by Eric Holcombe
In Part 1, I introduced you to the Race To the Top application that committed the state of Tennessee to implementing the Common Core “state” Standards in exchange for federal taxpayer funds. This application was signed by then Governor Phil Bredesen, Commissioner of Education Tim Webb (called the “Chief State School Officer” ), the president of the State Board of Education, B. Fielding Rolston and the State Attorney General, Bob Cooper. Of these signatories, only the Governor is elected. The others are directly appointed by the Governor.
However, in order to claim “state-led” status for the Common Core, it was necessary to get all the “stakeholders” to “buy in” (which of course, does not include actual students or parents). This is claimed in the Race To the Top application on page 17:
“Our districts’ commitment to our application demonstrates both their capacity to embrace change and our state’s ability to fulfill a bold agenda that has broad statewide impact, not just a few pockets here and there. However, while consensus is important, we will be aggressive in only awarding funds to those districts that demonstrate a strong plan of action for implementing all of the reforms in our proposal.
• Section A(1)(ii)(a): Tennessee gave its districts a choice: They could either participate in all of our reform agenda as “participating” districts, as defined in the application, or they could decline to participate entirely. There was no middle ground of “involved” status. We gave this choice because we wanted to demonstrate full statewide commitment and because we feel this application should not be thought of as a “buffet.” All parts are woven together to create a coherent plan. We also used the U.S. Department of Education’s sample MOU because our goals were aligned with it and because our districts asked for an MOU as soon as possible so they could have discussions with their unions and school boards. The MOU, reflecting the terms and conditions of our application, is attached as Appendix A-1-2.
• Section A(1)(ii)(b): Similarly, we sent the U.S. Department of Education’s sample Scope of Work because we believed our goals were aligned with it. We are pleased that 100% of our 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools committed to each and every reform criterion, as the summary table demonstrates. We achieved this sign-on rate even though all participating LEAs will have to implement a bold set of policy and practice changes, including using student growth as one of multiple measures in evaluating and compensating teachers and leaders; denying tenure to teachers who are deemed ineffective as gauged partly by student growth; relinquishing control over their persistently lowest-achieving schools; increasing the number of students who are taught by effective teachers; and, in many cases, opening their doors to more charter schools. The sample Scope of Work is attached as Appendix A-1-3.
• Section A(1)(ii)(c): As a sign of our statewide approach, 131 of our 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools submitted all three applicable signatures – superintendent, school board president, and union leader. The summary table demonstrates that we had 100% success rates in obtaining the signature of every superintendent and applicable school board president, and a 93% success rate in obtaining the signature of every applicable local teachers’ union leader. (Not all Tennessee school districts have collective bargaining; nonetheless, we asked for the support of local union/association leaders regardless of whether they represented teachers in a collective-bargaining capacity.)”
So we have the agreement of all 136 directors of schools (also not elected), the school board presidents of all 136 districts and 93% of the teacher union representatives. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) they each agreed to is found in Appendix A, page A-2:
It is rather interesting that Tennessee was just then getting agreement of the districts to implement the “state-led” standards that we allegedly generated – and that they agreed to implementing them without being able to review the draft that was made available to the public in March ( nearly 60 days after this application was submitted) or the two pieces of legislation that the state was working on the week the application was due. Also interesting that we used a federally generated MOU form to help us agree to our “state-led” standards.
Now, the same directors of schools that provided blind unanimous consent to do whatever the state decided, have changed their tune. Now they are circulating a petition against current Commissioner of Education, Tim Huffman. They agreed to this – all of them. Plus the teacher’s union.
So who in state legislature brought the two bills that make up the reforms that have these directors of schools so worked up? The first bill was Senate Bill 5, called the Tennessee First To The Top Act of 2010:
As you can see, this bill was sponsored in the Senate by Jim Kyle (D), Jamie Woodson (R), Dolores Gresham (R), Randy McNally (R), Andy Berke (D), Brian Kelsey (R) and Reggie Tate (D). In the House, it was sponsored by Mike Turner (D), Lois DeBerry (D), Harry Brooks (R), Jimmy Naifeh (D), Craig Fitzhugh (D), Mark Maddox (D), Kent Williams (R) and Bill Dunn (R). This bill deals primarily with the creation of the Achievement School District which is reserved for the lowest academically performing schools and they give up control to the Commissioner of Education. Also included are the much-discussed teacher evaluations and their reliance upon student standardized test scores. However, there is nothing here mentioning the Common Core “state” Standards. That language is solely contained within the Race To The Top Application.
The second bill passed in January 2010 as part of the education “reforms” at Race To The Top time was Senate Bill 6, called the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010:
This bill was passed on January 21, 2010, three days after the Race To The Top application was submitted. This bill has the same Senate sponsors as the First To The Top bill excepting Brian Kelsey and adding Ken Yager (R), Roy Herron (D), Lowe Finney (D) and Mark Norris (R). The House version has the same sponsors excepting Kent Williams and adding Dennis Ferguson (D), Beth Harwell (R), Jim Hackworth (D), Richard Montgomery (R), Eddie Yokely (D), Johnny Shaw (D), Jim Coley (R) and G.A. Hardaway (D).
This bill also does not mention Common Core “state” Standards, but does put all four-year universities under a yet-undetermined “master plan” and puts all two-year colleges under a common “community college” system so they will all be the same. The four-year universities are no longer allowed to offer remedial courses after July 1, 2012. Those will all be provided by the “community college” system. Changes to higher education are necessary to implement all of Common Core, for it seeks to measure students for all P-20 years (pre-school to four years after graduating from a four-year university).
Of these legislators sponsoring these bills, Senators Gresham, Tate and Kelsey remain on the Senate Education Committee today. On the House side, Harry Brooks, Jim Coley, Bill Dunn and Beth Harwell are still active on the Education Committee. These folks should be capable of testifying in the ‘fact-finding’ meeting how much they knew about Common Core and whether their intent in passing these bills was to implement them.
The next post in this series will examine just what exactly was promised regarding the Common Core “state” Standards in the Race To The Top application, since it isn’t clear from the supporting state legislation exactly where these “state-led” standards are coming from.