published Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Bid to overturn Common Core is expected

Controversy over Common Core standards has grown dramatically at the state and national levels in recent months, creating a new and divisive education issue for legislators to confront.

On one side are national conservative activist groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks and state organizations including Tennessee Against Common Core. They would like to ban the standards, reversing approval granted almost four years ago.

"Common Core is the nationalizing and even globalizing of education. It is nothing more than the old outcome-based, school-to-work education nonsense that was defeated 20 years ago but with a new face and makeup to make it look good," says Tennessee Against Common Core on its website.

On the other side are Gov. Bill Haslam, business organizations, many established state education institutional groups and national education reform groups including the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. They favor leaving things as they stand now.

"Tennessee's Common Core State Standards are a set of higher expectations in math and English that were developed by state leaders to ensure that every student graduates high school prepared for the future," says SCORE on its Tennessee website. "Teaching and learning focus on critical thinking, strong writing skills and problem solving -- the real-world skills that students need upon graduation."

Legislative discussion may focus on something in between the two extremes.

So far, the only legislation related to the controversy that has been filed would put new restrictions on collection and use of student data by schools or testing organizations. Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, who presided over two days of hearings on Common Core last fall, filed the two bills: SB1469 and SB1470.

One bans use or distribution of academic data except for listed purposes while mandating that an individual student's information be available to his or her parents and prohibits collection of information on religion or political affiliation, setting up a new position of "chief privacy officer" to oversee the process. The other bans collection of "measurable biological or behavioral characteristics" -- including fingerprints, DNA sequence, retina patterns -- without parents' written consent.

Legislative leaders say they anticipate bills being filed to dismantle Common Core in Tennessee, though they will be opposed. Also expected is legislation to block or at least delay implementation of new student testing tied to Common Core and known as Partnership for Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC.

On that matter, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Democrats may go along with conservative Republican colleagues, believing it is time to "just slow down" after multiple changes in the state education system over recent years.

The State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts in 2010, following up on legislation approved on a bipartisan and almost unanimous basis at the urging of then-Gov. Phil Bredesen. The move was part of an effort to win federal funding under the federal "Race to the Top" law -- an effort that succeeded, earning Tennessee $500 million in federal money for education.

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