Mary Holden Talks Common Core

Education blogger and former teacher Mary Holden talks about her experience with Common Core in Part 3 of her teaching story.

Here’s a bit of what she has to say:

Many of the English standards were vague and some of them couldn’t even clearly be assessed at all, and others were so very specific. So I was frustrated by that because I had become well-versed in breaking down a standard and determining the best way to assess mastery of it myself. But now I saw that these standards were part of a bigger plan, and I didn’t like it. I was also dismayed by the influx of informational text and the resulting decrease in literature, as well as CC developer David Coleman’s insistence on how we teach literature. I was becoming increasingly bothered by all of this. This was not why I became an English teacher.


For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport



Phil Roe: Replacing No Child Left Behind

Editor’s Note: We welcome Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe to the blog to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congressman Roe serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

This week, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is the first reauthorization of ESEA since No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President George W. Bush and took effect in 2002. Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, NCLB has created a maze of government bureaucracy for students, their families, educators and school administrators. ESSA includes important reforms to return control to the local level, prevent the Secretary of Education from coercing states to adopt Common Core and pave the way for educators and school administrators to get back to what they do best by eliminating bureaucracy in the education system.

I’ve served on the House Education and Workforce Committee since coming to Congress in 2009, and have visited with hundreds of educators in and around the First Congressional District. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with students and their families and a there’s a common theme in our conversations: stop Common Core and get Washington bureaucrats out of our schools. I’m proud to say that the Every Students Succeeds Act will do those important things, all while preserving conservative education principles. In November, I was pleased to see Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray announce the framework for a compromise to reauthorize ESEA had been developed. I was asked to serve on the Conference Committee, and worked with my colleagues to find a path forward to bring this bill to the floor.

The Every Student Succeeds Act repeals the one-size-fits-all “adequate yearly progress” accountability system, a standard set by the federal government, and replaces it with a statewide accountability program. This gives each state the ability to set their own standards, and, most importantly, to identify and assist struggling schools and districts. It also preserves our commitment to student performance by ensuring we’re regularly tracking student progress, but without requiring states to opt-in to a rigorous testing system by allowing them the flexibility to offer nationally recognized local assessments as long as those assessments meet reliability, validity and comparability standards.

To ensure states have control of their education system, this bill explicitly prevents the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting academic standards, such as Common Core. While Common Core began as a state-led initiative, it has morphed into a quasi-federal set of standards as the Secretary has used his authority to issue waivers from certain federal mandates in exchange for the adoption of Common Core. This provision is a huge win for our students and educators. Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act provides greater funding flexibility to states and school districts so they can better target their resources to areas with the most needs. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for health care, and it certainly won’t work for our students. Each and every student has their own unique needs, and this bill allows education leaders to set their own priorities, ensuring students have the resources they need to be successful.

The most important thing we can do in education is to return control to the states and local school districts, and this bill does that. It’s the product of the hard work of Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray, and was done through regular order. This is how Congress is supposed to get things done for the American people, and I’m proud of this bill and what it will do for the future of this country. Our students are our future, and they deserve access to a quality education.

Rep. Roe represents Tennessee’s First Congressional District. He serves on the House Committees on Education and Workforce and Veterans Affairs, and served on the conference committee for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Candice Clarifies

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:


I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.


Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process


The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website,

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.


For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Dr. Sharon Roberts: Students, Teachers, Principals Need Stability on Standards

NOTE: Below is a guest post by Dr. Sharon Roberts, Chief Operating Officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

There has been a lot of discussion recently about how to improve our schools and increase student achievement, and it can often be tough to cut through the chatter and identify the smartest solutions. But right now, Tennessee has a clear path forward that is easy to see.

Superintendents from 114 of the state’s 141 school districts have signed letters asking their state legislators not to change Tennessee’s academic standards during this legislative session. The letters echo the findings of SCORE’s 2014-15 State of Education in Tennessee report, which identified moving ahead with updated assessments and stability for the standards as the top priority for the coming year.

It’s not often that we see this much alignment from such a diverse group – representing small rural districts, large cities, and communities of sizes in between. The leaders that signed these letters represent districts that educate about 85 percent of all Tennessee public school students. When we have this many voices speaking together, it is important to respectfully listen to what they are saying. The great majority of Tennessee school district leaders – the people who witness every day how our academic standards are working in classrooms – want to keep those standards unchanged this year and let the current process to review and refine our standards play out.

On the heels of these superintendents and directors of schools speaking out, we heard from community college presidents who agree. They know that in recent years about 68 percent of students entering community college have needed to take remedial classes to get prepared for college-level work and that a stronger foundation in K-12 means success in post high school credentialing and work. They are working diligently to help Tennessee achieve the bold goals of the Drive to 55. That’s why they, too, asked policymakers to maintain the existing standards that are helping strengthen students’ skills.

Superintendents, college presidents, and educators we talk to across the state agree that providing a stable environment to move ahead is the best thing we can do for Tennessee students this year.

The urge to take bold action during the legislative session can be strong, especially when it comes to setting our kids up for success. But this year, educators and many others believe that the strongest leadership our leaders can provide is to hold off on major changes and give our teachers, students, and parents some stability while they implement the student-focused policies that have already been put in place.

While there is no need for legislative action, I do urge other Tennesseans – especially teachers – to take action by taking the time to review our English language arts and math standards and provide feedback on what’s working and what can be improved. That’s the best way to ensure our state standards will work in Tennessee classrooms. You can visit to see what the standards look like and offer your own thoughts.

