Haslam’s Common Core Gambit

Monday, March 23, 2015

“A gambit (from ancient Italian gambetto, meaning "to trip") is a chess opening in which a player, more often White, sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position.” Edward R. Brace, An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess 

Once again the Tennessee General Assembly is grappling with what to do with K-12 Education. After ushering in Common Core State Standards through Race to the Top in 2010 Tennessee teachers and students have struggled to keep up with all the changes. To be sure some of the changes have been good with the idea that Tennessee should be holding our students to a higher standard and our teachers to greater scrutiny. 

Having said that the one thing that has not worked and will not work in Tennessee is the insistence of the Common Core State Standards advocated and championed by Governor Bill Haslam. In November 2014, Vanderbilt University released poll showing that only 38 percent of Tennessee voters supported Common Core and that 56 percent of Tennessee Teachers advocated for the abandonment of Common Core. The tide has turned against Common Core in Tennessee and the 132 members of the Tennessee General Assembly are listening and responding to the voters and teachers with legislation. 

There is within the Tennessee General Assembly more than a handful of bills that direct the governor, the State Board of Education and the Tennessee Department of Education to repeal and or replace Common Core Standards with a Tennessee Standards solution. The bill receiving the most attention is HB1035/SB1163 by State Rep. Billy Spivey and State Senator Mike Bell. HB1035/SB1163, is a Caption Bill and as amended, is only three pages long with most of the bill written to address the process by which Tennessee will create a new standard of excellence in K-12 education, ostensibly to replace Common Core Standards. 

However noble Rep. Spivey’s and Senator Bell’s intentions are their effort has revealed some
serious flaws in the bill. First, in Section 1 of the bill, the language to do away with Common Core is absent the one definitive word that does away with the Common Core State Standard. That word is “repeal”. Instead the bill states that “…the Common Core State Standards adopted in 2010 will be reviewed and shall be replaced…”. If you’re going to repeal Common Core, then use the word “repeal” so as to be clear as possible. The Tennessee Code is no place for ambiguity. If you want to repeal Common Core, then say repeal. 

Second, and most importantly, the language in the bill that replaces Common Core State Standards is the phrase “...college-and career-ready standards shall be adopted…”. The phrase, “college-and career- ready standards shall be adopted”, is very important and is the key to the bill. If you haven’t Googled this specific term you might want to do so. The very first website listed is a 16 page PDF file advocating the virtues President Obama’s effort to re-authorize ESEA or the Elementary and Secondary Act with direct links to the Common Core State Standards. The second website listed is a website for Common Core that directly advocates for “college-and-career-ready-standards” as part of the K-12 initiative for a nationwide standard and curriculum. 

The term “college-and-career-ready standards” is a term Governor Haslam insisted be in the legislation.  Why was this term so important to Governor Haslam? The answer isn’t that difficult to understand. If you replace Common Core with “college-and-career-ready standards” you effectively have replaced Common Core with Common Core, and because this bill doesn’t “repeal” Common Core nothing has effectively changed. 

Rep. Spivey and Senator Bell are to be commended for their hard work and dedication to solving a challenging political situation. HB1035/SB1163 represent Tennessee’s best opportunity to kill
Common Core State Standards and institute a set of standards that reflect the values and principles of Tennesseans. In order for Spivey and Bell to be successful they must repeal Common Core with the word “repeal” leaving no doubt what the law says and they must delete from the bill the term “college-and- career-ready standards” and any reference to it. 

In 2010 when Governor Bredesen presented to the Tennessee General Assembly his “Race to the Top” legislation it was designed as a Trojan Horse for implementing Common Core State Standards. Governor Haslam, learning from his predecessor, presents his Gambit to the Tennessee General Assembly disguised as “college-and-career-ready standards” with the same goal, but this time it is to keep Common Core. The Tennessee General Assembly should decline the governor’s gambit.

Joe Carr 


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