Deal orders education independence from feds

Gov. Nathan Deal tried to placate critics of new national academic standards when he signed an executive order Wednesday affirming Georgia’s rights to educate its children without federal interference.

But the Republican governor didn’t back down from Georgia’s commitment to the standards, known as Common Core, which are designed to align the country in its requirements for math and English. Georgia and 44 other states have signed on to Common Core, and there is no federal mandate that states participate.

Common Core has recently been attacked by Republicans who say it amounts to a nationalization of education that limits curriculum flexibility and costs millions of dollars to implement. Supporters of the standards, including most of Georgia’s elected Republican leadership, say Common Core will help increase academic rigor and prepare students for the workforce.

“Curriculum has been and will remain a local decision,” Deal said from his Capitol office, surrounded by members of his party on both sides of the issue. “All of us believe that our students need to be taught, and they need to be taught to a standard that will get them into college.”

Deal’s executive order prevents the federal government from imposing educational standards, requires that decisions about curriculum and instruction be made at the local level, mandates 60 days of public review of state education standards, and bans collection of information about students’ religion or political party.

The order came after the Republican National Committee passed a resolution last month criticizing Common Core as an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” In addition, the Georgia Republican Party will likely consider resolutions about Common Core at its state convention this weekend in Athens.

Deal’s announcement pleased lawmakers and educators who saw it as an effort to find a middle ground.

Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, said he appreciated Deal’s action but wants to go further. A bill he introduced that would have pulled Georgia out of Common Core didn’t pass this year, but he plans to continue his efforts when the General Assembly convenes next year.

“Standards and testing need to remain in Georgia,” Ligon said. “Under Common Core, we wouldn’t be able to change or detract from those standards at all if we find them objectionable.”

State Superintendent John Barge, a Republican who backs Common Core, said Deal helped clarify the difference between national education standards and curriculum decisions, which would still be set by local school boards. He said there’s little difference between Common Core and the state’s previous standards.

“There has been a groundswell nationally against the Common Core,” Barge said. “I think that’s something that’s going on in many states, not just Georgia.”

Educators in Georgia who began teaching under Common Core this year have concerns about future standardized testing that will be tied to the standards, but they’re generally pleased, said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

“Our members who have tried them like them,” Callahan said. “No one wants the actual curriculum dictated to them, but there should be some standardization. That makes sense to most people and parents.”