Barge made this point a half dozen times during a talk on the subject, clearing Gov. Nathan Deal of blame as well.
“First let me say that the Common Core Standards were adopted by the previous administration,” Barge said as he began his speech. “The previous superintendent. The previous governor. Governor Deal and I walked into and inherited the Race to the Top grant and Common Core state standards, OK? Could the state have done that a little better? Absolutely.”
Barge describes Common Core as ensuring that the Algebra taught in Georgia is the same Algebra taught in New York or Kansas.
“So that when students do transfer back and forth they’re not falling through gaps, they’re not missing out, that kind of thing, so there’s standards that we’ve all agreed this is what students need to know, but as a state, we still decide how to teach that, and literally as a district, your district decides how to teach that,” he said.
National test creates
a federal curriculum
Barge said his greatest worry is the testing component, which is being developed through The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or “PARCC.”
Funded by President Obama’s Race to the Top program, PARCC is a collection of states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math. The assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year.
According to its website, PARCC, “Creates high-quality assessments that measure the full range of the Common Core State Standards.”
One worry, Barge said, is that these new assessments are “astronomically expensive,” projected to double the state’s annual testing budget from $25 million to $53 million. But more than cost, Barge said the trouble is that what gets tested is what gets taught in the classroom. Having a national test therefore makes it problematic if Georgia wants flexibility in the way it rolls out Common Core, he said.
Suppose the national test developed by a Washington think tank tests differently from the way Georgia opts to use the Common Core standards. The outcome is Georgia students won’t perform well on the assessments, he said.
“So the bigger concern for me as we move forward is the national assessment because in my mind that gets to a federal curriculum, because what gets tested gets taught, and at that point somebody else is controlling what’s going on in my classrooms, and so I have a concern about that,” he said.
Barge said his request for Georgia to have flexibility when it comes to the national test has been brushed aside.
They’re not interested in allowing us the flexibility to do that,” he said. “So at some point we’re going to have to make a decision as a state, and for me that time is coming very, very quickly because of a process that we have to follow, because of this discussion of the Common Assessments.”
Barge spoke of how tired teachers have become of the state constantly changing the requirements of their job, moving from the Quality Core Curriculum to the Georgia Performance Standards to the Common Core Standards.
“Teachers at this point are kind of frazzled when it comes to ‘stop changing the curriculum. Stop monkeying with the curriculum. Let us teach,’” he said.
Easier math, time-wasting instruction
The Georgia Board of Education adopted the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards in July 2010.
“Gov. Deal and I didn’t take office until January, so this was something we inherited. Again, I probably would have done it differently, but we are where we are at this point,” he said.
When the Georgia Performance Standards were created, they ranked among the best in the nation, which is why the Common Core authors used them in writing the Common Core standards, he said.
“As we move forward, we have spent a lot of money, a lot of Race to the Top money, on training teachers in the Common Core. That process has been completed,” Barge said. “Do I have some concerns about the Common Core and what’s going on in classrooms? Yes I do.”
Were the General Assembly to vote to excise Common Core from Georgia, Barge said the state would be fine because of its Georgia Performance Standards.
“Because if you look at the side-by-side comparison of our Georgia Performance Standards and the Core, there’s 90 percent alignment from the very beginning because they used our standards to write the Core,” he said.
Yet as he tours the state’s classrooms, Barge said he’s hearing concerns about Common Core, such as the Algebra that used to be taught in the eighth grade has been pushed back to the ninth grade.
Or those teachers who are spending “countless hours” instructing students on multiple ways of solving three-digit addition when a child can solve the math problem one way, but gets confused by other methods of arriving at the same solution.
Barge said the state does have flexibility with Common Core to tweak these problems. For instance, Common Core eliminated the teaching of cursive writing, but Georgia chose to keep it in the state curriculum.
