Twice lately I’ve listened to people on each side of the Common Core debate plead their case. I’m sorry to report I’m no more certain of what Georgia should do than I was before.
It’s hard to believe a checklist of student knowledge and skills for math and English/language arts could cause such a passionate uproar. But that’s politics today, even if this debate is mostly on the right.
It’s hard to know what to think because, to a large extent, the two sides don’t even agree on the facts.
There are some unfounded concerns out there. For example: Common Core is not a curriculum. Local districts would still decide “how” to teach the “what” outlined in the standards, just as before. That includes which books students should read.
Also: Contrary to popular belief, and to some of his intimations on the campaign trail last year, Barack Obama did not create Common Core. Nor did the federal government. The standards were an initiative of governors, led by Republicans including Georgia’s Sonny Perdue, and they were in their final stages of completion before Obama even took office.
Nor do privacy concerns really hold up. Parents should remain vigilant about their children’s personal information, as the NSA spying scandal taught all of us. But student data is supposed to be collected and reported in aggregate for Common Core, not on an individual level. Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order to make that clear.
Still, there are areas of concern for which it’s hard to know what’s what, and who (or whose set of “experts”) is right.
Deal has also asked the state school board to review Common Core and recommend whether Georgia should stay in the program or abandon it. That review is under way. Here are some questions I’m eager to have answered:
- Is Common Core stronger or weaker than Georgia’s previous standards? Georgia rewrote its standards in the mid-2000s, to national acclaim. Achieve, an education nonprofit, reports 81 percent of Georgia’s English/language arts standards, and 90 percent of its math standards, matched Common Core. Were the other 19 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of Georgia’s previous standards better or worse?
- Along those lines: States in the Common Core are supposed to be able to modify up to 15 percent of the standards to suit their needs. Would this flexibility alone let Georgia address any shortcomings in Common Core? Could we simply add more standards on top of Common Core if necessary?
- There’s a fine line between adopting best practices and delegating policy making to a centralized, outside authority. Which side of that line does Common Core fall on?
- The makers of the SAT and ACT have indicated they’ll align their tests to Common Core. How much of a disadvantage will Georgia high schoolers face in competing for college if we follow different standards?
- Would Common Core stifle the burgeoning innovation taking place in teaching and learning?
- If Common Core turns out to be a debacle, how quickly and easily could Georgia change direction?
Georgia doesn’t have the track record of education success to take lightly any possible improvement just because it comes from outside our borders. But it needs to be a real improvement. The board’s recommendation, either way, is shaping up to be crucial.