Following intense talks on Common Core between state lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, a compromise bill emerged this week to continue the governor’s review of the controversial academic standards, with one added step – the creation of a third committee in the process.

Under the latest proposal, members of the additional recommendation committee would be appointed by the speakers of both chambers of the legislature, as well as by the governor.

Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) amended a bill originally about drivers’ education to include the new proposal. It passed Wednesday with minimal discussion in the House Education Instruction and Programming Subcommittee.

When presenting the amended bill, Spivey said only: “This bill would repeal the Common Core Standards in Tennessee, and that’s it in a nutshell.”

However, it’s unclear how much that “new” standards adopted under this bill would differ from Tennessee’s existing Common Core State Standards.

Common Core is a set of academic benchmarks that Tennessee adopted in 2010 and began using in some classrooms in the 2012-13 school year. Criticized for reasons ranging from vagueness to testing alignment to federal overreach, some state lawmakers have sought to repeal the standards. Last fall, Haslam initiated a year-long review of the standards, with recommendations for changes to be submitted to the State Board of Education by the end of 2015.

Speaking with Chalkbeat on Thursday, Spivey said his proposal seeks to strengthen the governor’s review process. Even if the resulting standards are similar to Common Core, he said, people concerned with the origins of the standards — which Tennessee adopted along with 45 other states and the District of Columbia — should be comforted by the thoroughness of the vetting process, as well as the state’s stewardship of money already invested to implement Common Core.

Rep. Billy Spivey
PHOTO: TN.gov
Rep. Billy Spivey

“This bill probably isn’t going to make anybody extremely happy, but I think everybody can walk away with some measure of happiness, because it creates a very high college and career standard for Tennessee students, and it does it in a matter that’s not so fast that the teachers are knocked off of their heels again,” Spivey said.

Spivey’s proposal differs from the governor’s only in its official break with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers – the organizations out of which the Common Core was born – and an added review committee, with members not only appointed by the governor, but also by House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Haslam’s current review includes two eight-person committees of educators from across the state, and three advisory teams of educators that work under those committees. Members of these panels were appointed by the State Board of Education.

Spivey said adding the speakers’ appointments to the new committee would ensure a fairer process. He said he trusts the speakers to select members knowledgeable about education. “We obviously trust the leadership we have, or we wouldn’t have placed the gavels with them,” he said. “They’re very capable of finding people relevant to the job at hand.”

Spivey, along with Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), previously had backed off a bill to repeal the Common Core – which included a review process separate from the governor’s – because of its high cost.

The governor launched the state’s review in response to growing concern about the standards in Tennessee, which mirrors controversy about them nationwide. Many critics charge that the standards were imposed by the federal government, although they in fact resulted from a collaborative effort among states.

Advocacy groups supporting the Common Core and the governor’s review say Spivey’s new proposal isn’t ideal, but that it’s better than other bills filed this session that would outright repeal the Common Core. None of the other proposals have been scheduled for consideration this legislative session.

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.

“House Bill 1035, as amended, is the result of ongoing conversations about how best to review and improve Tennessee’s academic standards in a way that doesn’t create confusion in the classroom, and that supports student success,” said Tennesseans for Students Success, an advocacy group with ties to Haslam, in a statement released onWednesday. “Is it perfect? No. But, while we still do not believe this bill is necessary, we’re encouraged that it appears to codify the current review process, respects varying points of view, and most importantly avoids disrupting the progress being made in Tennessee’s classrooms.”

Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.

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