Throughout America, the debate over Common Core—a national minimum standard for education—has reached a fevered pitch and recently reemerged in Tennessee. It’s an extension of No Child Left Behind and the subsequent reforms to the program made by President Obama.
The biggest change in standards appears at the high school level, where an emphasis is placed on college readiness, particularly in the area of math. Common Core was originally championed by a group that included a bipartisan coalition of governors and educational groups including College Board. Common Core has been adopted in 45 of 50 states and has garnered the support of Obama and the majority of Republican elected officials.
Governor Haslam has been in favor of implementing Common Core. It has been implemented in math and reading classes since 2011. As recently as January, a spokesman for Haslam stated, “The governor believes Common Core is critical to the progress the state has made and is committed to making sure we continue that momentum.” This policy position is starting to put him at odds with the conservative base of the Republican party, epitomized when 15 Republicans aligned with the tea party called on Haslam’s education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to resign over his support for Common Core over the summer.
Conservative opposition to Common Core has grown considerably in recent months. Tea party groups have increasingly come out across the country against the measure. The Republican National Committee, the Heritage Foundation, and the Koch brothers funded Libertarian group Americans for Prosperity have all come out with criticism of the plan. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Gov. Scott Walker have all come out against Common Core, while supporters such as former Gov. Jeb Bush have come under increased scrutiny for their support of the measure. Critics blast Common Core as a “national takeover of the education system.”
The national fight against Common Core has come to Tennessee. In Williams county, a slate of candidates who campaigned against Common Core were elected to the local school board.
In the last legislative session, Tennessee’s Congress delayed the implementation of the standardized testing component of Common Core.
Governor Haslam now appears to walk a fine line when discussing common core, stating earlier this month, “The consensus is higher standards matter. What there’s some disagreement about is our current standards: Are they the right ones? We very much intend to have a full vetting of those standards — what they are and what they aren’t — and let people have a chance to talk very specifically about what they like and what they don’t like about those standards.” adding that proceeding with common core will require a “full vetting.”
South Carolina and Oklahoma have already begun to fight back against common core by launching repeal measures, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has sued the Obama administration over the issue.
Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development released a new survey conducted by Vanderbilt University that show clear trouble for Common Core. In the survey, 56 percent of respondents favored abandoning common core, an additional 13 percent backed a delay in its implementation. Only 31 percent of respondents surveyed wanted to proceed with the program. Adding credibility to the poll was its massive sample size of 27,000 Tennessee teachers.
Opposition to common core isn’t just coming from conservatives. Occupy Wall Street affiliated groups, various parent teacher organizations and the National Educator’s Association (NEA), the leading teacher’s union in the country have also come out against the measure despite typically being allies of the President on other issues.
In the coming months, Tennessee, as well as Governor Haslam, will have to decide whether or not it proceeds with implementation of Common Core, now an endeavor that is more politically dicey.