Good Citizenship Requires the Critical Thinking Fostered by Alabama’s Higher Standards

Public schools should enable the American citizen to “understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either.”

These words from Thomas Jefferson ring as true today in Alabama as when he wrote them nearly 200 years ago in Virginia. Effective public education is necessary for a democratic, prosperous and civil society.

Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards, which include the Common Core State Standards, further this goal by teaching critical thinking, promoting civil discussion, and ensuring today’s students read critical documents from our nation’s founding.

The College and Career Ready Standards are only for math and English language arts, and local teachers and schools are—as always—free to decide what books and materials to read and use. However, the standards do justifiably require that students read three important documents in tenth grade:

  • the Declaration of Independence,
  • the Preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,
  • Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

In eleventh grade, students are required to “Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence.” In twelfth, they must  “evaluate the reasoning in seminal United States texts, including the application of constitutional principles.” (These are direct quotes from the College and Career Ready Standards that can be read as part of the Alabama Courses of Study here:

What could be more important for our state and exceptional nation than ensuring that every citizen has the ability to think and discuss critically as they participate in our constitutional republic?

Ironically, the recent debate itself over the College and Career Ready Standards in Alabama emphasizes this importance. Conspiracy theories about the standards abound, and despite being disproven time and again, these theories feed on our fear of the federal government.

A healthy distrust of federal encroachment is justified, but when it comes to Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards and the Common Core State Standards that they are based upon, the fear is unfounded.

Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards do not dictate reading material (other than those documents mentioned above), and they do not tell teachers how to teach. Further, they require no testing or data collection. They are simply academic benchmarks that set a framework for what students need to know to be successful at the next grade level or in life after graduation. Materials and methods used in Alabama’s classrooms are based on the local decisions of schools and systems. Repealing Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards would not satisfy any complaints about pedagogy, reading selections, or school policies.

Alabama has had academic standards for more than a quarter century, and the College and Career Ready Standards are simply the latest version. The state accepted no money from any federal agency or private organization to adopt the standards. The decision to use the Common Core State Standards as a basis for our own standards was a state-level decision made in 2010 by task forces of Alabama educators. Like in the past, these task forces evaluated and updated Alabama’s standards, and committee members’ names are clearly written in the front of Alabama’s math and English courses of study found at the link below.

Investigate for yourself by going to the original source, the standards themselves in Alabama’s courses of study ( What you’ll find are academic benchmarks to help students learn at higher levels and think critically to ensure that they are well prepared to sustain our democratic system.

Caroline Novak is president of the A+ Education Partnership.