Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

Georgia Republicans duck sequel to the fight over Common Core

A sequel to the national war over Common Core, aimed at top history classes in public high schools across the country, is about to break out.

But Georgia’s ranking Republicans have decided to give this particular fight a miss.

You can blame, or credit, the hot race between Gov. Nathan Deal and Jason Carter, the Democrat who would overthrow him. Consider it more proof that elections can make a difference in your life – even before the final votes are cast.

Significantly, Deal’s wing man on the issue – an accidental assignment, to be sure — is state School Superintendent John Barge, who had the temerity to challenge the governor for the GOP nomination only last May.

“I’m frustrated and disappointed at the politicization of a lot of things, but education especially,” Barge said Wednesday. We’ll let him elaborate later.

For the better part of two years, the tea party arm of the GOP has bridled at those new national (and Sonny Perdue-inspired) public school standards known as Common Core. An encroachment on state sovereignty, they say.

Common Core attempts to bring uniform standards to only two topics – math and English. It didn’t touch history, the third rail of educational politics.

But another group now has. The College Board – a separate non-profit, standard-setting organization – has upgraded its test requirements for high school students taking advanced placement U.S. history classes. European history will get the same treatment next year.

The requirements, a 98-page listing of what students will be quizzed on, are important. Students who score high enough on the College Board test can gain early university credit and thus save their parents more than a little money.

War was declared last Friday in Chicago by the Republican National Committee, with a unanimous resolution charging that the new requirements “reflect a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects…while minimizing positive aspects.”

Founding Fathers are slighted, their motivations questioned. Military history – “no battles, commanders or heroes” – is ignored. The Holocaust is excluded, the RNC charged.

The College Board has responded forcefully. David Coleman, president and CEO, has written a letter declaring that, as a Jew, he’s not about to put the quietus on Europe’s attempt to exterminate his people. A rare College Board sample test has been made public.

So, class, who can tell me why this argument over history might be even more charged than the one over Common Core? Anyone? What did Plato say – you in the back?

“Those who tell the stories rule society.” That’s right.

So you’d think that Georgia would be the perfect battleground for this fight. But you would be wrong.

Tanya Ditty is state director of Concerned Women for America, a group organized to promote biblical principles in public policy. Last week, Ditty organized the large teleconference that preceded the RNC vote to condemn the new history standards.

But last month, at its July meeting in Atlanta, Ditty had presented the state Board of Education with a proposed resolution that said much the same thing. She and a colleague were given three minutes each. The rebuttal from a staffer ate up close to an hour.

Ditty followed that rebuff by trooping over to the state Capitol to meet with an aide to the governor. “She didn’t seem too concerned,” Ditty reported.

The politics of the situation are obvious. Teachers, an important voting bloc, are already skittish – the result of furloughs, pay freezes, and increased health care costs. With November on the horizon, there’s no need to aggravate them further with fresh accusations that they’re teaching crooked history.

But Ditty remains frustrated. She’s convinced that College Board standards will squeeze out Georgia historical priorities. “Our students are being robbed of their heritage. And we’ve got gatekeepers that are doing nothing about it,” she said. “That would be the office of the governor and the state Board of Education. And they are silent on this issue.’

Yet, not altogether silent. Let us return to John Barge, the Republican state school superintendent. “We’ve got some very reliable teachers out there,” Barge said. “A really good teacher is going to teach the content. The test will take care of itself.”

Moreover, a testing framework, like one issued by the College Board, is only an outline, the superintendent said. “[Critics] are not looking at a course syllabus. They’re not in the classroom.”

Also, AP courses are not required for graduation. And a dual enrollment course at the local college is always an option for suspicious parents, he said.

But Barge saved his harshest judgment for those he thinks are attempting to turn public education into an ideological contest.

“I’m going to be very honest and very blunt about what I think is behind this. And I think it’s money,” Barge said. He described a visit to the website of Concerned Women for America – the group to which Ditty belongs.

“The first thing that comes up is a bright red ‘donate now’ button,” he said. (We tried it. The red button is there at the top, but it didn’t jump to the front.)

Ditty, of course, took exception to Barge’s judgment. “He has elected to engage in petty insults that will do nothing to stop the dismantling of Georgia’s social studies standards,” she said.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.