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School Board postpones adopting official position on Common Core

By Bill Short

Flag City LogoThe Millington School Board voted this week to postpone taking an official position on the Common Core educational standards adopted by the state of Tennessee.
Board members made that decision Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Chairman Don Holsinger and seconded by Louise Kennon. The motion was passed by a 6-1 vote, with Cody Childress the lone dissenter.
Common Core is a set of standards mandated for Tennessee’s public schools to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college or the workforce.
Holsinger said he expects it to be a topic of “considerable debate” in the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly. So, he designated a portion of the board meeting for comments from residents and parents of students, as well as teachers and administrative employees in the municipal school system.
Jennifer Cottage, a Millington resident and teacher at the middle school, said she has attended several teacher-training sessions for Common Core. And everything she has seen has been “very positive.”
Citing a “conundrum” in the school system caused by a “political movement,” Cottage said it has left students severely “lacking background knowledge” in the classroom.
While teachers do their best to get to that in-depth knowledge, she said they “end up falling short,” because the “overwhelming” number of standards they face in the classroom only allows them to “briskly” cover topics.
Cottage said one thing she has noticed about Common Core is that it allows teachers to get students to understand not only the “brisk” topics of how to do things, but why they are done that way.
“It increases retention,” she noted. “And it allows the students to carry on to the next grade and have a more cohesive education, instead of one that is choppy, repetitive and oftentimes ineffective.”
Cottage said Common Core allows the teacher to become the “owner” of the curriculum that he or she teaches. And it gives the students a chance to fully understand topics, not just “regurgitate” for an assessment.
Kathleen Rutledge, a Bartlett resident who has taught at Millington Middle School for 14 years, said she has a commitment to its students and this community. She asked the board to “seriously take a stand and embrace” the Common Core standards.
Rutledge cited Common Core’s emphasis on students’ ability to find the information they need to comprehend and analyze the research, weigh its credibility and take it into “a very real world situation.”
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” she said. “It’s what education should be. It’s what every teacher wants for his or her students.”
Rutledge acknowledged that she has “serious concerns” about the older students’ readiness to shift to the new type of testing, because it is “apples and oranges.” But she noted that there are students in the early grades who started working with Common Core in kindergarten.
“Start with those kids and then work it out later,” she said. “But, definitely, Common Core is the way we need to go.”
Millington resident Bobbie Percer, who has two children in the municipal school system, said the Internet contains a “whole boatload” of information about the “pros and cons” of Common Core. He believes it is “not a good thing” to have Washington involved in Millington’s educational system.
“When I was in school, it was all local control,” he recalled. “We didn’t have all the state and federal regulations. Teachers got to teach, and students got to learn.”
While contending that Washington “doesn’t understand,” Percer said the members of Congress enact a law that “may be good.”
“But when they get through with it, it’s not good,” he noted. “So, I think we ought to oppose Common Core.”
When Holsinger sought comments from the board members, Childress said he hears “a lot of things” about Common Core, because he has teachers in his family. He called it a “tricky, touchy” subject.
“I really think it’s more of a political subject than anything else,” he said. “Regardless of what this board thinks or does about it, we have to do what the state mandates, unless we want to quadruple the taxes to pay for the school system.”
Childress acknowledged that some families probably have members with “opposite views” on the standards.
“I don’t like Common Core,” he noted. “I’ve never liked anything about it, but that’s just me.”
Declaring himself “pretty disappointed” with the “public turnout,” Holsinger said he did not think the board had received “adequate” input. He wants to ensure that the board’s official position is a “consensus” of where the parents, educators and school system stand on the issue.
Kennon noted that Common Core will soon be discussed at a “governor’s conference” and a “legislative meeting” in Nashville.
“I think things will be different when the legislature gets through with its discussion,” she concluded. “And I don’t feel that, right now, we ought to even try to make a decision.”

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