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Op-Ed by State Board of Education Chair Wanda Barrs: Common Core State Standards are Good for Georgia

 By Wanda Barrs   State Board of Education Chair   The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), co-chaired by Governor Perdue, recently issued a common set of English language arts and mathematics standards that states can adopt. Through these Common Core State Standards (CCSS), students, teachers, parents, colleges and employers throughout Georgia, and indeed much of the United States, will have a first-class guide to what our children must know and be able to do to succeed in college, the 21st century workplace and as contributing citizens in our democracy.   When a new and far-reaching initiative is proposed, citizens rightfully pose questions. Will implementing the Common Core State Standards in Georgia reverse or shut down the implementation of our Georgia Performance Standards (GPS)? Is this is a federal mandate to “take over” education?   The answer to these questions is a resounding NO.   The CCSS is a state-led initiative - not a federal mandate. Georgia teachers and other experts in standards setting have been at the table since the process began. When the expert development groups that the CCSSO and NGA pulled together began writing the standards in mathematics and English language arts, they built off of the work of states that had already developed rigorous college- and career-ready standards. Georgia was one of these select states, and when reading the CCSS, one can see elements of the GPS throughout. Therefore, while adopting the CCSS in Georgia will be a step forward – and give our teachers more refined tools to better prepare our young people for work and college – it will not be a drastic change for either our teachers or our students. Some of the standards are introduced at different grade levels, but teachers have, essentially, been implementing the CCSS while they’ve been teaching the GPS.   Without question, there has been much conversation about the integrated approach of our mathematics GPS. While all of us want our students to succeed, unfortunately, for too long, Georgia has lagged behind the nation and other countries in mathematics achievement. An integrated approach to math is one way that states can help students master the skills and knowledge outlined within the CCSS. We look forward to continuing a conversation with parents, teachers and the community on how to help our students excel. Once our mathematics curriculum is fully implemented, I have every confidence that our students will be the winners. Our mathematics GPS, supported by the CCSS, will help Georgia’s students rise above the rest.   In the simplest terms, standards set the goal for what students should know and be able to do by the time they complete a grade level and then ultimately graduate high school. Curriculum, on the other hand, guides how a teacher teaches the standards. Since 2004, we have been overhauling our state’s curriculum. The new curriculum is the product of a lot of hard work by classroom teachers, parents, businesses and curriculum experts. And our award-winning curriculum is nearing full implementation with great results.   We will NOT be abandoning our curriculum. So, if our curriculum is already good, why join this initiative?   First, while our GPS give our teachers an excellent tool to prepare our young people, we are always looking for opportunities to improve. The CCSS integrate much of the GPS, but benefit from the best and latest research allowing them to advance the groundwork we have laid.   Second, the CCSS will allow for a meaningful comparison of our students’ achievement with students in other states. Currently, states operate with different standards, making it impossible to accurately compare data nationally or internationally. Our students will be competing for jobs with students from all over the world. We must be able to compare ourselves to the rest of the U.S. and other countries to ensure that we are providing students with the tools they need to be globally competitive.   Third, the initiative will allow for better purchasing power. Since 48 participating states will have a consistent educational framework, textbook and instructional resource companies will be able to develop and target resources to one set of standards. This will help to reduce prices and ensure that funds are spent wisely. In these difficult economic times and beyond, it is essential that we maximize resources and invest wisely.   I am proud of the work done by teachers, parents, administrators and others to improve education in Georgia over the last few years, and we are excited to share and leverage our efforts with other states. By collaborating on the CCSS, working together we can take the next step to move Georgia’s schools from great to world-class.    Wanda Barrs - a parent, trained educator, small business associate and community volunteer - is Chair of the State Board of Education.    Link to photo: