MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The top ranking Republican in the Alabama State Senate on Tuesday filed legislation repealing the state’s K-12 curriculum standards, a move that would reshuffle the deck for education officials who have been trying to settle on a set of base standards for almost a decade.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, formerly stood in the way of Common Core repeal efforts, but now says removing the standards is aimed at improving Alabama’s lagging student performance.
“My position early on was that the (Alabama State) Department of Education and the board, elected by the people, should figure this out. That’s policy. We’re sitting here today with math scores in the eighth grade level at 49th in the country and reading at 46th. I mean, you can’t justify that. So we’re saying after nine years with this program, it’s not working and we need to change direction.”
Developed the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core standards were meant to address deficiencies in several states’ curriculum standards based on a report from the American Diploma Project that showed 28 percent of U.S. high school graduates were not prepared for college math or English.
They are also meant to align the varied curriculum standards across the country, providing portability between states that is particularly coveted by military families. Forty-five states have adopted the standards.
Marsh’s bill, Senate Bill 119, would “terminate the adoption and implementation of the curriculum standards commonly known as the Common Core Standards, also known as the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, in K-12 public schools” and “terminates all plans, programs, activities, efforts, and expenditures relative to the implementation of” the current curriculum standards.
The bill specifically applies to math and reading standards and prohibits the state board from adopting new standards related to Common Core. Marsh said he intends to give the board until May 2020 to adopt new standards, but the bill requires the state to revert back to previously adopted standards in the meantime.
That means, should Marsh’s bill be enacted, Alabama schools could be operating under three different sets of math and reading standards over the next two school years: the current Alabama College and Career Standards, the previous Alabama Course of Study standards, and finally the new “Alabama Core” standards the board chooses to adopt and implement.
“Look, there’s been no action I’ve seen from the board of education. So we’re going to force that action,” said Marsh, who is considering running for U.S. Senate next year against Democrat Doug Jones. “We’re repealing Common Core and you’re going to have to come up with Alabama standards that solve this problem.”
Marsh said he hadn’t spoken with State Superintendent Eric Mackey, but had shared his intent with some board members.
“I can’t tell you what’s going on at the department of education, but it’s pretty obvious to me that they’re not addressing this issue. In fact, the department of education, quite honestly, pushes back on any reasonable solution we have to solve some of these problems. Public charter schools is a perfect example.”
After the Legislature enacted Alabama’s public charter schools law in 2014, bureaucratic hurdles hindered the reform effort, Marsh argued.
Reached by phone Tuesday night, Mackey said he and his team at the department were still reviewing the bill and its potential impact, and that he looked forward to discussing it in more detail with Marsh.
“We understand the frustration with academic progress, and I can assure you that no one is more committed than I to equipping our schools with the appropriate resources and professional development to get us moving onward and upward,” Mackey said.
But when it comes to setting curricula standards, “it’s not like flipping a switch.”
“These policies are long arcs, not short term. It takes a long time to get it right, and if we’re going to make a change, we need to get it right,” Mackey said.
The department of education and board have been deliberating for months over revisions to Alabama’s current math and reading curriculum standards and as well as new assessment practices. Mackey said his preliminary understanding was that, if the bill became law, Alabama schools would immediately revert back to Alabama Course of Study standards adopted in the late 1990s.
Those documents were only published in print form and would need to be digitized, Mackey said. Also, because so many new teachers and administrators have been hired since then, new assessment practices would have to be developed to follow the old standards. That will cost money, Mackey said.
“When we roll these new assessments out in 2020, they are going to be the best in the nation. There’s no question,” Mackey said. “But, if we have to go back all the way to standards that are 20 years old, then we’re going to have to do a change order in the testing. That could be several million dollars.”
Mackey said he has not ordered the work to stop on the new testing procedures and will wait to see how the legislative process plays out.
“We don’t want to have to make a change, and then whiplash back to something else,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned whether reverting back and forth between the curriculum standards might impact educators, Marsh said he wasn’t.
“I’m not concerned about the current situation because the current situation isn’t working,” he said.
Asked if he would consider amendments that could bridge the gap between the current standards and the future ones without reverting back, Marsh said he is open to the conversation.
“I’m open, but the message is this: Alabama State Board of Education, you need to address this problem and fix it. The nine years of Common Core in Alabama is not working.”
The bill is on the fast track in the Senate, and its prospects aren’t hurt by the fact that Marsh largely controls the flow of legislation. Marsh said he had as many as 27 co-sponsors and that he believed Gov. Kay Ivey would eventually sign it.
“My plan is to pass it Thursday,” he said. “I can’t speak for the governor, but I believe she will sign it.”