Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tennessee's New CCSS Astroturf

Tennessee has birthed one of the newest astroturf reformster groups in the country, the bright and shiny Tennesseans for Student Success.

Why does need this influx of shiny green? It could be that the state is playing with joining those that have jumped off the Common Core bandwagon. Last week the house subcommittee that watches over academic standards was all set to discuss House Bill 3, a bill that would scrap the Common Core and require the state to start over by developing its own standards in a process that would involve (gasp) teachers.

The bill was proposed by Republic John Forgety, a former teacher and superintendent. Reported Chalkbeat, 

“I’m of the opinion that this body (the legislature) should not be in the business of telling a third-grade teacher how to teach,” said Forgety, a former teacher and school superintendent.

The discussion of the bill has been postponed (according to Chalkbeat, another GOP representative asked for a postponement citing, I kid you not, an epiphany). But Tennesseans for Student Success had shown up in force, ready to stand up for the Core.

TSS has been busy other places, as one would respect from any self-respecting well-bankrolled astro-turf group. They have had a facebook page for a month now, with a bit over 1200 likes as I write this. Tennesseans probably got to know them through their television spots, like this one

You can see that the Core is supported by moms and teachers. Clearly this is the kind of group that, even though it reportedly first formed in October and hired an executive director in January, managed to raise enough money to run the above ad during the Super-Bowl. I am sure they had several really awesome bake sales, and maybe a car wash. It could have happened. Well, no. Reportedly the Tennessee Association of Business Foundation helped fund it; the foundation is an offshoot of the TN Chamber of Commerce, which has received grants from the Gates Foundation to help promote Common Core. But these moms still look very determined and stern, particularly about the prospect of being "dragged" back to the bad old days.

TSS is fond of the point that Tennessee has the fastest-improving test scores in the country, which is better if you think test scores are super important and easier if you start out with test scores deep in the toilet.

The actual website is somewhat sparse, but you can sign up for a newsletter. They do list some of their staff. including executive director Jeremy Harrell (ran campaigns for both Gov Bill Haslam and Lamar Alexander, plus other political credits), Ashley Elizabeth Graham (was deputy communications director for Marsha Blackburn), and Weston Burleson (was account exec with Stoneridge Group). All of the listed personnel have connections to GOP lawmakers and campaign work (they also make sure to include a cheer for Tennessee sports teams). The Tennessean reports that the group also employs four lobbyists.

In short, this looks like a team selected for its political campaigning savvy; there appear to be no educators in sight except as props in tv ads and government hearings.

The whole business plays out like a complicated political circus balancing act. Governor Haslam was a for the common Core before he was against it, sort of. Haslam led the early adoption of the Core, but in the last year, the standards are not feeling loved. Anti-core politicians won big in some counties, and a Vanderbilt poll showed that teachers are not fans. So last September, Haslam decided that maybe Common Core needed to be carefully reviewed by a review board that he would set up and , well, you know those movies where the good guy is undercover and his buddy is about get offed by the bad guy so he steps in and punches his buddy first, just to keep both his buddy and his cover story alive...? This looks kind of like that.

So we've got Haslam's review of the Core and a separate rewrite of the Core proposed by a GOP legislator and backed by teachers. Now we have an astro-turf rather transparently run by a handful of Haslam's political operatives agitating to reject Forgety's review and stick with the Governor's. Some pols are apparently asking if the two reviews of standards can be put together. Want to place your bets?

In the meantime, the main event in Tennessee is not the battle over standards, but the push to scrap public education and replace it with a World O'Charters. So this astro-turf sideshow is not necessarily even getting everyone's full attention.

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