Republican lawmakers are putting the final touches on legislation that would delay the implementation of Common Core education standards and the companion test in Tennessee, perhaps setting the stage for the type of fight playing out in statehouses across the country.
Around a dozen House Republicans, according to Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, are united behind a bill to take a pause from the controversial curriculum — for up to three or four years — and separate legislation to delay administering its corresponding test, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
With a Common Core showdown brewing for months, he said, lawmakers have sought collaboration to prevent duplicating legislative efforts.
"Bottom line is, yes, we're looking at legislation that will put a pause on Common Core and put a pause on the PARCC testing until we can sit down and really take a look at this and see what's going on with it," said Womick, who is helping lead the push.
"Let's look at what we're getting and compare it to what we have and make ours better by using Tennessee educators."
School districts in Tennessee are implementing new criteria that establish what students will be taught in reading and math for the 2014-15 school year, as well as the new PARCC test that will replace the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.
Tennessee is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core standards, having voted to do so four years ago. Several states, however, have tweaked plans in recent months as Common Core comes under assault from conservatives who liken the standards to a "federal takeover" of education as well as liberals who bemoan its high-stakes testing and new demands placed on teachers.
In Indiana, where a governor who was an early supporter of Common Core is now a critic, the state now appears ready to rewrite its own standards. South Carolina is also exploring scrapping Common Core. Other battles are playing out in Louisiana, New York and elsewhere.
"Let's make sure this latest educational theory is successful," said Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, who supports postponing Common Core's implementation. "Let's delay and look."
The deadline to file legislation for Tennessee's new session, which began last week, is in February. Womick's bill hasn't been filed and its language isn't finalized.
Haslam stands firm
Unrest from the right on Common Core figures to be a major political test for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who remain staunch supporters of the standards despite the barrage of Common Core criticism nationally.
"We're in the third year of Common Core implementation, and PARCC was developed with input from Tennessee," Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said in a prepared statement when asked about a possible delay. "The governor believes Common Core is critical to the progress the state has made, and he's committed to making sure we continue that momentum."
The governor's allies on Common Core include business-minded Republicans and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, which last week announced the creation of a coalition of businesses that will work to "stay the course on education." Common Core's leading advocacy group in Tennessee is the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
They're pitted against tea party Republicans led by groups such as Americans for Prosperity, the Tennessee Eagle Forum and 9.12 Project Tennessee.
Some Democrats, also, have grown increasingly wary of Common Core and its testing and could prove unlikely allies. House Democratic Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh told reporters this month that Democrats would be exploring whether to "slow this whole thing down" to ensure "we're not doing more harm than good."
In the upper chamber, the Senate Education Committee held Common Core hearings in September. Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, who leads that committee, has pointed to a committee report due this month.
Some observers believe the proposal to delay the standards could be a long shot and have instead turned attention to a fight over the PARCC testing, which students will begin taking on computers next year.
Halting it would come after school systems have already pumped millions into computer infrastructure to become "tech ready" for the transition, though the state is allowing districts to take a pencil-and-paper test for at least one year. Tonight, the Nashville Metro Council will consider a $6 million appropriation to purchase new computers for the school system to become tech ready.
Other Common Core-related bills have surfaced besides the dramatic steps Womick is discussing.
Gresham has filed a bill that would prevent Tennessee from adopting "common standards" in social studies and science — two subjects that aren't affected by the implementation of Common Core. It also would prevent Tennessee from taking part in Next Generation Science Standards, which many states are considering adopting.
She also has legislation to require the state to obtain written consent from a student's parent before collecting his or her "biometric information" and data that stem from national assessments that measure social skills and attitudes. A third proposal would restrict the state from releasing a student's academic data to the federal government unless it is for certain purposes while also establishing a new chief privacy officer at the state.
In a non-binding resolution, Gresham wants to "express the state's sovereignty" over how Tennessee students are educated. Passing it would make a statement against "federal intrusion into the academic standards taught in our classroom," she said. It wouldn't carry policy effect, however.