Woods, allies differ on issue

GOP leaders back Common Core; schools candidate doesn’t.

By Wayne Washington wwashington@ajc.com   Sunday July, 27 2014

   The campaign for Georgia school superintendent is like a licorice strand — elastic and twisty — where political party affiliation seems to count more than policy positions.

   Consider: Valarie Wilson, who won the Democratic nomination Tuesday night, backs the new set of national academic standards known as Common Core. So does the Republican chairman of the Education Committee in the Georgia House of Representatives, Brooks Coleman. So does Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. And so do his appointees on the state Board of Education, which has final say on recommendations from the superintendent.

   Meanwhile, the top Republican in the superintendent’s race, longtime Irwin County educator Richard L. Woods, opposes the standards.

   Despite that difference, Republicans are humming the same hymn. “I think we’ll work well together,” Brooks said of Woods. “We look forward to sitting down with whoever is elected.”

   “We’ll happily support the entire Republican ticket,” said Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson.

   If Deal is re-elected and Woods wins — he still must survive an expected recount this week after finishing only 700 votes ahead of Mike Buck in the runoff — Georgia would have a superintendent who disagrees with the governor and the state Board of Education on one of the most important education issues in the state.

   Board of Education meetings could be like fight night at Caesars Palace.

   Woods points out that his opposition to Common Core is in line with conservative skepticism about the standards. His candidacy was fueled to a large degree by passionate opposition to the standards, which some view as a federal intrusion into state control of public education.

   “My position is not out of the GOP mainstream — the stance of (Republican U.S. Senate nominee) David Perdue and the approval of a Georgia GOP resolution on the standards are in line with my viewpoint — nor is it different from the concerns I have heard from thousands of parents and teachers while on the campaign trail,” Woods said.

   In a nod to some of the opposition to Common Core, Deal has ordered the board to review the standards. Recommended changes could calm the clamor for scrapping them altogether, something business, higher education and military officials don’t want.

   Woods’ supporters, though, expect him to press the case against the standards.

   “As you do with any elected official, you want to hold them accountable to what they say on the campaign trail,” said Tanya Ditty, state director for Concerned Women for America of Georgia, a conservative policy group. “You hope they will surround themselves with an accountability team, people who would remind them of the message they gave when they ran.”

   Education groups have backed Wilson, who echoes their call for staying in Common Core.

   “To withdraw from adoption from the standards could cause more angst among educators and students after having worked to implement them over the past four years,” said Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, whose political action committee has endorsed Wilson. “It is GAE’s belief that continuity and stability are important to the success of a student’s education.”

   Woods has also said he’s wary of federal funding like the $400 million Race to the Top education improvement grant Georgia was awarded. Such grants too often come with strings that end up tying states in knots, Woods argues.

   Woods also opposes the new teacher and principal evaluation system, has raised concerns about math instruction under Common Core and isn’t wild about the new standardized testing system being developed, either.

   The public education landscape in Georgia has shifted frequently in recent years, and many teachers are sick of the back and forth. The prospect of more changes — even if it’s back to previous standards and policies — could pose political problems for Woods, said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University.

   “Ordinarily, a Republican nominee in a Republican year would have an edge, but his policy positions are going to make a lot of teachers unhappy,” Swint said. “If teachers organize and throw their support behind Valarie Wilson, that could be a factor.”

   Wilson, former chairwoman of the City Schools of Decatur school board, made more state funding for school districts the cornerstone of her primary and runoff campaigns. Victories in both tell her “that people in this state really do care about public education,” she said. “They really want to see us move public education forward. They are invested in it. And that’s so refreshing.”

   Staff writer Daniel Wilco contributed to this article.

   Get the latest news on education issues for Georgia and metro Atlanta on Twitter: @GaSchoolsNews.  

(top left) or Mike Buck in November’s election.

Valarie Wilson will face

either Richard