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EDITORIAL: Common Core State Standards Should Be Kept

The Knoxville News-Sentinel

The Common Core State Standards -- a set of K-12 education goals for reading and math adopted by Tennessee, 44 other states and the District of Columbia -- have suddenly come under attack.

Spurred by tea party groups, officials in several states have made moves to halt the implementation of the standards.

In Tennessee, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, ripped the Common Core as a federal intrusion into state authority over education, writing in a column sent to news media that "not only have states forfeited their academic standards to unaccountable Washington bureaucrats, they've accepted in return, watered down, internationally uncompetitive standards to which to hold our children."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Common Core State Standards were developed under the direction of state governors and school chiefs -- not Washington bureaucrats -- and are stronger than Tennessee's previous standards.

In fact, Tennessee is a poster child for the Common Core because of its wretched past. In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an "F" for its standards. State tests showed 90 percent of students were "proficient" in reading and math, but the National Assessment of Education Progress uncovered that only 26 percent achieved proficiency. In a speech Tuesday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it was because "Tennessee had pathetically low standards."

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The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers launched the Common Core initiative in 2008. Then-Gov. Phil Bredesen signed on the next year. Bredesen and the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core on July 30, 2010.

The standards are educational goals for reading and math, the two foundations of knowledge. They emphasize basic skills, critical thinking and problem solving.

The standards do not prescribe a particular curriculum or set of textbooks. For example, sixth-graders should know how to find the area of triangles, but the standards do not dictate how to teach them to do that. Curriculum decisions still are made on the local level.

Though the federal government did not develop the Common Core, it did offer an incentive to states to adopt meaningful standards. Part of the formula for Race to the Top funding was dependent upon states that collaborated to create new standards and assessments. There is a clear difference, however, between an incentive and a mandate.

In his speech on Tuesday, delivered to the National Society of News Editors, Duncan praised Bredesen and Gov. Bill Haslam for improvements in Tennessee student performance: "Tennessee stuck by the higher standards -- and, last year, Tennessee's students made the biggest single-year jump in achievement ever recorded in the state."

Keep the Common Core. Great expectations lead to great accomplishments. The Common Core sets the bar high, and we are confident that, given ample resources and excellent teaching, Tennessee's students will be able to vault over it.