By Dr. Henry C. Mabry, AEA Executive Secretary
Education interests have debated for more than a year as to whether the Common Core State Standards Initiative should be implemented in Alabama. Proponents say it is a panacea, and opponents say it is a pariah.
As it stands, the State Department of Education (SDE) and the Alabama State Board of Education have – with some exceptions – supported Common Core. Adoption of Common Core is not going down without a fight from opponents, but Senate Pro-Tem Del Marsh has vowed he will not allow a vote in the Senate on a bill to repeal Common Core.
We have teachers supporting the ideals of Common Core and we have teachers opposed to Common Core. All teachers should be concerned about implementation and the end results as the Common Core story unfolds across Alabama. Not only do our teachers need assurance that Common Core will be implemented and interpreted correctly across the board in Alabama, but our teachers do not need to feel threatened for questioning the parts or the whole of Common Core.
Formal assessments aligned with Common Core will soon begin in Alabama. Every teacher should be concerned about the implications of these assessments. Relying on student test scores to evaluate teachers is no doubt imbedded in this new system being thrust upon the states.
Common Core has a high-minded purpose if one considers its definition: “The initiative was sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and seeks to establish consistent education standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.”
This is fine, but the devil is in the details. AEA wants a guarantee there will be no further high-stakes consequences from standardized testing in Alabama and that tried and true teaching methods are not tossed aside for less conventional approaches to helping students learn.
Common Core standards may provide opportunities for students in our school systems, but we must make sure that we furnish teachers with the time, tools and resources to get it right. We owe that to our students.
Teachers, principals, school board members, parents and communities must work together to align the standards with curriculum, instruction and assessment to make Common Core work in Alabama, but if the views of teachers in the classroom are not seriously considered and the baby is thrown out with the bath water, then the recipients of public education – the students – will lose.
Teachers and paraprofessionals need enough time to be adequately trained in the standards. They need the time to develop the tools and curriculums that are aligned to those standards, but many of our teachers are already overburdened and the new regime is adding more and more demands on teachers with no consideration whatsoever by administrators or the State.
Educators and parents must be substantially involved in drafting the implementation plan or the process will get even further mired.
Recently, the New York State United Teachers’ Board of Directors opposed Common Core State Standards as implemented and interpreted in New York state until the state education department makes major course corrections to its failed implementation plan. NYSUT also reiterated its call for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences from standardized testing.
If Alabama is to continue delivering a high-quality public education with minimal investment that prepares students for college, careers and citizenship, then it must design implementation plans with educators and families that follow common sense principles. We should not put a new method ahead of proven methods and standards, and teachers should not be threatened or punished for questioning the removal of tried and true teaching methods in successful teaching environments.
Some teachers support the general goal of Common Core, but many feel they are being ignored and not heard concerning the new standards or the implementation of the standards thereof. This must change. Some of the issues of concern cited by educators in a national poll included collaboration time with colleagues, more planning time, updated classroom resources, in-service training, less emphasis concerning testing, and better technology to administer the computer-based assessments.
In Alabama we are hearing of the inexperienced telling the experienced and successful teachers what to do with no questions asked. The SDE should get a true picture of what teachers believe instead of skewing results to further their objectives. We saw how No Child left Behind (NCLB) was not the elixir after it was showcased as the be-all and end-all for public education, and if the Common Core Initiative concerns are not addressed then it will be doomed just like NCLB.
Improving public education rather than moving in the wrong direction requires an equal commitment to common sense implementation from the SDE and the Alabama State Board of Education. We all need to work together - parents, education support professionals, teachers, administrators, communities and elected officials - to make sure that the new system, if implemented, is placed in service addressing concerns of all stakeholders to assure the best end result for all school children.