House Ways and Means Education Committee Chair Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, listens during a session of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama House Ways and Means Education Committee Wednesday delayed consideration of bill governing textbook selection after a discussion of “core values” and concerns over weakening the 2019 Alabama Literacy Act.
HB 430, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, the chair of the committee, would change the makeup of the Alabama Literacy Task Force; set term limits and ensure “the content [of reading and reading intervention programs] is age appropriate and aligns with the state’s standards and code of ethics and reflects the core values of the state.”
Garrett said Wednesday he was looking to address potential shortcomings of the law.
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“As always with the legislation, sometimes you find unintended consequences or gaps,” he said.
The bulk of the discussion at the meeting Wednesday focused on assessments and the “accountability” of the Literacy Taskforce.
The Alabama Literacy Taskforce is tasked with ensuring that reading textbooks follow the “Science of Reading,” a program based on decades of multidisciplinary research on how kids learn to read.
The curriculum focuses more on phonics than the balanced literacy, or “three cueing” method that dominated literacy instruction for many years.
After the task force ensures the books meet those standards, the books are sent to the Alabama State Textbook Committees, which review them to ensure they follow the courses of study. State textbook committees exist for each subject area.
In comments to the committee and reporters after the meeting, Garrett said there are no reviews for content in English Language Arts (ELA) textbooks.
Local textbook committees decide which textbooks will be used in their district.
Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, had concerns about the bill that required “core values.”
“Who decides what our core values are?” she asked.
Later, Drummond said she never had her question answered.
Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said that there should be guidelines outlining what a “core value” is, rather than leaving it up to the task force members.
“I think that makes it very difficult for the members of the task force unless they’re given guidelines,” he said.
At the March Alabama State Board of Education meeting, conservative activists said one of the reading material series approved by the board had too much “Black history.”
Garrett said after the meeting his concerns were about a story where kids were asked whether a lie in a story was justified or not.
“Just one story I read is, the title of the story is ‘A Good Lie,’” he said. “Basically it is a story about a kid who told a lie. And the question was, was that lie wrong? I don’t think we should be– I mean, somebody should have looked at that.”
The bill would also change the makeup of the Literacy Task Force to include teachers of higher-level grades. Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, the original sponsor of the Literacy Act, said that could weaken the task force as those teachers would not have direct experience with the science of reading.
“I can’t imagine those being able to fulfill the requirement at the bottom of page two, which is the key,” she said. “It’s their experience.”
One of the provisions of the task force is that members need three years of experience with “scientifically-based reading instruction.” Garrett left the provision in the bill, but Collins said those don’t necessarily work together.
Some committee members, including Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, said they did not have the needed background to make an informed decision and asked for a public hearing. Garrett said there was not enough time, and he had asked for input on the bill for months and did not receive any until the day prior.
The committee could vote on the legislation next week.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9:26 p.m. on May 10 to clarify the bulk of the committee discussion.
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