Teach geometry by an experimental method (on the basis of rigid motions) that was not successful when tried in Russia **
· Fail on clarity and rigor compared to better state standards and to those of high-achieving countries **
· Fail to meet recommendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, and are contrary to the practice of international competitors **
· Are two or more years behind international expectations by eight grade and only fall further behind as they advance in grades ***
· Don’t fully cover the material in a solid geometry course, or in the second-year algebra course ***
· Are inferior to several sets of standards in the nation including those in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, and Washington ****
* Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Univ. of Arkansas, served on the Common Core Validation Committee
** Ze’ev Wurman, former head of U.S. Department of Education
*** Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University, the only professional mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee
**** W. Steven Wilson, professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University