Dear Governor Bentley,
I am writing this letter in regards to the discussion and debate that has been underway in Alabama – and indeed around the country – about Common Core for the last few years. As you are no doubt aware, this debate has led to the repeal of Common Core in a few states with others giving serious consideration to following suit. Last year, I wrote a letter to the members of the Alabama State Legislature making the case that we should not repeal Alabama’s version of Common Core – the College and Career-Ready Standards (CCRS). To my great relief, none of the bills designed to do so were passed during that session. Last week yet another bill that would repeal Common Core in Alabama passed out of committee. While I have already been in touch with my representative on this issue, I am writing this letter to you because it seems unwise to wait until it is absolutely necessary to do so to voice my opinion. Please allow me to share three simple reasons (of the many that exist) why you should never support any effort to repeal Common Core in Alabama.
- Your grandchildren and my daughters deserve to attend schools with high expectations for their learning. As you know, two of your grandchildren (Katie and Taylor) attend Rock Quarry Middle School, where I am principal. The standards set by the Common Core have been the norm for their entire middle school careers. They are expected to extend their learning past the mere collection of knowledge to application of it. They are expected to understand math well enough to do something with it. They are expected to demonstrate the skills necessary to write for a real audience. They are expected to make complex connections between the learning done in different classes. The standards their teachers build their instruction on start with verbs like “analyze, delineate, integrate, demonstrate, and evaluate”. We are not just helping them survive until they reach high school; they are thriving academically in large part because their teachers are expected to make school a deep and rich learning experience; that standard of excellence is clearly articulated through CCRS. My children are very young. It will be two more years before all three are in elementary school. They are already devouring the world around them – like all children their age do. They are so curious; make incredible connections; can already draw conclusions that are alternatively amazing and hilarious. I am terrified that they will attend a school that begins to teach them that correct answers are more important that wonder. How long will they view learning as completely natural and fulfilling (as they do now) if they figure out that they can get by with very little effort in school? As much as I worry about my children, I worry so much more for other little girls and boys I meet whose parents themselves learned that the bar is low and were never expected to strive for greatness. If we chose to go backward in regards to the standards we set for academic learning in Alabama, those children will be hurt more than anyone. You see the truth is my children will turn out fine and your grandchildren will too because they have parents (and grandparents) who will make sure they learn everything they can whether that learning happens at school or not. All of Alabama’s children deserve to attend great schools with high expectations.
- Alabama educators think the standards we have are right. Listen to us! I have frequently heard that no profession is more heavily regulated than the medical profession. You would have a better perspective on that claim than me. A perspective I can confidently share is that few other professions (if any at all) are treated with as great a disregard as educators. Aside from all the other evidence I could cite in support of this claim, the most compelling evidence I see is the absence of our voice in decision-making regarding education. I applaud you for making a concerted effort to be an exception to that rule. First Lady Diane Bentley spends a great deal of her time visiting schools, including a visit to Rock Quarry earlier this semester. You hosted a group of National Board Certified Teachers for a meeting last month and declared the week of March 8 Alabama National Board Certified Teacher week. Many other elected officials in our state are literally ignoring educators though. Not only do they refuse to consider our perspective on Common Core, they simply ignore our emails and phone calls and requests for meetings. I am not suggesting that this issue is a simple one nor that there is no room for debate. I do believe, however, that the human beings trusted with nearly half the waking hours of Alabama’s youth should be also trusted to have an opinion about what to do during that time.
- We do need protection from Washington. Repealing Common Core will not help. Alabama’s elected officials have not cornered the market on making decisions about education in Alabama. There are in fact many decisions and mandates from the federal level that I do not agree with at all. I have been quite vocal publicly about my objections to those issues. Alabama’s teaching standards in Language Arts and Math is simply not on my list of concerns. The reason for that fact is simple: Alabama educators are firmly in control of the decision-making process in our state. I doubt that any other state has adapted Common Core more than Alabama has. When something did not fit, we changed it. When the public expressed concerns about details connected to Common Core, those items were removed. At every turn, we have made decisions that were right for our students whether someone outside our state agreed with those decisions or not. Unlike many neighboring states, the Alabama Department of Education has taken a stand when pressure from Washington conflicts with what we know to be best for our students. I agree with the notion that we should not let Washington dictate educational decisions to us. I disagree strongly that describing the level at which learning should take place puts us in danger of succumbing to anyone else’s agenda.
Governor Bentley, we do not know each other personally. However, I do know that you care very deeply for Alabama and that you are a strong supporter of public education. I am not asking you to attempt to curtail the discussion about Common Core in Alabama. My simple request is that if you are ever given a chance to weigh in on our instructional standards you remand that decision to the folks who should be making decisions about education in Alabama: educators. Please do not sign into law any legislation that substitutes the judgement of politicians for that of educators.
Andrew Maxey, NBCT
Principal, Rock Quarry Middle School