Bill would have commission draft standards to replace Common Core

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two Republican state senators filed legislation Monday to repeal the state’s Common Core standards even though Gov. Bill Haslam has called for a public review of the higher benchmarks in English and math.

The proposal would set up a Tennessee Standards Commission that would recommend to the State Board of Education new standards to be used in the state’s K-12 public schools.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell said the move is designed to ensure Tennessee students continue to improve by applying the highest standards while exerting state control over education.

“It is the next logical step that will take us into the future and ensure that we as Tennesseans have control over our education system,” Gresham told The Associated Press.

Common Core is a set of English and math standards that spell out what students should know and when. The standards — which have been adopted by most of the states — are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.

The standards were scrapped this year in Indiana and Oklahoma. Governors in North Carolina, South Carolina and Missouri have signed legislation to reconsider the standards, even though they’re still being used in those states.

Last month, Haslam, a Republican, announced the formation of panels to review the math and English components of the Common Core standards and to report their recommendations at the end of next year. That’s months after the state Legislature concludes its annual session. The next session starts in January.

On Monday, after a speech to a group of educators, Haslam told reporters that he hasn’t thoroughly reviewed the repeal legislation. But he said he questions how the standards would be replaced because students and teachers are already using them.

“To change any standards is not an automatic process … that’s going to take some time,” Haslam said. He said the point of his review is to determine which changes would be possible.

The legislation filed Monday and Haslam’s review both come amid mounting political pressure about the standards. Tea party groups have derided Common Core as government overreach, while some teachers groups have complained that the standards rely too heavily on student test scores. The scores are, in turn, used to evaluate teacher performance.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who announced last week that he’s leaving for the private sector, has been heavily criticized for his lead role in the state’s education overhaul. It has included the implementation of Common Core standards and changes to teacher tenure rules.

Several attempts to repeal the standards failed during the last legislative session. Lawmakers did manage to delay the testing component of the standards.

Gresham said she believes her colleagues will support the bill once they “understand it.” She hasn’t talked to Haslam about the proposal but said she supports his review of the standards.

“We have talked very often about maintaining high academic standards,” she said. “I think we’re on the same page as far as that goes.”

David Mansouri, executive vice president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which is closely allied with Haslam on education matters, said the group supports Tennessee’s current standards and the review process the governor has created to examine them.

“We support letting that process run its course before any effort is made to adjust standards in the state,” he said.

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) filed legislation today establishing a Tennessee Standards Commission that would recommend to the State Board of Education for adoption, all standards to be used in the state’s K-12 public schools. The legislation would cancel Tennessee’s current memorandum of understanding concerning the Common Core State Standards entered into with the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for English Language Arts and Math.

Gresham and Bell said the move is designed to ensure Tennessee students continue to improve by applying the highest standards, while exerting state control over education. The legislation prescribes that the new standards to replace the English and Math Common Core Standards must be ready by the time students walk into classroom for the 2016-2017 school year.

“First and foremost, this legislation is committed to the highest standards to keep our students moving forward,” said Senator Gresham. “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.”

The U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states.

Under Senate Bill 4, the nine-member commission would be appointed equally by the governor and the speakers of the Senate and House of Representatives to six-year terms. Each member must be confirmed by a joint resolution of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Senate and House Education Committees. The legislation requires the commission hold public meetings which can be viewed online to ensure transparency and maximize public input into the process. The standards must be posted for public review and comment on the State Board of Education website.

Upon receiving the standards, the State Board of Education must either adopt the proposal or return them to the Standards Commission for further review. The State Board of Education, however, cannot return the standards to the Commission more than two times. Commission members will receive no pay but can collect per diem for travel expenses.

The bill also asks the Standards Commission to make recommendations to the State Board of Education in an effort to reduce the number of high stakes assessments administered by schools for English and Math. Many teachers and parents have been highly critical of the number of assessments given to students during the school year which reduces the hours of classroom instruction.

Finally, the legislation provides the Commission shall examine and make recommendations to the State Board of Education concerning any new Advanced Placement (AP) courses under a new framework put into place by the College Board. This measure comes after criticism that the new AP U.S. History (APUSH) testing reflects a revisionist interpretation of historical facts, while providing little or no discussion of some of the nation’s foundational documents, military battles, and heroes.

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

The General Assembly is set to convene on January 13.