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Gresham Reaffirms Support for Tennessee Establishing Its Own Academic Standards

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 23, 2015:

(NASHVILLE, TN), January 23, 2015 — “I reaffirm my commitment to higher academic standards through passage of Senate Bill 4 which sets our own Tennessee Standards Commission.  In order to do this, we must clear the way by severing our ties with the current Common Core Standards.”

“There is great misconception among some that when you speak of being in favor of higher standards that it only means the Common Core Standards.  I want to clear this up and assure you that this not the case.  Let there be no mistake about it, many of us who take issue with Common Core are very much in favor of having the highest standards for our students.  Upon announcing my proposal I stated, “First and foremost, this legislation is committed to the highest standards to keep our students moving forward.”

“My commitment has not changed and continues to be fostered by my conversations with teachers who tell me that having higher standards and strategies have set us on the right path.  I believe them.”

“My plan is to work with my colleagues in the Senate and in the House of Representatives to provide that any new standards developed by the Tennessee Standards Commission would meet these high goals.”

Bell, Gresham Call on TN Board of Ed to Review New AP U.S. History Courses for ‘Negative’ Revisionism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) have called on the Tennessee State Board of Education to conduct a review of the new framework and materials used in all Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) courses taught in Tennessee classrooms. The request was made by the lawmakers in a letter to Board Chairman Fielding Rolston and comes after widespread criticism that the new College Board framework for APUSH reflects revisionist views of American history that emphasizes negative aspects, while omitting or minimizing the positive.

Advanced Placement courses are college-level classes that students can take while still in high school. Most colleges and universities in the United States grant credit and placement for qualifying scores. The exams are produced by the College Board, a private company, which also is responsible for the SAT college admission test.

“There are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts,” said Chairman Gresham. “The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history. We need a full review of the framework by our Board as to its effects on Tennessee students and our state standards. We have also asked the Board to provide a forum in which parents and other concerned citizens can let their voices be heard on the matter.”

Tennessee law specifies students in the state must be taught foundational documents in U.S. and Tennessee history. It also provides that instructional materials, specifically in U.S. history, comply with this state mandate.

The APUSH framework includes little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and other critical topics which had previously been included in the course. It presents a negative interpretation regarding the motivations and actions of 17th – 19th century settlers, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

In addition, the APUSH framework excludes discussion of the U.S. military, battles, commanders, and heroes, as well as mentioning many other individuals and events that shaped history like the Holocaust and American icons Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“The APUSH framework appears to differ greatly from Tennessee’s U.S. history standards,” added Chairman Bell. “This interferes with our state law and standards for U.S. history if our teachers focus on preparing their pupils for the AP examination, which is a very important test for college-bound students. We have worked very hard over the past several years to ensure that our students are learning history based on facts, rather than a politically-biased point of view.”

Approximately 500,000 students across the nation take Advanced Placement courses in U.S. History each year. Tennessee has worked diligently over the past several years to push students to take Advanced Placement exams as part of the effort to increase the number of citizens with post-secondary degrees.

Haslam Announces 5th State Veterans Cemetery in Parkers Crossroads

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; July 24, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced the future site of the fifth state veterans cemetery will be in Parkers Crossroads.

The 132-acre Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery at Parkers Crossroads will be located at 693 Wildersville Road and will serve more than 45,000 veterans and their families within 17 counties in west Tennessee.

The Tennessee counties within a 75 mile radius of the proposed cemetery include Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Lewis, McNairy, Madison, Perry, Wayne, and Weakley counties.

“Right now veterans and their families in this part of the state have to drive more than two hours to the nearest state veterans cemetery,” Haslam said. “We want veterans in the more rural parts of the state to have access to these resources that also serve as a symbol of our gratitude for their service to our country.”

Haslam was also joined by state Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads), state Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Parkers Crossroads Mayor Kenneth Kizer, Henderson County Mayor Dan Hughes and West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery Steering Committee Chair Chris Dangler.

