Tensions over what academic standards Georgia adheres to have been simmering in Atlanta and could possibly boil over this week when a bill designed to radically change state education heads for a vote in the state House of Representatives.
The bill passed in the Senate, 34-16, and calls for a review of Common Core standards. The legislation technically bans state officials from adopting standards prescribed by the federal government or other organizations going forward. It will have no effect on the 2010 decision by Georgia’s Board of Education to make the Common Core standards as the state’s own.
The House’s education committee heard arguments Wednesday from both sides, though more people seemed to be in support of Common Core and asking the house to vote against the bill.
But one of those in favor of the bill was Meg Norris, a former East Hall Middle School teacher who is against Common Core standards.
“I had Common Core in my classroom for 18 months before I decided to leave and speak out against it,” she said at the hearing. “They are developmentally inappropriate for children.”
She said high school teachers are embracing the standards because “they’re easy,” while the standards are too difficult for elementary students to meet.
“The elementary (level) is so heavy with cognitively inappropriate standards,” she said.
Norris was joined in her support of the bill by representatives from American Principles in Action and the Georgia Baptist convention, among other groups and individuals.
But several organizations have come out in support of the Common Core standards, including a group of retired veterans called Mission Readiness, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Atlanta and 100 Black Men and the Atlanta Urban League.
Some of the language being picked apart includes the section declaring the state’s complete control over education.
“The State of Georgia shall retain sole control over the development and revision of the content standards ... and no content standards shall be adopted or implemented except in accordance with the procedures required ,” it reads in part. “The state shall not adopt any federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or a third party including, but not limited to, the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Curriculum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards or the National Sexuality Standards.”
There’s also the concern that another part of the bill, which reads “all statewide K-12 tests and assessments shall be controlled by the State of Georgia,” would make it difficult if not illegal for students to take noncontroversial tests like the SAT, ACT or Advanced Placement exams.
School Superintendent John Barge spoke Wednesday in favor of dismissing the legislation.
“The bill has quite a bit of language that would throw our educational system into complete chaos, including the new teacher evaluation system that was placed into state law last year by this assembly, our waiver from No Child Left Behind and a number of other issues,” Barge said.
State Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, initially proposed harsher legislation that mandated Georgia abandon the Common Core standards in math and English instruction. The standards have been adopted by most states and set benchmarks for what students should learn. The Senate voted 34-16 to adopt a scaled-back version of the law.
And the U.S. government never required that states use the standards, though it did encourage their development and adoption particularly in implementing waivers from No Child Left Behind.
“I think that I would agree that it’s a far from perfect bill,” Hall County School District Will Schofield said. “I just think there’s an awful lot that has happened since the first day that bill was written in terms of changes that is unclear, that creates the potential for some unfunded mandates and more activities that schools are going to have to participate in. We don’t have the resources and in some instances I’m not even sure it’s clear in the current verbiage what it is we’re being asked to do.
“It would appear to me that they need to get some streamlining going on at the state level in terms of just what data we ought to be reporting and to who, rather than once again dumping it on the backs of local school districts to figure out.”
Local school leaders remain adamant that, while not perfect, Common Core is a step in the right direction for students and the bill as proposed would be nothing short of devastating for education in the state.
“I have heard overwhelming support of the new standards from my colleagues working for district offices statewide,” said Jamey Moore, Gainesville schools’ director of curriculum and instruction. “I appreciate working with standards that explicitly ask students to write explanations supporting answers and that require students to struggle appropriately with the material while receiving the support of teachers.”
The debate over Common Core has caused an election-year rift between traditional Republican constituencies. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, was co-chairman of the group that originally produced the standards, which have been supported by Georgia’s Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group. However, tea party and other conservative activists denounce the standards as a federal intrusion into local education policy.
“For years, the business community and state legislative delegation has urged school leaders to raise the bar for students in Georgia so that our state can develop economically and remain competitive,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “Now, when teachers and leaders have worked diligently to do this by implementing higher standards, our legislature and state leaders are wavering.
“I was not surprised,” she added about the bill passing the Senate. “It is an election year, as well as the political games that are always played.”
Schofield said he anticipates more changes being made to the bill if it comes to a vote in the House this week.
“I think there’s an awful lot in there that looks murky to me,” he said.
The state legislature is expected to adjourn March 20.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.