The Governor of Georgia from 2002 until 2010, Sonny Perdue also headed the Republican Governors Association and led that organization’s push for the adoption of shared educational benchmarks among states, in order to improve student performance and make state-by-state educational comparisons “fair.” The benchmarks, officially called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, have become controversial, and I wanted to find out from why our former Governor chose to push the initiative.
Georgia has been on the lowest rungs of the educational achievement rankings for years. Apologists for Georgia’s educational system pointed to various subsets, claiming that the overall view didn’t tell the whole story. Georgia’s SAT scores were too low because Georgia tested nearly all its high school students, unlike Illinois, who tested only college-bound students. Ranking Georgia’s third-grade reading scores failed to take into account the factors of poverty or limited English proficiency that Utah didn’t have. The reasons proliferated until they sounded like excuses. Perdue meant to ensure that Common Core would simplify all the factors and measure educational progress between states on a genuine, apples-to-apples basis.
MH: Governor Perdue, how come?
SP: “In the Olympics, America doesn’t run a 98-yard dash while Jamaica runs a 102-yard dash. All we wanted to do was to make sure that we were using the same measuring stick when it came to education. Because if we can’t decide on what we want our students to know at each grade level, then how can we tell our teachers that we’re holding them accountable? If we don’t agree on using the same measuring stick to compare our progress, then how can we hold any state or anyone in a state accountable? We wanted to make sure we were measuring the same things the same way at the same time. In SEC football, a field goal counts for three points whether you kick it in Tennessee or whether you kick it in Georgia.”
MH: So it’s not just a trick to make Georgia look better?
SP: “I never bought into the idea that Georgia students couldn’t learn, and I’ve found that students and young people are capable of learning pretty much anything we throw at them. We were trying to find a common measuring stick that would allow us to look at those states that truly achieve in education and try to determine goals that we could all agree on. That’s all. If one state wanted to run down the right side of the field to get to the end zone, and one state wanted to run down the left side of the field to get to the end zone, that was fine. We just wanted to agree where the end zone was and that the field was 100 yards long.”
MH: Is Common Core a federal takeover of education?
SP: “Quite the opposite. This was always a voluntary agreement among states who believed that it made more sense as a “vaccination” against federal involvement in education. More than a few of the governors involved, quite frankly, had been embarrassed by the No Child Left Behind Act. For the federal government to say ‘you’re not doing enough to help your students achieve’ was involvement that caught some governors in a bad way.”
MH: So where does the opposition come from?
SP: “From a partisan point of view, the endorsement of Common Core by the Federal Secretary of Education and President Obama have done more to damage Common Core than anything else. I never heard any opposition or suspicion of Common Core until there was support from the President and his administration.”
MH: What should Governor Nathan Deal do about all this?
SP: “I would urge the Governor and his education administrators to hold steady and do the right thing by continuing to push for high standards, high expectations and high achievement for Georgia students -even during an election year.”
MH: Why does this really matter?
SP: “If we as policymakers do not define expectations for our students, then how can we ask our teachers to teach if we can’t say what it is we want the students to know? When you distill it down, you can’t have any accountability if you don’t have clear expectations. That’s the essence. We can’t know how Georgia students are doing, or how well Georgia teachers are teaching, if we don’t clearly say a 3rd grader should know this by the end of the 3rd grade, a 5th grader should know this by the end of the 5th grade, and an 8th grader should know this by the end of the 8th grade. And we can’t know how Georgia is doing a good job or a bad job in education if we aren’t measuring the same things in Georgia as the other states are measuring.
MH: And what about the candidates who are running for various offices by being against Common Core?
SP: “Sometimes political campaigns are the worst thing that can happen to good public policy.”