State Schools Superintendent John Barge is coming to Cobb County on Saturday to address concerns about the controversial Common Core standards.
The announcement of Barge’s visit to Cobb comes on the heels of a 4-3 vote by the Cobb Board of Education last week to reject the purchase of $7.5 million in math textbooks aligned with Common Core. This rejection at the local level came after the state had already committed to implementing the nationwide standards under the past two governors, Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, even though the Legislature has never voted on the issue.
That Barge would come to Cobb to face what is likely to be a room full of fellow Republicans with deep-seated suspicions about a federal program is a sign that worry is building in Atlanta about the possibility of a grassroots revolt against Common Core.
Barge is scheduled to address the Cobb Republican Party Breakfast at 8:15 a.m. Saturday at the GOP’s Roswell Street headquarters.
Meanwhile, Republican office-holders in Cobb, along with those hoping to be elected to offices here, continue to line up against Common Core.
One of the most forceful statements against the federal standards came Thursday from Bob Barr.
Barr, who is running for the congressional seat soon to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), blasted the Common Core standards as a “top-down, one-size-fits-all” approach that’s doomed to fail.
He joins other Republican leaders in Cobb, such as state Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) and Cobb Board of Education member Kathleen Angelucci, who have denounced Common Core as the federalization of education.
The Republican National Committee also adopted a resolution in April denouncing the Common Core Standards.
“I oppose Common Core as a top-down, government-driven, one-size-fits-all approach to education that shifts responsibility from classroom teachers to bureaucrats,” Barr said Thursday.
“Common Core makes it more difficult for local and state school administrators and teachers to tailor teaching methods and subjects to their students, and instead favors so-called national standards far removed from the actual students and teachers,” he said.
The ongoing cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools is clear evidence of the problems that can result from government-driven “standards,” Barr said.
“We need to be moving away from such top-down approaches, and toward re-empowering state and local educators and parents to regain control of the agendas and standards,” Barr said. “We need also to support initiatives such as charter schools, which also provide incentives for improving educational standards and results far more effectively than government-administered programs like Common Core.”
Not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ process
A second candidate who has announced he is running for the 11th District against Barr, state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), co-sponsored a bill with state Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) during the last session to extract Georgia from Common Core.
“I think we should come up with a plan for repealing it, and it may be as far as we won’t renew — I think it’s the math standards that we’re in right now — we’re not going to enter into the other standards of Common Core,” Loudermilk said. “I’m in favor of Georgia being responsible for its own education system and setting our own standards.”
It was Gov. Sonny Perdue’s administration that locked the state into Common Core without a vote by the Georgia General Assembly, Loudermilk said.
One of the big concerns is that the state adopted a set of standards that have yet to be developed, he said.
“They’re still being developed, but we’re just going to blindly take whatever the federal government tells the states, ‘This is what your standards are going to be,’ and that’s why we’re starting to see some states come back and say, ‘You know what? This may be a mistake. We’re going to begin the process of backing out of this,’ and I think you’re going to see more and more of that.”
It all goes back to a lack of trust of the federal government, Loudermilk said.
“Education is not one-size-fits-all,” he said. “It’s unique to each state and each community, each county. You can have standards that each county can meet, but the way you teach, how you go about teaching is even unique to each community.
“Children in south Georgia relate differently based on the way they’re brought up, their environment, their culture than children in inner city Atlanta, and you have to have the flexibility to work with them, and I think from a constitutional standpoint that is a power that was reserved for the states, not for the federal government.”
There is also a lack of thought over what adopting the program will cost, he said.
“I think it does tie back to the stimulus money, which was no doubt needed, but I think the lack of foresight was the cost it’s going to put on the states to actually implement this,” he said.
In one the hearings on his bill, for example, a superintendent told lawmakers that the new testing requirements will have to be phased in over a 12-week period.
“Now the classes that are given the first testing block are going to be at a disadvantage because the ones that get the last testing block, those teachers have 12 more weeks to prepare the students, and so we can’t afford it,” he said.
Loudermilk said the federal government must realign its priorities to those based on the Constitution, and those responsibilities are very limited.
“And they don’t include setting national standards for education,” he said. “That is something clearly that the founders left at the state level and the states have voluntarily adopted these, but I think it goes back to there was a tough time, budgets were tough and so here’s some Race to the Top money, let’s take that.”
A third candidate in the congressional race, state Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), did not return calls for comment by press time.
Opinions from conservatives
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has blasted the Common Core standards scheme as a “Nanny State racket,” arguing that it was enabled by President Obama’s federal stimulus law and his Department of Education’s Race to the Top program.
“The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants,” Malkin wrote in a recent blog column.
A component to the Common Core standards, Malkin goes on to explain, is a new federal student-tracking database funded with stimulus money and grants from “liberal billionaire” Bill Gates.
“A nonprofit startup, ‘inBloom Inc.,’ evolved out of the strange-bedfellows partnership to operate the invasive database, which is compiling everything from health-care histories, income information and religious affiliations to voting status, blood types and homework completion,” Malkin wrote.
But it isn’t just Democrats who are involved in the program. Malkin blasts “big government Republicans” such as Jeb Bush for supporting it as well.
“Whether under Bush or Obama, it’s about top down control engineered through government-administered tests and left-wing textbook monopolies,” she wrote.
Federal lawmakers weigh in
The Journal asked the federal lawmakers who represent Cobb County whether they support or oppose Common Core and why that is. Here’s how Gingery answered the question in an email:
“I’ve always believed states and localities must decide what is best for their students,” Gingrey wrote. “It’s unfortunate the Obama Administration played politics with Common Core, essentially reversing course on what was originally intended to be voluntary program designed by governors.”
Ryan Murphy, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell), answered the question this way: “Congressman Price believes educational decisions are best made at the state and local level. He opposes a mandated one-size-fits-all approach or a scenario where we drift in a direction that would lock states into a national standard and not allow for local, state, and regional differences.”
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb) answered the question of whether he supports or opposes Common Core by writing the following email: “I fully support the efforts of the state of Georgia to raise our academic content standards and update accountability systems, and Common Core is certainly a component that can be a part of the plan. At the same time, I firmly reject attempts by the federal government to prod states toward the Common Core Standards Initiative, and I believe that the federal government should remain silent on this issue and leave these important decisions to the state.”
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Moultrie) emailed this statement: “The decision to use the Common Core Standards Initiative was one left to individual states, and Georgia has decided to adopt those standards. I believe the federal government should leave important education decisions such as this one to the states.”
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-south Cobb) did not respond to requests for comment.