Sometimes, when they say it’s about the money, it’s not about the money.
Georgia’s decision to drop multi-state testing based on the Common Core educational standards is not about the money. It’s about politics, pure and simple. It is an effort to try to appease that portion of the state’s Republican base that sees Common Core as some sort of Obama-led conspiracy to undermine American freedom. That same portion of the base threatens to unseat any Republican that dares to challenge their paranioa.
For that reason, this week’s announcement constitutes an important step backward, both symbolically and practically.
Of course, that’s not how Gov. Nathan Deal and state School Superintendent John Barge put it. In their statement announcing the decision to withdraw from the 22-state testing consortium, the two men focused attention on the projected cost of the test. According to the consortium, that annual cost will be $29.50 per student, which is considerably higher than what Georgia now pays for testing.
However, that cost hasn’t come as a surprise. Barge himself has served on the multi-state commission helping to draft and implement the testing. And even in these tough times, you don’t abandon a significant piece of policy that has been planned and underway for years, with tens of thousands of teachers being trained to the new standards, over a $30 million price tag that you knew was coming. Just to put it into context, the state spends $7.4 billion a year on K-12 education.
Judged yet another way, in May the state granted $70 million in tax credits and other subsidies to a company building a flooring factory in North Georgia. (That $70 million doesn’t include millions more in sales tax exemptions also granted to the company.) Slash that single example of corporate welfare by 43 percent, and all of a sudden you can fund Common Core testing for every student in the state.
But given philosophy of the state’s current management, why waste taxpayer money on public schools when it can be given away to private enterprise, right?
In the past, both Barge and Deal have spoken in favor of the Common Core standards and have taken political risk in doing so. And to be fair, I suspect that they see themselves as defending as much of the state’s commitment to the program as is politically possible. By eliminating the testing cost from the budget, they not only have tried to placate Common Core opponents, they have eliminated a target for legislators who would otherwise try to prove their conservative bona fides by blocking that expenditure.
According to Barge and Deal, Georgia will be able to create its own, equally rigorous test at significantly lower cost, which is an audacious claim. It requires you to believe that Georgia, acting more or less on its own, can produce a test of equal value and do so more cheaply than a consortium in which test development costs are spread out over more than 20 states and more than 20 million students, and which benefitted from $180 million in federal grants as well. It simply doesn’t add up.
Even if it did, a Georgia test cannot give us what the multi-state testing consortium can give us, which is a direct means of comparison between the performance of our students and those nationwide. The best example of the importance of such standards may be the Sonny Perdue Victory Tour of 2010, in which the outgoing governor traveled the state, celebrating the fact that under his leadership, the high school graduation rate in Georgia had been raised above 80 percent, a landmark achievement in his mind.
Except, not so much. Once Georgia’s graduation rate was refigured using a national standard that allows comparisons from state to state, it turned out that we ranked 48th in the nation at 67 percent.
The harsh truth is that with or without the test, our students are going to find themselves competing and being compared to students in other states throughout their adult lives. And frankly, the notion that we here in Georgia need to do it the Georgia way might be more convincing if Georgia had a superior record of educational achievement.
It does not, and probably will not.