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Vote to delay Common Core a step backward for Tennessee

March 24th, 2014 9:57 am by Editorial staff

Vote to delay Common Core a step backward for Tennessee

That the Tennessee House would vote overwhelmingly to delay a major educational improvement that represents years of work and effort, and which would give Tennessee children a significant step up in the world, all but defies comprehension.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Office of Weights and Measures promotes uniformity within the U.S. It's estimated that 50 percent of transactions for products and services are impacted by this federal office, which ensures that a gallon of gasoline is the same volume wherever you buy it. We all can see why such a need exists.

There also is a need for standards in education. Math and English are the fundamental building blocks of all other educational pursuits, and Common Core is designed with the intent to provide a uniform and rigorous standard across participating states for what a high school diploma should signify in math and English competency.

Common Core is the biggest change in America's public schools in more than a decade, and God knows we certainly need it. We spend more money on education than any other developed nation, yet American students continue to rank below average in reading, math and science worldwide. Why? Because from first grade to four-year college degree, we've intentionally dumbed down the curriculum at every level to make it appear that more students are succeeding to the point that many can't read their high school diploma.

Common Core seeks to fix that by involving students in critical thinking. Developed by state education chiefs in 48 states with no involvement from the federal government, it sets learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. It provides standards to help teachers ensure their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their careers and in life.

Common Core does not design nor require a particular curriculum. It does not tell local districts or states how they must present and teach these skills. The concept literally is the mechanism by which Americans can be assured that children from Hawaii to Maine are not misled into believing they are getting full value for their K-12 educational experience. Tennesseans should be particularly sensitive to this issue because that's exactly what our state was found guilty of only a few years back — we got an F for truth in advertising for our educational system.

Stunningly, it now seems that our state representatives want to stop the real progress Tennessee has made in improving student performance by delaying implementation of Common Core.

Tennessee adopted Common Core four years ago and has been implementing it since. Already, it is paying off, as Gov. Haslam heard here Tuesday. 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.

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

But just as we are celebrating the longest step forward in student performance in the history of testing, the Tennessee House votes to stop the program. Why? Well, one of the reasons is that the union representing Tennessee teachers opposes Common Core, despite that the majority of teachers in the state support it. Another is misplaced concern that the federal government may one day try to regulate local education.

Granted, the current occupant of our White House seems to have forgotten that there are three branches of government in the federal system. But his job is temporary, and controls exist for the overreach of federal authority in Common Core. If there's an attempt to overreach the intent of standards, not curriculum, then it can and should be stopped.

The federal government exists to perform useful and important functions for the states that individually they cannot. That's why it was formed. Setting standards for weights and measures — as well as English and math — is a useful function, as most of us can see clearly see.

We urge our state representatives and senators to support the improvements already evident in the rigorous standards of Common Core and keep our educational system moving forward.

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