Gov. Brian Kemp resurrects Common Core battle

He wants to dismantle what remains of education standards that Sonny Perdue led. State school chief agrees.
At a GOP rally, Gov. Brian Kemp won loud applause when he promised to “to dismantle Common Core, reduce high-stakes testing, trust our teachers and put students – not the status quo – first.”

At a GOP rally, Gov. Brian Kemp won loud applause when he promised to “to dismantle Common Core, reduce high-stakes testing, trust our teachers and put students – not the status quo – first.”

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp travels outside of Atlanta, he apparently serves up red meat, which is why his menu at the Republican state party’s convention in Savannah last weekend featured Common Core State Standards.

Kemp won loud applause when he promised to “to dismantle Common Core, reduce high-stakes testing, trust our teachers and put students – not the status quo – first.”

The Common Core State Standards are guidelines for what k-12 students should learn in school. As a teacher concisely explained on my AJC Get Schooled Facebook page

Common Core is not, nor does it advocate for, testing, any teaching method, or curriculum. It is only a framework that shows what kids should be able to do in each grade (1st grade = basic addition, subtraction; 4th grade = multiplying 4-digit numbers and adding mixed fractions, decimals etc). How you teach those things and how you determine if the kids learned it or not is entirely left up to the school district, individual schools and teachers. Milestones testing is Georgia's contribution.

Kemp’s comment rekindles the Common Core battle of six years ago when collective amnesia made Georgia Republicans forget GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue co-chaired the National Governors Association initiative that created Common Core. The Common Core math and language arts standards found inspiration Georgia's own education standards, which is why the release of the standards in 2010 occurred at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee with Perdue presiding.

How did this state-led initiative get tarred, feathered and ultimately run out of town as intrusive and unwanted national meddling?

Opponents linked the standards to the Barack Obama White House even though Perdue had a greater hand in Common Core than Obama. The accusation that Common Core represented a federal takeover of local schools gained steam when Obama’s Race to the Top grants favored and rewarded states that adopted the standards.

Georgia quelled the GOP base rebellion that flared in 2013 and ignited in 2014 by erasing any mention of Common Core, tweaking the standards and rebranding them as Georgia Standards of Excellence.

State Superintendent Richard Woods supports Kemp’s efforts to get rid of what remains of Common Core in the Georgia standards.

Given that Woods has praised the progress students are making, I asked him why he’d want to wipe out any remaining vestiges of Common Cores if the standards are working for Georgia children.

His e-mailed response:

The math and English Language Arts standards still have great similarity to the Common Core. I continue to be concerned that these standards are not age- and developmentally appropriate in all grade levels and present a volume of content that is near-impossible for teachers to deliver in the time allotted. We want to ensure the number of standards is realistic and allows teachers to make sure each student truly learns the content, rather than feeling they have to rush through to cover an unrealistic volume of standards.

In my time as superintendent, I have worked to expand flexibility for schools and opportunities for students – ensuring that schools and parents know the so-called 'Common Core math methods' are not a state requirement, for example. We've reduced the number of state-mandated standardized tests and encouraged schools to focus on the whole child – and opportunities like fine arts, physical education, world language, and computer science. That shift, along with the hard work of our teachers and students, is what I credit for the improvements in Georgia's public schools – not a set of standards in just two subject areas.

My team and I have also worked to make sure new standards approved (in areas like science, social studies, physical education, and health) have followed a stakeholder-driven process with true feedback offered by Georgia K-12 educators, higher education representatives, parents, students, business and industry representatives, etc. We need to follow that same process for math and ELA and create truly Georgia-owned and -developed standards that are age- and developmentally appropriate and appropriately sequenced. I'm extremely appreciative of Gov. Kemp's leadership moving us in that direction.

I’m not sure what prompted Kemp’s attack on Common Core now as the issue never flickered in the General Assembly where Republicans, with the governor’s blessing, pushed a voucher bill.  It did not pass but is likely to return next year.

(Yes, I know the sponsor called his vouchers “education scholarships,” but giving parents tax dollars to pay for private school tuition is a voucher.)

To me, Common Core seems a relic of another time -- when Georgia politicians debated what children ought to learn in our public schools.

Now, the debate has become whether children ought to attend our public schools.