Common Core State Standards in the State of Alabama – Why Is This Such a Big Deal?
By now, you have likely heard of the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are probably wondering why they’re such a big deal. Let’s start with basic facts: At this point, CCSS only exist for Math and English Language Arts (ELA). Alabama incorporated the CCSS into our Math and ELA standards in 2010 as part of the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS). The Math standards were fully implemented this school year, and ELA standards will be implemented in the 2013-2014 school year. States that chose to adopt the CCSS had to adopt them as a whole in that subject area, but were allowed to add 15% of state-specific standards to the total plate of standards.
The adoption of Alabama’s CCRS went mostly unnoticed, but concerns have been growing as states near full implementation of the CCSS and as tests are developed to align with the CCSS. I believe it’s fair to say that most of those opposed to CCSS have the following concerns: Is the push toward CCSS a federal attempt to nationalize the curriculum? Does this give states too little control over what children in their state are being taught? Are CCSS a step backward? Have these standards been tested/piloted or internationally benchmarked? Are textbook and testing companies pushing this in pursuit of more of a share of public education dollars?
There are no easy answers to these questions, because each side promotes its facts as truth, and each side has answered these questions exactly the opposite of the other.
Dan Carsen, Southern Education Desk reporter, did an excellent job covering the debate. Required reading before proceeding further. No need to re-hash. But there is a need to flesh out the truth, the actual facts, and then flesh out the suspicions. And then, you get to decide for yourself what you think about the CCSS and Alabama’s CCRS.
And while we’re fleshing out facts and suspicions, the Alabama Senate has just closed the door on SB403, which would have outlawed the CCSS for use in Alabama. An Amendment added by the Committee threatened the State Board of Education with loss of state funding if they implemented the CCSS. Late-breaking news states that Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh believes SB403 is dead for this session, but left the door open for further study. Marsh voted to approve the bill during committee meetings. Here’s further coverage on the end of the debate over the CCSS for this legislative session.
Please read this NOTE: This post contains information put together by other people and other organizations. Those who are deeply opposed to and/or deeply approve of CCSS pay particular attention to WHO produced the information to determine whether the information can be trusted. I have chosen these bits and pieces of information not to sway you one way or the other, but to inform you of the very basic foundation of facts about CCSS. This is a highly-charged battle, and has become very personal for many who feel threatened by the very existence of the effort behind CCSS. So, continue reading at your own risk. I continue to be committed to presenting fair and accurate material to allow you to form your own opinion. The important thing is to form an opinion, period.
Here’s a look at the why folks believed the states needed to develop common standards to begin with. (Remember the NOTE in the previous paragraph. This video would probably be considered propaganda by the anti-CCSS folks.)
What Are the CCSS?
The CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. States had the option of adopting them, and some states chose to adopt them as part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant process. That’s where things got a bit fuzzy.
CCSS are educational standards, which is different from the curriculum. Educational standards provide clear goals for student learning. Standards are the what that is taught. Curriculum is the how the information is taught. The curriculum includes the materials, including textbooks and workbooks and the actual way in which the standards are taught. Standards set the framework for curriculum. Curriculum is built from standards.
I borrowed this image from this web site as it visually represents what standards do and how standards are built upon by states and districts and end up in stuff that is taught to our children.
Which States Have Adopted the Standards?
So far, 45 states plus the District of Columbia and a number of U.S. territories, depicted in yellow in the image above, have adopted the CCSS. Some state legislatures appear to be working to remove the CCSS from their state’s standards, including Alabama. Those efforts are in various stages, though Alabama’s Senate Committee approval of SB403 seems to have lead the way.
Questions to Ask Yourself
By now, you are probably most likely confused, as I continue to be, about why all the fuss about education standards.
You should ask yourself how you feel about your elected legislators in the Alabama Senate and House dictating the educational standards that form the basis of what our schools will teach to your children.
You should ask yourself how you feel about our ALSDE having to accept the CCSS in whole and only adding an additional 15% of state-specific standards to the full plate of standards.
You should ask yourself how you feel about the idea that children in Georgia and Massachusetts and Idaho and California and New York will all be exposed to similar standards at each grade level and what that means to you and your family and your community and what that means for your child’s higher education opportunities.
