MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s governor replaced a Cabinet member who oversaw the state’s award-winning prekindergarten program because of a teacher training book with language about inclusion and combatting structural racism, she said Thursday.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey defended her decision announced last week to remove Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Barbara Cooper over the use of the training guide, saying that she thought teachers need to “focus on basics.”
“The teacher resource book that I looked at had all those references to different kind of lifestyles and equity and this and that and the other,” Ivey told reporters Thursday. “That’s not teaching English. That’s not teaching writing. That’s not teaching reading. We need to focus on the basics y’all and get this right.”
She was referring to The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Developmentally Appropriate Practice Book, 4th edition, which is a guide for early childhood educators. In an emailed response to The Associated Press, the association did not address Ivey’s statements but said the book is a research-based resource for educators. It is not a curriculum.
In announcing the action last week, Ivey derided what she called “woke concepts.” The action comes as some conservative politicians have spoken out against what they call “woke” teachings.
The decision to replace Cooper drew criticism inside and outside of the the state.
“From what I understand the book in question encouraged equality and inclusivity so all children feel valued in education,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, calling the decision short-sighted. “It’s sacrificing public education— and a good employee that she praised recently — just for some political end.”
Alabama’s First Class voluntary prekindergarten programs operates more than 1,400 classrooms across the state. The program has won high ratings from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Cooper previously served as deputy state superintendent and chief academic officer of the Alabama State Department of Education and multiple other education positions at the state and local level.
The sections criticized by Ivey, according to a copy of the 881-page book obtained by The Associated Press, discusses combating unconscious bias and making sure that all children feel welcome.
“Early childhood programs also serve and welcome families that represent many compositions. Children from all families (e.g., single parent, grandparent-led, foster, LGBTQIA+) need to hear and see messages that promote equality, dignity, and worth,” the book states.
The section on structural racism states that while educators have always voiced a concern that every child matters, “unfortunately, systemic and structural racism has permeated every institution and system” and “the early education system is not immune to these forces.” The book tells teachers that the classroom is one place where children “begin to see how they are represented in society” and that the classroom should be a place of “affirmation and healing.”
Cooper is a board member of the association that published the book. Ivey praised Cooper’s appointment to the board last year.