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Taking Bell’s comments to task

Published 6:11pm Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Messenger recently ran a story covering Alabama State Board of Education Vice President Stephanie Bell’s recent visit and address to the Pike County Republican Women’s meeting delivering her views on the Common Core Standards for Education. As local practicing educators, we respectfully disagree with Bell’s statements that Common Core standards are equal to “No Child Left Behind on Steroids.” While Mrs. Bell said she did not support No Child Left Behind, a broader and much more intrusive federal mandate than Common Core, she obviously does not seem to understand the fundamental differences between the two initiatives and that Common Core is not “No Child Left Behind on Steroids.” No Child Left Behind, the good and the bad, is actually the biggest federal government “intrusion” into public education since the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) was passed in 1965.

First it should be noted that Alabama has actually adopted the Common Core / College and Career Ready Standards which include standards needed for success in a post high school world whether it be post-secondary education or a career path. This shift will allow a more effective curriculum as it takes into consideration that not all students are going to attend a post-secondary institution of learning and involves career ready principles. So in short, Alabama has actually taken the Common Core Standards and stepped them up a notch to better allow success for ALL students. Apparently this point was never made in Mrs. Bell’s address.

The second point to consider is that by having a Common Core throughout the nation, educational establishments will have much less of a problem with students moving in from other states. Our society most assuredly has more interstate transiency than ever before. As families move from state to state, their school aged children are all too often set up for failure, or at the very least face an uphill battle, as they must adjust to whatever learning objectives have been established in the particular area in which they have settled. By having a common set of standards, even with additions or adaptations as Alabama has done, we provide a more level playing field. Transitions become much smoother and the chances for success are greatly enhanced.

As far as allowing teachers the freedom to teach as they see fit, that would not change. Alabama adopts new standards every six years. The Common Core was selected for the most recent updates in mathematics and English language arts. They only establish what must be taught, not how. This is not a change from the way things have been. The Alabama Course of Study does not currently dictate how a standard must be taught, simply that it must be taught. Common Core, or more correctly for our state, College and Career Ready Standards trainings that have already taken place have included preparation and exposure to various research based effective teaching practices; however, they have not established a “cookie-cutter” approach where all children in all systems must be taught in exactly the same manner.

Moreover, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, specific criteria guided the development of the standards. The criteria included clarity, consistency, more rigor, and an emphasis on higher order thinking skills to name a few. The latter is crucial to insure that students leave school with the ability to reason and think critically in order to succeed in today’s globally competitive society.

Finally, as the article concludes, Mrs. Bell states that the Common Core would dissuade potential educators from entering the field. Unfortunately, the state legislature’s refusal to identify stable funding for public education has already led to fewer opportunities to pursue careers in K-12 education. Unfortunately, there is little hope for improvement in the near future and that, in and of itself, has been more damaging than the Common Core could ever be.

Repealing the Common Core at this juncture would cause catastrophic damage as a multitude of resources have already been expended across Alabama.


Donnella Carter, Ph. D

Mark Head, Ed. D.


  • Bipartisan

    As an teacher, I respectfully disagree with this article. I want success for all my students too, but Common Core is not the answer. When Donella Carter and Mark Head stated the standards will allow a more effective curriculum, there’s simply no real data to support that claim. Unless, however, you look at the creators of the standards who have packaged this program and marketed it with millions of dollars to say the research they paid for is effective. If a doctor found a cure for cancer, there would be years of clinical trials and case studies before it was approved for use. With Common Core, there is no evidence they will be effective. Maybe they will, maybe they will not. Regardless, it is ultimately an experiment funded by corporate education reformers such as the Gates Foundation.

    Sadly, many well-meaning superintendents and administrators have undergone training to push Common Core as something we absolutely must do for our students to succeed. There has been so much misinformation given to superintendents, I don’t blame them for believing what these “salesmen” are promoting. I’ve sat through these training sessions, and I know how the sales pitch for Common Core works.

    However, the truth is that superintendents and administrators are only given information from the promoters of Common Core. If a parent searched for a child care center for their child, I have no doubt that every center they visited would only give the positive reasons their child care center is the best. But parents would naturally know to call around and research other opinions. Unfortunately, the multi-million dollar marketing efforts to promote Common Core are only giving superintendents a one-sided view of the standards.

    Diane Ravitch is a well-known education expert. She is not a conspiracy theorist. She is not a member of the Tea Party. She has been appointed by both President Bush and Obama for her strong educational expertise, and even supported President Obama in the last election. She spent the past few years researching Common Core on her own. She wanted to weigh all the evidence, the real data. Last week she stated she could not support Common Core because they are “fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.” Common Core is fruit from a poisonous tree.

    One could also argue that a “level playing field” isn’t necessarily the best way to enhance creativity and life-long learning. If we compared this “level playing field mindset” to college football, how would that work? If someone told Nick Saban that every college team in the country would have to learn the same football plays, train coaches the same way, so that no matter where they moved, the teams would be the same. What impact would that have on college football?

    As a teacher, I do understand what you mean when you say the standards establish what should be taught, not how. I get it. However, textbooks are already being aligned to Common Core, so the standards will have a strong impact on what will be taught. Also, Common Core does dictate how teachers should teach. There is no reason for national standards to tell teachers what percentage of their time should be devoted to literature or informational text. Both can develop the ability to think critically. The claim that the writers of the standards picked their arbitrary ratios because NAEP has similar ratios makes no sense. NAEP gives specifications to test-developers, not to classroom teachers. Again, as a teacher, my goal is to help my students become life-long learners who are passionate about education and making a difference in society. It is not to adhere to strict Common Core guidelines for the sake of standardized tests.

    It is also important to “follow the money.” It is interesting to note that the creators of the Common Core standards have now taken jobs with testing companies which stand to make millions of dollars developing tests based on the standards they created. This is how corporate education reform works. It is about money, not our children.

    Sadly, this is what our well-meaning Alabama superintendents and administrators are never told. The training meetings discuss how to promote that “change” is a good thing, and they should tell their teachers that we should accept this Common Core change. As a teacher, I am not afraid of change. I just don’t want to sell-out our students’ education for a program that is untried and unproven.

    Superintendents have been misinformed by the origins of the standards. It is often said that Common Core was developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.

    These are not Alabama standards. If they were, Alabama would own them. We do not. They have a copyright ownership by Washington, D.C.-based trade organizations.

    I am so proud of Mrs. Stephanie Bell for going above and beyond the call of duty and considering all the data. Bill Gates can spend millions of dollars promoting his experiment, and he has convinced many superintendents and administrators via his massive marketing that Common Core is effective. But facts are facts. Just as parents would investigate the background of a child care center when selecting a place for their precious children, no matter how good the owners of the child care center said the center would help children, superintendents must do the same for Common Core. Thank goodness Stephanie Bell had the courage to do the same.

    Thank you Stephanie Bell, for standing up for our children. As a teacher, I know how much work you have done researching what is best for our children. You are a hero for children in the state of Alabama.

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