Sen. William Ligon: Op Ed: Educational Accountability Should Be Local, Not Federal

Below is a guest post from Senator William Ligon (4/3/13). Ligon of the Third Senate District serves as Chairman of the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee of the Georgia Senate. He has introduced SB167, a bill to repeal use of the Common Core State Standards in Georgia schools. For more, read Charlie’s article and Sen. Fran Millar’s article in support of Common Core.

Perhaps never before in American history has K-12 education experienced such a huge shift from local to federal educational control with less involvement of elected legislators. The Race to the Top (RTTT) grant process bypassed a fundamental principle of constitutional government, “the consent of the governed.”

This grant was developed entirely within the federal executive branch, without federal or state legislative review. Executive branch state officials unilaterally committed their states to implement the mandates of the RTTT grant, including the adoption of the Common Core standards, even though the standards were not yet written, the tests undeveloped, and the costs unknown.

In a nation of supposedly self-governing people, bypassing the legislative body violates the very foundation of this constitutional Republic. The legislative branch is the branch of government that reflects the will of the people. The consent of the governed is non-negotiable in a nation of free people.

Across the nation, people are realizing that they have been excluded from exercising one of their most treasured rights: the right to control the education of their children. Their voices, as well as those of local educators and school boards, have been muted by federal strings attached to grants for too long. However, this latest grant has taken the situation to a new level.

Nationwide, the vigorous objections to RTTT mandates include the questionable quality of unpiloted Common Core standards, the expensive testing component, the collection and sharing of personal information on students – approximately 400 data points, the unproven teacher-evaluation system, the increased taxation that will necessarily occur to pay for unfunded mandates, and the fact that the Common Core violates the spirit, if not the letter, of three federal laws that prohibit federal direction of curriculum.

Currently, the Common Core represents uniform, multi-state standards in mathematics and English language arts (ELA), and other top-down uniform standards are in the pipeline. Though the official talking points claim the effort was “state-led,” that point stretches credulity when the actual input from the states was minimal at best (and in the case of the legislatures, non-existent).

The funding for Common Core came largely from the Gates Foundation to two private trade associations (the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers) along with their affiliated group, Achieve, Inc., none having public accountability. In turn, these groups designated three main writers for math standards and three for the ELA standards (no one from Georgia). Of the development teams, a total of 135 people, it appears that only three were from Georgia. How anyone was actually chosen is still a mystery. So much for transparency, public accountability, and claims of a state-led effort. Otherwise, we would have full public records of the entire process.

The Georgia Senate Education and Youth Committee recently heard from education experts who warned of the dangers of the Common Core. Dr. Sandra Stotsky, perhaps the nation’s leading expert on ELA standards and a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the ELA standards because of their deficiencies, which she called “empty-skill sets.” In addition, there is no evidence that replacing classic literature with nonfiction such as EPA regulations will produce better readers; in fact, all of the evidence is to the contrary.

The Common Core math standards are similarly deficient. Dr. James Milgram from Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Validation Committee, refused to sign off on them, concluding that students “educated” under Common Core math would be about two years behind their counterparts in other countries by 8th grade.

The claim that the Common Core is more “rigorous” than Georgia’s previous standards does not hold up well. Even the Fordham Institute, which was paid $1 million by the Gates Foundation to compare standards across the nation, gave Georgia’s former ELA standards and math standards the same overall rating as the Common Core’s. Yet, Georgia’s executive branch was willing to trade the state’s sovereignty over education to unaccountable Washington, D.C. bureaucrats and trade associations for a mere $400 million doled out over four years.

Grant terms require that Georgia cannot change or delete any standard, but can only add 15 percent to them. When state taxpayers pay over $13 billion in local and state taxes every year for K-12 education, how can their elected officials possibly concede their right to control educational standards?

Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington – that only DC elites are competent to manage our lives (and our children) – I believe what our Founders believed: that liberty is best preserved when control is exercised close to home. In no area is this truth more fundamental than the education of our children. As control over education has become increasingly centralized over the last 40 years, education has deteriorated. Are we to believe that the solution to this problem is even more centralization in Washington?

My bill to withdraw Georgia from Common Core, the aligned assessments, and the intrusive data tracking on students is part of the movement to reassert our constitutional autonomy over education. The prevailing sovereignty of the states in matters of K-12 education both reflects and promotes the commonsense competence of the people. To weaken that sovereignty will, over time, undermine selfrule and individual initiative as well as the education of our children.

