For the third consecutive year State Sen. Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) is attempting to repeal the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (CCR) — a program the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has been working to implement since 2012.
Though he claims strong support from a number of parents and teachers united against the Common Core standards the program is derived from, Glover is once again facing vehement opposition from local school systems, businesses and the ALSDE.
The bill, SB 101, passed its first committee hearing Wednesday, April 15, and prior to that hearing Glover said he was confident he’d “secured enough votes” from the bill’s 12 co-sponsors to push it out of the committee stages.
However, as with all controversial bills, Glover will have to get at least 21 commitments to get the bill on the Senate floor and even he admits that will likely be an uphill battle. As a retired teacher though, Glover says its one he’s committed to fighting.
“I have more inquiries and complaints about Common Core than anything else,” Glover said. “It’s very frustrating to some of these parents, especially with common core math. Over and over again I keep hearing, ‘My kid’s was an honor student and now they’re crying and saying they hate school.’”
Based on his own independent research, Glover said the statistics for student performance in Alabama have gone down since the ALSDE implemented the CCR Standards, though state officials disagree with his claims.
Locally, Mobile County Schools Superintendent Martha Peek has previously said if scores have seen a slight downturn, it’s because the new standards are “more rigorous.”
“The CCR standards require students not only process information, but apply that knowledge and those skills instead of just testing for rote memorization,” Peek said. “You can see in the classroom there is a greater engagement on the part of the students.”
Peek said the increased expectations better prepare students to compete in a national and global workforce and ensure benchmarks associated with a specific grade level are the same from state to state.
ALDE officials fear a reversion to the old standards would constitute a move backwards to methods they claim just weren’t working.
“A primary concern about SB 101 is the academic consequence for our students. The inescapable reality is that our number one priority, our students, would be moving backward to older standards,” said Assistant State Superintendent Dr. Jeff Langham.
The system’s current remediation rate is 33 percent, meaning a third of its graduates entering college require some type of remedial classes to get to college level.
According to the language, SB 101 would “re-establish control of education in Alabama to state and local agencies” by terminating the current standards and “replace the Common Core standards for math and English language arts” with those in place those in place immediately prior to their implementation.
The prior standards were established by the federally designed and implemented No Child Left Behind Act which was signed to law in 2001.
Alabama outlined the first CCR standards in its Plan 2020, which allowed the state a federal waiver to opt out of NCLB. Langham said repealing the current standards would revert the state back to NCLB — widely considered to be a failed policy — by default.
“A reversion to NCLB means all schools in Alabama would automatically fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress requirements and would thus be considered ‘failing schools,’” Langham said. “Consequently, Alabama would become bound to the federal government regulations that we have been trying to minimize statewide.”
Oddly enough, concerns over federal overreach in education policy helped mobilize a significant portion of the growing opposition to Common Core, including Glover.
Though the standards themselves were created by the National Governor’s Association, the federal government became synonymous with Common Core in 2009 by offering a series of Race to the Top education grants for states adopting the standards.
“Local school boards say, ‘It’s Alabama standards,’ which is really not true,” Glover said. “Eighty-five percent of our education standards have to be Common Core, and the only leeway the state has is the remaining 15 percent, which is pretty much ignored.”
Though some disagree with the percentages, ALSDE Director of Communication Michael Sibley said the state has made “incredible strides” to show sovereignty — creating a set of standards in conjunction with Alabama teachers and the industries hiring Alabama graduates.
“There’s nothing that prevents ALSDE from making any change we want to make, but we’re comfortable with the standards we have now, and we’ve already changed what we wanted to change,” Sibley said.
Peek emphasized a change in standards doesn’t necessarily mean a change in curriculum. She said the content, materials and textbooks used in the classrooms are still selected at the local level.
“Standards are simply the goal for learning at each grade level, but the curriculum — how it’s taught — adheres to state guidelines but also depends on the school system and the teachers within a certain school,” Peek said. “Of course here in Mobile County, we adhere to our conservative values and make sure our curriculum projects the morals and values we as a community think are important.”
Peek, who’s worked in education for 43 years, said the approach to public education shifts over time and is more “cyclical” than anything. She also encouraged any parents with concerns about the current standards to visit their children’s schools to see them in action.
“I would tell parents to go into the school and talk to those people implementing these standards,” she said. “A picture is worth a thousand words, and they need to go see the teachers and see the children at work. There’s nothing going on there that’s not good learning at a higher level.”
If Glover’s current bill fares better than the similar efforts he’s co-sponsored in the past, Alabama would be one of 11 states to opt out of the across-the-board standards. According to Glover, there are at least 20 states currently debating the idea during their respective legislative sessions.
“Surely they aren’t all going to pass, and the chances of this bill passing are (slim),” Glover said. “But, with 1,400 to 1,500 bills in each session, I think we should at least address this issue that so many parents and teacher’s care about.”