The education of our children ranks as one of the most critical responsibilities we have as a society. Wherever they live and attend school, our children will be facing a competitive world, and they will need a solid education to compete on an equal footing with people from other states and nations.
For the overwhelming majority of our children, we depend on public schools to do the job. Each state has developed a system for designing courses of study with specific learning goals for each subject and grade level. These courses of study define the content taught in all of the public schools in each state.
National curriculum initiatives have helped states develop similar standards for decades. After the Soviet Union put Sputnik into space, the U.S. rallied to improve its science and engineering programs, and No Child Left Behind set out goals for schools nationwide.
But international studies found that U.S. standards in subjects such as math were lagging behind those in a number of other countries. Age by age, and grade by grade, we were losing ground.
That information helped lead to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led effort directed by the National Governors Conference. The resulting Common Core standards draw from some of the best practices in education in use in different parts of the nation. Taken from those best practices, the standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce.
Alabama’s State Board of Education voted in 2010 to incorporate the Common Core standards in its math and language courses of study. All but five states have adopted the standards.
Alabama forms committees and task forces of educators and private sector individuals who re-write the course of study for individual content areas on a seven-year cycle. The newest courses of study for math and language incorporate the Common Core standards. They had much in common with the state’s existing standards, but they are more rigorous, and will challenge our students during the transition.
Alabama’s new math standards were put in place last year, and the new language standards went into effect this year. (Anyone can read them online at www.alsde.edu. Look for “Courses of Study” under the “Special Links” tab.)
Surprisingly, a backlash against the Common Core standards has developed. Some opponents argue that decisions around education should be made at the local level, and say national standards take away too much control. Efforts to repeal or slow down the adoption of the standards have sprung up in several states, including Alabama. Our district’s state school board member, Stephanie Bell, spoke against Common Core in Talladega recently. Her objections also centered on fears that the federal government is inappropriately attempting to control education in the states.
An effort was made in Alabama’s state Legislature to overturn the state school board’s decision in its last session. Fortunately, the attempt failed.
Course of study standards are outlines for what is to be taught in each content area. The new standards are more rigorous. They require students to think and reason more, rather than simply be prepared to take a standardized test. The language standards call for a better reading assignment mix of literary texts and informational texts. It’s up to teachers and local school systems to decide how these standards are taught.
Alabama’s committees incorporated Common Core goals into the new standards to help our children match up evenly against others from anywhere else in the country, or around the world.
We think that’s a worthy goal.