education 08.28.2012

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee held hearings on adoption of the Common Core State Standards last week.  The hearings were called by the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, to “enlighten our understanding, not provoke animosity”  as controversy around the standards, which 47 states have adopted in part or whole, has been rampant in the last several months.

As with any issue, there are two sides to this spirited debate, but one side seems to be relying on mis-information, while the other is set on bringing Governor Bill Haslam’s initial intention of being a full-implementation Common Core state to fruition.

The ones in opposition to this decision cite improper student data usage, power-hungry textbook companies and the limiting of the state’s role in education as their main arguments.  However, these arguments, when logically examined, hold very little weight. 

Tennessee has been tracking and reporting student growth measures since 1991, a full 10 years prior to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. There has never been a question of the propriety of this tracking system.  In fact, it has been lauded as the “most sophisticated and mature school accountability system in use today” (Education Consumers Foundation, 2012). Common Core data reporting will resemble current TVAAS reporting, and will give an accurate picture of a teacher’s ability to help students learn. If TVAAS reporting has never raised ethical issues, why are we debating the ethics of this type of reporting now?

The argument that seems to be most fundamental to the opponents of Common Core is the one regarding the limiting of the state’s role in determining the curriculum of its students.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Common Core State Standards simply provide research-based yearly benchmarks that show a student’s readiness for college and career.  The consortium of states has left it to the individual states to determine the curricula for achieving those benchmarks.  Common Core State Standards adoption is not a federalizing of education.

Another argument against Common Core adoption is that it limits a school district’s ability to choose textbooks.  I would challenge any concerned citizen to take part in the textbook adoption process at his or her child’s school and compare the textbook choices we have had under our current Tennessee Content Standards to the textbook choices available with Common Core State Standards.  The difference between number and quality of choice will be negligible. It does seem that this topic is of main concern, so the Tennessee Senate Education Committee will hold additional hearings on textbooks in November.

The arguments we should be focusing on are the ones from Tennessee exemplary teachers like Cicely Woodard and Philip Eller who have implemented Common Core practices and seen improvements in engagement, motivation and achievement. We should be focusing on the research behind these standards, and the fact that they were written by educators for educators. We need to focus on the obvious need for change, as evidenced by our students’ inability to compete in a global marketplace.  We should be focusing on the promise of Common Core and not the price of implementation. 

After all, if you think implementing a new set of standards is too expensive, try calculating the cost of an entire generation of American citizens who are unprepared for work or college.  Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing, but expecting different results.  If we derail the current educational course in Tennessee, we may just go down in history as proving Einstein’s definition.


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