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Nathan Baker

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Reformers caution against state efforts to curb Common Core

March 17th, 2014 9:39 pm by Nathan Baker

Reformers caution against state efforts to curb Common Core

Jamie Woodson, President and CEO of SCORE, and Nancy Dishner, executive vice president of the Niswonger Foundation, talk about some of the changes to education and what some of the recent developments in the state Legislature mean for them. (Ron Campbell/

Backers of education reform in Tennessee said the recent attempts to reverse or halt the implementation of Common Core State Standards or realigned standardized testing could have disastrous effects on the gains state students and teachers have made in recent years.

Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, said the slew of bills in the General Assembly aimed at stopping the already progressing set of education benchmarks could be “quite harmful” to the progress seen in math and English language arts in Tennessee.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” Woodson said Monday. “There was a definite moment when policy shifted and working classrooms changed, and since that moment, we’ve seen growth. We need to lean in, not slow down or back up.”

After a failing grade in 2007 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rating truth in advertising regarding student proficiency and preparedness, Tennessee began in earnest efforts to improve its education system.

The state Board of Education approved new curriculum standards in 2008, and a year later, under Gov. Phil Bredesen and Education Commissioner Tim Webb, the state joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative to design education goals and assessments designed to measure their achievement levels.

Tennessee began rolling out the newly developed standards in 2011 in grades kindergarten through 2, following with math in grades 3 through 8 last year, reaching full implementation for math and English language arts last year.

The accompanying test, the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness, was expected to be used next year, replacing the TCAP, which reformers said no longer matched with the new education standards.

But renewed national attention on the education reform efforts in states across the country have brought fervent public opposition to the initiative, leading state legislators to draft bills calling for its reversal.

In January, near the start of the legislative session, Johnson City state Sen. Rusty Crowe expressed concerns regarding the impending PARCC testing implementation and the method by which the state Board of Education enacted the new set of standards.

He joined with more than a dozen of his peers in supporting a resolution “expressing Tennessee’s sovereignty over education standards and assessments” and opposing federal government intrusion into the state-run education system.

Last week, the House amended and passed a bill originally designed to ensure the teaching of the country and state’s founding documents to delay any further implementation of the Common Core and PARCC assessment for two years.

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley proposed the amendments, and was supported by the bill’s original author, Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville.

Woodson said the public and legislative outcry was based mainly on fear driven by misinformation.

The new standards are not federal mandates, and textbooks and curricula are still under the control of local districts, she said.

“Standards predate all of these conversations,” she said. “They’re the expectations that we have in each grade and subject that will guide and almost scaffold a student up to where they graduate from high school and they’re ready to go into post-secondary school.”

By using verified education research, Woodson said the new set of standards will help the state’s students meet the demands of an evolving work force.

“They’re higher, so kids are learning more important concepts at earlier grades, like they do in the highest performing schools across the world,” she said. “There are also fewer of them, so teachers have the freedom to go deeper. It’s about mastery and understanding, not just checking a box on the standard.”

Nancy Dishner, a former educator, current executive vice president of the Niswonger Foundation and a member of the SCORE steering committee, said she has seen the results of the new standards during tours of Northeast Tennessee classrooms.

While observing a Kindergarten class at Doak Elementary School, Dishner said she saw students completing a math lesson on electronic tablets, each student working at his or her own level.

“There’s a different level of engagement, and I think that’s because learning is so much more personal in what they’re seeing,” Dishner said.

Because of that engagement, there were fewer behavior problems, both in the classroom and during a field trip to the orchestra.

If the delay to Common Core is approved by the Senate, it could be a tough sell to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has long supported education reform.

The reforms coincide with the governor’s “Drive to 55” to increase the percentage of Tennesseeans with post-secondary degrees and his “Tennessee Promise” giving students free tuition at community colleges.

“In terms of Gov. Haslam’s clear focus on expectations, I do not see him wavering from a student-centered focus,” Woodson said. “He has continued to express strong support to make sure we continue positive forward movement in our education.”

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