published Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Bradley County, Tenn., embroiled in Common Core debate

Dr. Martin Ringstaff, the director of Cleveland City Schools, left, and Johny McDaniel, the director of Bradley County Schools, address the Bradley County Commission take part in a discussion regarding Common Core.
Dr. Martin Ringstaff, the director of Cleveland City Schools, left, and Johny McDaniel, the director of Bradley County Schools, address the Bradley County Commission take part in a discussion regarding Common Core.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission has asked that the Bradley County Board of Education analyze the impact of Common Core educational standards on students and teachers and report back to it.

On Monday, the County Commission voted 13-1 for this course of action, with Commissioner Jeff Yarber opposing.

Before the near-unanimous vote, the County Commission battled over whether to support a resolution put forth by Yarber to notify state legislators and education officials that the commission opposed the adoption of Common Core standards in favor of standards developed at the state and local level. Commissioners Terry Caywood, Charlotte Peak-Jones, J. Adam Lowe, Bill Ledford and Mel Griffith supported Yarber's failed measure.

"Nobody's asking not to have standards," Yarber said. "All I'm asking to do is take the federal government out of it and let Tennessee and localized government do their job and not be tied to California, the Obama administration ... or the federal education system."

Caywood and Yarber cited conversations with teachers who said they have been fatigued with the adoption of Common Core standards in their classrooms.

Such "cookie cutter" standards have limited the freedom of teachers to teach, Yarber said. Tennessee's acceptance of $500,001 million in federal Race to the Top funds in 2010 -- which have funded Common Core transitioning in the state -- is a setback, he said, but it's not too late.

Common Core was "snuck in" and its costs are still unknown, said Dan Rawls, a member of the Bradley County Tea Party who spoke at the meeting.

A number of commissioners expressed support for the local school boards to make their own voices heard on the state's adoption of Common Core standards.

Regarding teachers' "fatigue factor," there are a lot of changes taking place between Common Core and adherence to old Tennessee state standards, Commissioner Bill Winters said. However, not one teacher he has spoken to has criticized the adoption of Common Core standards, he said.

Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, and Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools, also addressed commissioners about Common Core.

Ringstaff said Common Core standards are not "cookie cutter" in his opinion, adding that any new educational standards developed by the state would be similar to what we have now.

"The [federal] money was used systematically, and it was used differently in every single school system," Ringstaff said. "Without the money it [Common Core standards] cannot be implemented correctly."

Training 47,000 teachers across Tennessee does not come cheap, he said, and the state could not come up with $500 million to do it.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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