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One of the main changes in education is the continued switch to Common Core standards, a move which some call a much-needed reform and others call an overreach by government to create nationalized education.
Bedford County educators have been working hard to implement Common Core, teaching the curriculum ahead of the 2014-2015 deadline for implementation. In 2014-2015, math and English and language arts classes will test to Common Core standards instead of TCAP.
Students testing in those topics will take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Consortium (PARCC) test online. The TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Program) test will continue for science and social studies classes.
A total of 45 states, plus the District of Columbia and four territories, have adopted the new standards, according to the Common Core website, corestandards.org.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais told the Times-Gazette Tuesday that Common Core is a federal overreach into what should be a state-by-state effort to craft school curricula. The program also is cumbersome and takes flexibility away from local districts, he said.
"A lot of people don't fully understand what it consists of," DesJarlais said. "States can do better. It's a federal mandate."
The U.S. House of Representatives on July 19 passed the Student Success Act, which proponents say would prevent the federal government from interfering with states' education rights.
The act would give states and local districts control again, said Robert Jameson, communications director for DesJarlais. The act would "remove onerous requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act," he said.
There has been no action on the act in the Senate. A separate bill in the Senate would add more of a federal role into education, Jameson said.
Supporters of Common Core say it is changing standards for the better.
"I have been a Common Core coach for two years," said Karen Scoggins, assistant school superintendent in Bedford County. "It is a natural movement of standards; it is a standardization of standards."
States have always used different standards but were judged to the same criteria, Scoggins said. Common Core will change that but will still allow teachers to have flexibility, she said. For example, a teacher can choose to use any passage from a state-approved list of textbooks.
"A teacher can take Common Core and develop her own curriculum from that standard," Scoggins said.
Common Core is the first standard change in years that places fewer standards on teachers, said Janice Womble, principal of Thomas Magnet School. It is the fifth standard change she has experienced in her career. Common Core lets teachers spend more time teaching specifics so students can learn, she said.
For example, Womble said, on a writing assessments under the new standard, a student will read from a text and write about it using evidence from the text, versus the old method that did not use evidence. She calls that kind of writing a life skill that will prepare students for college and a career.
However, not everyone is sold on Common Core.
DesJarlais said he has seen growing opposition to Common Core standards.
The Tennessee Senate Education Committee will hold hearings on Common Core on Sept. 19-20 due to criticism of the standards. Opponents and supporters are expected to testify.
"My hope for those is, whether you are for or against, I hope they have real Tennesseans," said J.C. Bowman, executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee. "In other states, they've brought in out-of-town experts."
Groups like Tennesseans Against Common Core (tnacc.net) have developed grassroots opposition to the new standards. The organization has 800 registered members, said spokeswoman Karen Bracken.
The group has several concerns over Common Core, she said, including the standards themselves. However, that's not the whole issue, she said.
"That is a very small part of the issues we have with Common Core," Bracken said. "It's how it was implemented that we have a problem with."
Bracken said she has spoken to a number of teachers who have been told they will be fired if they speak out against Common Core, Bracken said. She said she also spoke to state lawmakers who did not know that their votes to implement Race To The Top effectively enacted Common Core.
"They never saw Common Core in Race To The Top," she said, adding that they supported Race To The Top because they wanted the money it provided.
Bracken's website provides a downloadable form that claims to allow a parent to opt his or her children out of Common Core standards teaching.
DesJarlais said he would like to talk to any teacher who is opposed to Common Core, but so far, he has not heard from any.
Bedford County schools have been testing to TCAP standards even as students have been learning Common Core standards. But next year, they will test for some Common Core subjects on PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), an online assessment system developed by multiple states, including Tennessee.
According to the Heritage Center, Indiana is pulling out as a member of PARCC's governing board. Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia have already withdrawn. Some of the concern has been over the system's expenses.
Bowman said he has heard that some districts, especially in rural areas, do not have the technology in place.
Bedford County is ready for PARCC, Superintendent Don Embry said. He also said he does not expect Tennessee to drop PARCC because the state is one of the administrators of the system.
Another concern that some have with PARCC and Common Core is the protection of student data. Bowman said he thinks the Tennessee Legislature will eventually develop safeguards for the data.
Overall, Bowman said that he thinks Common Core provides good standards for education. Common Core has been misunderstood, he said, by people who do not realize the difference between standards and curriculum, and he cautions against changing the move toward Common Core.
"There's nothing really wrong with the standards," Bowman said. "It's the peripheral issues like testing. I don't think teachers can take another change. If you want to revert back to the (former) standards, you would absolutely demoralize all the teachers in this state."