“Whether or not our local schools are teaching that, that’s another issue,” he said. “It’s in our curriculum, but are the local districts teaching it? We are a local control state. So all of the resources that we produce at the state level are there for districts to use. We don’t mandate them.”
Barge dismissed concerns about Common Core Social Studies, saying that discussion hadn’t occurred at the national level, although there is Common Core Science Standards coming.
“There has been the development of what is called ‘next generation science standards,’” he said.
“I urge you guys to go look at those. They are out for public comment right now. I believe that time period expires next week.”
Whether Georgia adopts the science standards has yet to be decided, he said.
Free digital textbooks
Last month the Cobb Board of Education in a 4-3 vote rejected the purchase of $7.5 million in math textbooks aligned with Common Core.
Barge said prior to his election as state superintendent, he was curriculum director for the Bartow County School
“We haven’t purchased textbooks in Bartow County for years because of the budget cuts,” he said.
Knowing districts have been in a financial crisis, at the state level he is developing visual resources districts may use for free, he said.
“In fact, we have over 100 Georgia Virtual school courses online. Every one of those courses has its own digital textbook. It’s free to use,” Barge said. “Now I know not every district in the state, not every school in the state has a computer for every child, but the teachers have access to all those resources,” he said.
Barge received applause and cheers from the audience when he said a number of states, such as Virginia, opted not to adopt Common Core.
“Their standards were already rigorous enough,” he said.
Sharing student data
Another concern parents have raised with him is the sharing of student information with education vendors.
Georgia was approached by the Gates Foundation and asked to be part of a “shared learning collaborative” where states work together to share their resources. Part of that involves states sending their student data to a Gates-funded nonprofit called InBloom. Barge said while Georgia agreed to be part of the collaborative, it will not share the student data with InBloom. He also said while he’s heard that InBloom staff has asked individual school systems to share the student data, the state will not be part of that.
Another question Barge says people have is, did Georgia have to adopt Common Core standards to receive federal Race to the Top money?
“I think probably the politically correct answer is no,” he said. “But I think that the reality, the perception at the time, and this is just my presumption because I was not involved, is that it was perceived as added leverage to win the Race to the Top money,” he said.
Repeal Common Core
Following Barge’s talk, Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy said the problem is the assessment, what it will cost and the federal strings that will come with it.
“Back in 2008 I was preaching against Race to the Top,” Dendy said. “I was preaching hard and loud because any federal program has unfunded mandates and this one does.”
Dendy said Georgia received $400 million in Race to the Top dollars.
“(Barge) said they’ve already spent a good part of that on training the teachers. And then we’re going to spend another $53 million a year just for assessment? It only takes, what, eight years and then we break even with the federal government, so why did we take the money in the first place? We didn’t need it. We shouldn’t have gotten it,” he said.
Dendy said he understands Gov. Deal’s argument for wanting the children of service personnel who move from state to state to receive a consistent education.
“I appreciate what he’s saying there,” Dendy said. “But on the other side of the coin, if it’s going to cost the state this much money, as long as we have good standards here and better than good then what’s the problem? Those children should be able to pick up the ball and run with it anywhere that they go.”
State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Buckhead), the state House Majority Whip who is running for the seat soon to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), said after the meeting that Barge raised the same legitimate concerns he has heard from parents and educators.
Those concerns, Lindsey said, are, “regarding whether the Common Core Standards were going to stifle teaching ingenuity, further the problem in education today of teaching to a standardized test rather than teaching a child how to learn, and whether these new standards were in reality dumbing down rather than raising up our educational expectations.”
Lindsey also noticed that Barge repeatedly emphasized how the Common Core was not adopted on his watch.
“Given his stated reservations, after over two years in office the superintendent needs to ‘fess up if we have messed up’ and either fix the problems with Common Core or scrap them all together and chart an independent course for Georgia that honors teacher initiative and innovation, inspires curiosity and learning in our students, and prepares them for the rigors of the 21st century,” Lindsey said.