20 comments

  1. Left Turn Only says:

    Georgia has 38 Uniform Acts, ranging from the well-known Uniform Commercial Code and Uniform Securities Act to laws of a more personal nature, such as the Uniform Conservation Easement Act, Uniform Environmental Covenants Act, and Uniform Simultaneous Death in Georgia Act. Does the perfidious federal interference with our cherished state sovereignty have no limits! (Never mind that these are voluntary STATE Acts, much like CORE. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to see that our young ‘uns measure up to some kind of minimum national standard. Man the barricades! (or is that too “French”?)

  2. reinvent_ed says:

    Sen. Ligon’s point of view is 100% MISGUIDED. The Common Core is not perfect by any means, but it is a MARKED IMPROVEMENT from the status quo, and it was supported by almost every state in the union. Standards and accountability measures are areas where I wholeheartedly embrace a Hamiltonian philosophy. Why should there be 50 states with at least 50 different curriculum standards? How is any content provider going to be able to scale a product to align with over 50 different standards? We should have national standards, but local implementation and flexibility to teach to those standards. The same goes for accountability. Why should 50 states measure success 50 different ways? The CCPRI is a neat construct, but it only works in Georgia. You can’t compare across states. As Sir Ken Robinson said on the TED Talks Education Show on PBS last week, “we need some standardized tests – it’s how you use them that is the issue – when I go to the doctor, I want some standard tests with ways to measure where you stand, not some measure my doctor cooks up for himself!”

    If the Common Core is now kicked to the side, Georgia will continue to see its education system perform near the bottom of the nation. It’s time to leave the Common Core debate and start focusing on how we teach our children, how we train, compensate and measure teachers, and reforming our funding mechanism so it aligns with innovation. Only then will Georgia see material improvements in its education system.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Why should 50 states measure success 50 different ways?

      So that like Garrison Keller’s mythical Lake Wobegon, every state can be above average.

  3. Freedom Mom says:

    reinvent_ed: Your point of view is 110% misguided. Why don’t you do research for yourself really dig in and study the Common Core Standards and not rely on PBS for misguided information. The Common Core standards are lower than the previous Georgia State Standards. Another quote from Dr. James Milgram, of Stanford University, the ONLY mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off, stating, “It’s almost a joke to think students {who master the common standards} would be ready for math at a university.”
    Regarding flexibility and control at the local level once again, completely MISGUIDED. Two testing boards have already been given $360 million federal funds to write a NATIONAL curriculum to accompany standards. To your question, “How is a content provider going to be able to scale a product to align with over 50 different standards? Well the NATIONAL one-size-fits all plan is on the way. And to your testing concern…we already have a national test it’s called the S.A.T. it measures success one way and it works!

    The U.S. Constitution and the Georgia constitution maintain that education is a power reserved to the states and their citizens. If the Common Core Standards are kicked out of Georgia we can return to the Georgia Performance Standards that are far better than Common Core Standards. And control of OUR children will stay in the hands of parents, teachers and locally elected school board members.

    This state needs a movement to take place where we begin to educate ourselves on our history, freedom and the Constitution! And elect only servant leaders who look to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution!

  4. Freedom Mom says:

    Ok- well the S.A.T. used to work until the federal government got involved. Point is you could measure success across state lines without national standards or a national curriculum (which is on the way).

    reinvent_ed’s argument just boils down to the fact that this huge education power grab is ONLY about CONTROL of education. Like everything else this administration and big government progressive republicans go after!

  5. reinvent_ed says:

    I’ve done research for several years, Freedom Mom, and believe me, from plenty of reputable sources. I just quoted something from the PBS show – clearly you didn’t read my comment and chose to misinform this blog. I know what I’m talking about. The standards are not perfect, but they’re an improvement. There’s still work to be done in other subject areas. If you embrace the status quo and 100% local control, I can assure you that you will continue to waste your tax dollars, PERIOD.

    And let me tell you – the GA Constitution is not something you should be proud of. AND I QUOTE; ” The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. ” That’s right, Freedom Mom – ADEQUATE. All we care about is mediocrity, and we’re violating even that minimal quality standard.

  6. reinvent_ed says:

    And it’s not an education power grab. That is a completely separate argument. You can have national standards and then put in place controls to ensure there is not a concentration of power, as the textbook publishers currently have.

    Keep promoting individual freedoms and local control. That is the recipe for failure. Sounds like you’d like to have Georgia secede from the Union. Have at it.

