Unreason and Anti-Science Alive and Well in the Georgia Legislature and is not Unique to Georgia


Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.07.41 PM Figure 1. High School mathematics teacher. Creative Commons Attribution.[/caption]

The Georgia legislature has already passed a bill in the Senate (SB 167) that will essentially opt the state out of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts and other projects, ideas, technologies that have any glimmer of association with the federal government.  The bill is now being considered in the Georgia House.  Yesterday, the house committee listened to 68 speakers, most of whom opposed the bill, but those who support the bill will probably prevail in the end.  It’s an election year, and since the Governor agrees with the basic principles of the bill, other Republicans will line up behind Gov. Deal.

But the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, vigorously opposes the bill, and for reasons that are important to the teachers in the state and their students.  Although I have not been a big supporter of the Common Core, I oppose SB 167, which in my opinion would put the state back years educationally, and the bill sends a ominious message that unreason and unscientific thinking rule the future of education in Georgia.

If the Governor signs this bill, it will set in motion at least three years of committee work while the now adopted standards in mathematics and English language arts are put in limbo because the charge of the committee is to check (including making significant changes) these standards.  In the meantime, it appears as if mathematics and English language arts is on hold until 2016-2017 for math, and 2017-2018 for English language arts (dates that the “revised” standards will be implemented).

Perpetual Committee Work 

The bill sets up an everlasting series of committees and public hearings that in the end leave you gasping for breath.  The committee work (an advisory council of 17 members), whose prime work appears to be to set up subcommittees to check the content areas of the standards.  These committees will meet for a non-specified time, but they must post all changes to the content standards 90 days before any action.

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Figure 2. SB 167 will create a complicated network of committees, authorities, and power brokers rather than employing the professional expertise of the state’s education profession.

But it’s not that simple.  Once these committees have made their changes and posted them on the Department of Education Website, the content standards are sent to:

  1. the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, chairperson of the senate
  2. each of the 181 local school systems who will inform parents of the changes
  3. the president of each public university who will send an electronic copy to appropriate deans and department heads, but none of these deans can be from colleges or department of education, eg. the English standards must go to the English department, the mathematics standards to the math department, and so forth.  It’s a no-no to involve mathematics education or English education professors.
  4. the state board of education, followed by at least one public hearing in all congressional districts
  5. the Senate Education and Youth Committee and House Committee on education will also hold public meetings to gather comments on the standards’ changes.
  6. then, the 17 member advisory council and its subcommittees will check comments made by these groups, and include them its final report–new standards?  I don’t know. But I do know that the Advisory Council and its subcommittees have the discretion to make changes on any content standard, and any state-wide assessment.  Keep in mind, that NO state-wide assessment can be tainted by the federalists in Washington.
  7. then, this modified set of standards will be sent out by courier to the 181 school districts and the presidents of each public university to carry out public meetings once again.
  8. and then the Advisory Council will send the revised content standards to the Georgia Board of Education, who will be authorized to make any further changes and then approve the standards for all the boys and girls in the state of Georgia.  I have no idea how the Board thinks it can make changes to content standards at this stage

So, that is the process that will take place before any standards are approved.

Local Control or State Imposed Prohibitions

Is this bill about local control or is it about state control and prohibitions?  Truth is that in Georgia, the local districts are the only entities that are responsible for the education of its citizens.  But this bill appears to disengage the state from the rest of the world by using language that limits educators from doing their jobs.  For instance, line 225 of SB 167 it is stated that:

the state shall not adopt any federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or by a third party, including, but not limited to the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Currciulum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.

The bill also prohibits us from collaborating with outsiders, and make it difficult for researchers to seek federal support for programs that might enhance education, K-12.  This is my interpretation, but when you study the language of the bill, it is full of prohibitions.  What kind of an academical and social environment does that encourage?

The debate in the Georgia legislature is an unabashed mixture of anti-scientfic thought, junk thought and unreason.  However, this kind of thinking is not limited to Georgia.  Jean Haverhill, and educational researchers in Massachusetts reported that social studies teachers on a state-wide committee prepared curriculum alignment with standards, but their program was shelved for lack of funds.  But then the state turned around and a deal was made to bring in Pearson/PARCC.  Somehow, the funds that were needed to pay for this appeared in the budget.  In other states, the opt out movement is politically charged, as it is in Georgia.

Where is the evidence?

Yet the debate on the Common Core generally lacks any scholarship and related research to enable educators to make informed decisions.  There is no research to support the contention that higher standards mean higher student achievement.  In fact there are very few facts to show that standards make a difference in student achievement.  It could be that standards, per se, act as barriers to learning, not bridges to the world of science.  Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University indicates that the science standards in Georgia actually present barriers to teaching and learning. Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science  classroom teaching.  She argues that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry.

There is also evidence that the quality of the content standards does not have much effect on student performance.  For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.

The argument that is going on in the Georgia legislature ignores the most important and significant factors that affect the life of students in and out of school, then standards of any quality won’t make a difference.

What do think about what the legislators in Georgia are doing to education in the state?




About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University