What a difference a year – and an election – make. Finding himself in a tougher-than-expected primary race, House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) is having to fend off sharp questions about his longstanding and very public championing of the Common Core national standards in Georgia schools. His defense? Depending on the day he’s asked, he claims either than he has never supported Common Core, or even (as reported by one constituent who recently asked him about the issue) that Georgia isn’t participating in Common Core at all. Rep. Coleman’s paper trail and well-known position on Common Core make his current claims, to put it mildly, a bit hard to believe.
As chairman of the House Education Committee and a longtime member of the Georgia education establishment, Rep. Coleman has been a reliable voice for increased centralization of education as far back as 2004. In a USA Today article from February of that year, Rep. Coleman was quoted as endorsing the concept of national school standards, as opposed to state or local standards: “Our curriculum should encompass national standards because our children are going to compete nationally, and we should encourage that.”
The national standards that were ultimately installed in Georgia schools, of course, are the Common Core standards. Only a year ago, Rep. Coleman expressed his enthusiasm for Common Core in a lengthy blog posting on the Peachtree Corners Patch. His posting trumpeted all the unsupported talking points about why Georgia should relinquish state and local control over education by adopting the national standards: Common Core is “rigorous,” it will improve “college- and career-readiness,” it was “state-led” and “voluntary,” it is not connected to data-collection, it is just “standards, not curriculum,” etc.
In his posting, Rep. Coleman repeated another pro-Common Core claim that is demonstrably untrue: that states didn’t have to adopt Common Core to be competitive for federal Race to the Top money. In fact, a state that declined to adopt standards that were “substantially identical across all States in a consortium” (i.e., Common Core) had no hope of compiling enough points in the competition to receive the federal grant.
Rep. Coleman wasn’t content to defend Common Core in print. During the legislators’ tedious “listening tour” last year, he loudly and often sarcastically defended the standards to citizens who dared to express misgivings about them. One target of his ire commented on his unprofessional behavior while challenging her criticisms. Attendees from other “listening sessions” reported similar experiences. At the conclusion of the tour, Rep. Coleman urged retention of Common Core because superintendents and teachers thought Georgia had gone too far down the national-standards road to return to state standards. This is the man who now claims he has never been in favor of Common Core.
During the recently ended legislative session, news reporters cited Rep. Coleman’s opposition to Common Core withdrawal as an obstacle to Sen. William Ligon’s legislation to begin transitioning away from the national standards and toward genuine Georgia standards. “The stance of [Sen. Fran] Millar and Coleman” one reporter wrote, “could reduce the chances of legislation passing to end use of the [Common Core] standards.” But of course, Rep. Coleman has never been in favor of Common Core.
From the comfort of his safe legislative seat, Rep. Coleman could please the education establishment (administrators, not teachers) and the Chamber of Commerce by protecting Common Core from all assaults. But now that he has a serious challenger, he’s forced to wade into the grassroots of his district – most of whom despise Common Core. His battle plan obviously is to simply deny the truth, and the more brazenly, the better. We’ll know on primary day whether his extreme makeover has been successful.
Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow, American Principles in Action*
Tanya Ditty, State Director,
Concerned Women for America of Georgia*
*Title used for identification purposes only