Cobb school board reignites Common Core debate following outcry

The debate over Common Core standards — and a recent Cobb County school board decision not to buy textbooks related to those standards — sparked another heated debate among board members Wednesday.

Board members accused their administrative staff of putting out misinformation to sabotage the board’s actions, referring to an email recently sent by a senior-level administrator that urged people to protest the decision not to purchase textbooks.

Common Core refers to a set of national standards embraced by Georgia, 44 other states, the District of Columbia and a pair of U.S. territories. The standards, created by an independent nonprofit, were not mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, but are supported by the Obama administration.

Advocates of Common Core say the standards will better prepare students for colleges and careers and will ensure that students in all states learn the same academic concepts in the same grades.

In April, Cobb school board members voted 4 to 3 not to purchase new math textbooks for all grade levels that were aligned with Common Core. The vote was influenced in part by dozens of angry tea party members who argued that Common Core amounted to a federal takeover of education and an effort to “dumb down” learning in Georgia.

Wednesday’s discussion gave administrators the opportunity to propose three alternative and less costly proposals to purchasing the $7 million textbooks with special sales tax money. Board members said they’d possibly vote on the proposals at the June 27 board meeting.

Chief academic officer Amy Krause proposed that the board:

— Just buy high school textbooks that contain no references to Common Core for $3.7 million;

— Purchase modified textbooks for all grade levels that don’t have references to Common Core for $6.3 million;

— Or buy online resources for all teachers, plus textbooks for just middle and high school students for $4.2 million.

At least three board members, including chairman Randy Scamihorn, said they were still skeptical of the state’s direction on Common Core, but were supportive of teachers and student learning. Scamihorn said he was willing to consider other options.

Tea party members and others have been making the rounds of metro school board meetings, expressing their fears about Common Core. Last month in Cherokee County, school board member Kelly Marlow asked the board chair to consider appointing a school board committee to study the pros and cons of Common Core. No action was taken. On Tuesday in Coweta County, a small group went before the school board questioning the move to Common Core. No action resulted there either.

The state Board of Education voted in 2010 to have Georgia adhere to Common Core.

Early last month, Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order affirming Georgia’s right to educate its children without federal interference, although both Deal and Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge have maintained their support for Common Core.

Barge was part of a panel discussion last week in Fayette County in which the merits of Common Core were debated. Barge told the crowd he supports the standards, but said the state reserves the right to make changes when educators express the need for change.

Several Cobb school board members said Wednesday they were still confused about Barge and Deal’s stance and were reluctant to approve such a costly purchase of textbooks because they suspect state leaders could change their minds on Common Core within the next year.

“There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered before we hit that button,” said board member Brad Wheeler, who voted against the new textbooks.

Board members were also upset with an e-mail recently sent to several staff members from Michelle Mikes, a senior-level administrator, which urged citizens to protest the board’s decision. Board members said the e-mail undermined them and contained inaccuracies.

“That e-mail was trying to sabotage our vote by instructing teachers to come in here and complain about our decision,” board member Kathleen Angelucci told administrators. “It’s one thing to come in with true concerns, but it’s another to come here because administrators told them to.”

Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa distanced himself from the email, saying he didn’t approve it and promising to send another email clarifying the district’s stance.

Cobb’s teachers have said without textbooks and the resources that come with them, they will be forced to piece together lesson plans using free websites. And, they warn, since Georgia education officials are basing this year’s statewide tests on the new standards that were adopted, scores will suffer.

“It is the student, more than the teacher, that suffers without a book,” said Amy Jenson, a Cobb math teacher.

Sheri Hardy, a Cobb parent, said the board’s decision has been a hot topic among parents at soccer games and get-togethers.

“It’s kind of crazy that it wasn’t passed because it was caught up in the politics of Common Core,” said Hardy, who watched Wednesday’s meeting online.

Board members who voted to purchase the new textbooks warned their peers that they were meddling in administrative affairs and could possibly be disciplined by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accrediting body.

“I’m concerned with the direction this board is headed,” said board member David Banks. “We’re trying to dictate what the curriculum and textbooks would be. If we go in that direction, we’re getting very close to a SACS violation.”

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Staff writers Nancy Badertscher and Wayne Washington contributed to this article.