Most Candidates for Georgia K-12 Chief’s Post Oppose Common Core

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 16, 2014 3 min read
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Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lays out the rocky terrain the common core faces in the race for the state’s highest K-12 office. The story by Jim Galloway begins by citing the strong support, at least in part for self-interested reasons, from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for the common core, as well as the standards’ chief shepherd in the state, former GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue. With current state Superintendent John Barge running for governor, the state chamber apparently sent out an issue brief about the standards to the candidates vying to replace Barge as the state’s K-12 chief.

I’ve asked the chamber for a copy of the issue brief, which I don’t see quoted in Galloway’s piece. But on the chamber’s list of 2014 state legislative priorities is this sentence: “The Chamber will also continue its advocacy efforts to fully implement Common Core education standards as they are key to our ability to provide a globally competitive workforce.” UPDATE: The Georgia chamber kindly sent along its issue brief on common core, which you can read at the link.

As my colleague Sean Cavanagh pointed out recently, the business push for the common core is going on at the national level as well, with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue telling an audience in Washington that the chamber “significantly supports” common core, and that the standards are “just the start” for what the country must do to improve education.

So business isn’t shy about boosting the common core. But making a Washington speech is one thing—successfully riding bareback on volatile state politics is another. In one colorful and blunt sentence, Galloway illustrates the response in his state (among candidates for state office, no less) to these kinds of efforts: "[N]ever before has the Chamber seen one of its major initiatives—an education push it considered both vital and uncontroversial—trashed so thoroughly by elements of Georgia’s ruling party.”

Take Nancy Jester, a former DeKalb County school board member and a GOP candidate to replace Barge.

“It’s centralization. Ask the Soviets how that worked out,” Jester told the paper. "...Centralization is not a method that leads to success. The Chamber knows that. We know what drives success. That’s competition.”

Or take Mary Kay Bacallao, a college professor who’s spelled out her opposition to common core on educational grounds. For example, she criticizes what she deems as the elimination of the concepts of mean, median, mode, and range from elementary school classrooms, an observation which page nine of this document on publisher’s criteria from the common core’s website appears to support. Her exploration of the math standards, and why she thinks they represent a step backwards for the state, includes this one-panel cartoon:

Galloway wrote that among the candidates he talked to, including seven Republicans, only one, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, gave a “full-throated endorsement” for common core.

Two things about Morgan stand out, however. First, she’s a Democrat. Second, Morgan was given campaign support from StudentsFirst back in 2012. StudentsFirst, the advocacy group led by former D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, supports the common core. It would be odd for a candidate backed by Rhee to oppose the standards, although changes of heart should never be discounted.

However, it’s worth noting that another candidate Galloway talked to, Republican Kara Willis, did say she liked the standards.

In my preview of state legislatures in 2014, I mentioned that the common core could be in trouble in Georgia, given a variety of recent events involving its membership in a state testing consortium and agitation over suggested common-core reading lists involving Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

The standards already have one avowed foe in the Georgia Legislature, GOP Sen. William Ligon. A push to have the state drop the standards could come from him or another source at the statehouse. But on the campaign trail, it’s clear that common core faces a tricky road ahead.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.