The decisions we make today will impact an entire generation of Tennesseans. We all want to make sure that our students are on the path to success in college, careers, and wherever life takes them. Right now, our policymakers can keep students on that path by rejecting proposals to start over or to go back and committing to gathering thoughtful input and building on the strong foundation that is already in place, and that is paying dividends for our students.

Dr. Sharon Roberts oversees SCORE’s organizational operations and project management to further the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic plan. She is also heavily involved in SCORE’s outreach program, targeting and engaging stakeholders across the state. Prior to joining SCORE, Dr. Roberts entire career was spent as an educator, beginning as a special education teacher in the Grainger County School System, spending 21 years in Knox County School system as a teacher, instructional coach, principal and assistant superintendent, and then becoming Director of the Lebanon (TN) Special School District.

Failure to Communicate

It seems Governor Bill Haslam is having some trouble advancing his education agenda.

But why? Why is a governor with a supermajority from his own party not able to advance key pieces of his legislative agenda?

He hosted an Education Summit last week designed to “reset” the education conversation in the state. More than anything, it seemed an attempt to save Common Core from a potential political demise. That summit failed to address one key education topic. And he received a response from a teacher (TEA Vice President Beth Brown) indicating he may be missing the point when it comes to what matters to students and teachers.

Earlier this week, a report from a Vanderbilt study indicated support for Common Core among Tennessee’s teachers has dropped dramatically. Teacher Lucianna Sanson explained it this way:

“What you’re seeing in that survey is the difference between what we were told it was and a year of implementation,” Sanson says. “And that is why you have that drastic, drastic change. Because you start implementing it, and you’re like, ‘What is this?’”

Back in August, Haslam sent a note to teachers welcoming them back to school. But, teachers were not amused. Instead, they reminded him that he’d broken his promise to dramatically improve teacher pay in the state.

Of course, during the legislative session, Haslam suffered a major setback as the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests were delayed by the General Assembly.

Before that, Directors of Schools from around the state sent a letter to Haslam complaining that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman wasn’t listening.

What do all of these issues have in common? Here’s a video that briefly illustrates the problem:




PET on Common Core Lessons

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) President Cathy Kolb and Director of Professional Development Bethany Bowman talk about lessons learned from Common Core implementation.
There are several words that are called “fighting words” these days, but “Common Core State Standards” may head the list in public education. The only other item that may come close is standardized testing.

Just the phrase “Common Core” can invoke passions, debate or a heated quarrel. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a battle about standards in the private sector.

Mark Twain popularized the adage that there were “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Research, design of study, methodologies, sample selection, quality of evidence all determine how the statistics will be shaped. The use of the data will then drive the decision-making. Policymakers can justify any position for or against an issue based on their view of the available information. Toss in a political agenda, add some cash and you have a recipe to be persuaded for or against any issue. A political maxim is: “money changes behavior, lots of money changes lots of behavior.”

We should be weary of many education reforms, and generally opposed to a one-size fits all approach – especially when there is “lots of money” involved. There is always good and bad to most issues, and reasonable people can generally argue either side. A civil debate can serve a practical purpose in public policy. Common Core is an issue that makes sense in theory, and results may show it makes sense in practice. Time will determine that debate. As an organization, we support higher standards.

Who can be opposed to raising the standards in public education? Let’s face it, our economic strength as a state and a country is linked to the performance of our public schools. Yet, not all students are educated in a traditional public school. Traditional schools are wary of being accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests which do not give an accurate picture of teacher performance.

There are a growing array of education choice options available in America such as controlled open enrollment, charter schools, charter districts, online schools, lab schools, schools-within-schools, year-round schools, charter technical career centers, magnet schools, alternative schools, vouchers, special programs, advanced placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, early admissions, and credit by examination or demonstration of competency. If you can conceive it, more than likely some school, district or state will probably try it. But will all of these options include the use of Common Core State Standards, and if not, why not?

In Tennessee, for example, any cursory review demonstrates that Common Core State Standards were superior to the standards previously employed. But it is debatable whether recommending a common set of standards for all 50 states was necessary. In fact, Common Core could be properly viewed as a disruptor. In that regard, Common Core served a useful purpose of blowing up the status quo.

In education circles people are now discussing standards, curriculum and testing. Don’t believe for one minute that Common Core State Standards are a “be all, end all.” They were not an insidious plot by the Obama Administration, but they were not exactly crafted by real public educators either. Many of the elements of Common Core were a response that has been kicked around for a quarter-century. In fact, one could pinpoint the genesis of the national curriculum debate at the feet of Chester Finn, who proposed it in an Education Week article in 1989.     Nobody should be thrilled with watered down standards. Yet we must critically scrutinize the curriculum, textbook, and testing clique that have turned into profit centers for a few corporations that seem to have garnered an inside advantage. Bluntly, there may be too many education lobbyists and corporate interests driving manufactured problems in the name of education reform. It is definite that we have tilted the debate too far to the side of the federal government in harming state sovereignty and local control of public education.

The implementation of Common Core went better in Tennessee than in many other places in the country. The real problem was the failure of many policymakers to address the legitimate concerns of stakeholders on other peripheral issues. Organizations that were engaged to take the lead in addressing criticisms were viewed as impertinent and disrespectful and operated as if they themselves were the policymakers. In fact, it bordered on arrogance.

It is accurate that those for and against Common Core have taken liberties with the truth. However, if the debate exasperates people enough perhaps it will spark needed changes such as a real review of standardized testing and a focus back on student-centered instruction. The lesson learned is that the federal government is often too prescriptive in their participation in public education, and most decisions should be left to states, districts, schools and educators.

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