In beseeching the Georgia House Education Committee to reject a bill that would undo the Common Core State Standards here, Lee County High School teacher Coni Grebel pleaded, “I have now tasted rigor. Please do not send me back to mediocrity.”
If the General Assembly adopts Senate Bill 167, it will not only send Grebel, a former Lee County Teacher of the Year, back to mediocrity, it will tether Georgia children to a second-rate education, devalue their high school degrees in the eyes of top colleges and affirm perceptions of this state as an academic wasteland.
Not only does the sweeping bill essentially eviscerate Common Core, it mandates that Georgia stand alone in deciding what its students ought to learn and not borrow from other high-achieving states that banded together to create better standards. And we could not test our students in any way that would tell us how they compare to their peers elsewhere, even though they’ll compete against them for college slots and jobs. The bill imposes so many restrictions on online data that virtual schools in the state warn they’d have to shut down, and a flood of tech companies, including Google and IBM, have voiced concerns.
Why? Because state senators and house members running for re-election fear they’ll alienate the small but vocal band of voters who see the federal government as enough of an enemy that they want Georgia and its schools to crawl into a bunker to stay safe.
The state Senate has already passed this bill, so it now falls to House members to muster the political courage that their Senate colleagues could not. House Education Committee chair Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, and vice chair Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, both of whom have some of the most education-minded parents in the state in their districts, ought to listen to their colleagues asking them to kill this legislation. Otherwise, they risk the legacy of passing one of the most damaging education bills in modern Georgia history.
Our children will not benefit from being shut off from academic standards that 75 percent of Georgia teachers surveyed last summer agreed were working. Coleman and Dudgeon concede that every school superintendent in the state voiced support of Common Core during a listening tour this summer.
At an overflowing, three-hour public hearing Wednesday, the list of entities begging the House to leave the standards alone and put election year politics aside in favor of our children was long and impressive. It included representatives from the state’s private colleges; biotech, biochemistry and engineering alliances, PTAs, the chamber of commerce, retired generals and admirals, youth organizations, school boards, tech companies and associations of math, science and English teachers.
“The Common Core is not the thing to pick up and poke the federal government with,” said Dan Funsch, president of the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “We should not use our children to express our frustration.”
Of 68 speakers, only 10 spoke in opposition to Common Core, calling the standards an unconstitutional federal intrusion. But the standards were the product of the nation’s governors under the leadership of former Georgia GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue, who believed that students in Atlanta deserve to be taught in the same top academic framework as those in Boston and Minneapolis.
Puzzled by the rationale for the bill, state Rep. Amy Carter, R-Valdosta, asked Senate sponsor William Ligon, R-Brunswick, to share three of the Common Core Standards that worried him. After spending two years denigrating the Common Core as inferior and now seeking to upend Georgia classrooms well-integrated into the math and reading standards, Ligon would be expected to easily cite examples of poorly drawn standards.
His response to Carter: I’ll have to go and look and get back to you.
In supporting Ligon, Tanya Ditty of Concerned Women for America, a social conservative organization, said that, while Georgia may have had a hand in developing the Common Core State Standards, “We don’t want a seat at the table. We want to own the table.”
If SB 167 becomes law, Georgia will have its own table. It will be in the back of the room, and our children will be sitting there alone as their better-educated peers rise toward successful futures. That should not happen.
Maureen Downey, for the AJC Editorial Board.