Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Another Common Core war on the horizon?

  The first regular legislative session of the quadrennium is beginning. Legislators have arrived in Montgomery for their three and a half month session and they will face a myriad of problems and issues.

  The General Fund Budget has been in the doldrums for several years. The chickens have to come home to roost. There is a crisis looming in the prisons. The escalating cost of Medicaid further exacerbates a desperate situation for the General Fund.

  Ever since my boyhood there has been a perennial call to rewrite our antiquated Alabama Constitution. The constitutional reform people will come at the revamping issue again with renewed fervor. The question is do you address the problem article by article or all at once. Indeed, our 1901 constitution is lengthy and cumbersome with more than 800 amendments.

  A pressing issue that was swept under the rug during last year’s election session was the sizzling topic of Common Core. Some Tea Party conservatives are calling for legislation to allow local school boards to opt out of using the national common core academic standards criteria. This debate over Common Core has been raging for over three years. Indeed, it was a linchpin issue in legislative races last year, especially in Republican primary contests.

  The official name of Common Core is Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards. These common core standards are simply benchmark levels of accomplishments for students to meet at certain grade levels. It is a national standard that has been adopted by 45 states.

  Supporters of Common Core argue that Alabama should implement the same standard evaluations as the other 44 states so that Alabama graduates can compete with folks from other states. Common Core establishes standards for students to meet but does not dictate curriculum. The goals are requirements involving math and English proficiencies.

  Opponents of Common Core contend that Alabama will lose control over what is taught in our schools if the standards are implemented. They also say that the standards could be used to promote political agendas.

  The most vitriolic complaints came over reading lists used under the English standards. They vehemently disagree with the Common Core suggested reading lists, which they say include works that are inappropriate for Alabama classrooms, including works with graphic sexual material.

  This issue has divided Republicans, not Democrats. It has been an intra-party struggle, which pits the Tea Party wing against more moderate Republicans. GOP members on the State Board of Education voted to adopt the standards. In addition, business interests, primarily the Business Council of Alabama, are in strong support of Common Core.

  State School Superintendent Tommy Bice is a firm supporter of Common Core. He has been a vocal advocate. He says the standards have already improved teaching in Alabama’s classrooms.

  The opponents have singled out two books in particular that are on the recommended standards list that they object to totally. Nobel Prize author Toni Morrison’s book, “The Bluest Eye,” is the benchmark. Wetumpka Tea Party leader Becky Gerritson read excerpts from Morrison’s “Bluest Eye” at a senate committee hearing last year. The passage she read was quite explicit and embarrassingly offensive. Tea Partiers also object to author Randall Jarrell’s “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.”

  However, some opponents have also objected to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.”

  It will be interesting to see if Common Core emerges as one of the high profile issues in the upcoming session.

  Speaking of educational issues, another controversial topic along the same lines as Common Core to be addressed by the super Republican majority legislature will be whether or not to implement an experiment with charter schools in Alabama.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at http://www.steveflowers.us/. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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