‘It would be a shame to back up’: Haslam touts Common Core standards in visit to Lexington

Written by David Thomas / Jackson Sun

Editor’s Note: A true sad state of affairs

LEXINGTON — After state House members approved a bill seeking to delay the implementation of Common Core standards by two years, Gov. Bill Haslam hit the highway Tuesday.

Haslam paid a visit to each of the three regions in the state to seek support from educators for the Common Core standards. The standards set expectations for what students should know in each grade.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Haslam stopped in West Tennessee at Lexington Middle School after he began his day at Cedar Grove Elementary in Smyrna and Indian Trail Intermediate in Johnson City.

“With Common Core, there are a lot of misconceptions,” he said.

Haslam said the standards are crucial to continuing to improve education in Tennessee. He said he’s trying to dispel misconceptions about Common Core — including that the federal government is intruding in local education and that the state is taking over the curriculum.

Common Core state standards are not a curriculum, Haslam said. Those decisions, such as which textbooks to purchase and which books students should read, will continue to be made at the local level, he said.

The effort to create the standards was a state-led initiative, Haslam said. The standards are intended to be clear, consistent, understandable and rigorous and to prepare students for college and the workforce.

Tennessee, which is one of 45 states along with the District of Columbia to sign on, promised to implement Common Core as part of its winning application for Race to the Top funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The federal government agreed in 2010 to give the state $501 million, most of which already has been delivered.

“If you talk to this group of teachers (at Lexington Middle), we really are making progress,” Haslam said. “It would be a shame to back up.

“It’s encouraging to see the results we’ve already seen. Our students can learn and compete with anybody in the state.”

For that matter, Haslam also believes they can compete with anyone in the country.

“What a third-grader learns in Washington state, Montana or Texas, they can learn here,” Haslam said. “We’re not just competing for jobs with people in the state, but literally all over the world. We live in a world now where there are no boundaries.”

Haslam’s administration has continued to roll out Common Core. Teachers have been using new math and language arts standards, but new science and social studies standards are still in the works. This fall, the administration plans to replace the paper-based TCAP test with computerized exams developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states that support Common Core.

A coalition of Republican and Democratic Tennessee lawmakers used an unrelated bill on American government to force a reckoning on the controversial new teaching standards.

Lawmakers voted 82-11 last week to freeze in place Common Core, which has been rolling out gradually over the past three years, and put off new testing that accompanies the program until the 2016-17 school year.

Susan Bunch, the superintendent of the Lexington City School System, believes the initiative will succeed — if uninterrupted.

“(Common Core) is just standards,” Bunch said. “We’ve always had standards, and we’ve changed standards every six years.”

Bunch said teacher evaluation is tied to student achievement.

“Our teachers are working very, very hard to implement Common Core,” Bunch said. “I don’t think this is the end all, but a kid who can’t subtract or add from memory can’t multiply or divide from memory.”

Bunch, like Haslam, was looking at the future.

“How will they leave their (senior) year?” Bunch said. “We’ve made gains statewide, and it will make Tennessee competitive with other states such as California, Georgia and Massachusetts … putting us on the same level. Education won’t be a barrier.”

Critics say the standards — mainly new benchmarks for math and reading — were written in private and never tested in real classrooms, and that they could lead to the sharing of personal student data with the federal government.

Proposals that would require any data collected under the standards only be used to track the academic progress and needs of students have been approved in both the state House and Senate.


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