Common Core Debate
September 26, 2013
Moderator: Dr. Christine Ries, Professor of Economics, Georgia Institute of Technology
State Senator Fran Millar
Martha Reichrath, Deputy Superintendent, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Ga DOE
State Senator William Ligon
Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow with the American Principles Project
Most of my opinions are based on people that I know. Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent, Gwinnett County Schools. In 2010, Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett, was the first school in Georgia to implement Common Core. He is very positive about Common Core.
Some of the sources about some of the things we’ll talk about tonight, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. That’s the conservative think tank. They are very well respected. The Georgia Partnership for Education which is the Georgia Chamber of Commerce arm. The Southern Regional Educational Board which is one of the best educational organizations I know. They represent states from Delaware to Oklahoma.
Any discussion about Common Core has to start with what it’s about. It’s about standards. When we talk about standards, we talk about the knowledge and skill level of a particular child in a given subject at the end of a particular grade level. For example, at this particular time we are talking about English Language Arts and Mathematics.
That’s a lot different from curriculum. Alvin Wilbanks said every since we had standards in this state, starting in 1985 with Quality Core Curriculum, 2004 we adopted the Georgia Performance Standards. He’s conviened an advocacy group to make sure they look at the curriculum almost each and every year. Curriculum deals with how a teacher teaches, what students are doing on a daily basis, what textbooks are being used. They aren’t decided by the state. People get standards and curriculum confused.
The assessments piece of Common Core needs a lot of work. The cost of the assessments could be $30 million to $40 million. We spend about $8 Billion in public education and I don’t want to waste $30 to $40 million, but that’s not the end of the world if you get the tests right and get rid of some of these stupid tests which we don’t need.
Deal is trying to alleviate some concerns with his executive order. We collect lots of data on students, but we do not share the information on individual students. We will not give up control to the federal government. Bottom line for me on the Common Core is this, when 25% – 50% of the kids going to college need remedial education, we got a problem. Common Core is not a panacea to cure everything. But, we live in global world.
I went to a conference the other day at the Woodruff Arts Center and part of the conference was about education in the 21st century. It wasn’t about Common Core specifically, but many of the speakers were national, Harvard, Progressive types who were telling us what we need to about education in the 21st century. There were 3 takeaways.
* We need less focus on academic knowledge. Google and calculators are in.
* Greater focus on 21st century skills like collaboration, cooperation and communication
* Less about what they know and more about personal characteristics
This hearkened back to “Outcome Based Education”.
This is the philosophy behind Common Core. We are told it’s standards and not curriculum. It is true that the local districts will be allowed to pick their own curriculum. They can chose one Common Core aligned book over a different Common Core aligned book. The two terms tend to get blended together. In 2012, the Ga DOE presented this PowerPoint with a slide that said, “Common Core GPS – A Curriculum For Preparing a Workforce for the Future”. This is what they are doing, preparing a workforce.
We’re told not to worry because the experts have looked at this and it’s good. So, what do we get? We get a radical new structure in which control rests, not in the state of Georgia but with private interests in other states and with the US Department of Education in Washington. We never voted for that. We get math standards that have been imposed on us that are admittedly designed to prepare students for non selective community colleges. We never voted for that. We get English standards that follow a trade school mentality, that if it’s something you’re not going to see on your job, you really shouldn’t spend much time on it. So, if Paradise Lost is not part of your job responsibilities, why waste time on it now. We never voted for that. We get the cutting edge assessments. They don’t want multiple choice tests or tests that test academic knowledge. They want tests that are more subjective in testing your skills or characteristics. Personal skills and characteristics, we never voted for that. They dictated that our teacher evaluations will be tied to the results of these experimental tests. We never voted for that.
They have instituted ruinous unfunded mandates on the states and local districts. They have connected these new standards to massive, intrusive data collection and sharing systems. The Common Core standards is elitism run amok. It assumes Georgia’s teachers and parents are incapable of education our children without the help from really smart people in Washington whether they are in private organizations or the US Department of Education, as though those really smart people have done a good job up to now. This new iteration of centralization and control will destroy whatever innovation we have.
