ATLANTA — In the third part of an Associated Press interview, Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue – who will meet in a runoff July 22 to decide the Republican Senate nominee – discuss the Common Core academic standards. The standards were largely developed by states but have prompted concerns over federal intrusion after the Obama administration encouraged their adoption through a federal grant program. Candidate remarks have been edited in some places for length.
AP: Do you believe in the basic premise of the Common Core academic standards, that the United States needs a national benchmark for K-12 education to ensure the country remains competitive in a global economy?
Kingston: No, and I would also say that we have always been a global economic leader and we have done that without Washington’s intervention in local school decisions and curriculum. It’s interesting to see as late as this week Oklahoma has now pulled out of it, Louisiana the week before, Indiana a couple of months ago. What we are seeing is that the states, the closer they get to looking at what a national standard would be, they don’t want it.
Perdue: My mom and dad were teachers, and I grew up listening to how the best decisions are made between the parent, the teacher, the principal, the local administration and the local school board, and I still believe that. What we recognize right now is that the results of the attempts to federalize education over the last 50 years have failed. … There are countries like Peru and Columbia that actually perform better in math and science than our 14-year-olds. So by any measure of results, this federalization of education has failed. And we spend billions of dollars at the federal level trying to manipulate and control local education and it’s not working. So that’s my first conclusion. Now, having said that, Common Core needs to be abandoned. And the reason is, is that it’s another attempt to federalize a solution to a problem that is best solved at the local level, period.
AP: Do you think having a national benchmark, that some would benefit in that we could be able to compare how are students are doing?
Kingston: You can do that without a national benchmark, and it’s already being done without a national benchmark. The Washington, D.C., Department of Education hasn’t given us higher SAT scores or better college placements. I’m not sure what measurements you want. But I think local school systems making their own decisions and having the max amount of flexibility will give us a better educational product. … I’m the son, by the way, of a college professor, the brother-in-law of a public school teacher, the brother of a former school teacher, the brother of a college professor and who grew up in Athens, Ga., when my dad worked for the University of Georgia. So education isn’t something I take lightly.
Perdue: Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s hard to argue with that. But look at how it got tripped up over the last few years with stipulations about how to comply with it. Here we go again: “We have the money, you want the money, so comply with this.” But that’s not working. That’s got us into the situation we’re in right now.
AP: The chief criticism has been federal involvement in the initiative. If the federal government were to stop encouraging states to adopt Common Core and halt any coordination, communication or regulation on the issue, would that satisfy your concerns?
Kingston: I think it would. Georgia knows how to compete with neighboring states and does not need Washington bureaucrats to tell us how to run our schools. All states compete against each other right now for employers, and when a new business is coming to town, one of the questions they ask is what kind of school systems do you have. For example, Douglasville just got the Keurig coffee company, 500 jobs. Keurig is not going to move a factory there unless they know that their employees will have access to good school systems. And if they can’t find it in the state of Georgia, they are going to go to South Carolina, Alabama, California, or wherever. I think there is a real competitive market mechanism that keeps this in check.
Perdue: Common Core is not going to solve the education problem in this country. No Child Left Behind didn’t. Race to the Top didn’t. Common Core will not. … Common Core, at its best, is now a distraction from a debate around what the real issues are, and that is how do we get our kids to read by fourth grade, how do we get them to stay in school, how do we get them to be proficient in math and science and to be meaningful players in the economy when they get out.