Cobb school board votes against purchasing new math books

Cobb County’s students may be without new math textbooks come this fall as apprehension about new standards grips board members and residents.

Cobb’s school board rejected purchasing new math books Thursday night. Several members expressed frustration with the state’s adoption of “Common Core,” a series of standards that determine what students should know at the end of each year in their math and English classes. The members see Common Core as part of a federal mandate, though Georgia officials dispute that, and worry that Common Core would lower district standards.

Dozens of residents came to protest the purchase, which would cost the state’s second-largest district $7.4 million of countywide special sales tax money.

Common Core was developed by education leaders across the country and has been adopted by all but five states. It has received endorsements from several nationally recognized parent and teacher organizations. In 2010, Georgia elected to adopt the standards, which closely matched its previously used Georgia Performance Standards, said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.

This is the first school year Georgia students will be tested based on the new standards. Administrators said because new math books have yet to be purchased, teachers were having a difficult time adjusting to the new curriculum and several students have been required to make copies of worksheets to do their homework.

“(State Superintendent John) Barge, he’s about as conservative as they come and would be the first to have issues with (Common Core) if he felt it was a federal mandate and we didn’t have any authority to make changes when we needed to,” Cardoza said Friday.

What materials districts use and how they teach the standards is up to local community members, teachers and administrators, Cardoza said. If a district decides not to purchase textbooks, that’s their prerogative, he said.

In Cobb, a locally appointed committee chose the contested math books “to ensure a strong correlation to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards,” according to the administration. The books had been available for public review in early March.

Though administrators asked for the new books, some board members contested that the books weren’t absolutely necessary to conduct class, while others felt they were crucial for students to pass the state standards tests.

“When Common Core was adopted, nobody knew what was in it,” said board member Kathleen Angelucci. “The state comes down and says, ‘This is your curriculum, this is what you’re going to do.’ It was being developed as you go. It’s like ObamaCare (the national health care law). You vote for it and then find out what’s in it. We need more time to know what this is about and where the state of Georgia is going.”

Board member David Banks said not purchasing the textbooks would be detrimental to students.

“We knew a long time ago what the effect would be on classrooms and teaching,” Banks said. “I’m sure there’s going to be transition or adjustments. This is not brand-new. I say, if we’re not going to support our teachers, I have a problem with that.”

There were two votes grouped by grade level. In both, the board voted 4 to 3 against making the purchases.

“I think there’s some confusion,” said board chair Randy Scamihorn, who voted against the purchase. “We may be crossing our discussion from accepting Common Core as a program versus accepting this book.”

The board could revisit the issue at a later date.