Who’s Telling the Truth About Alabama’s Constitutional Amendment One?

As a former member of the Alabama State School Board (2003-2019), I would like to share my concerns about the ballot language for Amendment One.  When voters get a ballot on March 3, this is all that is printed in the ballot summary about  Amendment One: 

“Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to change the name of the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education; to provide for the appointment of members of the Commission by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate; and to authorize the Governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the State Department of Education (Proposed by  Act 2019-345.)”

This brief summary is misleading and totally unacceptable. This is the political equivalent of “bait and switch.”  Totally missing from the ballot is the very important content of SB 397  in Section 5 beginning at the bottom of page 4 and continuing on to page 5 mandating  the new commission (which replaces the current state school board) to adopt five things.  The first is “Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside the state in lieu of common core.”  The ballot summary for March 3 does not include any mention of standards.

Last December before the summary for the ballot was available,  a legislator contacted the Legislative Services Agency Legal Division to confirm what the ballot language would be.  He was given this information: “If the Amendment passes, the (new governor-appointed) commission will have to develop new standards which “ensure nation-wide consistency and the seamless transfer of students.” 

A representative of the AL State Department of Education said they were are not aware of any other nationally recognized standards for math and English Language Arts other than the Common Core Standards. Unfortunately voters would not have any way of knowing this since it’s not included on the ballot.

Any assertion that Amendment One will free Alabama of the much-detested Common Core State Standards aka College & Career Ready Standards is false.  Voters who rely solely on the ballot summary will not realize that the Common Core standards will be permanently written into the Alabama constitution.  We would have to pass another constitutional amendment to ever get rid of them.  Although the  Secretary of State’s office was asked to add necessary information from the bill onto the ballot for clarity,  this was not done.

On Monday several organizations including the Alabama Farmers’ Federation (ALFA) , Forestry, Manufacture Alabama, the Alabama Realtors Association and perhaps others began running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads endorsing Amendment One.  The ads complain about our low test scores and how elected board members are too political. Apparently the Amendment One proponents think having a state school board made up of members who all were appointed by one person will not be “political.”

For those too young to remember or who have forgotten, many years ago the Alabama State School Board was an appointed board.  However, it was changed to an elected one because the appointed board was not doing a good job.  Right before the Common Core standards were implemented, former state school superintendent Joe Morton spoke frequently about how students’ scores had increased, moving Alabama up to the middle range of states.  Then after a few years of using Common Core standards and assessments, our students’ scores plummeted to the bottom in math and close to the bottom in reading.  I  remember student progress declined all across America both in states with appointed state school boards as well as those with elected boards after the Common Core State Standards were implemented nationwide.  If we are serious about improving learning, we need to start by actually replacing the much-hates Common Core aka College and Career-ready Standards with some that are more traditional and have been proven to work .  Perhaps returning to the ones we were using immediately before Common Core would be a good start–at least when we were using them, our students’ performance was going in the right direction. 

I  know I’m not the only person who thinks there has been some legislative chicanery going on with this amendment.  If the legislature and governor are so proud of it, why are they hiding so much of it, especially the information about Common Core, from the voters on election day, and why would it take so much media time to convince voters that it’s a good idea.
Link to the actual bill language which is not available on the sample ballot:  https://legiscan.com/AL/text/SB397/id/2049734/Alabama-2019-SB397-Enrolled.pdf

Common Core Repeal Bill in Alabama Senate

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

SB 101 sponsored by State Senator Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) would not only end the state’s participation in the Common Core State Standards, but also involvement with Alabama’s College-and Career-Ready Standards.  Alabama’s standards include Common Core math and ELA standards, as well as, social studies and science standards.

It would also end the state’s involvement with ACT Aspire.  Alabama was an advisory member state of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced, but decided to pull out of those consortia to go with ACT’s Common Core-aligned assessment.

SB 101 requires the following:

The State of Alabama hereby terminates all plans, programs, activities, efforts, and expenditures relative to the implementation of the educational initiative commonly referred to as the Common Core State Standards, or any derivative or permutation thereof, including, but not limited to, the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards which have been adopted or may be adopted by the board or its employees, including any assessments, data collection, and instructions based on or involving any such standard or protocol.

The bill would also prevent “the adoption or implementation of any national standards from any source, or the use of any assessments aligned with them, that cede control of Alabama educational standards in any manner, including, but not limited to, the Next Generation Science Standards, History Standards, Social Studies Standards, or Sexuality Standards.”

Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh has been an obstacle to repealing Common Core in the past, but Alabama legislators enter this session on the heels of the Alabama Baptist Convention calling for their repeal.  Which needless to say will be a significant source of pressure.

The bill has been introduced in the Senate Committee on Education and Youth Affairs.

You can read the bill below.

AL Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh is Tone Deaf to Parents’ Common Core Concerns

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh spoke to the Business Council of Alabama’s governmental affairs committee about the Common Core State Standards last week.  You can watch below (it’s the second half of the video):

Marsh says, ““Have had people bring me stacks of materials with highlights … and I am supposed to connect the dots… I have yet to find a conspiracy.”

