If an education summit convened Thursday by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is any indication of what’s top priority to many state lawmakers and education groups, the Common Core standards will be the central education battle during the upcoming legislative session in the state.
The summit, according to Grace Tatter writing at Chalkbeat, included Department of Education officials, state lawmakers, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, and members of education-related professional groups.
Though Haslam has shown support for the Common Core standards, joining with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) in March for an education roundtable sponsored by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he and the state’s chief education officials quietly quit the PARCC Common Core multi-state test consortium in June. That decision came after Haslam signed a bill that requires the state to use its current assessment, the TCAP, this school year and to issue a request for proposals for a new test to be administered next year. Thus far, five testing vendors have come forward with their proposals.
During Thursday’s forum in Nashville, concerns were raised twice that the federal government lured Tennessee into adopting the Common Core, says Chalkbeat. Lawmakers also questioned whether signing onto the controversial standards was required for federal funding. Tennessee was awarded $500 million through the Race to the Top (RttT) stimulus program.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, whose resignation was called for this summer by some Republican lawmakers who oppose the Common Core, said federal funding was never contingent on the controversial standards.
“There is a compulsion to adopt college- and career-ready standards,” he said. “Those do not have to be the Common Core State Standards.”
However, in 2009, when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the start of Race to the Top grant applications, he said about the requirements to receive the federal funds:
That’s why we are looking for Race to the Top states to adopt common, internationally-benchmarked K-12 standards that truly prepare students for college and careers. To speed this process, the Race to the Top program is going to set aside $350 million to competitively fund the development of rigorous, common state assessments.
While the Common Core standards are not specifically mentioned by Duncan in the list of criteria to receive funding, only one set of standards exists in the United States that are considered “common.” There is also only one set of standards that its proponents claim are “internationally-benchmarked,” even though there have been no independent studies conducted to validate that claim. This “one set” is the Common Core standards.
As the Tennessean reported, Huffman “seemed to take a slight jab at the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s biggest teachers’ group, for supporting the testing delay last year…”
“Some of the same associations that asked us to pull back on switching to a new test and to stay with TCAP now are saying we’ve got an alignment issue and an accountability issue,” Huffman said.
However, Rep. Judd Matheny (R) expressed a desire to abandon the Common Core standards entirely and begin design of new standards.
“There’s an inherent distrust in some of the ways in which Common Core standards were brought forth,” Matheny said, observing a hesitance to let the federal government “become more entrenched” in Tennessee classrooms. “We have got to come up with a set of standards that we can sell to Tennessee families, parents and teachers.”
Haslam said he intends to provide opportunities for public comment regarding Common Core between now and January.
“The consensus is higher standards matter,” Haslam said. “What there’s some disagreement about is our current standards: Are they the right ones? We very much intend to have a full vetting of those standards – what they are and what they aren’t…”
“Right now, you [also] have a lot of teachers who are on pins and needles because they don’t feel like the assessment matches our standards,” Haslam added. “I get it. That’s a problem.”
Outside the forum, about 75 anti-Common Core activists, who had arrived in a bus reportedly sponsored by Americans For Prosperity, protested the nationalized standards. Activists in Williamson County were successful in winning an entire slate of anti-Common Core seats on the school board in August.
Kevin Kookogey, president and founder of Linchpins of Liberty, an educational leadership development group, has been fighting Common Core in Tennessee since 2009.
Kookogey, who was the first target of the IRS to testify before the House Ways & Means Committee regarding how the federal agency unlawfully delayed and obstructed his application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, sent his statement to the members of the Tennessee Education Summit Panel to Breitbart News.
“If we are discouraged by the diminished performance of American students compared to those in other nations,” his statement reads, “why do we look for a solution from the institutions that presided over that decline and misappropriated hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of such a fatal conceit?”
Kookogey, a Heritage Foundation Associate, continued:
Do we really believe that today’s educrats have finally mastered that which has eluded every intellectual and government official since the beginning of time, and that we can now finally fashion the desired outcomes by imposing a labyrinth of new plans?
Why do we presume to know what skills will be required of the next generation when we cannot even predict the weather next week? Should we not be more concerned with teaching and understanding the permanent problems of the human condition so as to be prepared for any contingency?
“Is the endless induction of politically-correct information sufficient to sustain a culture, or does it matter whether the information is true?” Kookogey asked. “After all, what good is it to know countless little facts if we fail to grasp the meaning?”