The sudden political controversy over the Common Core State Standards irresponsibly jeopardizes the education of Georgia’s students.
The standards, produced by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers with Georgia’s wholehearted support, do not compromise Georgia’s sovereignty in education; far from it. The standards impose no mandate on the state. Rather, Georgia adopted this set of carefully researched, standardized benchmarks to foster critical reasoning and analytical skills in reading, math and writing — skills the state will sorely need to remain economically competitive in coming decades.
As a recent graduate of Georgia’s public schools, first of the Houston County school system in 2008 and then the University of Georgia in 2012, I stand behind this admirable effort to raise Georgia’s educational standards. I received a quality education from some truly outstanding teachers. But the fact remains that the state did not hold me to the high standards of states like Massachusetts, which has significant consequences on Georgia’s educational performance.
Since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began collecting data on student performance in 1990, Georgia has not only lagged behind the national average. The state has ranked well below high-achieving states, Massachusetts included.
In 2009, for example, the average Georgia eighth grader scored six points lower in mathematics than the national average and 21 points lower than the average eighth grader in Massachusetts, according to NAEP. Had I or one of my classmates moved to another state, we could easily have been behind on arrival.
Common Core would have ensured the education I received was comparable to my peers in other states. The standards, which 45 states have adopted to date, align educational goals across states and put Georgia on equal footing with the rest of the nation. To do away with them now would mean returning to a system of unequal expectations across states that disadvantages students as they prepare to enter the university or the workforce.
Opponents argue that Common Core undermines state sovereignty and is inconsistent with Georgia’s values. But no element of Common Core will undermine the freedom my instructors had to develop innovative and engaging lessons. Common Core does not wrest control of classroom instruction from Georgia’s teachers, nor does it dictate curricula or instructional materials. In fact, the published standards explicitly leave curriculum choices to the states. Common Core provides a framework to ensure that students across the nation acquire the same high level of analytical and critical reasoning skills.
Most importantly, Common Core is completely consonant with Georgia’s values, the values that compassionate and committed teachers — not standards set by the state or anyone else — instilled in me. Common Core will not interfere with what Georgia’s schools and communities do best: Prepare the next generation to be responsible and civic-minded citizens of our state.
What it will do is improve the quality of Georgia’s education and ensure its citizens are critical thinkers for the 21st century economy — goals all Georgians should stand behind.
As legislators like state Sen. William Ligon advocate repeal of the progress made under Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Republican administration, I hope elected officials will consider the deleterious effect repeal will have on Georgian education.
My education would have benefited from the implementation of a set of rigorous standards like Common Core. I hope future graduates will get to say instead: My education was better because Georgia’s elected officials did the right thing and implemented Common Core.
Matt Sellers of Perry is studying at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom as a Marshall Scholar.