Commentator Larry Lee is a rural education advocate. He lives in Montgomery.
There's a heated debate in the Alabama legislature, and beyond, about Common Core. It's a set of educational standards used in 45 states, including Alabama, which uses its own slightly modified version. Just last week, Republican Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale said he's working on legislation that would let school systems opt out of Common Core. The state school board originally adopted the standards in 2010.
Commentator Larry Lee was curious about the debate, so he went and talked to some people working with the standards -- teachers and school administrators.
I'm confused as to what all the "Common Core" talk is about. If the truth be known, I suspect the majority of Alabamians don't know Common Core from apple core. But this doesn't stop the mention of it from stirring passion in some folks.
One reason I'm confused is because I don't know which Republican to believe.
John Legg is a Republican state senator who chairs the Florida Senate Education committee. He supports the Common Core standards and has stated, "Common Core is a set of academic standards and does not pose an identity or security risk to students."
On the other hand, Alabama Republican state senator Scott Beason opposed the Common Core standards and recently spoke at rally in Montgomery where he read his fifth-grade daughter's reading assignment about the benefits of hybrid cars and called it an example of socialist indoctrination since hybrid cars do not cause as much pollution as ones with internal combustion engines.
Gosh, my sister has a hybrid vehicle. I did not know she was a socialist.
Two Republican state senators. One supports Common Core, one doesn't. Which one should I believe?
So in trying to sort through my confusion I did what I usually do when it comes to education issues. I went to the experts - school superintendents, principals and teachers. I doubt they are experts on hybrid cars and socialism, but I do think they know a lot about education.
They quickly got me to understand that Common Core refers to standards, not curriculum. I also learned that Alabama used the Common Core, adjusted them to fit Alabama students and adopted the Alabama College & Career Ready standards.
What do the experts think about what Alabama is doing? Of the 50+ I talked to, not a single one disagrees with the move.
As one teacher explained, "These standards encourage teachers to help students think, apply, and create, instead of 'sit and get' instruction. Students make relevant and real-world connections across the disciplines."
"I have seen teachers re-energized. One first-grade teacher came to me with tears in her eyes and said that she had been in a rut and what she is now doing has brought joy back to her classroom," said one longtime principal.
"The standards are about doing what is right for the children, their future and their success. I don't understand why adults in today's society try to use children as a bargaining chip to promote their own agenda," said one principal.
"I love the college and career ready standards. It enables us to see how we measure up. I believe that Alabama schools are as good as those in other states," said another principal.
A teacher of 20 years said, "Our new standards are one of the best things we've done in Alabama. We're all finally saying that 'sage on the stage' teaching is ineffective, and teachers must get students invested in their own learning. Less rote memorization and more thinking and application."
"The legislature needs to pause, take a breath and consider the repercussions of their decisions. Teachers, children and parents are simply in the boat without a paddle and the legislature is the wind shifting directions without knowing why, when, or where," summed up a superintendent.
After listening to professional educators, I'll throw out a suggestion. Perhaps some elected officials should visit more schools and speak at fewer rallies. I'll even give them a ride in my car, which is not a hybrid.
~Produced by Rachel Osier Lindley, March 5, 2014