As predicted in this space a few weeks ago, there is compromise legislation pending in the General Assembly regarding the Common Core curriculum, the controversial program which seeks to establish consistent education standards across the country.
For this, you can thank Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, the chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee. Getting a compromise on the matter was like “negotiating peace in the Middle East,” Tippins joked.
Tippins is a relative newcomer to the Senate, having arrived in 2010, but he is an old hand in matters of public education. For 12 years, he was an influential and respected member of the Cobb County Board of Education.
Unlike their Kool-Aid drinking ideologues who never deign to get a teacher’s input lest it deter them from their efforts to turn our public schools into an educational version of Wal-Mart, Sen. Tippins and Rep. Brook Coleman, R-Duluth, chairman of the House Education Committee actually undertook a series of eight statewide “listening tours” to get local opinions -- including those of school teachers -- on a number of educational-related issues, including Common Core.
“The structure of our meetings,” said Tippins, “was to talk with district superintendents and school board members and then hold a public forum. We know it is impossible for teachers to come to Atlanta during a school year, so Rep. Coleman and I thought we should go to them. We had no agenda. We were there to listen.” Give them an “A” for effort, school teachers.
One of the things they discovered is that educators felt changes were needed in Common Core but the curriculum should not be dropped in its entirety. If the state were to start over to develop a new curriculum, Tippins estimates costs could range as high as $250 million.
Tippins said the pending legislation would not throw out current Common Core math and English standards, but it would remove us from the current national testing consortium and the specter of federal government influence.
“A major concern of a lot of people, including me, was that Washington would dictate the standards,” Tippins says, “I don’t want the federal government inserting their philosophies into the educational process. I think most Georgians feel the same way.”
The legislation would create a 15-member council composed of three university professors, three representatives from the business community and parents to begin reviewing the Common Core math standards, followed by the English standards. Appointments would be made by Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston.
“They’ll bring in curriculum and subject matter experts and compare what the most rigorous national standards were prior to Common Core, look at where our standards are deficient and then make recommendations to improve them,” Tippins said. He has suggested the State Board of Education talk to states that have been successful in measuring student achievement “and see if we can get some ideas from them.”
A series of public meetings across the state will allow residents to comment on the changes. Then recommendations will be brought back to the Georgia Board of Education for approval. That is the way government ought to work.
Be assured that Georgia will have a rigorous set of standards in English and Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies, but local school systems will have a strong say in the matter. Tippins says, “Once we have decided our standards in Georgia, the local school systems will have the ability to select and implement their curriculum to meet those standards. I doubt you will find the same curriculum being applied in Lumpkin County as you will in the City of Atlanta.”
I asked Tippins what he would like to tell Georgia’s public school teachers. “Thank them for doing a tough job,” he says, “Teachers get criticized but those pointing the fingers fail to recognize the three biggest problem teachers deal with are disengaged students, uninvolved parents and chronic discipline -- the decline of the family structure.”
Not many of our legislators want to deal with that truth. There is too much special interest money available and too many self-interest agendas to try and get at the root cause of the problem.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins is a voice in the wilderness surrounded by zealots who can’t wait for the elections to be over so they can get back to hosing public education, but with four schoolteachers in my family I am glad he is minding the store. Schoolteachers should be, too.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.