Education NewsTracker

Common Core Hearings Commence

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee held its first day of hearings Thursday on the controversial new nationwide Common Core Standards reform initiative.

Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, a Somerville Republican, said her aim with the hearings is to sort through the worries people of various ideological perspectives have been increasingly expressing about Common Core, which was conceived in 2009 by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“Over the course of the last several months, many legitimate concerns have been raised about the Common Core State Standards, and many have arisen to praise the standards,” Gresham said. “More than this, the level of trust of Tennessee citizens in their federal government is at an all-time low. Around the world people are concerned with the amount of data the federal government is tracking, and the concerns about the data being collected on our children are at an all-time high. The process which led the State Board of Education to adopt the standards, as well as their exact content must be examined, and reexamined.”

Gresham characterized the Education Committee’s effort as “a fact-finding hearing.” Discussion of the standards is intended “to enlighten our understanding, not provoke animosity,” she said.

Common Core Standards have been both hailed as the next big thing in education reform as well as criticized on both the left and right.

Conservative detractors of Common Core grumble that it constitutes yet another example of improper federal interference in state affairs. They complain that the Obama administration has essentially mandated that states adopt the “voluntary” Common Core standards by making adherence to the them a requirement for federal education grants, as well as issuance of No-Child-Left-Behind waivers.

Some liberals grouse that the standards seem too complex and difficult, and that there’s no certainty they’re going to do anything to improve public-school learning environments.

Common Core State Standards are intended to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the initiative’s mission statement on its website. The standards have been created “to be robust and relevant to the real world,” and to reflect “the knowledge and skills” needed for success in further education and careers, the statement continues.

To Gov. Bill Haslam, who is a strong supporter of Common Core, its about “about setting the standards” for what children should know by a certain grade, regardless of geographic location.

“I think Common Core is about helping everybody understand, ‘Ok, here’s what a fifth grader should know in math skills, or here’s what an eighth grader should know in reading comprehension.’ So, for that reason we think it’s really important,” Haslam told reporters after reading to kids as part of his “Imagination Library Week.” Thursday morning at the Wayne Reed Christian Childcare Center.

The first day of the Senate Education Committee hearings went by with little in the way of debate or denunciation. Thursday’s meeting consisted of opening remarks, rules for the hearing and a reading through of the standards, with questions from committee members.

Day two, Friday, is scheduled for testimonies on various aspects of the standards — such as cost, data and assessments, as well as personal perspectives and views on the standards themselves – by members of the Tennessee Department of Education, educators and various other individuals and organizations.

The Common Core Standards, which fall into two broad categories of Math and English Language Arts, were read almost in their entirety at the hearing, and the committee members piped in with questions over the course of the reading.

The questions asked by committee members ranged from when students would learn to use calculators and keyboards to whether students would be required to learn calculus or read and write cursive. Reoccurring questions cropped up around the differences between the new standards and those previously in place.

An explanation of the differences between Common Core and the state’s previous set of educational standards was initially requested by State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

The Common Core Standards change the structure of Tennessee’s education standards by reducing the number of criteria which had to be met under the Tennessee Diploma Project, while raising the standards of the criteria that must be met, explained Emily Barton, the assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction.

Additionally, the issue of whether or not the standards provide any kind of guidelines as far as curriculum and appropriate text materials for the various grades arose on several occasions.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, asked Barton if the selection of reading materials and curriculum would be left entirely to local education agencies, with no state oversight.

“You might have somebody in Bradley County decide to use…Gone with the Wind, and somebody in Hamilton County decide, well, we need to look at a collection of Playboy magazines,” Gardenhire suggested. “Is there a criteria for value that the state has?”

State law requires that local school boards adopt the textbooks that will be used in their community’s schools, Barton explained.

“The selection of textbooks is not the same as the standards themselves, but I will happily answer that the statute of the state places ultimate selection authority of textbooks in the local community,” Barton said.

