published Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

New Tennessee common core education standards raising questions

NASHVILLE — Proponents of a new set of uniform benchmarks for math and reading say they're needed to better prepare students for college and the workforce, but critics of the measures contend they don't know enough about them and are concerned about the federal government's involvement.

About 500 people registered to attend a panel discussion Tuesday night that highlighted concerns ranging from the cost to implement the common core state standards to how involved the federal government will be in developing them.

The standards, which 45 states and the District of Columbia are adopting, are described as a set of higher expectations in math and English that include more critical thinking and problem solving to help better prepare students for global competition.

Under the standards, new tests are expected to replace the current TCAP tests in math and English next year to better measure student learning.

The panel held Tuesday was among a growing number of such events being held nationwide. One main allegation is that the federal government is regulating education and allowing little input from local school districts.

"School choices, school curriculum are best established at the local level," said Casey Preston, a mother of two who attended the panel in Franklin. "I don't feel that the national government or the state of Tennessee should dictate what all children are studying or learning."

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told reporters earlier Tuesday that one misconception is that common core is a curriculum, "and it's not."

"The common core is a set of standards that says your child should know 'X' at the end of the year," he said. "The curriculum is still up to local schools and local districts, the way it always has been."

Also attending the panel were several Tennessee lawmakers, who acknowledged their lack of knowledge about the program.

"Right now I'm in an informational gathering stage," said state Sen. Mike Bell, adding that his main concern is cost to the state and local districts.

The Riceville Republican said he and another lawmaker met with Huffman about six weeks ago and asked for a "detailed accounting" of what it would cost to implement common core in Tennessee.

"We're still waiting on a reply," he said.

Huffman's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email from The Associated Press about the cost of the implementation, but some of the funding is expected to come from the $500 million won by the state three years ago in the national Race to the Top education grant competition.

Regardless of the cost, education advocates say the new standards are needed. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education -- SCORE -- said this week that more than 200 organizations are now part of a coalition supporting high academic standards in Tennessee.

"Higher academic expectations are a critical piece of Tennessee's innovative work to improve student achievement," said SCORE president and CEO Jamie Woodson. "For too long Tennessee's standards have lagged behind standards in other states, putting our students at a significant disadvantage. The members of this coalition strongly support our state's efforts to equip students with the skills they need to be successful in education after high school, in the workforce, and in life."

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters earlier this week that it's a matter of "how you define proficiency."

"Before Tennessee was labeled as having an 'F' for truth in advertising about what our standards were and whether children really were proficient," said the Republican governor. "We're not doing anybody a favor if we say your child is doing really well in this if they're not."

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