Higher education officials in nation, Tennessee back Common Core

Higher education officials in nation, Tennessee back Common Core

June 11th, 2014 by Kevin Hardy and David Cobb in Local Regional News

Jim Catanzaro

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

John G. Morgan, Chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents

John G. Morgan, Chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The battle over the Common Core State Standards has waged for months as the nation debates what education is best for its elementary, middle and high school students.

Now the debate is making its way to colleges and universities.

"Higher education has a clear and compelling stake in this debate," said John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The Board of Regents oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technical college campuses. Morgan and other higher education leaders went on the offense Tuesday as Common Core faces continued criticism. On a conference call with reporters, they announced the formation of the Collaborative for Student Success, a group designed to seal the leaks in the K-12 education pipeline.

Nationally, half of students entering two-year colleges need remedial courses. Not even one in 10 of those go on to graduate from the community colleges in three years or less.

"We have too many universities essentially teaching twice," said Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York. "We're too busy catching up."

And with the implementation of Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise looming here, Morgan said, the need will be especially pressing. Under Haslam's plan, any graduating high school senior in the state who meets minimal GPA requirements will be offered two free years of community college. That program starts with high school seniors graduating in 2015.

Common Core represents the biggest and most widespread change in America's public schools since the monumental No Child Left Behind law was ushered in more than a decade ago. Tennessee adopted the standards in 2010 and has been implementing them over the past three years. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily committed to Common Core, though some states have shown signs of wavering in recent months. Governors in both Oklahoma and South Carolina have signed anti-Common Core laws, joining Indiana in officially dumping the standards.

"I'm kind of sorry that it's become a political issue," said Chattanooga State Community College President Jim Catanzaro. "Whether its called Common Core and it's a national movement or it's at the state level, we definitely have to raise the bar. We've got to expect more of our young people."

Railing against Common Core has become a favorite cause of tea party conservatives. There are claims of mass collection of student data and outcry over what some call a federal power grab, though supporters note the federal government was hands-off in the creation of Common Core. In this year's Tennessee General Assembly session, legislators sought to delay or toss out Common Core, though those efforts were defeated.

"I don't know how we get out of this logjam that we're in, but we definitely have to improve the standards" Catanzaro said. "We don't want to go back to what we had 10 years ago.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.