Bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama schools moves forward in Legislature with opposition from local education community

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - An Alabama Senate committee has approved a bill that would repeal Common Core standards in Alabama. They are known as the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.

Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh's bill passed the education policy committee Wednesday and will go to the Senate floor for debate.

The bill would eliminate Common Core standards at the end of this school year.

"After 10 years, the state of Alabama is 49th in math and 46th in reading," Marsh said in a video posted Tuesday, when he introduced the bill. "We can't keep going in that direction."

Senator Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) was one of multiple co-sponsors for the bill.

He said in a statement,

"The Common Core standards just haven’t worked for Alabama’s students, and the proof is evident in the data. In 2017, Alabama’s 8th grade math scores ranked 49th among the 50 states, and math scores for 4th grade students were 45th in the nation, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Common Core’s curriculum standards and guidelines have been in place for nine years, and they have failed Alabama’s students. It’s clear we need to look at alternative educational methods, with an emphasis on returning as much control as possible back to the local school districts.”

Business Opposition

But since the bill was introduced, multiple groups have come out against it. Multiple metro chambers of commerce, including those in Huntsville/Madison County, Mobile, and Birmingham, encouraged legislators to oppose the bill in a letter sent Wednesday. The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce sent it to all the North Alabama senators.

"Our organizations would encourage you to reject any legislative proposal that harms Alabama’s standards or usurps the authority of the Alabama State Board of Education," they wrote in part. "The Alabama standards are the cornerstone of the state’s Plan 2020 to increase graduation rates, reduce college remediation and raise student achievement. We believe that education standards that allow students to move from state to state, or region to region without fear of falling behind or repeating material are critical to our economy and our workforce."

The chambers of commerce called repealing "elimination or dumbing down" of the standards, adding,  "Repealing these standards would damage our schools, our teachers and our students that are already well into implementation of our standards, and it would certainly damage our economic development efforts in attracting companies who value an educated workforce. "

You can view the full letter here.

WHNT News 19 attempted to reach State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey for comment but were unsuccessful Wednesday by the time of this posting. Many leaders are on spring break, advocates said, which made the timeline of this bill more difficult for them to grasp.

Education Advocate Reaction

The Alabama Association of School Boards said the repeal would mean chaos for schools and students.

WHNT News 19 talked to Preeti Francis, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the Huntsville Council of PTA's, about the bill.

She said it caught many in the education community by surprise this week.

"Almost every year we've been having to fight this. This came up again on short notice. I think it took many of us by surprise," she said. "Why are we rushing through this?"

She wonders why educators and others who support them were not kept more in the loop about the bill.

"I am also concerned that it appears as though people in the education community have not been consulted," she said.

Elizabeth Fleming, Executive Director of The Schools Foundation, said many people may confuse standards with curriculum. She thinks that needs to be cleared up to show people why she believes Common Core is useful and necessary.

"What we are trying to do in Alabama with the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards is make sure students, if they move here through job relocations or military family relocations, that they are going to walk in knowing they are going into first grade and they are going to be learning at the same level as their peers."

She added, "The teachers work on the curriculum. They work on the individualized instruction. But what the standards do is they level the playing field. They make sure we are in some ways competitive, but also we are able to educate our students as they come into our schools."

For now, there's lots of confusion she said.

"My phone started blowing up this morning with, 'Have you seen this? What does this mean?'" she stated. I think there's a lot of uncertainty on what this bill brings to the table for our K-12 education community."

She said it's still unclear what this means for teachers too.

"What I'm afraid of is we are getting into this back and forth without talking to each other to think ten years into the future and we are just doing a reactionary piece of legislation," Fleming stated.

Francis wondered what this means for children if the bill makes its way into law.

"This year they are going to have one set of standards they are going to be taught, then the next a new one," she explained.

Advocates are also worried about a section of the bill that prohibits the state from adopting or implementing any other national standards. They believe there are unintended consequences that need to be addressed.

"Juniors all take the ACT which is a national assessment designed aligned with national standards," Francis explained.  "Also, AP classes." She added, "The other implication is for career-technical credentials."

"National Board Certification for teachers," Fleming added to the list. "These are all programs the Schools Foundation for decades have been raising funds for to support our schools. There is a lot of, 'What is this all about.'"

Francis said for her family personally, her kids are doing well on national tests. She thinks it is too soon to judge whether the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards are benefitting students.

"I take that as evidence that it's working. But really, for us as a state to evaluate it, I don't have the data for it yet. The children who have started it have not yet made it to high school, let alone graduated. I think it's too soon for us to throw it all away and say it hasn't worked."

For Fleming, this shouldn't be a race to the finish but a slow walk to talk it out with other experts in the education field before politicians make a decision.

She added, "We need to be careful before racing into this. I think a lot of dialogue needs to happen." She stated, "There's no need to rush into repealing our existing standards because I do believe they are working. I think that we do a great job as a state reviewing the standards each year it comes up for that particular subject area... They are always under review. And most importantly, the members of those committees include teachers."

What's Next

The bill made it through a Senate committee and is expected to come before the full Senate on Thursday.

Sen. Givhan told WHNT News 19 Wednesday that once it appears before the Senate, he expects it to pass by vote and thinks it will be supported in the House of Representatives.

This comes as the state is changing assessment providers used to gauge students' proficiency.

At the same time, Governor Kay Ivey's budget proposal includes a raise for teachers.

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