Rep Mike Dudgeon on Common Core

Mike Dudgeion

Rep. Dudgeon was considered to be leading the charge on rebranding the “Common Core” standards.  He was involved in the ultimate failure of Senate Bill 167, the anti-Common Core bill sponsored by Sen. William Ligon. After passing the Senate, the bill did not pass the House Education Committee.

Common Core in Georgia Education

Mike Dudgeon’s newsletter on Common Core.

Do I support Common Core?  A simple question that is better suited for a discussion rather than a one-word answer.  Words mean things, and the term “Common Core” has morphed into meaning several things to different people.  I was deeply involved this past legislative session with SB 167, a bill to back off Georgia from Common Core.  It did not pass, primarily due to objection from teachers and other education groups, but I owe it to my constituents to get my full opinions on the record.

When I was on the Forsyth County Board of Education, I grew frustrated with my inability to compare my largely upper middle class student population with other states or communities.  The SAT and ACT are used for comparison but they are not ideal.  They are only for older high school students and are voluntary, making comparisons difficult.

I was not alone in this frustration.  Several state governors started what was called the “Common Core” initiative.  The goal was to have states collaborate on high level education objectives (standards) and also on testing.  To simplify, the idea was to ask students across the nation, “What is 2 X 10?” and compare the success rate to other states.  I supported, and still support, this effort.  But the situation has grown much more complicated.  The Federal Government has become involved, and “Common Core” now encompasses much more than that original objective.

So, do I “support” Common Core?  Here are some short answers depending on what one means.  Detailed answers follow.

  •  Do I support Federal control over or involvement (Common Core) in education?  Absolutely not, I firmly oppose it.
  •  Do I support ongoing attempts to put liberal or politically correct content (Common Core) in our curriculum?  Absolutely not, I firmly oppose it.
  •  Do I support ceding binding control over Georgia education to anyone outside of Georgia (Common Core)?  Absolutely not, I firmly oppose it.
  •  Do I support our student data being used for commercial purposes or non-educational data being collected (Common Core)?  Absolutely not, I firmly oppose it.
  •  Do I support the idea of being able to effectively compare our scholastic progress with other states (Common Core)?  Yes, with reservations.
  •  Do I support the current Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (Common Core) as they are being taught today in Math and English in our state? Yes, with reservations.

Federal Control over Education by way of Common Core
This one is obvious.  Washington and the Federal government do not have any constitutional authority over education. The money and control should just stay local.  Bureaucrats or Ivy League Public Policy grads in their 20s at the US DOE should have zero control over our classrooms.  I do not support any federally mandated standards or curriculum. Further, I do not support accepting grants, such as Race to The Top, which have significant strings attached, without legislative approval.  As a BOE member in Forsyth County, we were asked to join Race to The Top as a pilot but we declined.  I strongly support legislation which restricts further adoption of grants without legislative oversight.  By becoming involved, the Federal Government has hurt the formerly state led initiative.

Liberal Ideas Invading Our Curriculum by way of Common Core
This one is also straight forward. I have been appalled at the efforts by the Left to gradually insert revisionist and politically-correct items into our traditional history, government, and civics curricula.  This has been going on for at least 25 years and flows downhill from the overwhelming dominance of left leaning ideology in higher education.  In 2001 my then 1st grader came home saying his teacher blamed the USA for the 9-11 attacks. I saw a civics textbook in a very conservative part of the state in the early 2000s saying the 2nd amendment did not apply to individuals and emphasizing multiculturalism while ignoring traditional American values.  As a BOE member I had to fight to stop “Inconvenient Truth” from being shown in some classrooms.

With or without Common Core, this is a constant battle that requires vigilance.  It is important to note that our state has only adopted Math and English common core standards, so if you have seen or read about history, government, or science based lessons you don’t like, that is not from Common Core in Georgia.  In addition, there are now floods of dumb comments, worksheets, or lessons in a classroom posted on the internet and labeled “common core.” Take those with a grain of salt, with the 3.3 million teachers in the USA there will always be absurd examples in the classroom.

