Georgia begins overhaul of math standards deemed too similar to Common Core

Atlanta - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp talks to a citizen review panel about the state's educational math standards on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Atlanta - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp talks to a citizen review panel about the state's educational math standards on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.

The overhaul of the standards that say what students in Georgia must learn about math began in earnest Friday as a handpicked group met in Atlanta to begin their discussions.

Saying education is crucial to the state's economy, Gov. Brian Kemp started the meeting with a quick thank you to the volunteer panel. "We need your feedback," he said.

The 21 students, parents, grandparents, business leaders, current and former educators, local elected officials and others associated with education will give their recommendations to the 140 teachers coming to Atlanta in the New Year to review and revise the state's math standards.

Known as the Georgia Standards of Excellence for Mathematics, the guidelines for teachers were adopted as part of the multi-state Common Core standards in 2010. Then, after they grew controversial, the state revised and renamed them in 2015.

At the Georgia GOP's 2013 meeting, activists voted unanimously to urge state leaders to withdraw from Common Core because it "obliterates Georgia's constitutional autonomy." The 2015 changes didn't appease critics, though, with many seeing them as mostly a "rebranding" that kept the Common Core intact.

The discontent surfaced at the Georgia GOP convention in May, when more than 1,500 delegates crowded a Savannah convention hall and cheered Kemp's promise to "dismantle Common Core, reduce high-stakes testing" and take on the education status quo.

He and state school Superintendent Richard Woods announced a partnership to amend the standards. Their pledge coincided with the periodic review process for the standards, which are typically updated every five years.

The Citizens Review Committee that began meeting Friday was named by Kemp and Woods. The state superintendent told them they were embarking on "one of the most comprehensive dives into a set of standards" the state has ever seen. His chief of staff, Matt Jones, said "99.9 percent" of Georgia's math standards are derived from the Common Core.

It will be a big task. There are more than 30 standards in kindergarten alone, where students are introduced to the concept of abstract, quantitative reasoning. The teacher guidance: “Quantitative reasoning entails creating a representation of a problem while attending to the meanings of the quantities.”

At the other end, in high school differential equations, students are taught to "find series solutions to first and second order non-linear initial value problems."

Among the committee’s big concerns were the number and timing of standards, with a sense that they are disjointed and that teachers are too rushed to cover them adequately.

Andrew Gibbs, a Valdosta city councilman who teaches seventh grade math, said his students are supposed to learn standards they won't see again until ninth grade. He said his daughter in fifth grade is learning standards she won't see again until seventh grade.

Lisa-Marie Haygood, former president of the Georgia PTA, said everyone is affected when students graduate with poor math skills, for instance when paying with change at a fast-food restaurant.

"Here's an extra penny and it will throw off the whole universe," she said.

recent survey by the Georgia Department of Education found that parents have a hard time helping their children with math under the current standards, which follow different processes than when they were young.

"When parents say 'I can't help my fifth grade child with math, that's an issue,'" Woods said.

There are those who question Georgia's departure from the Common Core, saying a national standard is necessary so students know where they stand among their peers across the country. (Mastery of the standards is tested by the Georgia Milestones.)

Back in May, when Kemp and Woods announced their plans, Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education advocacy organization, called it a political distraction.

“Instead of refighting these fights or having a governor play to his political base, it would be helpful if the conversation was instead on how we help kids do better in math, reading and writing,” he said, adding that Georgia should be talking about how it will catch up to other states, such as Florida.

A recent national poll indicates support for multi-state standards, though not necessarily for the way they are currently written.

The poll by the Harvard-affiliated Education Next Institute found strong support for universal school standards in reading and math so long as they aren't encumbered by the label "Common Core."

When those two words were added, support dropped from 66% to 50%.

Georgia panelists such as Teri Sasseville said the Common Core was flawed.

“They had a bad product, but a great marketing machine,” she said.

Georgia's math overhaul will go into effect in two years, with teacher training starting next fall. A similar process for amending the standards for English Language Arts starts next year.