Commercial about state educational standards makes Super Bowl splash

Amid much-hyped television commercials about cars, candy, beer and digital products, many Super Bowl viewers in Tennessee noticed that an educational advocacy group went on the offense during Sunday’s big game.

Tennesseans for Student Success, a Nashville-based nonprofit organization, aired a commercial during the football championship that pointedly referred to the fight brewing in the Tennessee General Assembly over whether to repeal the Common Core State Standards, which Tennessee – along with most other states – use for math and reading.

The 30-second commercial told viewers that “some politicians want to drive us back to the days of lower standards, less accountability and fewer choices for parents,” and implored Tennesseans to “tell your legislators to focus on results — not rhetoric.”

Local ads that played on Nashville’s NBC affiliate during the game went for between $60,000 to $70,000. The ad also played in the Knoxville market during the Super Bowl, and will run in the Memphis market during the next two weeks. In addition, the group is running a radio ad with a similar message in markets across the state.

Tennesseans for Student Success is led by Jeremy Harrell, a former campaign officer for Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

During his first term in office, Haslam helped usher in the Common Core and more rigorous accountability measures such as test score-based teacher evaluations. However, Common Core has since come under fire from many state legislators who view the standards as federal overreach because of its ties to federal education grant programs under the Obama administration.

The media campaign by Tennesseans for Student Success is one of the most visible efforts to counter those arguments, although it does not specifically refer to Common Core. According to spokeswoman Ashley Elizabeth Graham, the 4-month-old organization is “committed to advancing and protecting the gains Tennessee’s students have made our last several years.”

She said the Super Bowl was the perfect time to introduce a wider audience to the organization and its message.

“What a better time to reach Tennessee citizens than during the Super Bowl, when people are actually watching commercials!” she wrote in an email responding to Chalkbeat’s inquiry. “We’ve said all along that we would use every tool in our toolbox to protect and advance Tennessee’s education gains.”

The commercial first began airing on Jan. 16, but Graham said the Super Bowl airing prompted an increase in traffic on the organization’s website. On YouTube, the commercial had logged more than 1,100 views as of midday Tuesday.

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

“Education conversations are happening around kitchen tables across the state, and this effort was successful because we got to come into those homes and living rooms and be a part of that education conversation,” Graham said.

The commercial was financed with the help of the Tennessee Association of Business Foundation, a branch of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce tasked with creating a better workforce for Tennessee businesses. The foundation has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports Common Core as a “roadmap of clear expectations for college readiness.”

Common Core State Standards are benchmarks in English language arts and math that clarify the skills each child should have at each grade level. Before they were adopted by most states, state standards varied widely across the nation. The initiative was launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state education commissioners from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. The goal was to create consistent, real-world learning goals to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career and life. However, three states — Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Carolina — have since repealed the standards, and Tennessee lawmakers are considering a proposal to repeal them as well.

Have you seen the Tennessee commercial? Did it sway your thinking about Common Core? Share your reader comments below.

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