  7. reinvent_ed says:

    One more thing. Locally elected board members – SERIOUSLY? Look at what your locally elected board members did in Clayton County, Atlanta Public Schools, and Dekalb County for starters? I’d rather have the mayor appoint the superintendent and the school board. That way, if it fails, you vote out the mayor. The accountability stops right there. How do you fix the system now, Freedom Mom? Lets amend the constitution so we have the best chance at success, but instead you’d rather have your local control, and continue to elect unqualified leaders who are focusing on adults and not the children.

    Keep the status quo, Freedom Mom. It seems to be working out just fine for you.

  8. Freedom Mom says:

    Thank you for making my point for me! The three most corrupt school districts named are made up of board members who are more aligned with obvious liberal ideals on education. So no thank you! I will take the status quo because as mentioned it, “may not be perfect. But it works.” I’m not in favor of turning my freedom and my vote over to one person or one government.

    Governments can be some of the most oppressive organizations in the world yet, every liberal in this country wants to give this government complete control over every aspect of our lives. For some reason liberals think the government has their best interest at heart, well think again. What these liberal school board members did in Clayton, Atlanta and Dekalb they will do on a NATIONAL scale and the fall out will be disastrous.

    We will never agree on these points. But that is the beauty of FREEDOM!! We can have a debate and talk about our differences. Isn’t it great!

    • reinvent_ed says:

      I’m glad I made your point that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. The status quo is about haves and have nots. I seriously wonder whether you have children in the Georgia public school system.

      I can see that you are supportive of keeping minority graduation rates below 60%, and close to 40% in Metro Atlanta. So sad that you turn education into a political debate, when it is about educating our children. Your hypocrisy speaks volumes. You fail to understand that voting one member of your local school board gives you ZERO influence. One school board vote does not equal change. But see, if you understood the problem, you’d realize that having the buck stop with your local mayor means you not only get competent board members, but know who to vote out of office when things go awry. Then the new mayor can appoint a new board and new school leader.

      But all I see is someone hiding behind an ideology that will fail our children, all for your so-called freedom. I vote for a quality education, and your misguided sense of values will continue to polarize our union, not unify it.

      Like I said – keep your status quo. It’s failing our children more and more every day. 1 in 4 children in Georgia live in poverty. But hey – keep your local control – the state ain’t gonna help you.

  9. Hutchinson says:

    So glad there are Senators in this state willing to stand up and fight to withdraw Georgia from the Common Core. Hope the people of this state get behind your Bill. Thank you for taking a stand for the children of this state!

  10. Harry says:

    I’m leaning against common core but could possibly be persuaded. I don’t know enough at this point to reach an informed opinion. Could one of you pro-common core advocates please give me some feedback to my concern, previously posted: Do common core standards have the flexibility to test students for purposes of placement on the most appropriate academic or vocational track for each individual student? Seems to me correct placement is the only real benefit of testing, but that may not be politically correct in the opinion of the educational establishment. Also, a follow-up: Does common core offer more detailed testing functionality than what we already have at the state level together with SAT placement, or is it merely shifting a (greater) cost to another level?

  11. Dr. Monica Henson says:

    “[T]here is no evidence that replacing classic literature with nonfiction such as EPA regulations will produce better readers.”

    Ridiculous allegation. Common Core doesn’t “replace classic literature” with anything. Literature will continue to be taught in English classes under Common Core. Informational reading will be taught across the other content areas, particularly in social studies and science courses. What Common Core does is extend teaching through assigned reading throughout the content areas, rather than concentrating it all in English courses. In fact, development of literacy skills is integrated throughout every content area under Common Core.

    Assertions about Common Core such as this one made by Sen. Ligon, above, are simply untrue. A close examination will reveal that he hasn’t actually read the standards and is commenting on them anyway. Or worse, that he read them and didn’t comprehend what he was reading. Maybe he graduated from a Georgia public high school.

    For all those alleging some massive federal takeover of education in this country, federal dollars account for less than 10% of all spending on public education K-12. States are not required to take Title I dollars, but those that do obligate themselves to administer high-stakes testing as a result (so much for “unfunded mandate”). The only federal education requirements that states are legally mandated to follow are those laid out in special education, homeless education, migrant children education, English language learner education, Title IX, and civil rights laws as they apply to public education. And it’s not the U.S. Department of Education that issued the mandate: it’s the Supreme Court of the U.S. and the U.S. Congress. So much for no input by the legislative (or judicial) branch into education policy.

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