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As Alabama continues to lag behind most of the nation in terms of educational achievement, State Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh is trying to abolish Common Core standards and nationalized achievement tests in order to even the score for Alabama’s schools and students. Yeah, if the standards weren’t so gosh darn hard and if the tests were just easier, Alabama would simply score much better, right? Marsh also seems to think that legislators with extreme conservative political agendas would do a much better job “fixing” Alabama’s education issues, than say, educators who’ve spent their whole careers in education. What could possibly go wrong with his plan?

It appears that the Alabama Republicans’ intense dislike of Common Core is based on a huge misconception. The standards were adopted by state governors so that there would be consistency in nationwide educational standards and they happened to adopt them during the Obama administration. Well, that led to the erroneous belief that the standards came from the Obama administration, when, in fact, they did not. Some Republicans even took to calling Common Core, “ObamaCore” because they thought it would have the same negative political tone they used when vilifying healthcare reform when they called it, “ObamaCare”. Yet, they were dead wrong about the origins and intent of Common Core standards, and they did it anyway.

Also, they’ve spread this idea that Common Core standards dictate the type of curriculum that teachers should use to achieve the standards. That’s also not true. But, all this political hype and deliberate misinformation made Common Core very unpopular in Alabama. So, instead of trying to find productive ways to improve Alabama students’ test scores to meet the rigorous standards, Alabama is doing what it does best; finding ways to circumvent them and wasting a whole lot of money trying to reinvent the wheel.

Marsh and his conservative legislator cronies are doing their best to politicize education rather than improve it. Instead of letting educators make informed decisions and do their jobs, Marsh and company seem more interested in forcing public schools to offer Bible classes and to reinsert outdated education standards that are decades old. Is that the right way to ensure that Alabama students can meet the emerging challenges of a new fast-paced economy that values science, engineering, math, and high-tech innovation?

It turns out that three generals at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL, who were caught off guard by this legislative chicanery, have voiced their disapproval over the proposed legislation because of the negative impact it would have on military families that move frequently. In Huntsville, there are also deep concerns about how dismantling Common Core and abandoning national standards might impact the FBI, as it significantly expands its workforce in the Rocket City. In fact, many business leaders are opposed to Marsh’s plan because they have successfully touted the advantages of Common Core standards when recruiting new industries or jobs to Alabama.

It seems like common sense that if you think a test may be difficult, you prepare more and study harder; you don’t demand an easier test. Yet, that seems to be Marsh’s odd logic when it comes to improving Alabama’s failing test scores. Also, there’s no good reason to add a new layer of partisan political bureaucracy into the adoption or maintenance of education standards. If Marsh thinks the Board of Education is dysfunctional, it makes more sense to get new board members or procedural changes than it does to force legislators to make decisions about education. It’s like asking your landscaper for his opinion or advice on your heart surgery.

If Marsh and his fellow conservatives want to do something valuable, they should leave decisions about education to the educators. Maybe, he could do something Alabama really needs and fix our ridiculously long 1901 racist Constitution or reform our regressive tax code. Ditching Common Core would be a big costly mistake, and it would all but guarantee that Alabama would end up having to repeat a grade… again.

Clete Wetli

Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.
Clete Wetli