- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - After holding a state education summit, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he plans to hold more discussions about education changes in Tennessee, particularly on the Common Core standards.

The Republican governor, along with the Legislature’s Republican House and Senate speakers, convened the summit to review the ongoing education overhaul in Tennessee and plan for the future.

Elected officials, business leaders and representatives from about 24 organizations attended.

They talked about the Common Core standards, accountability in education and school choice.

“There’s no question that we have made some significant progress in Tennessee, but we still face real challenges,” Haslam said at the end of the summit. “And there’s no question there’s still a lot of discussion to be had. I think that discussion is going to happen best when it happens like today, when all the stakeholders are at the table.”

Haslam told reporters after the summit that he particularly wants to talk more about the controversial Common Core standards, which aim to improve schools and student competitiveness. They have been adopted by 44 states, including Tennessee.

The governor said many people don’t understand them, or have wrong information.

“We very much intend to have a full vetting of those standards … and let people have a chance to talk very specifically about what they like and don’t like,” he said.

Haslam’s comments came as an anti-Common Core group protested across the street from where the summit was held. The group held signs and a tour bus with “Rotten to the Core” inscribed on both sides circled the area.

“The Common Core is not about Tennessee,” said political activist and protester Steve Gill. “It’s federal values that are being imposed on our school system.”

However, supporters of the standards point out the new benchmarks were developed not by the feds but by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They also say the standards are necessary to provide students with critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and a global workforce.

“We’re competing with … businesses around the world,” said Johnson City business owner Ken Gough, who attended the summit. “And in many places around the world, much higher standards are expected of their students.”

During the legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers voted to delay the testing component of Tennessee’s Common Core standards.

Under the proposal, the state Department of Education put out a “request for proposals” for alternate testing. The state’s current testing program, known as TCAP, continues in the interim.

Haslam said it’s understandable that some teachers and others attending the summit want to make sure the new assessment process lines up with the higher standards.

“What you hear is, ‘you’ve asked us to teach in a new way and we’re doing that … but you’re evaluating us on an assessment that doesn’t match those standards, and that’s not fair,’” Haslam said.

Attendees also talked about school choice and related alternatives like vouchers, which let parents move a child from a failing public school to a private school, with the state providing funds for tuition.

School voucher legislation failed this year and the year before.

The governor said Thursday he’s not sure if he’ll try again on vouchers.

“Our focus is going to be on the vast majority of our kids that are in traditional public schools, so we really haven’t decided,” he said.

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