NASHVILLE, July 28, 2014– In the Volunteer State, a cover-up is beginning to reveal itself. For the most part, state and local media have been ignoring the low-hanging fruit that is Common Core’s rot. That being said, it’s all starting to fall apart.
“For some, this may be about a hot button issue like Common Core, but for me it is about the much larger picture, which includes a complete breakdown of leadership inside the Tennessee Department of Education,” says Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown).
To many, it may have seemed innocuous enough– In 2011, Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam appointed Kevin Huffman to head the Tennessee Department of Education. However, as Common Core began to reveal itself, many conservative state legislators dug into Huffman’s past and were not satisfied to learn that he had been heavily involved in campaigning for Common Core and was an avid supporter of President Obama’s.
Fast forward to March of this year when Republican presidential hopeful, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) met with Haslam and Tennessee’s U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R) at an ‘invited media only’ (closed to the public) Common Core round table. Those invited media were all education reporters from around the country. The round table’s mission for invited media was simple– Use Republican leaders from around the country to prove that Common Core is a stunning success– Even in Republican states like Tennessee.
Conservative lawmakers were less than impressed with the closed-door meeting. In fact, many protested.
“The tide is beginning to turn against Common Core in Tennessee and it was my hope that Senator Alexander would join conservatives and help us work to defeat it. Instead, it appears Senator Alexander is once again joining with the political establishment, this time fighting to save Common Core,” said Tea Party endorsed Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), Alexander’s August Republican primary opponent.
The press did the job they were told to do, and reported how Alexander, Bush and Haslam were urging state lawmakers to give up the fight against Common Core. After all, it was such a successful program…
UNTIL IT WASN’T
That was all in March. Only a few weeks later, Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores became due. These scores reflect a standardized assessment (now Common Core aligned) required of all 3rd-8th grade Tennessee students.
As it turns out, Common Core has been causing Tennessee students to flunk their assessments.
For context, let’s flash back to this 2013 article on Republican politicians being paid off to support Common Core, “So, who exactly is pushing Common Core in the state of Tennessee? Perhaps one of the largest groups lobbying for Common Core in the state is the Ayers Foundation. Jim and Janet Ayers, founders of the organization, are extremely active in Tennessee politics. The Ayers Foundation is in many ways a political think tank. In 2012 the foundation was given a $1.2 million grant to push Common Core standards into the state of Tennessee. If Common Core is successfully implemented in Tennessee, the Ayers foundation is sure to prosper even more.
You will notice in the addressee list state senator Jim Tracy (R). Tracy is running for US Congress in Tennessee’s 4th congressional district where he lives. This is the same district that is home to the above referenced city of Murfreesboro, TN, which just spent $5.2 million of money that they did not have to push common core standards.
Emails were recently discovered that show Janet Ayers lobbying the Tennessee state legislature to accept and institute Common Core in the state of Tennessee
As it turns out, Jim and Janet Ayers are some of senator Tracy’s largest donors. They both donated the maximum legal amount to Tracy’s campaign just 2 months before this email went out.”
As the 2014 school year came to a close, thousands of report cards never showed up. Parents were left scratching their heads. Where are the missing report cards? Well, they couldn’t be assigned without the TCAP scores, and the TCAP scores were being purposefully withheld by Huffman himself.
Instead of having student assessment scores reported, Huffman simply decided to assign thousands of students a waiver this year. However, by withholding the TCAP scores, Huffman knowingly violated Senate Bill 3427 (SB3427), a state law that requires a student’s final grades be composed in a manner that includes 15-25% of their TCAP scores.
Huffman and the Haslam administration now point to a separate new bill (SB2392), which was introduced in January and became law just as students sat for the TCAPs, as warrant for Huffman throwing out the scores. According to the Haslam administration, Huffman had the power to waive the scores. However, the law explicitly prohibits the commissioner from waiving all state and federal assessments.
SB2392 reads in part:
“However, the commissioner may not waive regulatory or statutory requirements related to: –Federal and state student assessment and accountability.”
State law (SB3427) requires a student’s final grades be composed in a manner, which includes 15-25% of their assessment scores, and Huffman has no legal jurisdiction to issue waivers by citing SB2392 because it explicitly prohibits the waiver of Federal and state assessments. Therefore, by not including assessment scores in final grades and issuing waivers to do so, Huffman technically broke both state laws.
Goins has charged that Huffman lacks the respect to lead, and the TCAP debacle is proof of this ineptitude.
State Senator Mae Beavers (R- Mt. Juliet) requested the state attorney general provide an opinion on the matter. “The attorney general simply replied, ‘Huffman said he can do it, so he can.’,” said Beavers. However, the attorney general’s job is not to ask the administration what they are and are not allowed to do. The AG’s job is to read the law as it is written and deliver the assessment. Simply asking the administration whether or not they could withhold the scores has many state legislators upset.
According to a former 17-year Davidson County Metropolitan teacher with close ties to those still inside, many of the scores have now been released, but they are attached with a large grading curve in order to bump the scores up. Still, other scores have seemingly vanished all together. State insiders have accused Haslam of embargoing the scores.
Leadership has now been accused by more than a dozen state legislators of purposefully withholding the Common Core aligned TCAP scores in order to save face. After all, Alexander, Bush and Haslam just told a room full of national education reporters that Tennessee was the gold standard for Common Core.
The scandal has prompted sixteen state legislators to formally demand Huffman’s resignation. In the letter below, these legislators order Huffman to resign. Beavers is composing her own separate letter to request Huffman’s resignation.
“In the past three years we have required compliance, transparency and excellence from our teachers and school systems. We expect our government officials to set the example and be held to the same level of accountability. We are Tennessee, not Washington DC. Commissioner Huffman has lost the integrity to be able to lead education efforts in our state,” says Representative Sheila Butt (R- Columbia).
Haslam is publicly dismissing the calls for Huffman’s resignation by calling them a “political stunt”.
“To say that this is a ‘political stunt’ is a perfect example of the dismissive response that many legislators have experienced when expressing the concerns of our constituents,” says Butt. “Four years ago the General Assembly tied an educator’s tenure to performance. The same should hold true for the Commissioner of Education. Tennesseans can implement higher standards and work toward excellence together. We have too many ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ people in Washington and this Commissioner is currently setting a similar precedent in Tennessee. This behavior is not at all representative of our Tennessee values.”
TAXPAYERS EATING THE BILL
In Knox County alone, the cover-up has cost local schools more than $25k. Where does that money come from? Taxpayers.
“The issue for my constituents who serve in the education field is the complete failure to communicate motives combined with a complete lack of respect and decorum,” said Rep. Goins.
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