College presidents unite behind school standards

schoolstandards_13237638_ver1.0_640_480Knoxville News Sentinel, Richard Locker

Tennessee’s community college presidents added their voices Wednesday to a growing chorus of support for the state’s K-12 academic standards and of opposition to efforts to roll those standards back.

All 13 community college presidents visited the State Capitol and signed a letter urging state officials to maintain or strengthen the existing standards, which are hotly controversial in the Legislature due to opposition by conservatives to the inclusion of Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts.

The presidents of Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville and of Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis spoke for the group during a news conference in which they explained their support for keeping the standards to help students succeed in college and careers. They said 68 percent of students who arrive at the state’s community college campuses must take remedial classes to perform college-level work.

“We want to see every student who arrives on our campuses ready to succeed and thrive in a higher education environment,” Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise Jr. said. “It’s especially important in light of the new Tennessee Promise program,” the state program offering two tuition-free years of community or technical college.

More than 58,000 current high school seniors have applied for the program’s first year.

An hour earlier, a House subcommittee discussed and then deferred for a week a bill by Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, that would set up a separate review of the standards from the one Gov. Bill Haslam set in motion in October. The governor’s review commission is to complete its work in time for recommendations to the 2016 Legislature.

Forgety, a former teacher, high school principal and McMinn County Schools superintendent who supports rigorous state standards, would create a new commission of educators, parents and business representatives to review the standards for possible tweaking. Haslam’s effort — as apparently Forgety’s does — opposes efforts by the General Assembly to alter the standards during the current legislative session because teachers need the stability to teach the standards, which are aligned with new standardized tests.

At the start of the House education subcommittee meeting, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, asked Forgety to delay his bill because he said he had an “epiphany about marrying up both (the governor’s and Forgety’s) efforts (to) simplify” the process that he wants more time to work on.

Forgety said his bill is an “attempt to focus academic standards on those truly ultimate stakeholders — parents, teachers and the education community. Mr. Spivey … said there were possibilities of doing some things that would not require legislation. I’m about that. If we can fix things and include (parents, teachers and the education community), as far as I’m concerned if legislation is not needed, then I’m fine.”

Southwest President Nate Essex cited the 68 percent remediation figure and said he and his colleagues “contend all students can learn and reach high standards if they are provided the correct educational environment and academic support. The challenge seems to be that we are not aligning the standards that students are meeting in high school with what they need to be college-ready. …

“The troubling issue that we face is that research shows that students who are under prepared are far less likely to achieve success in earning degrees and certificates. Only 46.5 percent of those requiring remedial work will actually complete their remedial courses.”

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