The Fight Over Who Controls the K-12 Curriculum in Alabama
There’s a fight a-brewin’ in the halls of the Alabama legislature. In one corner we have the Alabama State Board of Education and in the other, a delegation of the Republican Senate and House. What’s the fight about? The fight is over which body controls the K-12 curriculum in the state of Alabama. Sort of a separation of powers argument going here.
SB190 and HB254 were introduced two weeks ago to prohibit the State Board of Education from adopting and the State Department of Education from implementing any part of the Common Core State Standards (which it adopted in November 2010).
A joint public hearing will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 27, in Room 807 at the State House, located at 11 South Union Street in Montgomery. Audio will be available at this link.
Until Now, the State Board of Education Has Controlled the Curriculum
What is really interesting about this is that until now, the State Board of Education has been granted the authority to “prescribe the minimum contents of courses of study”, which translates to adopting the standards of what is taught in Alabama’s schools. These bills attempt to wrestle that power away from the State Board.
Section 16-6B-2(f) from the Code of Alabama:
(f) The State Board of Education, on the recommendation of the State Superintendent of Education, shall prescribe the minimum contents of courses of study for all public elementary and high schools in the state. In every elementary school there shall be taught at least reading including phonics, spelling, handwriting, arithmetic, oral and written English, geography, history of the United States and Alabama, elementary science, hygiene and sanitation, physical education, the arts, including musical and visual arts, environmental protection, and such other studies as may be prescribed by the local board of education. Moreover, the State Board of Education shall require the following courses for grades one through eight in all public schools to be phased in beginning with students entering grades one through eight in the 1995-96 scholastic year: English, social studies, mathematics, and science shall be taught each year in grades one through eight. English shall include, but not be limited to, material designed to develop language arts, such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Social studies shall emphasize geography and history of the United States and Alabama.
These bills take that power granted to the State Board of Education away by prohibiting certain standards from being included in those “minimum contents”. Which basically amounts to the state legislature dictating the curriculum in our schools.
Section 16-35-4 puts it even more succinctly:
Minimum course content; maximum number of courses.
The State Board of Education, on the recommendations of the State Superintendent of Education, shall prescribe the minimum contents of courses of study for all public, elementary and high schools in the state, and shall fix the maximum number of courses which are compulsory in each grade of the elementary schools.
I point this out not to say that the legislature is necessarily wrong to wrest away control over the curriculum, but to say it is doing a NEW thing: removing the power for dictating minimum course content from the State Board of Education. This is setting a precedent for future legislatures to do the same.
What the Anti-Common Core Bills’ Goals Are
According to the group Alabamians United for Excellence in Education, this pair of bills has three goals:
- Repeal the Common Core State Standards Initiative (Common Core), and prohibit the State Board of Education from entering into any agreement with the federal government, other states, or private interests that would cede state control over education outside the state;
- Prohibit the collecting and sharing of personal, non-academic data on students beyond what is necessary to basic administrative needs or compliance with requirements of the U.S. Department of Education; and
- Require the State Board of Education to post notice and hold public hearings in the four districts throughout the State before it considers adoption of state standards in the future.
The Alabama State Department of Education has issued statements in response to the stated goals of the bills, including that it has full control over the academic standards, not the federal government, and that it is not sharing data with the federal government as alleged by those sponsoring the bills. Two State Board of Education members authored an opinion piece to state their support of Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards, which include parts of the Common Core State Standards.
There are even competing facebook pages: this anti-Common Core page, and this pro-Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (which include parts of the Common Core) page to get their arguments in front of the public.
Very Brief History of the Common Core State Standards in Alabama
Alabama’s adoption of most of the Common Core State Standards for English and Math has had some opposition since the original adoption in November 2010. Click here to read the original resolution. Governor Bentley, who serves as President of the State Board of Education, attended a state board of education meeting one year after the original adoption and led the effort to rescind the adoption, but that move failed on a 3-6 vote (Governor Bentley and Board members Betty Peters and Stephanie Bell voted to table the resolution that then-board member Randy McKinney offered as a substitute to Bentley’s resolution).
In the resolution that the State Board adopted in November 2011 affirming the state’s adoption of portions of the Common Core State Standards, this paragraph is very telling:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Alabama State Board of Education does reaffirm the language in the November 18, 2010, resolution that states, “the Alabama State Board of Education will continue to be the sole and exclusive entity vested with the authority, without restriction, to adopt or revoke all academic standards in all subjects for students in the public schools of the state of Alabama, including the Common Core State Standards, without direct or indirect pressure or coercion by the United States government or any of its subdivisions and the Alabama State Board of Education will be kept apprised of any such activity.” [italicized emphasis added]
Perhaps the State Board should have added “without direct or indirect pressure or coercion by the Alabama state government” to that resolution.
If you’d like to hear the deliberation in which Governor Bentley and members of the State Board of Education engaged during that November 2011 meeting, listen to the podcast, beginning at 53 minutes, 22 seconds. This discussion is extremely educational and allows us an inside look at how our State Board of Education members have not only considered the Common Core, but how they view their roles as State Board of Education members. Two state board members opposed the adoption of any of the Common Core, and the remainder spoke in favor of the Common Core. The dialogue is worth a listen.
What Are the Standards, Actually?
Alabama’s College and Career Ready Math standards were fully implemented this school year (2012-2013) and English Language Arts standards will be fully implemented next year. Click the links and read the standards for yourself so that you can have a fully informed opinion on the standards.
Who Should Control the Curriculum?
If these bills are enacted, the state legislature will have control over our K-12 curriculum. If the bills die, control over the curriculum remains with the State Board of Education. Which do you prefer?