Legislators leaving Common Core alone -- for now

Legislators leaving Common Core alone -- for now

February 12th, 2015 by Andy Sher in Politics State

The Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.

The Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.

Photo by The Tennessean /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- Action on a bill setting up a second review process of Tennessee Common Core math and English standards was delayed Wednesday to allow lawmakers to explore whether it can be merged with ongoing efforts by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to resolve the controversy.

Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, chairman of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, agreed to postpone a planned subcommittee vote for one week at the request of Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg.

Spivey told the panel he had an "epiphany" Wednesday that "may well eliminate the need for a bill of this nature."

"Well, it's just something you got to get right," Spivey later told reporters. "I'd rather it take longer to cook and it be done when we digest it than just rush through the process."

Forgety, a former McMinn County schools superintendent, said Spivey had spoken with the administration "and there were possibilities of giving consideration to maybe doing some things that would not require legislation."

"And I'm about that," Forgety said. "If we can fix things and include all of the above, then as far as I'm concerned, if legislation is not needed, that's fine."

Forgety, who retired after a 40-year career in education, said he wants "world class" and "highly rigorous" standards that are "equal to or more extensive in our public schools than what we have now." The determination should be "left to teachers, experts and parents," he said, not lawmakers.

After agreeing to delay the bill he proposed, Forgety told the committee he is "trying to address an issue about Common Core standards that have become extremely toxic. ... It's hard to hear the conversation."

There is a "need to end Common Core in a constructive, not a destructive, manner," he added.

Common Core is a set of education standards initiated by the National Governors Association and other state associations. The purpose was to improve student learning and preparation for work; to provide a better basis to gauge educational progress; and to create better state-to-state comparisons.

But after President Barack Obama's administration embraced the standards, many conservatives began attacking them as a federal intrusion. That put governors, primarily Republicans like Haslam, on the defensive. Proponents say Common Core has become mistakenly confused with curriculum, sex education, liberal ideology and other issues.

After the GOP-dominated General Assembly last year revolted and forced a one-year delay in Common Core assessments, Haslam initiated a review of the standards in October. The administration put up a website for public input -- officials say it's received 80,000 comments so far. And Haslam intends to set up panels of Tennessee teachers and education experts to review suggestions with an open eye toward making Tennessee-specific changes.

Haslam's process envisions the revised standards going before the State Board of Education for consideration next year and implementation in the 2017-2018 school year.

Forgety's bill's thrust is much the same, with some differences. He said he also wants to include parents of public school students on the panels, especially if they have backgrounds in teaching or early childhood development.

He also would put the State Board of Education in charge of the entire process, not Haslam's Education Department. State Board members are appointed by Haslam.

David Smith, Haslam's spokesman, said the administration wants to better understand the impact of the House bill.

"The governor believes that an evaluation and review of our current standards needs to happen, and we have a process underway," Smith added. "One thing that is a priority to the governor through the process is that Tennessee professional educators are developing new Tennessee standards."

On Tuesday, 114 of 141 school superintendents unveiled a letter supporting Haslam's process and asking lawmakers not to tinker with it.

Leaders of all 13 state community colleges held their own news conference Wednesday in support of a continuing commitment to higher K-12 academic standards that prepare students for college study.

Citing the need for college and career preparedness, the group stressed the need for high school graduates to have a sound base of knowledge and skills needed to perform college-level work.

"As community college presidents, we want to see every student who arrives on our campuses ready to succeed and thrive in a higher education environment," said Anthony Wise Jr., president of Pellissippi State Community College.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or615-255-0550.


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