ATLANTA (AP) — The candidates vying to lead Georgia's K-12 education agency split on a set of national academic standards being implemented in the state and tried to appeal to teachers during their first debate of the general election on Tuesday.
Democrat Valarie Wilson and Republican Richard Woods didn't directly address each other during the 90-minute talk in Atlanta, answering questions from a panel and some written by audience members.
Common Core, the tougher academic standards developed by the National Governors Association and adopted by Georgia lawmakers, have been delayed or halted in several states. Some Georgia Republican lawmakers pushed for the state to withdraw from using them, but agreed to a legislative review committee after backlash from business interests and educators.
Some Georgia schools began rolling out the standards several years ago, and the state has contracted a publisher to develop a new test students will take this school year in line with the requirements.
Wilson, a former chair of the Decatur School Board and former president of the Georgia School Boards Association, said she would continue implementing those. Georgia students have to complete in the state, region and internationally, she said.
"I would propose that we continue to move forward but that we work closely with districts across the state," Wilson said.
Woods said Georgia districts need more flexibility than the standards allow. In an interview after the debate, Woods stopped short of saying Georgia should withdraw from using Common Core.
But he said the department should review and control the standards. He also said the state is too dependent on testing and suggested the timeline should be changed so students take exams earlier in the school year to guide teachers in the classroom.
"We need to take stock and make sure we're getting what we really want our kids to learn," said Woods, a former Irwin County teacher and administrator.
Common Core hasn't been a strictly party-line issue in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal has expressed some support, and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was one of the governors leading the effort to create a set of national standards.
The Georgia standards remain under review by the state Board of Education and a legislative committee.