Common Core Flip-Flop Times Two: One Tenn. Senator’s Changing Positions

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 23, 2015 2 min read
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My colleague Lauren Camera has written extensively about the confusing landscape for the Common Core State Standards in Tennessee, but the state has an increasingly complicated relationship with the standards. The state first delayed and ultimately dropped the PARCC exam aligned to the standards last year, and Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, has initiated a review of the standards, as part of a suite of policy changes related to teacher evaluations and other matters.

And then there’s state Sen. Dolores Gresham, a Republican who is chairwoman of her chamber’s education committee. Here is a timeline of her public positions on the common core:

• In a 2013 story for Education Week about efforts to defend the standards, I highlighted an op-ed that Gresham wrote for The Tennessean extolling the virtues of the common core, saying it would reverse the state’s history of having its students do well on state assessments but poor on national ones. (For some reason the paper no longer has that op-ed on its website;she’s also still listed as a common-core supporter at the website of Conservatives for Higher Standards, a group that supports the common core.)

• However, last year, as the state dropped PARCC and political opposition to the standards grew, Gresham, along with fellow GOP Sen. Mike Bell, announced plans late last year to introduce legislation that would repeal the standards and create a new state commission that would oversee the development of new standards. Citing the need for Tennessee to be a model for “education improvement,” Gresham told Governing magazine with respect to her repeal bill: “As such, we need to be a leader and take the next logical step which is to use the knowledge we have learned and tailor it to Tennessee students, exerting state responsibility over education.”

• On Jan. 22, The Tennessean reported that Gresham has apparently changed her mind again about the common core, and now believes (after talking with teachers) that keeping the common core is the right way to go. “I have talked to teachers who have told me in so many words, at last, we are no longer dumbing down our children,” she said. “That kind of encouragement is very important when other people are not so enthusiastic,” Gresham told the paper.

• On Jan. 23, just a day after Gresham reportedly announced that she once again supported the standards, the senator told The Tennessean that no, in fact, she remained committed to her legislation repealing the common core.

I called Gresham’s office seeking comment and I’ve emailed her as well, but have so far not received a response as to why her public positions have shifted. I’ll update the post if I hear a response. (I actually contacted her office after the Jan. 22 story in The Tennessean but before her most recent shift on Jan. 23.) It remains to be seen whether common core will survive in Tennessee, and if so, in what form.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.