“We are grateful to the members of the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery Steering Committee, the mayors of the seven counties who invested local funding and support as well as the Governor, Rep. McDaniel and Sen. Gresham who have supported this effort from the beginning,” Grinder said. “We still have several funding hurdles to jump through before this project becomes a reality, but we are excited to announce we are one step closer to opening the fifth state veterans cemetery to better serve veterans in southwest Tennessee.”

“The rich history of Parkers Crossroads is a perfect location for a future State Veterans Cemetery,” McDaniel said. “We have anxiously waited to hear this news and we welcome the opportunity to offer a reverent backdrop to this future field of honor.”

“Veterans are buried at no charge in these pristine cemeteries that offer a place of reflection and reverence,” Gresham said. “We look forward to adding another jewel to the existing four state veterans cemeteries.”

There are currently two state veterans cemeteries in Knoxville, one in Nashville and one in Memphis. Veterans and eligible dependents can pre-register for burial by visiting the State Veterans Cemetery page http://tn.gov/veteran/burial_elg.shtml.

Gresham Requests AG Opinion on TN Teacher Employment Laws

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 30, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) said today she has requested an attorney general’s opinion on whether Tennessee’s teacher employment laws are constitutional. The request comes after a California Superior Court struck down various teacher tenure and seniority statutes under that state’s constitution and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in the Vergara v. California case. Teacher unions plan to appeal the ruling.

“This is a very important decision regarding teacher employment laws, which will reverberate to states across the nation, said Senator Gresham. “Tennessee, like California, has its own constitutional provision regarding student’s education rights in addition to the Equal Protection Clause afforded by the U.S. Constitution. We certainly need to make sure that we are on sound constitutional footing, and especially whether the reforms passed over the last several years will satisfy the constitutional tests as decided in this ruling.”

The California case was filed by nine public school students who charged that state laws forced districts to give tenure to teachers, regardless of whether they can do the job. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found the California law was unconstitutional, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That decision declared that state laws which established that separate schools for white and black children were unconstitutional. “In these days,” the court said, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Gresham asked Attorney General Robert Cooper whether the current statutes or state law in effect prior to July 1, 2011 governing permanent employment violate students’ rights to a free education under the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee or U.S. Constitution. The General Assembly passed teacher tenure reform legislation in 2011 which changes a teacher’s probationary period before becoming eligible for tenure from three to five years as well as linking tenure status to performance evaluations. Gresham also asked the Attorney General if Tennessee law or the statutes in effect prior to July 1, 2014, governing layoffs or the dismissal and suspension of teachers violate student’s rights to a free education under the federal and state constitutions.

State’s School Textbook Selection Process May Get Overhaul

After two days of hearings on Tennessee’s public school textbook selection process, majority-party Senate Republicans are indicating they’ll push for developing new review-and-approval procedures, and perhaps throw the current system out altogether.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham told reporters after the close of the meeting she “sensed a real doubt” among fellow Republicans that “the Textbook Commission as it is structured now is fixable.”

“I think that what will happen now is that we will look at some of what these other states are doing and take the best practices and see if we can reconstitute our state textbook commission so that it works better,” said Gresham.

The hearings, held jointly by the Senate Education and Government Oversight committees, consisted of testimony from state Department of Education officials and Textbook Selection Commission members.

The lawmakers also listened to a number of conservative activists who said many state-approved education materials contain an assortment of passages that are ideologically biased, erroneous or in other ways objectionable and unsuited for Tennessee public school classrooms. The complaints focused on what those testified said they perceived to be unflattering depictions of capitalism and Christianity, omissions of key facts and outright inaccuracies in many of the social studies and history textbooks used to instruct high-school aged kids in Tennessee.

Hal Rounds, a Fayette County attorney and self-described libertarian, took issue, for example, with how recently approved textbooks in government-run schools are representing early American history and basic tenets of the United States Constitution. “The point is that the textbook selection process is supposed to provide us with tools that we can give our kids, that tell them what the world was really like. And it is not doing that,” said Rounds.

