Common Core debate: Ignore the 'myths,' focus on the value

Opinion, Savannah Morning News, March 9, 2014 -

As a resident, native Georgian and president of the National PTA, which represents more than 74 million children in the United States as well as American children abroad attending schools within the Department of Defense education system, I firmly believe that it is critical that Georgia gets the Common Core decision right if we plan on being a state of excellence in the educational arena as the nation moves forward. Several years ago, the National Governors Association gathered to look at the lackluster performance of American schools compared to other nations. The governors, including the leadership of Georgia, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, determined that individual states must adopt higher standards in order to give children across the country and in the state of Georgia a level playing field in today’s fierce world of competition. The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense schools and several territories, are internationally benchmarked to ensure that our children can compete with any child in the world. This improvement to the educational system will not happen overnight. It takes proper training for teachers to ensure effective classroom implementation and it will take time for adjustment. The standards raise the bar for Georgia’s children so we can expect that we will see some struggles during the process. One of my favorite quotes attributed to Dr. Benjamin Mays, former president of Morehouse College and superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, is: “The purpose of an education was first to build character, second to serve humanity, and thirdly to earn a living, in that order.” Throughout my travels to different parts of the world, I have continued to follow my home state’s progress in education. The opposition to the Common Core is not about education; it is based upon flawed assumptions around education. When I returned to Georgia after my retirement from the United States Army in 2010 and served as Georgia PTA’s Federal Legislative Chair, I saw the bright promise that Common Core was bringing to my home state. Georgia, along with all the other states, voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards. States can even go above the content of the standards by 15 percent to cover content that they feel is important but not currently a part of the standards. Importantly, states and school districts still have autonomy to teach the standards in the classroom how they see fit. The business community is widely supportive of the standards, as they firmly believe our children need to be prepared to enter either college or careers. Despite the widespread support, Common Core has become an easy target for a bickering Congress and divided state and local leaders. The American people are tired of the political games that are hurting our children. We want our government leaders to come together to ensure that our children receive a better education than we did. Empowering parents to be involved in their child’s education is the cornerstone of what we do at PTA. The PTA works to reach every parent, providing them with tools and resources to be involved in their child’s education at every level. Family engagement is crucial for successful implementation of the Common Core. Unfortunately, like so many other issues, the Common Core State Standards are surrounded by myths. But what can’t be lost in the debate is the incredible value that the standards provide to parents wanting to be fully engaged in their children’s education. Not implementing the Common Core could represent a huge loss to our education system. All schools will be better served if standards are aligned. We have seen what states can do when they work together. They share resources and best practices, enabling everyone to come out ahead. When schools are working, our children succeed. That is every parent’s ultimate goal and one that we can realize with the Common Core. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Otha Thornton is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association. He works as a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics at Fort Stewart and is a member of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.