The Senate Education Committee will be holding hearings sometime this fall to review the state’s textbook selection process, Gresham added.

The second portion of the hearings is scheduled to begin 9 AM, Friday.

Press Releases

State Selects More Than 700 Teachers to Help in Common Core Transition

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; March 28, 2013:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Education is enlisting the help of more than 700 teachers to help their peers navigate the transition to the Common Core State Standards. This year’s cohort will help lead 5 weeks of summer trainings on the Common Core math, English/language arts and literacy standards, reaching more than 30,000 teachers across the state. They follow in the footsteps of last year’s 200 coaches, who have spent this school year guiding their colleagues on the Common Core transition in math for grades 3-8.

“We believe the transition to Common Core will be most effective if our own teachers lead the way,” said Emily Barton, assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction at the department. “I am so inspired by this group of teachers—our state’s transition to Common Core is in good hands.”

The 704 coaches were chosen through a rigorous application process. They will now receive training throughout the spring to lead sessions this summer for more than 35,000 teachers across the state.

Clint Satterfield, Director of Trousdale County Schools, opened the first Core Coach training session by describing the impact of education on his own family and praising higher educational standards as a means to support schools and students, address poverty and ultimately help improve Tennessee’s education ranking.

“I am an example of the dynamic change that can take place when educators take on the mission of educating all students to higher levels of learning,” said Satterfield. “I believe that is not only our job, duty, and responsibility, but our heartfelt mission to make the world a better place through education.”

Millicent Smith, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development for Knox County Schools, similarly praised the standards, saying that they will make a difference for children. Smith believes the Common Core empowers teachers to push students to meet higher expectations.

“Great teachers hold students accountable to their individual potentials,” said Smith. “I believe these changes will truly build the capacity of our teachers to challenge all students to explore their full potential from the time they first enter school.”

Implementation of the Common Core State Standards is an initiative led by states, including Tennessee, to ensure that every student graduates high school prepared for college or the workforce. The standards are designed to set clear expectations of what students should know in each grade and subject. States voluntarily chose whether to adopt the standards, and to date, 46 states, including the District of Columbia, have done so. The initiative is led by the National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Tennessee schools began implementing Common Core State Standards last year, and students will take new assessments reflecting the Common Core standards in both math and English in 2014-2015. The 2013 summer training will build on the successful math training last summer for grades 3-8, which was also conducted by Core Coaches. Over 150 of this year’s Core Coaches are returning from last year’s cohort.

Press Releases

TN Education Dept. Announces Common Core Leadership Council

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; February 13, 2013:

Following the success of Tennessee’s first Common Core Leadership Council, the department of education today announces a new group of principals, supervisors and superintendents who will give districts a voice in the statewide transition to the Common Core State Standards. The new Leadership Council will advise the department on the Common Core transition plan and directly lead and manage all aspects of the work, including a summer statewide training of more than 30,000 teachers.

“The success of our implementation of the Common Core State Standards will be directly related to our ability to engage a diverse group of Tennessee educators and stakeholders,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We’ve got one chance to get this right, and I’m grateful to our new Leadership Council for helping us make sure that we do.”

The 22 members of the Leadership Council come from all regions of the state, and will advise department officials on formal and informal assessments and professional development resources; shape the framework for all Common Core pilot programs; and become regional experts and leaders in the importance and concrete expectations of the standards. They also will inform training of more than 600 Core Coaches to provide statewide professional development for more than 30,000 teachers in grades K-12 math and literacy this summer.

Last year’s council successfully implemented the training of more than 10,000 educators on 3-8 math standards, and also created the template for the state’s Common Core Leadership Course for principals and assistant principals.

Lexington City Schools Superintendent Susie Bunch served on the first council, and will continue her work in 2013. She said the common thread between all council members is a profound belief in the Common Core State Standards and in the ability of Tennessee’s students and teachers to make a successful transition to them.

