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Column: Common Core still a pariah in Georgia GOP School Chiefs race

Column – Common Core still a likely factor when selecting state school superintendent for the GOP.

The column is the opinion of the author and not those of AllOnGeoriga.

The Common Core Standards are still a litmus test issue in the 2018 GOP Primary for State School Superintendent in Georgia.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods (R-Tifton) was elected to the office in 2014 after John Barge (R-Rome) stepped down from the position to run against Nathan Deal, mainly due to his stance against the Charter School Amendment.

John Barge has stepped back into the race for state school superintendent citing that Georgia is not doing well under the leadership of Richard Woods. On the campaign trail, Barge cites a non-scholarly published study that when he was state school chief, Georgia was ranked 7th in the nation in education quality and now Georgia ranks 33rd.   Georgia’s ranking was around 40th when Barge left office in 2014 according to the Nation’s Report Card known as NAEP, which is the gold standard when reviewing student achievement gains.

Picture credit- A combo picture of the 2018 GOP candidates for GA State School Superintendent’s race: John Barge (left) and incumbent Richard Woods.

The State School Superintendent’s office became void of power mostly after John Barge’s dust-ups with Nathan Deal and his political operatives. They all but rendered the office almost obsolete when it comes to implementing state policy. Under Barge, a lot of operations were stripped away and it diminished the elected office to a figurehead. Contracts and the internal budget process are almost completely controlled by the Governor’s office and not the superintendent.

While in office, Barge was influenced into campaigning for the Obama-era Race to the Top ($400 million) which included the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, sight unseen. Such an adoption went against everything that encompasses the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is to defend against federal encroachment.  Barge emphatically endorsed the standards and the testing plans which further narrowed the state’s curriculum.

It is logical to think that having Common Core for several years has further reduced the nation’s edge to compete internationally. The establishment touted international competitiveness as a reason to adopt the Common Core, but that has now come into question.  Barge and his establishment counterparts have said that the Common Core would reduce the achievement gaps, but we have not seen that consistently. Georgia’s NAEP results did not see a dramatic improvement overall, the achievement gaps for minorities is just as large as ever, and more disturbingly, students with disabilities achievement under the Common Core has dived.

Is Barge to blame for the introduction of Common Core?

No. Former GOP Governor Sonny Perdue and former GOP State School Superintendent Kathy Cox worked with the National Governor’s Association to cement the standards into the state for waivers against the No Child Left Behind Law.  But as a Republican who campaigned fiercely to defend the 10th Amendment, Barge was convinced to adopt the Obama-era policies in exchange for ducking unrealistic achievement targets of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

In a recent Atlanta Press Club Debate, Barge touts that many district superintendents around the state are asking him to run for office to unseat Richard Woods, but that will be a difficult task. Barge, in the 2014 election period, endorsed the Democratic nominee, Valarie Wilson. Much of the strong GOP voters immediately censured Barge for the move and thought it was a betrayal to the Republican Party.  Barge’s support for the Common Core, with all of its tentacles associated with the teacher evaluation, and sporadic implementation of the standards, left many in the education, and in the GOP base, questioning the reliability of Barge’s agenda.  Georgia’s education establishment would like to oust Woods as he does not fit their bill to uphold the compliance culture and the status quo on securing vast amounts of federal funding.

So why is Common Core still a pariah among the GOP base?

Although no study specifically links the Common Core to any student performance measure, there have been a number of data points that suggest, along with other indicators, that Common Core is contributing to the widening of the covenanted “achievement gap” and poor performance on national and international tests.  The supporters of Common Core cannot argue that the standards are helping with the latest national achievement results.

Since it’s adoption in 2010 by some states, establishmentarians, like Barge, have ignored parental concerns about the developmentally appropriate standards. The state of Kentucky was one of the first to adopt the standards without going through a validation process. Kentucky wanted to win the federal Race to The Top grant. Kentucky has shown little improvement since implementing the standards according to the Nation’s Report Card measure known as the NAEP.

Why is Kentucky’s issue important for Georgia?

Georgia used Kentucky’s test bank which was aligned to the Common Core initiative when a large majority of states tried to create collaborative testing teams (PARCC and SBAC Consortium). Barge withdrew from the testing consortium because of the high cost to remain in the joint testing program. Georgia went on their own and created the Milestones test, which was riddled with cost and technology glitches. The contract for the Milestones was over $100 million and the state changed vendors. The appointed State Board continued the testing contract despite the glitches.

Georgia’s performance has been slightly better under the Common Core than Kentucky’s, but the progress has been anemic under both John Barge and Richard Woods.  This small progress is mainly due to implementation learned from early adopters in other states. Under Barge, the focus was more testing and accountability, data collection, and grant securing from the feds. Under Woods, the focus has been revitalizing what’s left to leverage for good teaching, literacy, limiting the spread of Common Core into other subjects, and an increased emphasis in arts education. Overall, Barge and Woods’ attempt to improve Georgia K-12 education becomes part of the “lost decade” conversation.

Is the elected Superintendent’s position all that influential on Georgia’s education policy making?

In my view, very little.

Most of the power of policy implementation is made by the appointed State Board, who support the Common Core as a collective. In 2015, right after Woods gained office, then State Board Chairman Helen Rice proposed to change the name of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards after a small window for public comment. Less than 1 percent changed the standards, and the State Board voted to change the name to the Georgia Standards of Excellence. The reason was to “tamp down political rhetoric” over the standards. Woods, in a closed meeting with the Board, voiced his concerns and the elected voice of the people was ignored.

Changing the name did not get rid of the standards, and many in the Georgia GOP have not forgotten. The GOP base knows which candidate has a shot to remove the standards and which one will preserve the status quo. The GOP base also knows that things have not improved that much, particularly in racial/ethnic income gaps have not closed under Common Core.

At best, Woods stops the bleeding and he is still trying to close those wounds.  In 2020, the standards are up for review and Woods can use the standards review process to dilute the effects of Common Core if re-elected and this threatens the establishment. Barge aligns with the education establishment for their insatiable hunger for federal dollars and continues to narrow the curriculum by upholding high stakes testing. What the GOP base knows, is that true achievement is withering under the Common Core.

It will be said by the establishment, and Barge, that the 2009 recession depressed the spirits of teachers and students. Fingers will point toward the 2 percent slip in educational expenditure per pupil. Let’s see if the education establishment will admit to their failure after the 2019 NAEP results.





Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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