Common Core debate distracts from real problem

Published 4:02 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014

By DR. RICK BARTH/Guest columnist

During the last several months, I have come to appreciate the insights and thoughts of both the proponents and opponents of the Common Core curriculum being debated in our state. Individuals on both sides of this issue have brought strong arguments to the table and are truly concerned about the future of K–12 public education in the state.

But, after recently reading a Southern Education Foundation study published this past October, I believe the energy and resources we are placing on the curriculum debate are distracting us from the real barrier to student success in public education — poverty. The foundation’s report indicates that as of 2011, 55 percent of all students in Alabama’s public schools were from low-income households.

If you consider what this is telling us — the majority of our students in public schools are living in poverty — you quickly realize that we need education reforms radically different than those that drive the conversation. Whether it is the Race to the Top program at the federal level or the current state-level debate on the Common Core, we have been distracted from the real problem of poverty.

I realize we will not eradicate poverty any time soon. However, we can focus our energies and resources on structuring the educational environment in ways that are more supportive to children living in poverty. We already know some of the actions that can help these students complete school successfully — small class sizes with opportunities for individualized instruction and supportive responses to emotional and behavioral challenges.

Just imagine what we could accomplish if we put the same amount of energy, resources and passion into discovering and implementing support mechanisms for students living in poverty that we are currently putting into the Common Core debate. By focusing on the real barrier to student success, we could truly change the lives of our children and the future of our state.

Dr. Rick Barth is the Vice President for Enrollment Management at the University of Montevallo, which is located in Southern Shelby County in the community of Montevallo.