Ceding Control to Others by way of Common Core
I believe this is the most crucial principle in this entire policy area: Georgia must control the standards for the state, and local school systems must control the rest of the classroom.  Currently the State Board of Education controls the standards. After Race To the Top expires in September, the State BOE could vote to completely repeal or change any standards.  The Governor issued an executive order reinforcing State BOE control, but I want it in law.

The version of SB 167 that I believe would have passed contained very strong state control language.  It also called for a comprehensive review of standards by parents, teachers, business leaders, and professors.  The State Board is doing some of this now, but we don’t know who future Governors, State Board members, or State Superintendents will be.  It is crucial to me that in 2015 we put into law the absolute control of our education by the state of Georgia.

Collecting Inappropriate Data by way of Common Core
This is another easy one.   We should never collect religious, political, DNA, or fingerprint data.  Student information should not be used for commercial reasons nor put into national databases for non-educational purposes.  Fortunately, Georgia is in reasonably good compliance with the security of state student information we store electronically.  Other states have gone down dangerous paths, and I believe that the federal government and some corporations would love to establish some very inappropriate databases.  As one who works in the computer industry, I am going to push to have these protections in the state code.  We had language dealing with this in final versions of SB 167.

Standard Information for National Comparison by way of Common Core
I like the idea of state comparisons, as they will bring competitive market forces and pressure to continuously improve our education.  That was one of the main reasons that governors started the Common Core initiative.  However, the intrusion of the Feds, the collapse of the bloated and expensive national test (PARC), and worries about not trying to reach above minimums have limited the appeal to me and others of Common Core as the gold standard comparison method.  I support Georgia controlling our own test while incorporating sections and questions that can be statistically normed against other states.  This will allow us to generate those competitive comparisons that are so important, without ceding control of our testing.

Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS)
To most educators and teachers when you say “Common Core,” they think the “CCGPS” which is the Georgia-adopted Common Core standards in Math and English.  Those are the only subjects under Common Core in Georgia.  Depending upon the comparison, 80-90% of the CCGPS already existed in our older “Georgia Performance Standards.”

When the House Education Committee went around the state in 2013, 140 out of 140 school districts we talked to supported the current CCGPS. An anonymous survey done by PAGE (a teachers association) showed 70%+ support among teachers.  We had an overflow crowd of educator support in a House Education meeting.  The Forsyth County BOE supported the CCGPS.  Many educators feel they have invested significant time and training into these standards and on the whole they believe it is working.

In general I also support the CCGPS in Math and English.  That being said, there are some possible problems with the current CCGPS. Some of the math sequencing (which concepts are taught in which grades) may need adjustment; some of the very early grade standards  may be too complex too soon; a few high school math pieces may be missing; and there are issues around literature content in high school English.  I encourage the State Board to quickly finish an effort to work out the kinks in our current offerings and change any problematic standards.

Integrated math (brought to us by Kathy Cox well before Common Core) is a separate issue that has caused far more student and teacher problems and complaints than anything in CCGPS, and it needs to be stopped.  This is the practice of blending algebra, geometry, statistics, trigonometry, and other high school math concepts into unified courses instead of teaching them one course at a time. I believe Georgia’s experience clearly shows the experiment with integrated math has not worked and it is time to go back to the tried and true method.

Finishing Up
SB 167 had very strong state control, grant oversight, and data collection language. I believe those provisions would have passed the General Assembly in a bill and been one of the stronger bills in the country.  However, the author and others included in SB 167 provisions allowing local systems the option to go back to pre-CCGPS standards, and also prohibiting listed nationally developed standards in the future.  The decision was made to vote on the author’s version.  Despite my not agreeing 100% with those parts, I voted yes on the 20 page bill because ensuring state control is so important to me.  Despite the appeal of the local control argument of giving BOEs authority to revert to older standards, to me there are significant legal and testing implications that make that option untenable.   As long as Georgia retains control, I do not think the legislature needs to mandate which future standards are or are not adopted, as long as they go through a public open records “maximum sunshine” process.

Where do we go from here?  Will I vote for another “anti-Common Core” bill? It depends on what is in it. As I said, I wish it was simple.  I personally want strong legislation on state control and data privacy.  We need to minimize Federal involvement. We need to adjust any problems with our current standards.  We need to avoid future grants which tie our hands.  We need to back off integrated math.  I hope to have your support for those goals in 2015.

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