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Haslam says the future of Common Core now rests with educators, not elected officials

Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen meet with members of his teachers advisory group in 2015.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen meet with members of his teachers advisory group in 2015.

Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged Thursday that the fuss over the Common Core academic standards was political in its origins, and told teachers that he’s glad the conversation in Tennessee has shifted to professional educators.

Speaking to the second gathering of his Teachers Cabinet in Nashville, Haslam said teachers, administrators and other education specialists are in the best position to take feedback from the latest public review and determine if revisions are needed.

“For the past two years, not just in Tennessee but the whole nation, we’ve been having this conversation about Common Core State Standards. Are they a Communist plot or are they the world’s greatest thing ever?” Haslam told the teachers, prompting laughter from the teachers assembled.

“Unfortunately, this turned into a political conversation that was very far from the classroom.”

The Common Core standards — which detail what children should learn in math and language arts across their K-12 education — were developed beginning in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state education commissioners across the nation, working through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Tennessee adopted the Common Core with little controversy in 2010. But by 2014, the standards were the source of fiery debate in Tennessee’s General Assembly and many other state legislatures across the nation. Though teachers voiced concerns about the standards’ developmental appropriateness and the quick pace of implementation, the concerns of politicians about federal overreach ended up being the loudest.

In the spring of 2014, the legislature stymied Haslam’s attempt to roll out a Common Core-aligned state test, and the governor ordered a review of the standards the following fall. The subsequent legislative debate this year resulted in the current standards review process.

“[We] knew we wanted to take what had been a political discussion, and put it in the hands of educators who can say, ‘you know, that’s really appropriate for a fourth-grader,’ or ‘that’s really not,'” Haslam said.

As the furor has died down, Tennessee’s review process has been led mostly by educators.

“At the end of the day people say, ‘Well, how do you feel about Common Core?’ and I say ‘Well, I am not really the person to ask about what a third-grader should know. But I know some people who are,'” Haslam said.

Haslam’s Teachers Cabinet is comprised of 18 teachers who were nominated in June by their district superintendents across the state. The body meets quarterly in Nashville and was created by the governor in an effort to include more educators in policy decisions.

During Thursday’s meeting, Haslam sought feedback about how state government could improve teacher evaluations and testing.

“Don’t hold back!” he told his cabinet. “We asked you here because we want to hear what you have to say.”

The teachers complied, sharing concerns about everything from the teacher evaluation rubric — which they said can be too detailed in some places — to the validity of evaluation scores. Some teachers told Haslam that their principals erroneously believe that they could only give a limited number of teachers the highest possible ranking.

“For me, this is incredibly helpful,” Haslam said. “I really appreciate your insight. It does make a difference to us.”

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