Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered a sweeping review of the Common Core national guidelines and asked the State Board of Education to “formally un-adopt” a part of the program that includes sample English test selections that infuriated some parents.
Deal also asked the board to develop a new social studies curriculum that emphasizes, among other aspects, civic and fiscal responsibility; and urged members to come up with a model reading list for school boards across the state.
The governor’s order signals his flagging support for Common Core amid criticism that the guidelines are a federal takeover of education policy. A target of tea-party infused opposition, the voluntary set of reading and math standards has become one of the most divisive issues in state politics.
“There’s a lively debate going on in many states about whether Common Core raises or lowers the standards,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “This letter merely asks for the school board to review the Common Core standards and rate how they measure up to state standards used in the past.”
It also distances the governor from Superintendent John Barge, a potential rival in Deal’s bid for re-election next year. Barge and Deal are the two highest-profile Georgia Republicans supporting the program, though both also agreed to scrap a Common Core test deemed too costly.
Barge said Deal’s letter is an about-face.
“Just within the past few months, we had a meeting in his office to ensure that we were on the same page on the Common Core,” Barge said, adding that he believes the letter was at least in part a political move by the governor to separate himself from a potential rival.
Barge said he began seeking teacher feedback on Common Core several months ago. “He’s asking the state board to do what we’re already doing,” Barge said.
The state Board of Education held committee meetings Wednesday but did not formally discuss Deal’s letter. It is likely to be on the agenda when the board meets in September.
“I can assure you we’ll do what the governor has asked us to do,” board member Scott Johnson said.
No state is forced to adhere to the Common Core standards. Georgia could get out of Common Core in a couple of ways: The state board could vote to pull Georgia out or Deal could sign legislation pulling the state out of Common Core.
Georgia’s political establishment voluntarily embraced Common Core in July 2010 as a way to help ensure that Georgia students learn the same concepts as children in other states. But a groundswell of opposition forced its GOP patrons to take the defensive.
The national guidelines are hotly debated at school boards across Georgia and are at the center of budding political campaigns. The leaders of Georgia’s Republican Party in June voted unanimously to urge state leaders to withdraw from the program on grounds that it “obliterates Georgia’s constitutional autonomy.”
Common Core also poses unique challenges to Deal as he mounts a re-election campaign. Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who counts on tea party backing for his primary challenge to Deal, said it would have taken him but “three seconds to reject Common Core in its entirety.”
The letter Deal sent, which was obtained Wednesday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the review was prompted by concerns from several lawmakers and the results of several recent studies. Deal said he wants a full-blown comparison between Common Core and a state educational guidelines that were previously in place.
State Sen. William Ligon, a Brunswick Republican who sponsored legislation to nullify Common Core in Georgia, said parents particularly complained that some of the books outlined in the program’s text selection “were not consistent with Georgia values.”
He mentioned a 1994 historical novel about a Dominican Republic dictatorship called “In the Time of the Butterflies,” which he said was targeted by many parents who worried it cast Cuban President Fidel Castro’s Communist regime in a positive light.
Deal’s move showed his willingness to venture into new ground on education policy. Common Core’s developers steered clear of social studies coursework, wary of being painted as rewriting state history textbooks.
Deal, however, argued in his letter that the state should create social studies coursework that encompasses “foundational tenets” including American government, the nation’s founding documents, civic responsibility, economics education and fiscal responsibility.
The letter buoyed some of Common Core’s staunchest opponents. Kelly Marlow, a Cherokee County school board member, said she hopes local lawmakers and school board members follow the governor’s lead by giving the guidelines a “serious look.”
“I am proud the governor realizes it is never too late to fix a bad decision — despite the political consequences,” said Marlow.
Barge, however, said teachers would react poorly to another change. The state, he said, decided to go with Common Core not long after embracing another set of standards, the Georgia Performance Standards.
“They’re tired of being jerked around,” he said. “No sooner had we finished the last bit of training on GPS, we started new training on Common Core. They want us to leave them alone for a period of time. They really are tired of politicizing education.”