Common Core bill generates concern among lawmakers; Critics warn there may be ‘unintended consequences’
by Michelle Babcock
March 07, 2014 04:00 AM | 2595 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Barbara Jacoby
Barbara Jacoby
Local lawmakers are waiting to see what changes come from the House Education Committee before drawing conclusions on a bill that some say could fundamentally change the way Georgia adopts common education standards.

Senate Bill 167, referred to as the Common Core bill, could go before the House for a vote next week, and some say it could provide a way for the state to pull out of the widely debated Common Core Standards.

But some critics warn there may be unintended consequences from the bill that passed in the Senate on Feb. 25 and crossed over for review in the House of Representatives.

When asked for the superintendent’s comments on how the bill could impact the local school system, School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby referred questions to the Georgia Education Coalition.

Jacoby said the Cherokee School District is a member of the Georgia Education Coalition and supports its position on the bill.

“There has been much discussion, debate and confusion recently, relative to SB 167,” Jacoby stated in an email. “The Georgia Education Coalition, which includes CCSD, has provided the House Education Committee with an amended version of the bill, which would clarify much of what is currently being debated.”

The Georgia Education Coalition lobbies for six of the largest and fastest-growing school districts in the state, including the Cherokee County School District, as well as Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton and Coweta counties and the city of Cartersville.

Chuck Clay, former senator and a lobbyist with the GEC, was at the Capitol on Thursday and said members of the six school systems he represents have differing opinions on the bill.

“There is a lot of movement in the House right now (about the bill),” Clay said.

Clay said while the intent of the bill is acceptable, some of the language used could cause unintended consequences for students and educators.

“There is concern over unintended consequences … that could do real damage to things that are incredibly important to student improvement,” Clay said.

Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R- Canton) said some of the language in the bill is troubling, “because if we eliminate national standards, then we eliminate national standards tests.”

Ballinger said many national tests are needed for entry into careers and college, and she wants to be sure the bill wouldn’t block important national tests like the SAT.

“To my understanding there are going to be a lot of changes as it moves through the House,” Ballinger said Thursday. “We’re going to take a really hard, close look at it to make sure there aren’t any adverse effects on the students of Cherokee County.”

Rep. Scot Turner (R- Holly Springs) said because the bill is still undergoing changes he hasn’t made a final judgment on it yet.

“That bill has undergone some significant changes since it was first introduced, and my understanding is that it is still undergoing significant changes,” Turner said Thursday.

Turner said the House Education Committee “does an excellent job of vetting” bills and takes feedback from many sources before presenting a final version to the House for a vote.

“I know that those changes are coming,” Tuner said. “We have been told by our caucus that we can expect the bill to continue to be improved as a result of the committee process.”

Rep. Sam Moore (R- Macedonia) said he’s heard “a lot of frustrations from educators” about the bill.

“I spoke to PTA groups about it yesterday during lunch and have been chatting with educators from all over the state about it over the past few days,” Moore said. “I think we need to take a step back and legislate a proactive solution, instead of a reactive fix. Based on what I have seen so far, SB167 seems to be yet another campaign-year Band-Aid.”

Rep. Michael Caldwell (R- Woodstock) did not return calls requesting comment on the bill by press time.

Clay explained there are two sections to the bill, as it was passed by the Senate — the “Act to Restore Educational Authority to Georgia Citizens” and the “Student Right to Privacy Act.”

“The bill is in two parts,” Clay explained. “The first is the ‘Common Core section’ and the other has to do with information and technology.”

Clay said language is a big concern in both parts of the bill, and the GEC wants to ensure there are no unintended negative consequences if the bill passes the House.

Clay said local school systems “absolutely” need flexibility when it comes to curriculum and technology, but said the language of the bill needs some changes.

The first part of the bill calls for review of content standards in four core subjects by the state Board of Education every few years and requires the creation of a “Content Standards Advisory Council” made of mostly parents or grandparents, as well as three acting or retired teachers and two business representatives.

“The concern is, the way the bill is written, it would interrupt, disrupt and potentially set back curriculums and testing and review that are going on now,” Cory said. “So, if we’re going to have this additional review panel make recommendations, they need to be flexible enough to make any recommendations they deem appropriate —regardless of where that may come from.”

Clay said the GEC is not opposed to additional review of education standards, but the way the bill was passed through the Senate could have “unintended consequences” for Georgia’s students and educators because of the specific language used.

“There’s concern that it may be too limiting and cause disruptions to a lot of long-term planning and testing and review that’s going on now,” he said.

Similar concern exists for the second part of the bill, relating to privacy and technology.

Clay said some of the language in the second part of the bill could be “very problematic” when it comes to tracking student progress and facilitating student success.

The House Education Committee conducted a hearing Wednesday and heard from 68 people about the bill, and will spend the next few days scrutinizing SB 167.

If the bill makes it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, the House could make a decision as early as next week.

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