Common-Core Repeal Effort Underway in Tennessee

by | November 18, 2014

By Andy Sher

Gov. Bill Haslam is raising questions about plans by two state Senate Republicans to repeal Tennessee's controversial Common Core education standards and create a new panel to make recommendations on their replacement.

The bill from Haslam's fellow Republicans, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham and Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, comes in the midst of the governor's own recently announced public review of Common Core standards for math and English.

The legislation poses yet another challenge to Haslam by his own party on the standards.

"It [Gresham/Bell bill] talks a little bit about setting up another review board for standards, which I'm curious how that works in terms of the State Board of Education," Haslam told reporters on Monday. "Do we have two boards that do that?"

The State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the government, currently sets policy for K-12 public education.

Gresham and Bell's proposed Tennessee Standards Commission would have its members named by the governor and Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Haslam also pointed out he has his own examination underway, noting, "We're here to do a full review of the standards. I don't know how to say that in any other way."

Common Core, an initiative by states, places a much higher emphasis on critical thinking, writing and problem solving than simply rote memorization of facts and formulas.

But after its adoption by President Barack Obama, the standards generated a conservative backlash in Tennessee and a number of other states.

Other critics have questions about whether it asks too much of children in lower grades. Several Republican-led states have opted out of Common Core.

Gresham, R-Somerville, and Bell, R-Riceville, announced earlier Monday they are filing a bill that would cancel Tennessee's current memorandum of understanding on Common Core with the National Governors Association and the national Council of Chief State School Officers.

The two lawmakers say their intent is to put the new standards in place for the 2016-17 school year.

"We need the highest standards and we need exemplary college- and work-ready skills," Bell said in a statement. "We do not need agenda-driven education from Washington or a private business contracted to test the knowledge of students in Tennessee."

Gresham said "we want to continue to be the fastest improving state in the nation, providing a model for education improvement. As such, we need to be a leader and take the next logical step which is to use the knowledge we have learned and tailor it to Tennessee students, exerting state responsibility over education."

Later on Monday, Haslam spoke to the annual meeting of the Tennessee School Board Association, comprised of local school board members from 136 districts.

"There's obviously been a lot of discussion around Common Core by people who think it's the answer to all the nation's ills and there are people who think it's the root of all the nation's ills," the governor said. "My view is that it is neither."

Haslam said, "I think one of the things we can all agree on" is "that high standards are incredibly important for our students. The question is what should they look like. We are going through a process to have a full vetting of those standards."

Speaking to reporters later, Haslam said, "I'm willing to be a part of any discussion that says a couple of things. No 1, we're not backing up on standards. And No. 2 we're going to take a realistic view -- if we're going to change our standards -- how are we going to replace them?"

Just last week Haslam set up a website for Tennesseans to weigh in, and the governor added, "the good news is people are engaging, 15,500 have commented on the standards."

Last month, the governor held an education "summit" in which he sought to hit a reset button on discussions of Common Core, a set of English and math standards aimed defining what students need to know and when.

Earlier this year, Haslam succeeded in tamping down legislative efforts to repeal the Common Core standards. But lawmakers dealt him a stinging defeat and forced a one-year delay in implementing new tests reflecting the standards, which are mostly in effect now.

(c)2014 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)