“Our council sessions yield rich discussions about teaching and learning and how both will shift as the state moves toward full implementation of the Common Core,” she said. “From these rich discussions, decisions leading to the next steps of this transition journey are made.”

2013-14 Common Core Leadership Council Members

CORE Region

Jerry Ayers
Director of Career and Technical Education
Greeneville City
First TN

Jared Bigham
Principal, Copper Basin High School
Polk County

Jerry S. Boyd
Director of Schools
Putnam County
Upper Cumberland

Susie Bunch
Director of Schools
Lexington City

Sharon Cooksey
Curriculum & Professional Learning Specialist
Franklin Special School District

Linda Kennard
Executive Director, Curriculum & Instruction/ Pre-K-12 Literacy
Memphis City Schools

Vicki Kirk
Director of Schools
Greene County
First TN

Scott Langford
Assistant Principal, White House Middle School
Sumner County

Meghan Little
Chief Academic Officer
KIPP NashvilleSchools

Jared Myracle
Supervisor of Instruction
Gibson County

Theresa Nixon
Science Supervisor
Knox County

Mike Novak
Principal, Liberty Elementary School
Bedford County
South Central

Jamie Parris
Director of Secondary Math & Science
Hamilton County

Martin Ringstaff
Director of Schools
Cleveland City

Clint Satterfield
Director of Schools
Trousdale County
Upper Cumberland

Millicent Smith
Executive Director, Curriculum, Instruction & Professional Development
Knox County

Jay Steele
Chief Academic Officer
Metro Nashville Public Schools

David Stephens
Chief of Staff
Shelby County

David Timbs
Assistant Superintendent
Sullivan County
First TN

Pennye Thurmond
Principal, Ripley Elementary School
Lauderdale County

Amanda Hill Vance
Special Education Supervisor
Monroe County

Vicki Violette
Director of Schools
Clinton City

Press Releases

Thousands of Teachers Begin Training in New Education Standards Statewide

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; July 10, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – More than 13,000 Tennessee teachers began training today on the Common Core State Standards, a set of nationally recognized criteria that raise expectations for Tennessee students, starting with math in the 2012-13 school year.

Two hundred teachers, appointed earlier this year as Common Core coaches, will lead sessions at 41 sites across the state, helping their peers better understand new focus areas for grades 3-8 math by practicing problems, watching model lessons and reviewing student work.

“The transition to Common Core State Standards in math is the beginning of a new era in education,” said Leslie Taylor, a Common Core coach and fourth-grade math teacher at A.L. Lotts Elementary School in Knoxville. “I know that we can move Tennessee to the forefront of national performance rankings and that our students will reap the benefits.”

These sessions make up Tennessee’s largest teacher-training program. The training model is designed to be peer-led, with assistance from content experts at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Learning.

“Tennessee’s transition to the Common Core State Standards gives us opportunities to strengthen our competitiveness and ensure our students’ postsecondary success,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “These standards also will give teachers the chance to engage their students more deeply in fewer focus areas, encouraging greater critical thinking skills.”

The Common Core State Standards also enable teachers to share ideas for lessons across schools and states. Tennessee is one of 46 states that have adopted Common Core State Standards as a way to set clear expectations for what students should learn in school, and align their education with necessary knowledge for college and careers. Teachers will focus on much fewer standards, which require deeper engagement in fundamental concepts. In third-grade math, for example, the number of standards taught will decrease from 113 currently to 25 under the Common Core State Standards.

“The spirit with which educators are coming together to support this transition is inspiring,” said Emily Barton, the department’s assistant commissioner of curriculum and instruction. “The work that the Core Coaches have started in their own classrooms suggests that as we bring this to all classrooms across the state, we’ll see greater student engagement and problem-solving skills.”

Tennessee will apply the Common Core State Standards for math in 2012-13 and for English-Language Arts in 2013-14. Tennessee students will take new assessments reflecting the standards in both subjects in 2014-15.

To learn more about Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards implementation plan, visit our website.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or