Franklin County’s move to adopt Tennessee’s Common Core educational standards into its curriculum has led to a textbook search and a myriad of questions about what will best serve students.
The Board of Education will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday with Director of Schools Dr. Rebecca Sharber planning to make a special presentation to summarize what the Common Core standards are.
The standards — developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.
They have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states. Tennessee adopted them in 2010 and began a three-year phase-in the following year.
Critics say the standards were written in private and never tested in real classrooms, and that educators aren’t familiar enough with the standards to use them.
Another concern is that the standards could lead to the sharing of personally identifiable student data with the federal government.
David Baldovin, a Moore County resident who is an area contact member for the Textbook Advocates Tennessee Team — a statewide watchdog organization formed by residents concerned about educational material content, addressed the board in work session this week about where the movement stands.
Baldovin said some of the textbooks the Advocates Team has reviewed contain misleading information.
He referred to a textbook that portrayed Islamic and Jihad religions issues. He said it didn’t define specific details about Muslim prophet Muhammad’s life that could have an impact on students.
The board discussed how Tullahoma and other systems are moving their curriculums toward electronic textbooks and how research about Common Core standards will be more thorough before the board adopts the new learning material.
The state’s move to implement Common Core standards has led to a division about whether they new criteria is in Tennessee students’ best interest.
While critics have cited potential problems they deem could surface, a petition with more than 9,000 signatures supporting Tennessee’s Common Core standards was released recently amid efforts by some lawmakers to do away with them.
A statewide alliance of more than 400 business, community and education organizations in Tennessee released the online petition, which was to be emailed to members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Hard copies of the petition have been presented to members of the House Education Subcommittee that was to hear proposals addressing the new benchmarks for reading and math. Proposals to do away with the standards or restrict them were delayed until the final meeting of the subcommittee, which recently faced a room packed with Common Core supporters.
“Anytime there is a bill related to Common Core state standards … and raising expectations for students in Tennessee, there will be Tennesseans who will be here expressing their support,” David Mansouri, executive vice president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, which is part of the alliance, said in an Associated Press story.
One measure that would place restrictions on the use of student data has advanced out of the House Education Subcommittee on a voice vote.
As for the other bills being delayed, Bobbie Patray, president of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, a conservative group that shares many tea party beliefs and is against the Common Core standards, said she’s concerned when bills are rolled, but she’s not pessimistic in this case.
“I think everyone knows there’s some resistance against some of these bills,” she said in the AP story. “But these bills have a lot of public support, and it’s my hope and prayer that the legislators will hear from the constituents about the seriousness of this.”
Supporters of the standards say they’re needed to better prepare students for the future.
“As it is, 60 to 70 percent of the first-time freshman we get straight out of high schools have to have some considerable learning support activity to get them in a place where they can be successful at the college level,” said John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.
“If we can get students ready to walk in the door and start being successful in college, then we can move the needle substantially.”
At the local level, Franklin County Board of Education members have expressed mixed feelings about the Common Core standards.
Board of Education member Clejo Walker said recently that she hopes the new educational approach will work, but she was quick to say she sees problems with it.
“On the issue of Common Core, with me, the verdict is still out,” she said. “We implemented this to better align our standards with national standards. Obviously when individual states are allowed to develop their own standards of excellence, there are vast differences.
“I do agree that we must be academically competitive on a national level. Our scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are less than impressive. It is my hope that we will be successful with common core and that our children will benefit by having the best education that we can offer and not merely “guinea pigs” for yet another failed program. “
Walker said there is much data available, pro and con, about Common Core standards, and some statistics show the equalized approach hasn’t always worked as intended.
“Test scores in some states have actually decreased, and they have opted out of it,” she said. “As local directors and boards, it is our responsibility to adequately train our teachers so that we are not setting them up for failure.
“At the end of the day, I want our children to be educated and become productive members of society.”
Franklin County School Board member Lance Williams also said recently that he questions how well the new system would work.
“Everyone wants to see improved student achievement, but I haven’t seen any real ideas from the State Department of Education on how to accomplish this,” he said. “Simply setting new benchmarks does nothing to solve the problem of student preparedness.
“By implementing changes to give the appearance that someone is doing something has no real effect on a student’s education, that is merely justifying someone’s job in Nashville.
Fellow board member Chris Guess had echoed Williams’ assessment.
“To this point, what I have seen so far of the Common Core curriculum makes it hard for me to have much faith in its approach to education,” he said. “Logic and coming up with the right answer should still count for something.
“This seems like another blow to the effectiveness of public education.”
Sharber recently said the new curriculum has advantages, but implementing it could have been handled better if more time were allowed to adjust to the changes.
“I think the Common Core state standards are the standards that will help our students learn at a higher level,” she said. “There are fewer of them than the standards we currently have, and they are more challenging.
“We have an opportunity to help our students learn more information at a deeper level.”
However, Sharber said there are drawbacks.
“ I think districts are being required to implement the standards too quickly,” she said. “I believe we could be doing a better job of implementation if we had been given two years to implement the math standards, two years to implement the English/Language Arts standards, and then another year or two to incorporate the additional content areas.
“Instead, we began math implementation last year and are implementing everything else this year.”