Here’s a multiple-choice test for parents. The state’s new Common Core education initiative is: a) a reasonable way to make sure Georgia students measure up against others across the country; or b) a national takeover of what’s taught in Georgia’s schools that erodes local control.

Which way to answer that question touched off extensive debate among Republicans and education experts during a panel discussion sponsored by the Fulton County Republication Party on Sept. 26.

About 75 people, many of whom loudly applauded opponents of the Common Core initiative, attended the gathering at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Sandy Springs to hear the debate over the Common Core standards, which state educational officials have adopted, but now are taking another look at.

Georgia joined 44 other states in adopted the Common Core curriculum, a set of core standards for kindergarten through high school English language arts, mathematics, and grades 6-12 literacy in science, history/social studies, and technical subjects, according to the state Department of Education.

The standards are intended to “provide a consistent framework to prepare students for college and/or the 21st century workplace,” the department said on its website.

During the town hall, State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) defended the Common Core, saying education officials and teachers around the state endorse it.  “It’s about standards,” he said, arguing the Common Core offered a way to make sure Georgia students were keeping up with students in other states.

“We have kids going to college in this state, where between 35 and 50 percent of them require mediation,” Millar said. “We’ve got a problem.”

But Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) argued the Common Core curriculum had been drawn up by outside groups and large corporations and that Georgians would lose control of what was taught in the state’s schools.

“The issues of Common Core are as much about governance as about education …,” Ligon said. “In essence, we changed our standards to ones funded by large corporations that have an interest in this. … We traded our ability to come in and change a standard to working through a consortium. That’s a loss of control.”

Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and Ligon’s partner in opposition to Common Core, said the what is taught in local classrooms has traditionally been determined by local school districts. She called the development of the Common Core “elitism run amok.”

“It assumes Georgia parents and Georgia teachers of incapable of education our students without help from really smart people … in Washington, D.C.,” she said, arguing that a single national standard can eliminate local innovations.

“It removes control from parents. The people who care the most about children and care about their education are the people who love them, their parents,” Robbins said.

But Martha Reichrath, state education department deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said Common Core was tougher than previous state standards. “It is more rigorous,” she said. “It’s more rigorous in many areas.”

Robbins called Common Core nothing more than “a work-force development scheme.”

“Even if it was a state-led process, so what?” she said. Why should people in California … tell us what we are going to teach?”

But Reichrath argued the standards would improve teaching in Georgia classrooms.

“What we’re really working toward are college- and career-ready standards,” Reichrath said. “Folks, we’ve got to unify our efforts for the sake of the teachers and the children.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.