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Officials discuss Common Core standards at town hall

A panel of state and local officials participated in a town hall meeting Thursday night about the basics of the Common Core standards. Shown, from left, are Georgia Association of Educators’ Government Relations, Research and Coalitions Director Tracey-Ann Nelson, Henry County Schools Learning and Leadership Services Director Dr. Donald Warren, State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, State Department of Education K-12 Mathematics Programs Coordinator Sandi Woodall and State Rep. Demetrius Douglas. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

A panel of state and local officials participated in a town hall meeting Thursday night about the basics of the Common Core standards. Shown, from left, are Georgia Association of Educators’ Government Relations, Research and Coalitions Director Tracey-Ann Nelson, Henry County Schools Learning and Leadership Services Director Dr. Donald Warren, State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, State Department of Education K-12 Mathematics Programs Coordinator Sandi Woodall and State Rep. Demetrius Douglas. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

STOCKBRIDGE — State and local officials gave an hour-long discussion about the state of K-12 public education in Georgia this week as part of a town hall meeting on Georgia’s involvement in implementing Common Core standards.

State Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) hosted and moderated the meeting which featured five panelists, including State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge.

Other panelists included Tracey-Ann Nelson, the director of government relations, research and coalitions for Georgia Association of Educators. Dr. Donald Warren is the director of learning and leadership services for Henry County Schools. Sandi Woodall is the K-12 mathematics programs coordinator for the Georgia Department of Education, and Taifa Smith Butler is deputy director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

The panelists answered questions and discussed the challenges in public education funding, testing, rigor and achievement. The members all agreed with the state’s embrace of Common Core standards.

“We did a survey earlier this year,” said Nelson. “Our members strongly support the goals of the Common Core standards.”

Nelson acknowledged, however, educators’ enthusiasm has tended to be moderated by uncertainty of public support and training for educators.

Warren pushed against the campaign to detach Georgia from the consortium of states using Common Core standards in math and English/language arts.

“I think it would be damaging and demoralizing to go away from Common Core,” he said. “They (teachers) want consistency, they want to know what they’re doing and they need time to practice what they’re doing.”

Barge added that Common Core ensures consistency state-by-state in what skills and knowledge students should attain and when they should master those skills.

“It’s become complicated because of the over-politicization of the issue,” Barge said. “It’s a broad set of standards that states across the country came together and agreed on.”

Woodall said moving to the nearly nationwide standards were a natural transition for Georgia, whose own Georgia Performance Standards curriculum was used to help draft Common Core.

“In Georgia, we stepped into the Common Core initiative with our eyes wide-open,” said Woodall. “We didn’t change our core. We didn’t change our principles.

“A lot of folks said we’re asking too much of our kids,” she continued. “We’re actually asking kids to understand mathematics as well as know how to do it. One thing I’ve heard a number of times in the news is that students are told the answer is no longer important.”

Woodall said students are being challenged more to think critically to understand math concepts and their practical, real world applications. She said when teachers know how a student arrived at an answer, correct or incorrect, they know better how to help the student in solving future problems.

Classroom instruction practices wereamong about a dozen questions lodged during the town hall. Other questions pertained to moving away from hard-copy textbooks, teacher evaluations, community support in schools, teacher retention, standardized testing, teacher evaluations and state funding for schools.

Butler spoke with authority on state funding cuts to public education.

“We can’t close our eyes to the fact that the state has dis-invested from education for the last 10 years,” said Butler. “Just this year, QBE (the state’s nearly 30-year-old Quality Basic Education funding plan) is underfunded by a billion dollars.”

Butler recited statistics from Georgia Budget and Policy Institute studies. She said 60 percent of the state’s school districts have increased their class sizes in order to reduce staffing to help make up for budget gaps. She said 66 percent of districts have reduced the number of school days per year and 75 percent have cut or frozen teacher pay.

Butler said that, in order for schools to be successful with Common Core, they must be fully funded to offer quality basic education.

“We haven’t fully put our money where our mouth is,” said Butler.

A video of Thursday’s town hall meeting is available under the “StockbridgeTV” link at www.cityofstockbridge.com.