Curriculum debate heats up as locals decry intent

A new set of standards in math and English language arts is being implemented in Georgia’s public schools. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was adopted by the Georgia State Board of Education in 2010, with classroom implementation occurring during the current school year.

Common Core was devised in cooperation with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and is being implemented in nearly all U.S. states.

But it also has detractors who question both its origin and its intent and maintain that federal intervention is behind the initiative.

In its mission statement, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) said CCSS provides a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn in mathematics and English language arts, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Viewed generally, the math standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. The standards should be read as allowing for the widest possible range of students to participate fully from the outset, along with appropriate accommodations to ensure maximum participation of students with special education needs, according to CCSSI.

The Common Core State Standards for “English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects” are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to fulfill the charge issued by the states to create the next generation of K–12 standards in order to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school, according to CCSSI.

School systems in Georgia, including Fayette, are implementing CCSS beginning this year.

The Ga. Dept. of Education (DOE) maintains that CCSS is not an attempt to institute a national curriculum into Georgia’s schools, will not result in Georgia lowering its standards and will not be used to tell teachers how to teach.

According to DOE, adopting CCSS fulfills three purposes:

• CCSS helps teachers improve, better prepare students for success and potentially yield long-term financial savings for Georgia. First, while Ga. Performance Standards (GPS) give teachers an excellent tool to prepare young people, we are always looking for opportunities to improve. The Common Core integrates much of the GPS, but also takes them a step further, creating an opportunity to even better prepare our students for college and work.

• CCSS allows for a meaningful comparison of students’ achievement with students in other states. Currently, states operate with different standards, making it impossible to accurately compare data nationally or internationally. Georgia students will be competing for jobs with students from all over the world. We must be able to compare ourselves to the rest of the U.S. and other countries to ensure that we are providing students with the tools they need to be competitive.

• The initiative allows for better purchasing power. Since participating states will have a consistent curriculum, textbook and instructional resource companies will be able to develop and target resources to one set of standards. This will help to reduce prices and ensure that funds are spent wisely.

Yet Common Core detractors are vocal in their opposition. Commenting as a local Common Core opponent, Fayette County resident Angela Bean said CCSS is a smoke screen for the unconstitutional nationalization of our community schools.

“Many school board members, school superintendents and teachers were sold on the national standards, being told that they will be great for those students who move to another state because they will find the exact same thing being taught wherever they go and won’t have a problem being behind or too far ahead,” Bean said. ”While many who have now seen what these standards are all about are pushing back on the curriculum, there are still a few out there who are still supporting for whatever reasons.”

Also weighing in with an opposing viewpoint is Stone Mountain resident Jane Robbins and www.stopcommoncore.com.

“(Common Core) is a nationwide initiative designed to herd states into national K-12 standards and national tests which ultimately will lead to a national curriculum and silence curriculum input from local parents, taxpayers, and educators,” Robbins said.

“Common Core was not developed by the states but rather by a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called Achieve, Inc., under the auspices of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO),” Robbins said.

“Neither NGA nor CCSSO, which are merely trade associations with private membership lists, had a grant of legislative authority from the states to develop national standards. In fact, Common Core was written by the same progressive education reformers who have been trying to impose a national curriculum for decades. This time, they were savvy enough to invoke the ‘cover’ of NGA so they could paint Common Core as a ‘state-led’ effort. To the extent states had any input, it was limited to offering suggestions that may or may not have been accepted by the people in control,” Robbins said.

Robbins maintains that the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE) was heavily involved in the effort to have the educational trade associations develop the standards.

“Once Common Core was created, USDOE ‘persuaded’ the states to adopt it by tying adoption to the opportunity to obtain federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funding. No Common Core, no RTTT money. Since then, USDOE has also attempted to lure states into the Common Core by dangling No Child Left Behind waivers as a reward for adopting the national standards and national tests. In both waivers, Georgia took the bait,” she said.

Ga. state School Board Chairman Wanda Barrs offers a different view, noting that Common Core integrates into the current Georgia Performance Standards while allowing for a meaningful comparison of student achievement in the other 47 participating states.

After the 2010 Common Core adoption, Barrs responded to concerns asking if the new curriculum was a federal mandate or if it would hinder the Georgia Performance Standards. They answer to both questions, said Barrs, was “no.”

Barrs said Common Core standards set the goal for what students should know and be able to do by the time they complete a grade level and then ultimately graduate high school.

Common Core, Barrs added, will not set the stage to abandon curriculum. Georgia since 2004 has been overhauling the Georgia Performance Standards curriculum, she said.

“The CCSS is a state-led initiative, not a federal mandate. Georgia teachers and other experts in standards-setting have been at the table since the process began. When the expert development groups that the CCSSO and NGA pulled together began writing the standards in mathematics and English language arts, they built off of the work of states that had already developed rigorous college-ready and career-ready standards,” said Barrs.

“Georgia was one of these select states, and when reading the CCSS, one can see elements of the Ga. Performance Standards throughout. Therefore, while adopting the CCSS in Georgia is a step forward and gives our teachers more refined tools to better prepare our young people for work and college, it is not a drastic change for either our teachers or our students,” Barrs said.