Tea party activists demand Deal pull Georgia out of Common Core

During a spirited rally at the State Capitol on Tuesday, parents, politicians and tea party activists demanded that Gov. Nathan Deal pull Georgia out of a controversial set of national academic standards called Common Core.

The rally, attended by a couple of hundred people, underscores a challenge Deal faces as he seeks re-election this year: holding on to the support of tea party activists who see the standards as an unnecessary federal intrusion into state control of K-12 public education. The rally also highlighted lingering anger at Deal for the state’s response to last week’s snowstorm.

“We believe he is no more competent to handle our schools than he was to manage the snowstorm last week,” said Sonja Gaither, a parent from the southeastern Georgia town of Jesup.

Deal supports the Common Core standards, which Georgia agreed to adhere to in 2010. Georgia is one of more than 40 states that have agreed to adhere to the standards. Supporters argue that they would improve education in the United States by making sure academic concepts are introduced at the same point in a student’s career, no matter which state the student called home.

Last year, with anger about the standards building among some conservatives, Deal ordered the state Board of Education to review the standards. That review is not yet complete.

The governor made it clear that Georgia, unlike some other states adhering to the Common Core, would not be collecting and sharing student data, a particularly contentious point for many opponents of the standards.

Finally, Deal and state schools Superintendent John Barge — one of two Republicans challenging Deal as he seeks re-election — pulled Georgia out of the consortium that is working on a standardized test tied to Common Core.

Those actions, however, have not satisfied opponents of the standards. They complain that the standards are lower than the standards Georgia adhered to before switching to Common Core and would lead to a homogenization of American students.

“The Common Core, like many things that are going on right now, is trying to make everyone the same,” said Jean Garner, a 62-year-old retired Air Force sergeant who lives in Cherokee County. “Why would you dumb down the standards so everyone can be the same?”

However, one of the supporters’ points is that the standards allow for a deeper understanding of academic material instead of allowing students to rely on rote memorization.

One of the people behind Tuesday’s rally was state Sen. William Ligon, a Brunswick Republican. A determined opponent of the standards, Ligon criticized them Tuesday and what he called the “opaque” process that led to their creation.

Ligon urged support for two pieces of legislation — Senate Bill 203, which would establish an advisory council to come up with new standards; and Senate Bill 167, which would prohibit the collecting and sharing of student data, bar state agencies from making any commitments relating to the federal education grant program called Race to the Top, and require hearings and public input before the adoption of state academic standards.

“Your voice is being heard,” Ligon told those at the rally. “The good news is we can fix this.”