I’m not sure what evidence he’s talking about.  I know I don’t want him spending his time looking for a conspiracy.  I want him just to look and see the arguments that are being made about content.  He said he’s concerned about how the U.S. is measuring up to other countries – perhaps then he would spend more time considering whether or not the Common Core will help prepare Alabama students for STEM instead of pandering to a group whose members likely make up the bulk of his campaign contributions.

He also then makes the argument that it is the State Board of Education’s job.  Who provides a check on the State Board of Education?  Yes they are elected and that is a far cry better than what a lot of states have.  The State Board of Education functions as part of the executive branch.  Should we then have a board function as the executive branch and legislative branch unto themselves?

Sure no problems there!

Instead of belittling Alabama parents and their concerns Marsh needs to spend some time doing research on the Common Core instead of just listening to the talking points given to him by corporate interests supportive of the Common Core.  Also, his members would like a vote on this.  We live in a constitutional republic, not a dictatorship.  While Senate rules may allow Marsh to hold bills up it certainly is not in the spirit of our founding.

Alabama School District Test Scores Drop

Mobile County Schools report a substantial drop in their student’s test scores.  Of course the “rigor” of the new standards is to blame according to school officials.

Alabama.com reports:

Karen Mohr, acting chief academic officer for the school system, sent a letter to all principals advising them on how to handle the test scores.

“After careful review of the first quarter Language Arts and Math EQT (end of quarter test) results, the Chief Academic Officer of the Mobile County Public Schools has determined that scores are substantially lower and will negatively impact the first quarter averages for students,” the letter said.

“This decision only addresses first quarter scores,” the letter said. “In subsequent quarters, EQT scores will be handled according to the usual system guidelines.”

If a student’s test score improved his average, it was OK to use it, the letter said. But if adding the score lowered the student’s first quarter average, the test score should not be counted.

“We wanted to make sure we gave students the benefit of the doubt,” Mohr said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to be as fair as possible to our students.”

Mohr explained that the drop in test scores came about because of new standards implemented this fall. “Our curriculum is based on the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards,” she said, “and they’re more rigorous than in the past. With the change, we’re in a transition right now.”

The College and Career Ready Standards are also known as the Common Core, the education standards in math and English that were adopted by the state board of education in 2010.

Could Common Core advocates possibly be open to the possibility that test scores are dropping because of the way math is being taught?  Perhaps students are confused?  Perhaps they are frustrated?  I understand that transitions to new ways of doing things can impact test scores, but it’s simply too easy to excuse the drops as a result of the “rigor” of the standards when another explanation could be is that they are convoluted and lack common sense when translated at the classroom level.

Tommy Bice Defends Common Core in Alabama

The Alabama Senate Education Committee plans on voting on SB190 today which would remove Alabama from the Common Core.  Yesterday, Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama’s State Superintendent of Education, held  a press conference to defend Alabama’s “College and Career Ready Standards.”  It was a 35 minute long press conference including a Q&A time.  Bice said that he wanted to present the “facts” (read spin).

He said a resolution approved by the Alabama State Board of Education provided safeguards against Federal or outside (state partnerships) dictation of standard, curriculum, etc.  While that is fine and good, a resolution from the State School Board is no guarantee that there won’t be federal intrusion.  He was thankful that Alabama did not become a Race to the Top state, but said that Alabama “voluntarily” adopted the standards.

I’m not sure I’d brag about that.

Bice said that he wanted to assert that the Alabama State Board of Education was “the sole and exclusive entity” to address and implement standards.  It would seem he has the Alabama Legislature in mind when he said this as well.  He said he didn’t think that the Alabama Legislature really wants to get involved in addressing standards and that it would add 2-3 more steps to the process.

Perhaps to provide some accountability when the State Board of Education makes a poor decision?

Dr. Bice said that Alabama did not adopt the Common Core sight unseen – even though they entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association before the final draft of the standards were released.

He said they held regional public forums, but based on a statement from an activist present during press conference that those were not well attended only 200 attended, and that they were held at regional service centers, not schools that would have closer to teachers and families.  He said the board vetted the standards getting input from teachers and education leaders (not parents).  I wonder how much expert testimony they listened to from both sides of the debate.

Then the final proof that they made the standards their own is that they were renamed “Alabama College and Career-Ready Standards.”  As if subbing out your previous math and ELA standards with the Common Core and renaming it really makes it your own.

He referred to a legal opinion they had done that said they their legal obligations in the earlier MOU has been fulfilled.  I’ve not heard this from any other state so I question the accuracy of this statement.  If the Alabama Department of Education provides a copy of that legal opinion I’ll post it.

He stated that Alabama is not part of the SBAC and PARCC assessment coalitions which is true.  He noted that the cost of implementing the standards has cost them less than their previous standards, about $100,000 less.  That is likely due to not being involved with SBAC or PARCC.  He said Alabama has entered a partnership with ACT to provide their assessments.  ACT has already announced alignment with the Common Core.

On data gathering, Dr. Bice said that they did not receive a statewide longitudinal data grant which is true.  He said they only will collect data of medical or educational value.

Joy Pullman writes that Dr. Bice’s claim isn’t entirely accurate that it will also examine a student’s motivation and behavior.

You can watch the press conference below:

Video streaming by Ustream