Sunday, November 21, 2010

We dare defend our rights

Alabama has finally done something right. The State Board of Education signed on to what is known as Common Core State Standards. During the meeting, some members of the public argued that passage could mean totalitarian government and mind-control would soon follow these new educational standards. Those arguments and similar ones were tossed aside as Governor Bob Riley, a Republican, gave the state a parting gift by joining with other board members, 7-2, approving Common Core.

“If we do not do this, we will not be doing what I think is in the best interest of our children,” Riley said before the vote.

A little research shows Common Core is not a communist conspiracy – unlike those on the right would have us believe. One of its founders is the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, which is chaired by James B. Hunt Jr., the former governor of North Carolina. Hunt’s rather uncontroversial statement: “Education is our future – it’s everything. We must not settle for anything short of excellence in our schools.”

It turns out the aims of Common Core are to improve education across the country, raising standards in some states and preparing all students for a prosperous future. In short, it’s about putting students in the same grade all on the same level – the same goal President Bush pushed with “no Child Left Behind”.

Bill Gates: “The more states that adopt these college and career-based standards, the closer we will be to sharing innovation across state borders and becoming more competitive as a country.”

All the fighting by conservatives to let Alabama set its own educational course is nonsense. A check of the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing results for all 50 states and the District of Columbia confirms that awful stereotype of Alabama public education – the state is at or near the bottom of all rankings when it comes to tests of students’ knowledge.  What do conservative opponents of Common Core want to conserve when it comes to the Alabama way of public schooling? It cannot possibly be the weak test scores. It must be the right to go it alone no matter what the results and no matter who it hurts.  Alabama has been going it alone in education for the better part of the almost two centuries it has been a state.

As Sarah Palin would ask: "How's that been workin' out for ya, Alabama?"

The answer is, "not very well."

According to the latest NAEP scores, Alabama 8th graders’ reading aptitude ranked the state 44th – and 50th in math. Yet, Robert Bentley, the governor-elect, publicly opposed the state joining a coalition of states that are establishing uniform standards, things like ensuring 4th graders meet the same basic reading skills or 8th graders understand the same math concepts.

“It is a state function and the standards to educate our children should be based on state and local standards that are set by Alabama local school boards and parents and not by the federal government or a consortium of states,” Governor-elect Bentley said.

Bentley, who as governor will join the school board after he is sworn in next year, agreed with two state board members, Republicans Betty Peters and Stephanie Bell, in opposition to the new educational standards. Bell and Peters are favorites of the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, who recently stated that she believes Common Core’s real aim was to introduce “European-style socialism” into the United States.

Do these people actually read or study what they think they are against or do they just shoot from the gut?

New governors will soon preside over states competing against each other for lucrative economic development. Those governors-to-be know their states gain a leg up on those that choose to deny progress in the name of states’ rights. Maybe that is why, while attending the Republican governor’s conference, they encouraged Bentley in his perverse and stubborn idea that Alabama would not benefit from joining with other states to better our children’s standard of education.

Alabama’s motto is “We Dare Defend Our Rights” – even if it is the right to be at the bottom.