Gov. Nathan Deal, who was in Cobb County on Thursday for a bill-signing ceremony, was asked to explain his support for the controversial Common Core school curriculum.
The Common Core State Standards are a national effort to provide a consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn.
But the standards have recently been denounced by the Republican National Committee, and a groundswell of local Republican leaders are now coming out against the program. They say they fear it will lead to the federalization of education and loss of local control.
“I think the misconception is that this was federally imposed on the state of Georgia and on the other states, and I think all but maybe one or two actually have subscribed to the Common Core,” Deal said.
The governor said he was aware that some states were considering withdrawing from the program, but noted that Common Core was an effort developed through the states.
“The federal government did not mandate it, they did not control it, they did not dictate its content,” Deal said. “I think there is also a misunderstanding between the Common Core standards, which simply says these are the things that a student needs to know or be able to do at certain grade levels in their school progress, as opposed to a Common Core curriculum, whereby you dictate what is taught. That is not the case here, so I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the Common Core does.”
Put simply, Common Core is an effort that recognizes if Georgia students are going to be compared with students in other parts of the country, Georgia should be teaching to the same standards of what students are expected to know and be able to do. Deal said that makes good sense. It also makes testing more meaningful since test scores of children who have been taught one thing can’t be compared with test scores of children who have been taught something different.
“And we have been somewhat the victim I think in the past of our textbooks, and our material has generally all been dictated by the three large states that had the most student population, the New York, and the Texas and the Californians, and each of those states had standards that were different than the state of Georgia,” Deal said. “So what we are currently doing with (Criterion Referenced Competency Tests) is testing them to a standard, and many times the material that has been available to the teachers and to the students is material that is written to the standards of another state. So this is an effort to try to get it all on the same track. I think that’s the effort that we should continue to follow.”
Deal said he wasn’t sure why the Republican National Committee had denounced Common Core.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I really haven’t had any communications with them.”
Deal said he intended for Georgia to continue with the Common Core initiative.
“Until somebody can show me a reason for deviating from it, and I think anytime you take major action like that, you have to have a good justification for it,” he said.
Deal acknowledged, however, that the federal government does have a strong role in the funding of Common Core.
Georgia was awarded $400 million as part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. And part of the state’s Race to the Top application required a commitment to the Common Core standards.
“So if there’s any federal involvement, I suppose that would be it,” Deal said.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a former chairman of the Cobb Board of Education, said he has concerns about Common Core.
Tippins said he favors having uniform standards as to what represents excellence in instruction and learning.
“The problem is the process I feel like has been hijacked by the federal government,” Tippins said. “And I think there’s been a very liberal line of philosophy that will be driven through the social studies and the English (curricula).”
He said he doesn’t believe the language arts and math standards are high enough.
“I think in principle what they say this is all about is probably sound, but the process I feel like has been hijacked, and I’m not real comfortable with the end project that I’ve seen,” he said.
States do have the ability to opt out of Common Core, Tippins said.
Yet, local school boards are placed in a dilemma. About 85 percent of the standards are dictated by the federal government, leaving 15 percent of “wiggle room” for local school boards to deviate from the national standards, he said.
“To me that’s not very operable, and it’s certainly not efficient,” Tippins said. “I do not believe that we need federally mandated curriculum standards or instructional standards because I don’t know of anything that the federal government has done that you could brag about. I’ve seen no projects that have ever come in on time and under budget that accomplish much to the taxpayers’ satisfaction within the last 20 years of government. So I’m very skeptical of a federal program in education.”
Tippins is one Cobb Republican who believes Common Core federalizes education.
Expect the topic to come up next session in the Senate Education Committee if he remains the chairman, Tippins said.
Some have expressed opposition to Common Core, but wondered what to replace it with. Tippins said the solution is not a difficult one.
“I think one thing you need to do is look at the states that are acknowledged to have the best instructional standards in the United States and start with that,” he said. “One of the problems with education when you start to solve a problem I think quite often everyone feels that they need to start and reinvent the wheel. We need to find out what’s successful in different areas, and we need to implement it.”
As for a vote on spending millions to purchase Common Core math materials that the school board was expected to take Thursday evening, Tippins said the board has the right to do what it wants.
“Probably if I were sitting on the board, my opinion would be if I was faced with this and the pushback had arisen that has arisen on this I would probably vote to table it and discuss it for either two weeks or four weeks,” Tippins said. “I think if there are questions in the public’s mind, I think the questions ought to be answered.”