The Alabama State Board of Education's (ASBOE) decision to adopt the national Common Core education standards has raised legitimate concerns among parents and teachers that Alabama is giving up its right to control what is taught in our public schools.
In 2010, as part of the conditions imposed by the Obama Administration for receiving federal Race to the Top funds, 45 states and the District of Columbia agreed to adopt Common Core. Alabama was one of those states. Since then opponents of Common Core have put tremendous pressure on state school boards and departments of education, legislatures and governors, including here in Alabama, to withdraw from Common Core.
Much of the opposition to Common Core stems from the perception that the Common Core is a national standard that marks the federalization of state education. This fear has been compounded by the fact that President Obama heartily endorsed Common Core and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has aggressively used federal money and regulatory waivers to encourage states to adopt them.
Moreover, the fact that the Race to the Top education funds were appropriated through the failed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act rather than transparently through an education appropriation bill has also raised concerns about the manipulative manner in which these funds have been used to get states to adopt Common Core.
Opponents of Common Core in Alabama have argued that our state did not need to adopt these standards because Alabama's standards were already as good as or, in some areas, slightly better than Common Core. This raises legitimate questions about why the ASBOE decided it was necessary to spend millions of dollars converting to a new national standard that is no better than the standard we were using and that also ties our education system to the federal government.
Common Core opponents are not only concerned about the dangers of ceding control of our state education standards to the federal government; they have also railed against the Common Core standards themselves. Alabama opponents cite numerous experts who have written exhaustively about how the Common Core standards are at best mediocre. They cite a plethora of examples of how Common Core undermines English Literature standards and sets dumbed-down and deficient math requirements.
At the same time, these very arguments employed by Common Core opponents to point out the deficiencies in Common Core raise questions about Alabama's previous standards. How can Common Core's Alabama opponents praise Alabama's older standards for being essentially equal to Common Core and argue that we did not need to change them, but then immediately attack the Common Core standards as being weak and a race towards mediocrity?
Opponents of Common Core have also railed against the idea that Common Core is really about preparing workers ready for employment rather than providing students with a well-rounded education. Frankly, our education system needs to do both and do them well. While we all have an interest in educated citizens, our education standards should also give our children the best opportunity for employment.
Finally, opponents raise concerns that Common Core requires the state to collect non-academic personal data on every student. They fear this data will be provided to the federal government, future employers and others. It should be noted that federal law prohibits the federal government from collecting data on students, but it does not prohibit the states from sharing data they have collected with the federal government. Obviously, given the fact that the federal government is already violating federal law by spying on and collecting data on American citizens, it doesn't give a lot of assurance to parents of school-age children that federal law against collecting data on students will be obeyed either.
Consequently, the ASBOE and/or the Alabama State Legislature should mandate that no non-academic data collected on Alabama students will ever be shared with the federal government, any business, vendor or anyone else without the informed written consent of the student's parents.
Even if Alabama's Common Core standards are better than Alabama's previous standards, it would not justify the federal interference that will come with the federal money the ASBOE hopes to get. Given that the opponents of Common Core have lauded Alabama's previous standards as being essentially the same or slightly better than Common Core, if there is anything in Common Core that would improve education outcomes in Alabama, the ASBOE could adopt those improvements without federal involvement.
At this point, the best course of action for the Alabama State Board of Education is to join other states that have reevaluated tying themselves to the federal education bureaucracy, formally break all federal government ties to Common Core, and adopt their own standards.