Claudia Henneberry, a retired teacher and activist with the Tea Party-affiliated 9.12 Project, said she spent several weeks researching state textbooks and found numerous instances of “racial bias” in which whites were cast in a negative light or are portrayed as oppressive intruders into North America. She also complained that most social studies and history texts in public schools generally tend to exhibit a liberal or pro-Democrat political slant.

On economic matters, Henneberry said “capitalism is portrayed as unfair in these books, most of them, and that wealthy is greedy, whereas socialism and other states of socialism are shown as preferable.”

Others who spoke leveled similar criticisms. Some also said that when they raised concerns with local school officials they were often either ignored or told the state has ultimate decision-making authority over the books schools use.

As the meeting came to a close, Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell said that after listening to all the protests from the conservatives who spoke he’s inclined to scrap the current process and “start all over.”

Bell said he’d favor Tennessee borrowing from what other states are doing and at the same time ensure the public has more input in the process. The states that are doing the best with how they select textbooks offer “more parental input, more local input, more transparency,” said the Republican from Riceville. Virginia, Utah and Louisiana have models worth looking into, he said.

Additionally, Bell said that he would like the General Assembly to have some decision-making ability over the membership of the commission. Currently, state textbook commissioners are appointed solely by the governor for a term of three years.

Gresham said addressing the issues raised by critics warrants being a legislative priority in 2014. “It’s evident from the hearings that we’ve had today and yesterday that we need to give our full attention to the state textbook commission and its structure and its function,” said the Somerville Republican.

Lawmakers Taking Wait-and-See Approach to Common Core

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee on Friday wrapped up two days of hearings on the the new nationwide education-standards blueprint that’s been drawing attention around the country.

The committee, chaired by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, didn’t take any definitive action, but promised a formal written review of the Common Core Standards plan in Tennessee.

Common Core is all but certain to remain on the political radar going into the 2014 state legislative session as the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts continue implementing various program elements.

“These hearings have met the goal that we set, and that was to bring us some enlightenment on the whole subject of the Common Core State Standards,” said Gresham at the close of Friday’s meeting. “It will be our job now to soberly reflect on what we have heard, and then put together a report that will go to the full Senate in January.”

Gov. Bill Haslam’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, defended Common Core and Tennessee’s participation in it. Applying standards to Tennessee students that are aligned with standards used to assess students across the country will work to their long-term advantage, he suggested.

“Tennessee students are as smart and as capable as students anywhere in the country, and…when we give them the right challenges and opportunities, they rise to those challenges,” Huffman said.

Tennessee, one of 45 states to take up the standards, adopted Common Core in 2010, and has been gradually shifting its education standards to full implementation over the past three years.

Those testifying included teachers, administrators, business leaders, politicians and representatives from nonprofit organizations. The issues discussed ranged from concerns about student privacy and “data mining” to concern over selection of appropriate reading materials.

A Republican state senator from Georgia, William Ligon of St. Simons Island, testified before the committee about his state’s experience with Common Core. Ligon said he’s been pushing Georgia to ditch the initiative because citizens don’t seem to have a lot of say in how it is carried out or what students are asked to learn through it.

One worry voiced frequently during the hearing was the prospect of added Common Core costs to local Tennessee school districts. Ligon argued Georgia taxpayers are very likely paying more for education as a result of the program, but there’s actually no official Common Core fiscal evaluation by the state government.

“(Common Core) was brought to Georgia without any review of the cost,” Ligon said. “In our hearings held last January in our state senate, I specifically asked our Department of Education, ‘Where is your cost analysis?’ And they had none.

“The only estimate of costs have come from nonprofits, such as the Pioneer Institute, and they concluded that Georgia would be spending about $225 million on professional development, $100 million for textbooks and $275 million on technology,” Ligon continued. “One of the things that we found was is that our cost to administer standardized tests went from $11 per student to $33 per student, if your school system had the technology and the broadband to administer these tests online.”

The written test could be purchased for $40 per student, if the school was unable to administer the tests online due to technological restrictions, Ligon said.

