Mary Scott Hunter and Hugh McInnish Go Toe To Toe on Common Core Standards

Leadership Perspectives
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - "Common Core education standards" -- words that generate plenty of controversy in Alabama these days.

The Common Core standards are in use in Alabama schools, but there are bills in the legislature that would allow individual school systems to "opt out" of Common Core, or even allow the state to "not" use the standards.

Our Leadership Perspectives interview this week features Common Core supporter --Republican State Board of Education member Mary Scott Hunter, and Common Core critic -- Madison County Republican activist Hugh McInnish.

The "No Child Left Behind Act" was proposed by President George W. Bush in 2001, and it became law in 2002.

Hunter explained the history of Common Core, saying, “Well, the Common Core standards are a set of standards that were promulgated by the National Governors Association, many of whom were Republican, and the chief state school officers. States could adopt them or not adopt them. Alabama reviewed them, laid them side by side with Alabama's previous standards, found them to very similar in content, but more rigorous and concise. Concepts are learned earlier, and mastered earlier. Concepts are repeated with more regularity, so it was decided and recommended to the board by our committee that reviewed these standards that we adopt these standards. So, Alabama's current standards are the Alabama College and Career ready standards, and those include the Common Core state standards. They also include Alabama specific content, and you can read them at the Alabama Department of Education website. They're online for review and unfortunately they've become controversial, because our standards, our Alabama College and Career ready standard, include the Common Core."

Madison County Republican Executive Committee member Hugh McInnish said about Common Core standards, "… Common Core as I see it is a blatant thrust to take more power away from our state and move it to Washington, and I think that is an awfully bad thing to do. Now, yes you've got this detail and that detail and we can argue about them, but in one sense they are moot.”

“Are we going to give up our control and cede our power to Washington? To me, that's what it is," added McInnish.

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In fact, a council of governors and educators across the country set up the Common Core standards. Though there are some incentives provided by the Obama administration for states that adopted the Common Core, there is no federal oversight of the Common Core standards.

"…The National Governors Association and Chief State School officers promulgated these standards, and you know it's an easy thing to shout fire in a crowded theater, and certainly none of us want Washington to be control and when you say these inflammatory statements like ‘Washington is in control,’ or the ‘Obama Administration is in control,’ or ‘the federal depart,’ those are extremely objectionable to many people including me,” said Hunter.

"That is not what's happening. Alabama is not accepting any dollars that are tied to the adoption of our standards. We don't have any, there is no federal, we actually recently changed them, Steve. We didn't call Washington to ask if we could change them. So it's a simple thing to say, Washington is in charge and you should throw them out, but when you dig into that, I've just not found any evidence of that," she added.

McInnish, however, disagreed with Hunter’s assessment of the situation.

"She is wrong when she says this. When you look at the documents from The Education Department and the Secretary of Education, through out there, he's threatening what he's going to do with the money and "No Child Left Behind" and so on if you don't do this and so in regard to the Common Core standards. It's all there. You can't say I'm against Washington taking over, but I am for Common Core standards. Those are in direct collision with each other," said McInnish.

Hunter was quick to point out Alabama is no longer a part of No Child Left Behind, adding that it was a very unpopular program. McInnish argued that was proof of “what happens when Washington takes over.”

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WHNT News 19's Steve Johnson said the way Common Core has been described to him by veteran educators is it's not so much knowing that three times three equals nine, but knowing why it's nine.

Hugh McInnish argued that this was a mistake, saying, "Now let me tell you, I have a master’s degree in mathematics from UAH. That doesn't qualify me as an education specialist, but to ask a lower grade student to understand the abstractions of mathematics is a mistake. Particularly, if they have not learned the facts. The problem is that students, some of them, cannot multiply, add and subtract, and that's what we need. Finally, if this abstract rigmarole is good, and I doubt it, we can inject it into our standards ourselves. We don't need the help of people up in Washington to do it.”

Mary Scott Hunter: "What's happening is with mathematics and math facts is what Caleb brought home is not three plus three is six, but he's asked to know, three plus what number equals six. That’s the difference and that starts to branch him into algebra, and there are perfectly capable of doing it."

McInnish asked Hunter why she didn’t use her role on the State School Board to implement that standard, if that was her goal.

"That's what we did. We took some really good standards and we brought them into our standards here in Alabama and we threw out the bad,” said Hunter.

"I mean it is nonsense, it is nonsense. And all of these details are moot," McInnish countered. "The basic question is, are we going to maintain our local control are or we going to cede it to Washington? You don't like Washington, I say it because it is ultimately a fact. I don't care about all this smoke and mirrors stuff. It’s going to Washington."

"The average parent does not do the research to find out where it comes from, Steve, but the whole point is, they care about the result. And under these Common Core standards, they're going to be dumbed down. We're going to lose control of it, and the result will not be good," McInnish added.

Mary Scott Hunter replied, "Well, Steve I am a parent with three children in public schools and I think parents care very deeply, and they do look to see what comes home in their children's back packs. And just this week as the standards were debated in our legislature, and I welcome this debate. We are talking about, we disagree, but what we're talking about what is important. We are having a robust discussion about education in our state, and that's a good thing. And many of the people that were walking the halls of the legislature this week, were parents. Parents who came because they care about the quality of their children’s education."

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