Common Core confusion

Who controls standards? Who controls curriculum? Tennessee lawmakers seek clarity

PHOTO: G. Tatter
The Common Core standards for high school math adorn the walls of Christi Root's classroom at Monterey High School in Putnam County.

Controversy over the Common Core State Standards in Tennessee has largely abated now that the State Board of Education is in the process of adopting new homegrown standards for math and English.

Now lawmakers are ensuring that confusion that often was at the core of objections to Common Core is cleared up in the future: the difference between standards and curriculum, and who controls what.

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee passed a bill specifying that the state sets academic standards, while local districts control curriculum to teach to the standards. The bill already has been approved by the Senate.

“We’ve long said that standards are a matter to be set at the state level, and curriculum is exclusively at the local level,” said Nathan James, director of legislative affairs for the State Board. “This is a cleanup. There is actually nothing new happening as a result of this bill. It’s just making it crystal clear.”

“Standards are what you should know at a particular point in time, while curriculum is how a course is structured and what is going to be taught,” he explained to lawmakers. “And those are entirely for the LEA (local education agency) to decide.”

Although James said the State Board is happy for the clarification, the bill was written by Sen. Delores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville — not state education officials. Rep. Sheila Butt sponsored the bill in the House.

Specifically, the proposal would edit several statutes pertaining to education to make the differentiation between “standards” and “curriculum” more clear. It turns out that even policymakers in the legislature have confused standards with curricula in the past.

“Throughout the code, there were places that it actually said the State Board of Education sets the curriculum, which they do not,” Butt said.


After the state adopted Common Core in 2010, several parents and advocacy groups became concerned that the state, and even the federal government, were taking too much control over what students learned in the classroom. While that was only one of many concerns about Common Core — other parents and experts argued that they were vague or developmentally inappropriate — it was the concern most often cited in legislative debates over the standards.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”