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Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 11:57am

Where's The Common Ground in Common Core?

The much-debated Common Core school curriculum took center stage at a panel discussion Tuesday in downtown Atlanta. Most panelists said the standards were working fine before a political controversy hijacked the debate.

More than forty states use the Common Core school curriculum. Governors, including former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, a Republican, spear-headed the move toward common educational standards.

But earlier this year some Republicans began backing away from the Common Core. They say states shouldn’t have to use national academic standards because there should be more local control.

Patricia Mauldin Ross is an official at Robins Air Force. She says those common standards are a boon for military families who move frequently. And Georgia has 200,000 children in military-affiliated families, the fifth-highest of any state.

She says her daughter is in 8th grade and has already attended seven schools.

“Common Core is the ultimate equalizer where you go from grade to grade and you know what those standards are,” she told the audience. “I know at the 8th grade level what she’s required to learn so that if we move next year she’ll be ready wherever that is.”

Others, however, say not all schools have as much flexibility as they’d like.

“Some teachers do feel like they’re being told how to teach,” said Jemellah Coes, the 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year.

But Coes says that’s because of implementation guidelines developed by the state. The Bulloch County teacher says those guidelines are optional but include detailed lesson plans about how to teach specific subjects.

Coes said she uses the guidelines as suggestions and feels free to adapt them as she sees fit. But she said some school districts have teachers on a shorter leash in connection with how closely they hew to the guidelines.

The event, organized by Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, attracted teachers and school board members from around the state. And it included national perspectives as well.

Michael Petrilli is with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an Ohio-based education think tank. Petrilli, a conservative, said other conservatives need to start voicing support for the Common Core.

“It doesn’t make sense three years into this to suddenly do a big u-turn, to waste all this effort, the work teachers have done in the classroom to change their practices, to buy new textbooks, to do professional development and say, ‘Forget it. Just kidding,’ because we’re now having a political debate,” he told the audience.

Petrilli said in particular, the business community has backed the common standards, and corporate executives need to be more public with their support.

Some elected Republicans attended the event. In an interview after the forum, State Senator Fran Millar says not enough people are stepping up to say Common Core isn’t an educational version of Obamacare.

Millar, an Atlanta Republican who sits on the state Senate education committee, said he doesn’t think Georgia will abandon the Common Core.