The curtain rose Wednesday at the Tennessee legislature on official debate about the Common Core State Standards, but despite a packed audience, the show was postponed.

The House subcommittee in charge of academic standards was scheduled to discuss House Bill 3, which would scrap Common Core in Tennessee by the 2016-2017 school year.

But citing an “epiphany,” Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) asked Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, to roll the bill a week while lawmakers confer with Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.

Forgety’s bill calls for creation of new standards in a review process similar to the one Haslam began in last fall. Forgety said it was possible that his proposed review and the governor’s could be aligned so that no legislation would be necessary. He noted that he began drafting his bill in June, almost five months before the governor’s review process was even announced.

The intent of the bill, Forgety said, is to make sure teachers have a voice in the academic standards they must teach by.

“I’m of the opinion that this body (the legislature) should not be in the business of telling a third-grade teacher how to teach,” said Forgety, a former teacher and school superintendent.

While Forgety’s proposal mandates new state standards by 2016-2017, the governor’s review process assumes that Tennesseans might stay the course on Common Core. Otherwise, Forgety’s proposal is not that different from the review already underway. He would have the State Board of Education appoint six advisory teams specialized by subject and grade levels. Each would include at least three public school teachers and instructional leaders; one faculty member from a higher education institution in this state; and two parents of public school students.

In Haslam’s review, all Tennesseeans can comment online on the standards. There are also two eight-person committees of educators from across the state, and three advisory teams of educators that work under those committees. Just as with Forgety’s proposal, members of the panels were appointed by the State Board of Education.

In the months leading up to the legislative session, Common Core naysayers dominated headlines with protests and anti-Core school board campaigns. Many legislators, including some members of education committees in the House and Senate, publicly and adamantly oppose Common Core, and Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey declared the standards were as good as dead earlier in the week, before official debate even began.

But as the week progressed, supporters of the standards — or at least of the review process already in place — have become more vocal. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Organization of State Superintendents (TOSS) released a letter to lawmakers asking them to maintain the state’s current academic standards for now. The conversation seems to have shifted, with lawmakers no longer asking whether to repeal the current standards, but how best to review, and possibly adapt, the standards.

Common Core State Standards are benchmarks in English language arts and math that dictate the skills students should have at each grade level. In 2010, Tennessee joined most other states in implementing the standards and has been developing a test to align with them to accurately measure students’ academic progress. Opposition to the standards – which are tied to education grant programs under President Obama’s administration – is in part due to fears of federal overreach.

Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.
Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

The House subcommittee’s meeting room was filled with constituents, including teachers, organized by Tennesseans for Student Success, an advocacy group in favor of keeping the standards for now. The group introduced itself to many Tennesseans through television and radio advertisements asking lawmakers for “results, not rhetoric.” Supporters wore green stickers with the slogan “Going Backwards is Unacceptable. No on HB3.” Some wore matching red T-shirts with the same message.

Wayne Miller, executive director of TOSS, said Wednesday he trusts any review process endorsed by Forgety. Miller has said that school superintendents are not against Tennessee changing its standards but doesn’t want a hasty move that disrupts teachers and students.

“I think [Forgety] is ‘spot on’ on wanting to focus everyone’s attention on what’s a good, fair way to make sure that all Tennesseans have buy-in,” Miller said. “He is as purely motivated around this subject as anyone could be. Anytime you get collaborative conversation, you’re going to get a better product.”

Forgety predicted more bills related to the standards will be filed this week. Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville), chairwoman of the Senate Education committee, filed a bill similar to Forgety’s in November.