AL State School Board Member on National Standards

July 17, 2010 – 10:02 pm

Dear Editor,

The American public is alarmed over the federal takeover of so many facets of our economy including the auto industry, financial institutions, and healthcare. Strangely, one of the largest sectors of our economy– public education–is being taken over with almost no public awareness. Congress and the state legislatures have been left out of the loop as have parents, educators and other taxpayers. However, the significance of this total federalization of our schools will be felt by parents as soon as they have a problem with school curricula or testing and can no longer appeal to locally accessible authorities, but instead they will have to look to faraway Washington for assistance from a faceless bureaucrat.

Americans have always considered education to be under state and local authority by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.. Even the controversial “No Child Left Behind” law acknowledged state authority by prohibiting “national standards” and a “national test.” This plan being promoted by the Obama administration was not termed “national standards,” but was given the name “Common Core State Standards Initiative” or CCSSI. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has helped make the medicine of federalized education more palatable by tying federal “Race to the Top” grant money to the Common Core adoption. Much like Esau of old, who swapped his birthright for a bowl of porridge, today’s state education leaders and governors are trading state sovereignty over education for the chance to compete for more federal dollars.

Although most Alabamians have no idea we are ceding the state’s authority over practically all aspects of education (content standards, tests and assessments, teacher evaluations and professional development, ed school preparation programs, and even technology integration), we are indeed moving very rapidly in that direction. It will soon be too late to put on the brakes: the Alabama State School Board is scheduled to vote in November on whether to adopt Common Core Standards.

Our state is participating in two partnerships (called consortia) to develop national assessments. Last month the consortia submitted applications for federal grants of up to $320 million for developing a “comprehensive assessment system for grades 3 and up. Until now the sparse public discussion that has occurred across the nation has focused only on the “common core standards.” But couldn’t the quality of the new assessments be even more important? What If they prove to be vague, weak, difficult to grade objectively and/or have a “low bar” for passing ? What I have read of the proposed assessments reminds me of the verbiage of the discredited OBE (outcome based education) plan of the early 1990′s. Under the guise of giving states flexibility, the federal guidelines allow states to add 15% of content. If national assessments can’t cover content not embraced by all states, what likelihood is there that the extra 15% a state adds will be taught?

And last but certainly not least, what about the costly and extensive databases mandated under this federal plan? All teachers and students from pre-k forward must be assessed, tracked, and reported on, but does anyone know if there are sufficient safeguards for their privacy rights?

During a time when the public and private sectors are in fiscal distress, why in the world would we in Alabama want to embrace a massive and expensive foray into the educational unknown? Texas and Alaska wisely refused to participate at the beginning, and eleven others have refused to apply for the Race to the Top grants. The sooner Alabama backs out of this federal takeover, the better off we will be. I hope the Alabama State School Board soon votes NOT to adopt the Common Core Standards, and thereby retains for parents, local schools and our state the responsibility for overseeing the educational content that molds the hearts, minds and futures of our children.

When I reflect on the two times I was sworn in and promised to uphold our Constitution, I feel compelled to share my concerns with the the people of Alabama. I appreciate your giving me a venue to do so.

Betty Peters
District 2 Representative
Alabama State School Board
Dothan

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