You should ask yourself how you feel about textbook companies who stand to benefit (recognizing they already do) from states needing to buy new textbooks to align with the CCSS and how individual state-added standards will be incorporated into those textbooks or other teaching material.
You should ask yourself how you feel about tests that are aligned with CCSS and how individual state-added standards will be incorporated into those tests, knowing that if student achievement success equates to success on standardized tests, teachers will be compelled first to teach the material on which students will be tested.
You should ask yourself if you believe the CCSS have been properly researched and vetted and what proof we have that learning that is based on those standards will lead your child to be college and career ready.
You should ask yourself what various stakeholder groups, including teachers, school administrators, boards of education, business communities, and colleges (both 2- and 4-year) have to say about whether they believe the CCSS will properly prepare students for college or careers upon graduating high school.
You should ask yourself whether you believe your school district will stick to the cookie-cutter standards or will be innovative and add to the depth of the standards.
You should ask yourself who you trust to tell you the truth about the short- and long-term effects of implementing CCSS.
You should talk with your friends about their opinions of CCSS and ask them where they get their information and who they trust to tell them the truth.
And then, you need to get more information.
Next Steps to Get Fully Informed
This is where it gets a bit dicey. Because from whom you seek this information may result in what you believe about CCSS. I recommend that you look at the actual standards themselves. The National PTA, which supports CCSS implementation among the states, has put out parent information booklets about CCSS to help you understand what the standards are in grades K-5 and what your child will learn.
The ALSDE has posted the standards for Math and ELA on the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX) web site. It is somewhat coded in edu-speak, so beware. I strongly encourage you to take the time to at least look at your child’s next-year standards, i.e., if your child is in the 3rd grade this year, check out 4th grade standards in each subject area.
After you understand what Alabama’s CCRS are, the next step is to go back and look at what they used to be.
How Does CCSS Compare to Alabama’s Old Standards?
Where we are a bit at a disadvantage is that we parents and families most likely don’t know what our standards were prior to the adoption of the Alabama CCRS, which include CCSS. Each of our children has one year in each grade. And most of us, if we do have more than one child, have a few years in between our children hitting the same grade, so it’s hard to compare/remember one year’s standards with a prior year’s standards. The ALSDE created two documents, one for math and one for ELA, that “mapped” the CCSS to Alabama’s then-course of study to determine if the standards were moved from one grade to the next or were removed altogether. Interpreting and understanding this document requires serious commitment. Be warned.
Only one group, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, attempted to look at states’ previous education standards and compare them with the CCSS and award grades to each. For both Math and ELA, the Fordham Institute stated that CCSS would significantly enhance Alabama’s standards, even though Alabama’s standards were strong in both areas. The Fordham Institute gave Alabama’s math standards a B, while the CCSS in math were given a B-plus. Alabama’s ELA standards were given a B-plus, whereas the CCSS were awarded an A-minus. In the spirit of full disclosure, the Fordham Institute has strongly supported the CCSS.
One more thing: science standards were released a couple of weeks ago. These science standards were not developed by the same folks who developed the CCSS, but rather by a 26-state group, and Alabama did not participate in that group. No word yet on whether Alabama will take a good look at these standards specifically, but State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice has said that all standards must go through the regular process that the ALSDE uses to create new courses of study, which for science is currently underway. Here are the names of the folks sitting on the Alabama Science Course of Study committee. No timeline yet on the science adoption, but stay tuned for your opportunity to let your voice be heard.
Digging Even Deeper
Here’s a link to all of Alabama’s current courses of study. Every school district must teach students according to the Alabama course of study. Your school district may choose to enhance it and add additional standards and breadth to the Alabama course of study. Contact the curriculum folks in your district for more information. Many districts now place their full courses of study and/or curriculum paths and/or pacing guides (what gets studied when) on their school or district web sites. Take advantage of their sharing this information and sit down and read it! Put it on your “going to get this done over the summer list”!
We necessarily care about what our children learn in school, right? So let’s get informed so we can engage in this discussion about the educational standards that form the basis for our children’s education.
Questions? Thoughts? Let’s start the discussion here or on the ASC facebook page.