Where do the problems in education come from? I suggest they came from the centralization that started when the federal government started creeping into things and dictating what we were going to do. I don’t think the problems of centralization can be solved by more centralization. Why can’t we be free to do what we want with our education without having the strings of the federal government or a consortia of other states telling us what we can or cannot do.
I want to start with a plea to you because I think the children in this state deserve to find some unification in the direction we are going to be taking. Gov Deal has given the DOE the directive to take a look at these standards in a very formal way. Make sure these standards are what every Georgian would want them to be. Standards that will help our teachers to define what a youngster needs to be competitive whenever they walk out the door of a high school, so they never get a door closed and go on to pursue whatever avenue of post secondary education they want to pursue … whether it’s the world of work, or technical college or baccalaureate institution, or military so they are prepared.
Today the state board put a process in place for a very specific introspection of the CCGSS (College and Career ready Georgia Performance Standards). Certainly infused with Common Core. I want to tell you how that process worked in Georgia. It was 2003 when we first started working on the Georgia Performance Standards. I was at the Governor’s office at that time and worked very closely with the Department of Education. The Georgia Performance Standards were birthed for every subject and for every grade level. They were far more rigorous than anything we had ever known in the state. But, we knew they still had problems. We were hearing it from our teachers. We needed some areas of reading, writing and mathematics strengthened. We needed to adjust mathematics content standards around the transition of middle school to high school.
In 2008, Governor Purdue and many of his Republican Governors were working together. They were developing their own standards. They got together and decided to share this effort where states would come together where they could talk about the commonalities of their standards. That’s working working with the council of chief state school officers in this country. All the chiefs worked together and Common Core began to take shape. It was driven by Governors.
So, in Georgia we worked for 2 years with others across this nation to put the standards together. The result was the infusion of the Common Core state standards into our Georgia Performance Standards. They were never a switch. We never threw our standards away and replaced by Common Core. We use the Common Core to make our standards better.
The issue of Common Core is as much about governance as it is about education. Historically, the realm of education has rested with the states. Under federal law, The United States Department of Education Organizational Act expressly states that the federal government does not have any direction or supervision over curriculum, program of instruction, which starts to get pretty close to standards or administration of schools.
In 2008 we had a fairly complete review of our standards. Those standards were very good. The Fordham Institute reviewed those standards and said they were one of 12 states that standards as good as or better than Common Core. They went into great detail where Georgia standards were far superior. So, why would we go backwards? But, go backwards and change we did. Now, the standards weren’t determined here in Georgia, but by a consortia of states. Our voice was diluted working with non profits funded by large corporations that have an interest in this. The compliance with these standards was to be under the oversight of the United States Department of Education. When we signed up for that grant, the conditions of those standards could not be changed. We were allowed to add 15% to those standards, but couldn’t change it. In essence, we traded our ability to come in and adjust a standard that wasn’t working to having to work through a consortia of states to get their permission to change it. That’s a loss of a tremendous amount of control.
But, we were told this was state led because the Governors Association signed us up for this. Well, what is the national Governors Association? It’s a trade organization. It’s not subject to Open Records laws. We don’t even know who the members are. We don’t know anything about how the standards were created. We know what goes on in our government because we have laws that require that. Because of that, there are certain issues that have come up. We’ve had to withdraw from the testing component, the PARCC. For 2 reasons. One, because of the funding. But the other reason that was articulated was because we did not have control over what would be on that test. Control is an important issue.
Secondly, we know that the reviews were rushed. I have a Department of Education study put out to teachers and parents online. They were asked, among other things, are these standards clear, do they cover key content, and are they appropriately rigorous? In K-8 math, over 60% said no, same in high school. In some cases there was 100% disagreement with the standards.