ATLANTA — A puzzle for the business and education community supporting the multi-state education standards known as Common Core is why conservatives are so opposed.
Supporters argue the standards are supposed to provide more rigor while also serving as the basis to compare student performance between states. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue helped launch it because he felt Georgia pupils were being shortchanged by unequal comparisons.
Perdue was a driving force behind the governors who agreed to develop Common Core, with input from academics. Much of it was based on standards Georgia had in place at the time.
Opponents of Common Core argue that the state’s previous standards were actually higher. The overwhelming majority of education organizations disagree, but opponents cite a handful of experts.
Common Core critics have chosen to fight on the basis of standards, federal control and student privacy. They warn that too many personal details about students are being shared with the federal government, despite an executive order by Gov. Nathan Deal prohibiting it. The federal Department of Education is scripting the specifics, they say, even though a voluntary consortium of states is developing them.
The whole debate has left supporters scratching their heads because they feel the facts are on their side.
New insights came to light last week during a press conference opponents held shortly before the House Education Committee voted to kill Sen. William Ligon’s bill to end use of Common Core. Representatives of groups more often associated with social issues than education offered their backing of the Brunswick Republican’s bill while cautioning that the English and math standards already in place would soon be followed by history and social studies.
Tonya Ditty, state director of Concerned Women of America, said that would be a repeat of a similar attempt in the 1990s that stalled in the face of public outcry over its treatment of family values.
“Our concern has been that if we don’t stop this participation, that that’s going to be the next thing that will be brought in,” she said.
Ditty predicted that global warming and evolution would be treated as settled facts in any science standards without including the skepticism conservatives have for both.
“We recognize it is important that Georgians have absolute control over what is taught in our classrooms,” Ligon often says.
Although Ligon’s bill was defeated – even after being watered down in the Senate, it doesn’t put an end to the movement to stop Common Core. Essentially every Republican candidate for state superintendent of schools and even for the U.S. Senate has come out against it.
Deal, who needs an enthusiastic conservative turnout, is walking a tightrope. Without coming out unequivocally in favor or against Common Core, he has ordered the state board to review it.
A poll in mid-February by Apache Political Communications of people who voted in Republican primaries twice or more showed that 30 percent support and 42 percent oppose Common Core. More than three out of four of those opposed would agree to higher taxes instead.
Polls show Georgians are becoming more moderate in their views of social issues such as same-sex marriage, gambling and abortion, but the tide hasn’t turned completely. Adding to the tactical calculations of both sides is the fact that elections are based on turnout, not polls, and turnout in an off-year election is variable. Any group that initiates a showdown on values runs the risk of inflaming their opponents’ base more than their own.