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Common Core in Georgia?

Educators express commitment to standards; Deal requests review

Common Core in Georgia?

Common Core in Georgia?

When Gov. Nathan Deal recently asked the State Board of Education to review the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, it signaled the most public manifestation yet of the opposition the standards face in Georgia.
Georgia is one of 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, that adopted the Common Core State Standards and is working to implement them into public schools.
The standards – developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and voluntarily adopted by the states – have the stated goal of bridging the gap between students successfully completing high school and being ready to move on to college or a career.
They have drawn criticism in recent months by groups on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. Conservative critics call the standards an “intrusion” or even a “takeover” of public education by the federal government, which they add is “indoctrinating” students by rewriting key concepts of American history. Liberal opponents say the Common Core intensifies an overemphasis on standardized testing they say has taken hold in the last 20 years and, as a byproduct, enriches the profits of textbook and
 testing companies.
The Obama administration has endorsed the standards, but not required states to adopt them.
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson said the district is invested in Common Core, but the teachers adapt to the students’ needs.
“Our administrators, classroom teachers and support personnel are each playing a valuable role in implementing Common Core, and we will all readily adjust and adapt, so that we can lead our students to success,” he said. “Best practices and leaders are emerging at all levels within our schools, and I encourage each of our faculty to continue in these efforts.”
Deal is on record as supporting the standards, and his predecessor, Sonny Perdue, was co-chairman of the National Governors Association when it helped develop Common Core.

Review requested
But Deal requested in his Aug. 15 letter to the State Board of Education that the board “conduct a formal evaluation of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards” in math and English language arts and compare them to the Georgia Performance Standards, which were in place before the state adopted Common Core.
He also asked the board to “formally reconsider” an appendix to the Common Core State Standards in English language arts that includes sample “text exemplars” for use in the classroom.
Some Common Core critics say that such documents as “curriculum frameworks” and those sample texts are required to be taught, and they cite the inclusion of some book titles as proof that the Common Core is trying to teach students values that are un-American.
But the Georgia Department of Education’s website where the frameworks can be found describes them as “‘models of instruction’ designed to support teachers” in the implementation of the state standards. The website’s explanation goes on to say: “School systems and teachers are free to use these models as is; modify them to better serve classroom needs; or create their own curriculum maps, units and tasks.”
“Our job at the state department is to create, develop, adopt a set of standards and assessments, period,” said Sandi Woodall, an assistant director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the state department. “Everything we do beyond that is absolutely voluntary in terms of usage at the district level because we are a local control state.”
She said the frameworks were developed by teams of Georgia master teachers.
Woodall pointed to “wikis” that are available from the department. They serve as online forums where teachers and even parents provide information that can help teachers with their classroom instruction.
For example, in the third-grade English language arts wiki, a teacher asked what resources can help teach students to write complex sentences. It wasn’t long before an answer came with a link to a website giving examples of how to teach complex sentences.

Bulloch adjusts
Bulloch County Schools spokeswoman Hayley Greene provided several examples of texts that were suggested in Georgia’s curriculum frameworks but that the local school system chose to change.
For example, the frameworks suggested using “Rosa Parks: My Story,” but the district replaced it because of an attempted rape scene in the book. Instead, Bulloch County used “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” a novel told from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy about a middle class black family that moves from Michigan to Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.
In 10th grade, the frameworks suggest “In the Time of Butterflies,” a 1994 historical novel that state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that parents expressed concerns that it puts Fidel Castro’s Communist regime in Cuba in a favorable light.
In Bulloch County, Greene said, teachers instead chose “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a classic that’s had its own share of controversy but for different reasons than “Butterflies.”
Wilson, the Bulloch County Schools superintendent, said the concept of having academic standards that are the same across many states is beneficial.
“I believe we will see significant benefits from having common alignment and accountability that are relevant to the workforce and academic needs of our state and nation,” he said. “Furthermore, we have to keep students at the forefront of what we do, and realize that the world will continue to change at a rapid pace and the skills our students need are increasingly more about the ‘how and what’ than just the ‘what.’ As the world changes, so must our teaching standards. Other states and local boards of education are experiencing the same complex issues and questions that we are facing, so we are not alone.”

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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