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March 4, 2014

Group heads to Atlanta to speak against SB 167

TIFTON — The Georgia Senate approved Senate Bill 167 in late February, which originally took aim at banning the Common Core State Standards in Georgia. But there was a compromise. Instead the bill, as approved, calls for a review of the standards.

If passed by the House, SB 167 would put into law the Common Core standards review ordered by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal last year. SB 167 calls for an advisory panel to review the standards and make recommendations to the state Board of Education, who would have final say on the standards.

The 18-page bill also contains items such as prohibiting the state from adopting any "federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or a third party."

In other words the bill, should it pass in the House and then get the final approval from Deal, would render tests such as the SAT or ACT obsolete, because they were not developed in the state or by a Georgian.

"SAT and ACT are based on a lot of Common Core stuff," said Stacey Beckham, director of Communications for Tift County Schools. "If we don't teach our kids that, how are our kids going to be prepared and apply for college, much less compete when they get in?"

The bill, as it stands now, also prevents the state from adopting science and social studies standards, which were set to roll out this fall. The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 34-16.

Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick led the legislative fight against the standards, which Tea Party members have criticized, calling them "federal intrusion into state control of public education."

“Passage of this bill represents the hard work of many people over the course of two years. This bill is the first major piece of legislation that has passed anywhere in the nation that has allowed the voice of the people to clearly say that national standards are unacceptable,” said Ligon. “This bill draws the line in the sand that Georgia will no longer be bound by national standards or the testing of national standards or be obligated to special interests. The people of Georgia, through this legislation, finally can begin to reclaim their educational sovereignty over what their children are taught in public schools. Georgia citizens should never again be shut out of the process as they were when the Common Core was ushered into this state.”

The passage of the compromised bill led to confusion in school systems all over the state, including Tift County, says Superintendent Patrick Atwater.

"We were hearing Friday headlines like 'Curtain drops on Common Core.' That is absolutely not true. That's after the Senate voted on it. Our teachers were asking why we were continuing staff development if we're going to drop out of Common Core. It created a situation where superintendents and principals were having to calm the fears of staff because of the vote in the senate," he said.

Atwater said a group of educators and leaders will be traveling to Atlanta today to express their opposition to SB 167, in hopes House leaders will hear them and vote accordingly.

"It is a definite lion in sheep's clothing," he said. "If you read the entire bill, all it does is set up another layer of bureaucracy, another layer of people to read and review curricular standards and make recommendations to the Department of Education, which still holds the authority to approve or disapprove."

Atwater said too many people have gotten the idea that Common Core is a federally-mandated curriculum, which it is not.

"When President Obama signed his name to it and started including Common Core in with the Race to the Top initiative, it very quickly became a presidential initiative, a federal initiative. I agree with the Tea Party that the federal government is sometimes too intrusive. I see the concern people equate with it. If I didn't know better, I'd be opposed to Common Core as well," he said.

In Georgia, Common Core is known as Common Core Georgia Performance Standards or CCGPS. The standards in English Language Arts, mathematics, and literacy in science, history, social studies and technical subjects are designed to give students the opportunity to "master the skills and knowledge needed for success beyond high school," according to www.georgiastandards.com.

Atwater said the county spent a "small fortune" training and redeveloping staff to make the transition to Common Core from the previous Georgia Performance Standards curriculum, as well as redeveloping lesson plans, planning guides and the system's website.

"Everything we've done for English Language Arts and math over the past two years has been directly related to implementing Common Core standards. The sheer thought of abandoning that and starting over gives me great pain. It hurts my heart to think about it," the superintendent said. "Part of the frustration for our teachers is that they never get to keep anything long enough to get comfortable with it."

Both Atwater and Beckham said there are other concerns with SB 167 as well.

"The last eight pages are the technology stuff," said Beckham. "It's been overlooked by a lot of people. It's been labeled as the Common Core bill, and that's only a chunk of it."

"It adds so much pervasive paperwork and record keeping also. Parents have to give written permission for this and that; a signed note for everything. We wouldn't be able to use cloud-based servers outside of the state of Georgia. It's absurd," Atwater added.

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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