In the wake of public concern over two education bills making their way through the Alabama Legislature, The Blount Countian asked both county school superintendents to comment on the bills: (1) the Alabama Accountability Act, providing for school choice and associated tax credits for families of children opting out of “failing schools,” and (2) a bill to repeal Alabama’s 2010 implementation of Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (so-called “Common Core” standards). The Accountability bill has already been passed, but is under a court order forbidding the Governor to sign it until the court issues a final ruling. That stay has been appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The “Common Core” bill has not yet been passed.
A summary of what both superintendents had to say follows. We have quoted selected remarks, paraphrasing occasionally for brevity. Both men – Blount County School System’s Jim Carr and Oneonta City School’s Scott Coefield – commented extensively.
Coefield, summarizing his view of both bills: “I believe that both of these bills are bad for public education in general. The accountability bill began as a good bill and has turned into something different. The curriculum standards bill has been a bad bill from the start. If the Legislature passes that bill it means it is listening to a paranoid and radical part of our society and not listening to the education and business community.”
Carr on the Accountability bill: “…I think the way the bill was conceived and carried out was deplorable. In darkness and out of the eye of the public, a plan was hatched to give vouchers or tax credits to students attending public schools labeled as failing. The process used to pass it…was secretive and exclusive…it deserved to be fully debated in both chambers of the Legislature. “You would think leaders in the Senate would be working…with our state Superintendent of Education, the Alabama Department of Education, and the Alabama Board of Education. They were left out of the process. “As a result, if the bill becomes law, students in all public school systems in Alabama will in the future receive a diminished level of funding from the Education Trust Fund (ETF). The income tax credits will be paid from money diverted from the ETF. Great reform ought to have public input and legislative debate.”
Coefield, addressing the Accountability bill: “In its original form the Accountability bill was actually very good. It gave school systems some freedom and flexibility around some old ways of doing things
regarding budgets, teacher certification, etc. The original bill went to committee…and the next thing we know, we have a whole new bill. It now allows school choice and tax credits and many (other) provisions people all still trying to work through… I know this: it will hurt Oneonta City Schools…Now families and corporations will be getting tax credits to participate in the school choice part of this bill. That means less money for the Education Trust Fund, the state funding source that makes up the great majority of our budgets.” Coefield provided calculations conservatively estimating the impact on Oneonta City Schools to be about $200,000 annually.
Carr’s take on the College and Career Ready Standards bill: “In 2010, Alabama’s State Board of Education approved the new College and Career Ready Standards for math and reading/language arts. These are Alabama’s version of the national standards or Common Core…The content of the new Alabama standards was very similar (more than 80 percent) to our past standards. However, they are different in a significant way. They have been…upgraded. They are not the same curriculum as the Common Core standards; 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. “Teachers, parents, and administrators have been working for two years on developing and implementing the College and Career Ready Standards. The new standards have been well accepted by educators and the business community. We have invested a lot of money and time in professional development training since 2010 preparing our teachers and administrators
for these changes. ( The) Blount County (system) has already spent $500,000 for new math textbooks and training for our teachers to implement new standards. “Dr. Bice, our state school superintendent, said the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards – our version of the Common Core – were adopted after four hearings across the state and one before the State Board of Education. The wording of the final resolution by (that) board states that Alabama retains the right to control its own standards.”
Coefield’s view of the same bill: “The newly adopted standards have been widely accepted and praised by the education and business community… The standards are more rigorous than our past standards… However, some have mistakenly tried to convince the Legislature and the public that the standards are part of some federal intrusion into the education of their children. The truth is the standards were not developed by the federal government and there are no federal curriculum mandates. What Alabama students are learning is still very much controlled at the state and local level. “If the Legislature passes the bill and repeals the standards, we are looking at a complete mess. We are talking about a waste of almost two years of training, and $150,000 down the drain (for training and new math textbooks), and for what? To go back to less rigorous standards? “An even bigger mess is the Legislature beginning to determine the curriculum of Alabama schools. There is an elected State Board of Education that was voted on by the people of Alabama to make these decisions. This elected board is more informed concerning educational policy and less influenced by radical or paranoid groups. Our Legislature should let them do their job.”