State Schools Superintendent Tommy Bice sharply critical of Common Core bill

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State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice, seen here on Tuesday April 23, 2013, strongly criticized a bill that would allow local school districts an opt-out provision from the state's College and Career Ready Standards. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice, seen here on Tuesday April 23, 2013, strongly criticized a bill that would allow local school districts an opt-out provision from the state’s College and Career Ready Standards. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

State Superintendent Tommy Bice Friday strongly criticized a bill filed by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, which would allow local school districts the opportunity to use curricula not associated with the Common Core Standards.

In the statement, released a few days before the Senate’s Education Policy Committee is set to hold a hearing on the legislation, Bice said Beason’s bill “contains absolutely nothing to support current efforts to ensure students today graduate prepared for college, work, and adulthood in the 21st Century.”

The state curricula is called the College and Career Ready Standards, based on the Common Core standards developed by the National Governors’ Association in 2007. The Common Core has become a target for a number of people, including tea party groups, who say the standards subvert local control of education and amount to centralization of education. Bice and the Alabama State Department of Education have strongly rejected that criticism, saying the standards were developed in Alabama by Alabama educators.

Bice said in his statement that the bill would create “a total disruption” in students’ learning, and impose new costs on districts.

“It forces a return to standards that are a decade old and removes the ability to account for the learning gains of students and to identify schools in need of improvement or failing,” the statement went on to say. “It would require significant local costs as school systems attempt to purchase ten-year-old textbooks and resources if they even still exist.”

The Senate Education Policy Committee hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Beason, a longtime critic of Common Core who attempted to raise the issue in the 2013 legislative session, said in a phone interview Friday that districts should have a right to set their own curricula, calling the standards a “centralized, top-down federally manipulated, unproven, untested educational experiment.” He also rejected Bice’s argument that adopting old textbooks would hurt students, saying the facts of subjects like algebra and chemistry have not changed.

“I have old textbooks in my house, and I’m convinced I can teach my children the subject matter using a 30-year-old algebra textbook,” he said. “I think it’s unfair to present it to people of state (as bad) just becaue it’s old and of value.”

The federal government was not involved the development of standards, aimed in part at creating a nationwide criteria to establish student progress. Educational groups have also said it is difficult to purchase textbooks that are not aligned with the Common Core, a fact Beason did not dispute.

“They are all in, there’s no doubt,” he said. “Which is why I wanted to deal with this issue last year. It’s easy to say ‘It’s too late to go back, we can’t stop.’ But they wouldn’t let us debate it last year.”

The issue has proven divisive in the state’s Republican coalition, with Beason and tea party supporters lined up against state business organizations, which largely support the curricula and say the State Board of Education should have the final say on the matter. On Thursday, Business Council of Alabama president Bill Canary expressed strong opposition to Beason’s bill, which he said in a statement would amount to “a significant usurption of power by the Legislature.”

“This is a political application at the expense of students and our future workforce,” the statement said. “As we have said before, continued attempts by the Legislature to assume control of this issue, relegated by law to the State Board of Education, is the very definition of government overreach.”

GOP legislative leaders have generally shared the BCA’s position on the matter. However, language inserted into the Education Trust Fund budget approved by the Senate last week would prevent the ALSDE from using funding for further implementation of Common Core standards, language which is also in Beason’s bill. Educators have pointed out that Common Core only covers math and English, and that standards in other subjects are not currently in development. The state has adopted social studies standards independent of the Common Core, and other groups are developing standards for subjects like science.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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