Common Core & SB167: Where We Are Now

Last Wednesday, the House Education Committee held a hearing over Senate Bill 167, a bill designed to stop and reverse the implementation of national standards for education.  The problems with the bill seem to have escaped notice in the Senate, but were put on glaring display before a packed House committee room (and overflow room).

Representative Amy Carter may have had the winning moment of the hearing when she asked Senator William Ligon, the bill’s sponsor but not necessarily the bill’s author, what were three actual standards he had issues with.  He didn’t have an answer, because the reality is, this bill isn’t about standards.  It’s about fear. It’s about appeasing a small faction of perpetually frustrated activists.  But it’s not about educating Georgia’s public school children.

Ligon also stumbled through questions about the bill’s ambiguous and contradictory language.  After several assertions that the bill didn’t intend to do what the plain language of the bill said, he was chided by one committee member with “People tend to take our laws rather literally. You know. And literally it says you can’t do it.”

The size and scope of the opposition to SB 167 was also somewhat surprising.  While Common Core has been an “issue” within uber-conservative circles since Glenn Beck decided to (erroneously) proclaim it a federal initiative last April, mainstream Georgians were slow to come to its defense. That’s likely because most in education circles have already been through the public hearings of Kathy Cox’s curriculum redesign a decade ago, or the Common Core adoption four years ago.   Most considered this issue “settled”, and have moved on, unaware that Common Core is this year’s cause celeb replacing Agenda 21 and fluoridated water.

When you look at the breadth and depth of the organizations and people represented on both sides (see list at end of post, and consider the numbers behind each organization), it no longer looked like a fair fight.  “Common Core” may still be an issue near and dear to right side of the conservative base, but a haphazardly worded, contradictory SB 167 steeped in paranoia and loaded with unintended consequences woke up educational, business, and civic interests.  It was clear during the meeting (and with an informal whip count taken afterward by those opposed to Ligon’s bill) that SB 167 didn’t have support to pass out of committee, much less the entire House.

To their credit, the members of the committee took all sides interests to heart.  They continued to try to find a solution that asserts Georgia’s standards for schools will always be decided by Georgians, and that student data would be protected and never sold for profit.  Vice-Chairman Mike Dudgeon and Rep Ed Setzler, neither of whom would be confused as a RINO/Squish, took input from all and re-worked the bill into a proposed House substitute.  That bill was released Monday evening.

The reaction from Senator Ligon and supporters of SB 167 was immediate.  They wanted their bill, and do not appear to want any part of the House substitute.

This reaction has appeared to galvanize feelings in the House.  Those members, especially members of the Education Committee, feel they have been dealing in good faith to achieve a good and workable bill.  Some close to the process note, however, that every time a change was proposed to Senator Ligon, he would have to “get with his people” and come back with an answer.

Here, a problem is clear.  The House attempted to craft a bill and an open and transparent manner.  Senator Ligon is doing the work of people who are unnamed, undisclosed, and uncompromising.

While the Committee substitute bill still gives too many nods to paranoia, it is a significantly better than the Senate’s version, which is anti-Science, anti-technology, and would allow each school system to revert to the curriculum of their choice for the next two years while new standards are designed.  Teachers could be faced with a third or even fourth set of standards and approaches during a 6-year span.

Senator Ligon has let it be known that he will not support the House’s substitute.  It’s clear that Senator Ligon’s bill will not receive support in the House.  We may be at a stalemate.

And that, in reality, isn’t so bad.  Why? Because Common Core started here in Georgia, and is based on Georgia’s curriculum circa 2005.  There are steps that Georgia can and should take to minimize federal intrusion onto these voluntary standards.  But – and this one is big – these should not be reactionary steps to placate the paranoid.  They must be made with children and their educators in mind.

SB 167 does not meet this threshold.  Senator Ligon (or those he is speaking for) does not appear willing to accept substantive changes.   The standoff may be just enough to get us away from making hasty, politically charged decisions before an election, and give us a year to study, cool, and ultimately tweak only what is necessary to make sure these standards are what is best for Georgia’s kids.

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