Controversy over Common Core curriculum is misplaced and the initiative not only has its roots in Georgia but allows local control, said participants in a recent panel on education.
Helen Rice, who is chairman of the state Board of Education and president of Troup County Republican Women, hosted and participated in the panel of local and state education representatives and one state legislator to talk about education standards in Georgia. The panel touched on several topics, but Common Core, currently one of the most politically polarizing education initiatives, received a lot of attention.
Rice started off by mentioning that despite some information being passed around, Georgia does not use Common Core standards in history or science, only English-language arts and math.
Martha Reichrath, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the state Board of Education, gave an overview of the background of the program in Georgia, starting with a charge in 2003 by Gov. Sonny Perdue to develop a curriculum that was a reaction to No Child Left Behind and created a list of standards and accountability system for the state. Business leaders said that Georgia students were not performing on the level they should be, and other states came to the table hearing what Georgia was doing to make students more competitive on a national level.
The main difference between the previous curriculum was that it was standards-based, not a list of objectives, Reichrath said. Objectives are a list of what should be taught, while standards set goals that students should achieve, while leaving the method to the teachers.
“We never got into providing everything, because that is part of local control,” Reichrath said.
The idea then evolved as governors began sharing ideas about education among states and started talking about the idea of curriculum that was more cohesive among states, she said. Teachers also had input on the standards before their adoption by the state Board of Education.
Karen Cagle, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and professional learning for Troup County Schools, said that the new state standards come with guidance and resources from the state. However, it is still left up to local school systems and teachers how to implement them.
“Bottom line is we still have a great responsibility locally to make these standards come to life in the classroom,” Cagle said.
Katie Brown, a math academic coach for Troup County schools, elaborated that the state-provided standards and resources are crafted by the system into custom web pages to guide Troup teachers with ideas. Brown said teachers have autonomy to use what they want, but the information provides them with what they need to meet the standards set forth in the curriculum.
Brown gave an example of a math standard: fluently add and subtract up to 20 using mental strategy and by the end of second grade students should know from memory the sum of all two-digit numbers. The state-issued standard tells teachers what students should know, but the teacher and system decides how to teach it.
Brown also gave an example how local systems have options in the curriculum, noting learning about money is a standard set for second graders in the state, but Troup decided first graders should get that education as well. So Troup courses on money are included in first grade.
Joseph Barrow, superintendent of Fayette County School System, said a survey by the School System Superintendents Association was sent out nationally and most superintendents, 92.5 percent, participated in a survey about Common Core and 78.3 percent agreed with Common Core standards. The contrast is that only 51.4 percent of the public supported it and believed politics had confused the issue.
“Part of the reason that we get this right - I’m not just an educator, I’m a business man, and our economic future depends on how well our children are educated,” Barrow said.
Barrow said that work is ahead as the state rolls out new student assessments with the curriculum. The new Georgia Milestones tests will better reflect the more rigorous curriculum, and scores may drop in the initial years, but it will lead to better-prepared students.
Rice said the governor tasked the state Board of Education to undergo an evaluation of the Common Core standards and all school systems and teachers had a chance to weigh in. She said the survey data is being processed and the state board will likely have it ready to look at in September. Although there are still areas that need improvement, they are undertaking that and sending out Georgia-specific resources to teachers.
“This is Georgia-specific. It is not something seen anywhere else,” Rice said about Georgia curriculum. “And we’re not doing anything else but what is good for students in Georgia.”