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State News

March 12, 2014

Common Core sides spar over ‘opt out’ bill

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After efforts to repeal Common Core fell flat, a state senator on Tuesday urged lawmakers to let local school systems opt out of the education standards.

The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would let local school systems not use the Common Core standards for math and English that were adopted by the Alabama Board of Education. The systems could revert to the state’s previous standards.

“I would make the argument this bill lets the duly elected local board and local board members decide what is best for the children in their community,” said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said.  

Beason said it would let policy makers compare the education outcomes under the old and new standards.

But what Beason described as a matter of local educational freedom, proponents of the standards said would be a significant step backward for classrooms and students.

Suzanne Culbreth, Alabama’s 2013 teacher of the year, held a stack of emails from teachers in support of Common Core.

“Are these standards what are best for students? I feel unequivocally yes. We have seen gains in test scores and high-level thinking by our students. Are these standards more rigorous and setting a high academic bar?  Yes,” Culbreth said.

Alabama is one of 45 states to adopt the standards that were developed by the National Governors’ Association and tied to federal Race to the Top grants by the Obama administration. Business associations and state education groups have embraced the standards, but repeal has become a rallying cry from state tea party groups and some conservatives who equate it to the nationalization of public education.

The latest bill brought out familiar arguments in the long-running Common Core debate.

Billy Canary, the president of the Business Council of Alabama, urged the committee to reject the bill saying business groups had lobbied for higher standards in public school.

Only four committee members listened to the two-hours of testimony on the bill. The committee is expected to vote Wednesday.  

Opponents criticized the standards as less rigorous and that the texts were politically biased

Terry Batton, who lives in Georgia but serves as a pastor near Eufaula, said some of the textbooks teach an anti-American and pro “social justice” view.

“Social justice includes far left proposals such as acceptance of homosexuality, alternate lifestyles, radical feminism, abortion, illegal immigration and the redistribution of wealth. When coupled with government mandates and oversight, do you smell a skunk or see a Trojan horse at the gate of our education system,” Batton said.

Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party read an excerpt from “The Bluest Eye” a sexually explicit novel by American author Toni Morrison. When she was asked to stop because the passage contained an obscenity, Gerritson countered that teens were reading it.

The book has been a flashpoint in the Common Core debate.

Common Core does not mandate particular textbooks, said state Superintendent Tommy Bice.  “The Bluest Eye” was on an exemplar list of books that meet the standards. However, the state board removed the book from the list after controversy regarding the text, Bice said.

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