Tennessee Legislators Expect Challenge to Common Core In 2014

A new and divisive education issue for legislators has been created by Common Core standards — a controversy that has grown dramatically at state and national levels in recent months, and Tennessee may be the latest to take action against CC.

National conservative activist groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks and state organizations including Tennessee Against Common Core are on one side. In a bid to reverse an approval granted almost four years ago, they would like to eliminate the standards.

"Common Core is the nationalizing and even globalizing of education. It is nothing more than the old outcome-based, school-to-work education nonsense that was defeated 20 years ago but with a new face and makeup to make it look good," says Tennessee Against Common Core on its website.

Gov. Bill Haslam, business organizations, many established state education institutional groups and national education reform groups including the State Collaborative on Reforming Education are on the other side. Their wish is to leave things as they stand now, working out any problems with Common Core as it matures through the implementation process.

"Tennessee's Common Core State Standards are a set of higher expectations in math and English that were developed by state leaders to ensure that every student graduates high school prepared for the future," says SCORE on its Tennessee website. "Teaching and learning focus on critical thinking, strong writing skills and problem solving — the real-world skills that students need upon graduation."

Something in between the two extremes may come up in legislative discussion. As of now, the only filed legislation related to the controversy would put new restrictions on collection and use of student data by schools or testing organizations. The two bills, SB1469 and SB1470, were filed by Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, who presided over two days of hearings on Common Core last fall. According to Chattanooga Times Free Press, one bans the use or distribution of academic data except for listed purposes while mandating that an individual student's information be available to his or her parents and prohibits collection of information on religion or political affiliation, setting up a new position of "chief privacy officer" to oversee the process while the other bans collection of "measurable biological or behavioral characteristics", including fingerprints, DNA sequence, retina patterns, without parents' written consent.

Bills being filed to dismantle Common Core in Tennessee, though they will be opposed, are anticipated for 2014 by legislative leaders. Legislation to block or at least delay implementation of new student testing tied to Common Core and known as Partnership for Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, is also expected.

On that matter, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Democrats may go along with conservative Republican colleagues, believing it is time to "just slow down" after multiple changes in the state education system over recent years.

Following up on legislation approved on a bipartisan and almost unanimous basis at the urging of then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts in 2010. The move was part of an effort to win federal funding under the federal "Race to the Top" incentive program, an effort that succeeded, earning Tennessee $500 million in federal money for education.

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