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The Common Core debate continues

Posted: November 20, 2013 - 1:07am

ATLANTA — Although much of the Common Core Curriculum is already being implemented, the controversy about it hasn’t waned.

Activists on both sides of the issue are sharpening their arguments for the next battle, which will come during the 2014 legislative session, to be followed by the election campaigns for various state offices.

Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, has earned numerous followers both in the General Assembly and in grassroots groups for his leadership in opposition. He intends to push anew his bill to force Georgia’s complete withdrawal.

That’s despite Gov. Nathan Deal’s executive orders to prevent the sharing of student data with entities outside the state and to develop the state’s own student assessments rather than the expensive, computerized exams offered through the national program. It’s also mindful of Deal’s request that the State Board of Education conduct its own review of the standards.

Ligon knows these things but objects because Georgia accepted $400 million in exchange for certain reforms in a federal program called Race to the Top. Among those reforms is adherence to parts of the Common Core.

“We still need strong data-privacy protection legislation to prevent invasive data collection and data sharing of student and teacher information,” he said Thursday in an e-mail. “Furthermore, this state, due to the grant conditions of Race to the Top, is still requiring local school districts to use standards that are inferior to the previous Georgia Performance Standards. Our students will pay a very personal price for such a misguided policy direction.”

Ligon and other conservatives’ distrust of the federal government makes them leery of anything remotely connected with Washington. The stream of glitches in the rollout of Obamacare illustrate why.

“Remember, the people of Georgia had no voice through their duly elected representatives in the House and the Senate to even debate this radical policy shift toward national standard,” the senator said.

But business and education groups are marshalling their own forces. Tuesday, for example, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education -- a spinoff from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, held a conference for about 60 parents, educators and activists dealing just with Common Core.

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the conservative Fordham Institute in Ohio, began by addressing what he said were misconceptions held by opponents.

First, the federal government had nothing to do with developing the curriculum. Instead, it was the product of governors from various states — including then-Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia — who concluded national standards and tests were needed to ensure students across the country were getting the same quality of education.

That’s why much of the Common Core was Xeroxed from the Georgia Performance Standards.

However, the Obama administration has contributed to the confusion about the origins of the Common Core by tacking it onto Race to the Top and by its rhetoric, Petrilli said.

“I really do think some of the credit goes to the administration, an unforced error, in taking credit for the standards when they had nothing to do with them,” he said.

Another area of concern for opponents is the list of suggested textbooks and novels in the appendix of the Common Core. Local school boards don’t have to use any of those books, though, notes Robyn Oatley, a Georgia native who is now on the staff of Ready Kentucky, an education advocacy.

“A lot of people criticizing it haven’t read the standards,” she said.

Georgia’s teacher of the year, Jemellah Coes, a Statesboro middle-school teacher of the handicapped, said that in the three years Common Core has been used, even her colleagues are finding it more strenuous.

“Most teachers haven’t been able to teach at this level of rigor in quite a while. Most of us were not taught at this level,” she said.

The business and education groups are hoping to stir public support to counterbalance the opponents.

“Many legislators, all their hearing from is those who are opposed to Common core,” Petrilli said.

And the opponents are just as determined.

“It is time we had this debate in the Georgia General Assembly, and I will do everything I can to ensure that the people are fully represented in the educational policy decisions that affect their children and their pocketbooks,” Ligon said.

And so, debate is practically certain.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. Follow him on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at walter.jones@morris.com and (404) 589-8424.)

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