Common Core is an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn … reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
No one would argue with these groups developing a set of voluntary standards that are rigorous and helpful for students as they prepare for college or the workforce.
The NGA and CCSSO may have had the best intentions, but as the process unfolded, political motivations and agendas took over. A recessionary economy and falling property values created budget crises in school districts across the country.
In the category of “never let a crisis go to waste,” those with agendas saw an opportunity to leverage school districts’ need for money with their vision for education.
Into this situation, President Obama’s Race to the Top grants offered a much needed infusion of federal money conditioned on adopting Common Core. At that point, Common Core ceased being voluntary and was no longer an effort to define rigorous standards with broad acceptance.
Once linked to grant money, the power over education standards shifted from states and districts to the federal level. Even though the NGA and CCSSO were responsible for the initiation of common standards, the use of federal grant money changed the nature of this effort.
Those who favor Common Core in Georgia still see it through the original lens of good intentions and dismiss or ignore the political appropriation of their efforts. Their reticence to acknowledge the usurpation of Common Core by the federal government is understandable given that most of the advocates invested their time and reputation into the initiative.
With states adopting Common Core under the lure of federal money, groups with political agendas regarding K-12 curriculum can target and obtain influence or control over the standards.
For example, Common Core displaces some traditional literature with informational texts to prepare students for workplace and technical writing.
That sounds innocuous enough, but what informational texts will they read? Perhaps they will be given EPA regulations on carbon emissions, DOJ writings on hate crimes or Department of Labor surveys on workplace diversity.
The politicization of learning is embedded in this standard. Centralized control also curtails innovation. It’s like going back to Ma Bell and doing away with the communications revolution brought to us by a competitive marketplace.
With Common Core in Georgia, we’re told that the standards are closely aligned with Georgia’s existing standards, as if that should make us all feel better.
In the early 2000s, the Georgia Department of Education adopted a social studies curriculum that is almost completely devoid of education on The Bill of Rights in elementary school. Yet, in third grade, we teach our children about the nine important people who “expanded rights.” Those nine people are: Paul Revere, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Mary McLeod Bethune, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Lyndon B. Johnson, and César Chávez.
The same Georgia Department of Education asks us to trust them on adopting Common Core standards. The Georgia DOE that has been at the helm as we performed so poorly as a state on most education metrics. When some of our elected officials say they are being informed about Common Core by the experts from our DOE, I’m concerned about the advice they are receiving.
Our state spends in the top 10 nationally on education, yet, most of our education metrics hover in the bottom five. We have to admit that we need a change in leadership on educational issues in Georgia. Rigorous standards need to be adopted, but they must be part of a process that continues to innovate and is not beholden to a central authority. Georgia has a long road ahead but Common Core is not a path to prosperity.
Nancy Jester is a governance consultant for the Georgia Charter Schools Association and previously served on the DeKalb County Board of Education.