Huffman downplayed any potential cost increases. The Tennessee General Assembly appropriated $51 million in funds last year to provide aid for local school districts with “technology readiness,” he said, adding that technological advancements are needed to help Tennessee students achieve more, and be better prepared for secondary education and the workforce.

Huffman told reporters new assessment tests across the state will raise costs $1 million to $5 million more “than if we had to do TCAP covering the same subject areas.”

Gresham Announces Dates for Senate Hearings on Common Core Standards

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 11, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) today released information regarding the fact finding meeting on the state’s Common Core State Standards (CCSS), pledging a full and fair review. The Senate hearings will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 19 and at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 20 in Room 12 of the Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

  • Thursday’s meeting will be include a full review of CCSS details
  • Friday’s meeting will include testimony on CCSS

“Our guiding principle throughout these hearings must be our students and what is best for their future,” added Gresham. “That is why it is so important that we let the facts guide us as we take a thorough look through a full and fair review.”

“There have been many legitimate concerns expressed about the Common Core Standards from both ends of the political spectrum, from parents, teachers and other concerned citizens” said Senator Gresham. “This forum provides us with the opportunity to air these concerns, review the facts and offer recommendations for changes as we move closer to the start of the 2014 legislative session.”

Senate Ed Committee to Take Up Texbook Selection Process in Fall

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) announced today that the Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing this fall to review the state’s textbook selection process for Tennessee’s K-12 schools. The hearing will take place in October with time, date and location to be announced soon.

The Committee will look at the role and work of the state’s Textbook Commission and Tennessee laws governing textbook selection to help ensure an accurate and unbiased approach. The Textbook Commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for having adopted textbooks containing inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that the textbooks used in this state are tools of education, not indoctrination,” said Gresham.

The state’s Textbook Commission is composed of ten members whose responsibility is to recommend an official list of textbooks for approval of the State Board of Education. Local school systems choose which textbooks to adopt from the official state textbook list for a six-year period.

Other members of the Senate Education Committee include 1st Vice-Chair Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), 2nd Vice-Chair Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), and Senators Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey), Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

TN Senate Education Comittee to Review Common Core Standards

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 31, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -– Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) has set meeting dates of September 19th and 20th for Committee members to review facts regarding the state’s Common Core Standards.  Gresham announced last month that the Committee will hear testimony from critics and proponents of the standards, as well as state education officials.

The meeting, which had tentatively been planned for an earlier date, was moved to the September date due to scheduling conflicts.

The hearings will be held at 1:00 pm on Thursday, September 19, 2013 in Room 12 of the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. The hearings will continue on September 20 at 9:00 am at the same location.

Gresham: Senate Ed Cmte to Hold Common Core Fact-Finding Meetings

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 6, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) confirmed today that the Senate Education Committee will hold meetings in late summer or early fall to review facts regarding the state’s Common Core Standards. Gresham said the Committee will hear from critics from all ends of the political spectrum regarding concerns with the standards as well as gather testimony from proponents and state education officials.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSS0). Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. Several states, however, have recently announced they are reevaluating them.

“These are fact-finding meetings,” said Senator Gresham. “Some parents and teachers have voiced concerns that we need to look at. It is also important that we review the progress of this program, including the latest test results. In addition, I want to evaluate how the standards might have affected state and local control.”

In Tennessee, the decision to adopt Common Core State Standards was made by Governor Phil Bredesen and the State Board of Education in July 2010. The State Board of Education is the governing and policy-making body for the Tennessee system of public elementary and secondary education. Since that time, school districts in Tennessee have phased in use of the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts.

“It is very important that we have high academic standards to give our students the skills they need to compete in an increasingly global economy,” said Senator Gresham. “At the same time, I firmly believe that education is a state and local function and we must always work to ensure that we have the autonomy necessary to best serve the interest of Tennessee students. We will look at all the factors as we review how this program is serving our students and helping us reach our academic goals.”

Senator Gresham represents Senate District 26 which is comprised of Chester, Decatur, Fayette, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, McNairy, and Henderson Counties. She and her husband, Will, live on a farm in Somerville, Tennessee.