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Haslam defends Common Core during appearance in Tri-Cities

March 18th, 2014 10:01 pm by Hank Hayes

Haslam  defends Common Core during appearance in Tri-Cities

Gov. Bill Haslam discusses Common Core during a visit to Indian Trail Intermediate School in Johnson City Tuesday. NET News Service photo.

JOHNSON CITY — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam insisted on Tuesday that dialing back Common Core education standards is not acceptable amid a state House legislative attempt to postpone further implementation of the standards for another two years.

Haslam, a Republican, staged a conversation with Johnson City educators at Indian Trail Intermediate School to make his point.

"We're seeing these historic gains by students in Tennessee, and backing up and turning around would be the wrong thing to do," Haslam said while starting the discussion.

Tennessee is in its third year of the standards, which focus on expectations for students in core subjects like math and English and involve skills and critical thinking to prepare students for college and careers.

Forty-five states have signed on to use the standards, initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in the fall of 2009.

"More than 40,000 Tennessee educators attended intensive state-led training on the standards over the course of the past several summers," according to a Haslam administration information sheet handed to reporters at the event. "Nearly 75 percent of teachers who participated in the state-led training believe the Common Core State Standards are of higher quality than Tennessee's current standards. ... More than 95 percent are confident the standards will improve student achievement in Tennessee."

Still, last Thursday, the Tennessee House overwhelmingly voted for an amended bill that would require the state Board of Education to postpone continuing Common Core implementation until July 2016 as well as postponing its assessment component.

The delaying amendments were tacked on to a bill, initially sponsored in the state House by Blountville GOP state Rep. Timothy Hill, to require instruction with an "emphasis on American foundational instruments" such as the Pledge of Allegiance and U.S. Constitution. The state Senate could reject or concur with the amendments in a future floor session.

"We hope Governor Haslam uses this opportunity to actually speak with teachers, instead of speaking at them," House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said in a prepared release issued Tuesday. "For too long, he and (Tennessee Education) Commissioner (Kevin) Huffman have been ignoring and discounting teachers' and parents' concerns about the pace and scope of new education reforms."

Haslam suggested the main Common Core complaint he's heard is the standards are "too hard, too fast, too much."

But Liberty Bell science teacher Chris Bowen pointed out that without placing expectations, teachers would be setting up students for failure.

"Common Core puts a literacy spin on science," Bowen noted. "... My students know how to have a proper scientific discussion and debate and discuss issues rather than attacking people."

Towne Acres Elementary School Principal Steve Barnett pointed out the writing standards in Common Core are more rigorous.

"I see kids in kindergarten, first and second grade who are able to write a lot better than they were before Common Core. The expectation was raised and they have risen to that expectation," Barnett told Haslam.

Haslam, when speaking with reporters afterward, reiterated that he feels strongly about the standards.

His administration is also opposing legislation sponsored by Hill's brother, Jonesborough GOP state Rep. Matthew Hill, to prohibit linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Haslam didn't use the event to criticize the Hill brothers.

"This isn't about personalities. ... It is about how critical it is to move our state forward," Haslam declared. "We want to be the state that attracts the very best employers in the world to Tennessee. When you hear repeatedly that we need to raise the quality of our workforce, and when you hear from professional educators that this (Common Core) is doing it and causing students to think ... employers want students who can think."

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