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Review of Common Core Demanded by Georgia Gov. Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has asked the state Board of Education to review the Common Core State Standards, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Aug. 22. He is particularly concerned about certain "text exemplars" included with the English/language arts portion of the standards, which serve as a suggested reading list to help teachers as they design their lessons.

In his letter, dated Aug. 15, Deal says he wants a "formal evaluation" of the standards and a comparison between the common core and Georgia's previous content standards, and that he wants the board to consider input from "all stakeholders." And he wants the board to reconsider the "text exemplars" that accompany the standards and for the state board to adopt its own model reading list.

Let's break down what that last part means, exactly. The text exemplars are meant to be used as "guideposts" for teachers that are "suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the standards," as an appendix to the ELA standards in the common core states. They're not required reading under the common core, but teachers uncertain about which texts to use might be expected to draw upon the "exemplars" as a resource in their classrooms. These are broken down by grade levels and include well-known books such as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain, as well as poems and informational texts.

So to be clear, these exemplars are not the actual ELA standards that are part of the common core. But, it's easy to imagine that reading lists for the common core, whether they're mandatory or suggested, could provoke anger or distaste on the basis of a few titles.

Now, Deal doesn't single out any specific exemplar that he wants examined or finds particularly troubling. But Georgia Rep. William Ligon, a Republican who introduced common-core-repeal legislation earlier this year (it didn't get political traction), expressed concern specifically in the Journal-Constitution about In the Time of Butterflies and its portrayal of Fidel Castro's ouster of Fulgencio Batista. The book is a "text exemplar" for grades 9-10.

This complaint isn't entirely new—in a May 7 story for Frontpage Mag, a conservative website, Mary Grabar describes the book's "explicit descriptions of masturbation and intercourse," in addition to its portrayal of Castro and his brothers, which she deems inappropriately hagiographic: "No indication in the novel that Fidel and Raul turned out to be tyrants, or Che a mass murderer." Other text exemplars in those grade levels are Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Homer's Odyssey, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Grabar, by the way, teaches in Atlanta and has a Ph.D from the University of Georgia.

Deal, along with state superintendent John Barge, have previously been supportive of the standards, which the state school board adopted them back in 2010. But there's been a relatively significant amount of agitation from conservative groups in the state against the standards, in addition to Ligon's legislative efforts. And in July, the state dropped out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two state consortia developing tests aligned to the common core, with officials citing the additional costs the tests would bring to the state.

State board member Scott Johnson told the Journal-Constitution that "we'll do what the governor has asked us to do."

As the Journal-Constitution points out, Barge could be a GOP primary opponent for Deal in 2014, so there's political tension that might divide two state officials who, strictly on policy, have been on the same side when it comes to common core. Note that Barge said he thought that prior to his letter, Deal agreed with Barge about the importance of the standards.

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