That fundamental question is now being posed to our Legislators as they consider two important bills about the standards that we will choose to accept for Alabama children.
On the one side of this debate are American military and business leaders and educators who want to ensure a brighter future for our children by giving them greater economic opportunities in a competitive work force. We can achieve these goals by exposing our young people to increased academic rigor, deeper understanding, and even more meaningful and relevant instruction. On the other side of this debate are those forces who want the state to adopt less rigorous, lower standards for our children.
In 2010, Alabama’s State Board of Education approved new College and Career Ready standards for mathematics and reading/language arts. Of course, reading and math do not change much from year to year, so the move went mostly unnoticed by the majority of Alabamians. Indeed, the content of the new standards is very similar (more than 80 percent) to the past standards; but the new standards are different in a significant way. They are designed to give our students a boost by connecting their math and reading in the classroom to real-world problem solving and career application.
For instance, in addition to teaching our rich heritage of classical literature and poetry, the new standards also prescribe more technical and non-fiction reading. It is important that students appreciate our cultural and academic heritage through great works from Shakespeare to Dickinson to Hughes, but is equally important that they understand how to read a technical manual on everything from computer design to air conditioning repair to DNA replication.
Likewise, the changes in the math standards are also designed to ensure that our high school graduates can apply their math knowledge to solving real problems, rather than just solving the problems on worksheets. Competing for the highly technical jobs of the 21st century will require that our graduates not only possess more knowledge, but also the ability to apply their knowledge to find creative solutions and inventions.
Standards for Alabama students are carefully crafted and selected by teams of educators and parents. The process is very transparent and orderly. Even though Alabama directs the adoption of its own standards through its own process, historically our standards have reflected the best in national research and development. The 2010 adoption of College and Career Ready Standards in math and reading were no exception. The talented team of experts and parents decided to combine the best of Alabama’s prior standards with the best of the Common Core standards which had been developed by educators from many states working in concert with business and industry.
Many untruths have been circulated about the current standards. In fact, so many outrageous misstatements have been written on blogs and spouted in fiery rhetoric that it would be impossible to address them all in a single column. Truths, however, are easy to validate. For example, a blatant untruth is that the standards forbid students to take Algebra before 9th grade. Middle schools across Alabama routinely teach Algebra in 7th and 8th grade. Confused about the truth? A simple phone call to a local superintendent or principal would verify that no middle school in Alabama has received a directive from the federal or state government forbidding the teaching of Algebra.
On Wednesday in Montgomery dozens of teachers, administrators, and parents testified to the positive implementation of College and Career Ready Standards. They spoke of a renewed sense of professionalism and engagement. They testified about students learning at higher levels and teachers who – after being held hostage by the bureaucratic testing regimen of No Child Left Behind for a decade – are now enjoying teaching again. They pleaded with legislators to seek out the truth and to allow teachers to guide their own classrooms, using the standards as a guide and foundation. We cannot fail our teachers or our children. We must stay the course and give them the support they need. Dr. Eric G. Mackey is the Executive Director of School Superintendents of Alabama.