The Numeracy Act is heading to the Governor’s desk. 

Senate Bill 171 (SB171), sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and titled, the Numeracy Act, already passed the Senate in early March, but a substitute was offered on the floor of the House on Tuesday. 

The substitute passed the House on Tuesday with a vote of 76-24. The Senate concurred on the substitute later that day, and the bill will now go to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for her consideration. 

The Numeracy Act seeks to allocate millions of dollars to acquire mathematics coaches to assist K-5 teachers in better instructing mathematics. The coaches would not be permitted to teach students nor would they be allowed to function in an administrative capacity.

SB171 has garnered much controversy around the state.

Many advocates of the bill say that Alabama’s notoriously low math scores, which are the lowest in the nation, could be improved by this coaching. 

Opponents of the bill claim that spending millions on coaches to teach teachers to teach is an expensive redundancy. Opponents have also argued that the legislation is a subterfuge to push the Common Core curriculum (CC), which the bill explicitly prohibits. 

Gubernatorial candidate Tim James claimed that the bill was attempting to teach Common Core through the back door.

“I call on Alabama Legislators to vote ‘NO’ on SB171,” James wrote in a press release. “Also known as the 'Alabama Numeracy Act,’ this bill claims to rid Alabama of Common Core math. However, this legislation does not remove Common Core math from our schools. It actually allows the state to spend $92 million to hire math coaches who will train kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers on how to teach Common Core.”

State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), the House Education Policy Committee Chair and the sponsor of the legislation, said there are no stipulations for Common Core in the bill. She claims the opposite is true. 

“You know, the sad part about that is Senator Orr meant to address that issue with the bill,” Collins said. “He includes at the very beginning and at the very end, and he tries to codify what the state board did - I think it was back in 2013 - in saying, ‘We cannot teach Common Core’. And he tries to codify that in the bill. And so it’s not trying to bring it in. It’s actually trying to codify that we cannot teach Common Core."

The conversation around CC surrounding the bill is mystifying to many because the first sentence of the synopsis states that the Numeracy Act prohibits the use of CC in K-12 schools. Opponents have claimed that the bill would allow the coaches to instruct the teachers in CC curriculum, which would enable CC to be smuggled in through the back door. They also claim that the current standards of Alabama math are identical to those of Common Core. 

State Rep. Anthony Daniels (D) spoke in favor of the bill. He claimed there had been a marked increase in standardized test scores from those in kindergarten since Alabama implemented CC. Daniels did not quote any study or analysis by which that claim could be scrutinized. 

“Data shows me that they do outperform the classes that were before them on standardized tests,” Daniels said. “[This] [w]ould also lead me to believe that there has been an improvement in our scores as a result of the actual curriculum and the standards we are using now.”

The Alabama Board of Education (ABE) defines and maintains school standards, not the individual teacher. However, some have criticized the ABE for allegedly adopting CC’s methods while merely dispensing with the title. 

Eagle Forum of Alabama has consistently maintained that the Alabama math standards are identical to those of CC, with minor wording alterations. They have produced a side-by-side comparison to show the similarities.  

“In 2012, Alabama implemented K-12 Common Core math standards but renamed them Alabama College and Career Ready Standards,” the Eagle Forum of Alabama website read. "The K-5 math standards were word-for-word Common Core. These standards were in use through 2019. In the fall of 2019, a mathematics task force 'edited' the K-5 math standards. For example, some sentences were turned into bullet statements, sometimes a word was exchanged, like 'identify' changed to 'recognize,' sometimes sentences were switched around. But the content was still total Common Core.”

“Then, why do we need a bill that says in its synopsis we’re going to get rid of Common Core math?” Becky Gerritson, Executive Director of Eagle Forum, said. “I guess maybe they lied to us? Or didn’t understand? But we’ve got a side-by-side comparison of the current standards that we have been using that have taken us from 26th place in the nation in math to 52nd. These are what is responsible for that drop."

Eagle Forum did not provide sources for the 26th place ranking they gave Alabama before CC. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) does not back up that claim, nor does any ranking agency.  

Rep. Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka) made a similar claim, although he admitted it was secondhand information. Holmes claims that the adoption of the CC curriculum in the school system is responsible for Alabama’s lackluster academic performance. 

“I’m all for the children of Alabama,” Holmes said. "That’s our future. If we can’t get them on a better track, then we have a very dismal future.” 

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