Common Core confusion

Who controls standards? Who controls curriculum? Tennessee lawmakers seek clarity

PHOTO: G. Tatter
The Common Core standards for high school math adorn the walls of Christi Root's classroom at Monterey High School in Putnam County.

Controversy over the Common Core State Standards in Tennessee has largely abated now that the State Board of Education is in the process of adopting new homegrown standards for math and English.

Now lawmakers are ensuring that confusion that often was at the core of objections to Common Core is cleared up in the future: the difference between standards and curriculum, and who controls what.

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee passed a bill specifying that the state sets academic standards, while local districts control curriculum to teach to the standards. The bill already has been approved by the Senate.

“We’ve long said that standards are a matter to be set at the state level, and curriculum is exclusively at the local level,” said Nathan James, director of legislative affairs for the State Board. “This is a cleanup. There is actually nothing new happening as a result of this bill. It’s just making it crystal clear.”

“Standards are what you should know at a particular point in time, while curriculum is how a course is structured and what is going to be taught,” he explained to lawmakers. “And those are entirely for the LEA (local education agency) to decide.”

Although James said the State Board is happy for the clarification, the bill was written by Sen. Delores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville — not state education officials. Rep. Sheila Butt sponsored the bill in the House.

Specifically, the proposal would edit several statutes pertaining to education to make the differentiation between “standards” and “curriculum” more clear. It turns out that even policymakers in the legislature have confused standards with curricula in the past.

“Throughout the code, there were places that it actually said the State Board of Education sets the curriculum, which they do not,” Butt said.


After the state adopted Common Core in 2010, several parents and advocacy groups became concerned that the state, and even the federal government, were taking too much control over what students learned in the classroom. While that was only one of many concerns about Common Core — other parents and experts argued that they were vague or developmentally inappropriate — it was the concern most often cited in legislative debates over the standards.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.