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U.S. Congressman Scott DesJarlais

Representing the 4th District of Tennessee

DesJarlais Column: Common Core in Tennessee: A Race to the Middle?

Jun 19, 2013

Folks across my district universally support providing their children with a good education. Educating our children strengthens our communities, creates and supports jobs, and boosts our economic competitiveness in the global market and at home. As long as parents, teachers, administrators and other state and local actors are offered the ability to hold their educational systems accountable, our schools will be robust and our children will thrive.

Unfortunately, ongoing actions by the President are threatening to take over what we teach our kids. Our schools, and the teachers and administrators that make them work, are being shut out by a program known as Common Core.

Common Core began as a vision by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 to bring about uniform “American standards” to schools. After pledging $60 million towards the goal, these groups worked with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to develop and implement these standards. They found a strong ally in President Obama. 

Understanding that implementation would be unattainable without the buy-in of state legislatures, President Obama and his allies saw in the economic downturn an opportunity. Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the stimulus bill, as a vehicle, the Administration effectively tied Race to the Top (RTTT) money for schools to adoption of a specific set of standards that were functionally equivalent to Common Core. The worst part about this coercion is that the states never had a chance to see the standards before agreeing to plans that adopted them.

Now, some may argue that even if the process of implementing Common Core standards was questionable, that the standards themselves are strong and will enhance our kids’ education and better assist them in becoming college and career ready. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Common Core proponent, acknowledges that Tennessee’s previous English standards were stronger than Common Core’s. And while Tennessee’s previous math standards fell just below, Common Core’s math standards have been called into question by many renowned professors of mathematics, including one who served on Common Core’s validation board. The standards were so lacking that Common Core, instead of improving them, simply chose to describe them as “informed by” instead of being “benchmarked” to international standards.

So 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.

Not only is this program bad for our kids, it may run afoul of federal statute. Several pieces of education law, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, prohibit the federal government from exercising any control over curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel. This puts the Administration on unsteady legal ground. Its actions have necessitated states modifying their curriculum, instructional agenda, and even textbooks to prepare their students for the assessments that will go along with Common Core.

One may wonder what can be done to fix Common Core, if not remove our kids from it. Unfortunately, since Common Core was designed – and is even owned – by Washington bureaucrats, state and local actors have little ability to amend it. This makes the possibility of fixing Common Core complicated at best and at worst, structurally impossible.

However, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on which I serve, has diligently worked to bring back local control to ensure that those closest to our kids – their parents, teachers and administrators – have the biggest say in how we choose to educate them. Just this week, I was happy to vote in favor of H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which would repeal No Child Left Behind and empower communities to fix our broken education system.

I was also happy to cosponsor H.R. 2089, introduced by Rep. Martha Roby and Rep. Todd Rokita, which would prohibit the federal government from influencing or coercing state participation in specific education programs, standards, or curriculums - effectively gutting Common Core. This provision was also included in H.R. 5.

While the goal of holding our children to high standards of education is a good one, Common Core is bad policy, implemented unfairly, that achieves mediocrity at the expense of states’ sovereignty and local control. If we are to fix our broken education system, we must do it by including, not excluding, those closest to our kids in the process and I sincerely hope that the President and the Senate will join me in this effort.


Ted Smith commented on 6/20/2013 - I commend you and the Republican house on taking such positive steps to return local control to our children's education. I also add that the data collection requirements are straight out of Orwell's 1984.
Rhonda Thomas commented on 6/20/2013 - Finally, someone gets it. Common Core is going to leave children behind more than any other thing.
Mark Clifton commented on 6/20/2013 - Please, please, PLEASE, quit doing stuff and start UNDOING stupid stuff that has been done. e have several Omnibus laws(?) that turn the responsibility of Congress over to career bureaucrats who only see that they no have an opportunity to build their fifedom. Why don't you people quit doing stuff (and I mean stuff) and revie ho all this stuff is really affecting your constituents, and get rid of the stuff.
Tammy Sharp commented on 6/20/2013 - It's obvious you've done your homework on this ! Please keep my name if you need further info on common core or the states text book selection process! I've also worked on several campaigns and would love to again!
Carl Price commented on 6/20/2013 - Congressman DesJarlais, Thank you for expressing your concerns regarding Common Core in such a clear and informative fashion. I am a public school teacher in west Tennessee, and I feel that because of its "exuberance" to attain Race To The Top funding, the state of Tennessee has developed policy, in the form of the Tennessee Diploma Project, which places an undo burden, in the form of unrealistic graduation requirements, upon the students in our state. As I am sure you know, all high school students are required to take four years of mathematics, starting with algebra 1. We are essentially requiring all of our young people to participate in college preparatory courses when, realistically, many or our students will choose not to attend college. Now, as you so eloquently state, Common Core standards are being thrust upon these students. How does the Common Core recipe for mediocrity correlate with the stringent requirements of the Tennessee Diploma Project? I wholeheartedly agree with you that education should be controlled locally. Thank you for voting in favor of H.R. 5, and especially for cosponsoring H.R. 2089.
Bill Russell commented on 6/20/2013 - Scott, thank you for being a leader is the Stop Common Core fight. I'm tired of being told, it's hard for some people to except change. Just saw in the Tennesseean, that the National Council of Teacher Quality's list Traits of a Top Quality Program, second on the list is: trains to teach CC reading and math standards. It's seems alerting you, and others in the legislature, might be the only thing we, ad parents, can do. Please fight them! Keep fighting them! Show them for what they are... Collectivists, progressives, and we will not negotiate our children's future!!!
Eun Hansen commented on 6/21/2013 - We are all in this together! Future of this country is on our children's education ..
Jennifer Parton commented on 6/21/2013 - Thank you so much for recognizing how bad COMMON CORE is for our children. I have actually pulled both my kids out of public schools this year,because of common core and data mining. I also do not want them exposed to all the left wing agenda that gets forced on them daily. I know we are fighting at the state and local levels to inform our legislators to repeal common core and give the power back to the parents. Thank you.
Earlene Bryant commented on 6/21/2013 - I think prayer should be back in school. I don't care who it offends. If the people don't like our ways goback where they came from.
Dorothy Myhr commented on 6/24/2013 - I support this Common Core bill you have introduced in Congress.