Citizen At Meeting
Opposes 'Too Much
BY SARAH R. GREGORY
Thursday's meeting of the Greene County Board of Education concluded with a discussion about Tennessee's Common Core State Standards, with outgoing chairman Roger Jones directly responding to critics of the initiative.
Jones also took the opportunity to praise the work of Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk, urge other members to support her work, and challenge the board to "speak with one voice."
Jones' comments came in response to remarks made by concerned local citizen Judith Sexton, who addressed the board regarding Common Core, saying that it is "a danger to Greene County schools and freedom in America."
Among reasons that schools should not use Common Core are that "the U.S. Congress did not approve it, the state legislature did not approve it, and the citizens of Tennessee had no chance to vote on it," Sexton said.
The Common Core standards were developed on a national level largely by educators, and their adoption by states is voluntary, not governmentally required, although the federal government has encouraged their adoption.
Tennessee is one of 46 states that have chosen to adopt the Common Core curriculum standards for the state's public schools. A few states have declined to adopt the standards.
The development of the standards came in response to widespread concern that the public education standards, and the academic preparation of American students, were slipping behind the standards and educational achievement levels of other countries.
In her remarks to the school board, Sexton also speculated that information about students would be routinely gathered as part of a "data mining" operation.
"[Microsoft founder] Bill and [wife] Melinda Gates have provided funding for the creation of Common Core curriculum and will gain monetary funds from the sale of computers, etc.," Sexton said, adding that publishing companies also stand to profit from implementation of Common Core standards.
"Common Core curriculum should not even be in the Greene County schools because it has been implemented in Greene County schools and has not been voted on by the Greene County Board of Education," she said.
"If the Greene County School System allows Common Core to stay in Greene County schools, we will see scores continually drop and our children not learning to read and write," Sexton told the board.
"Students are allowed to have too much technology in the classroom and not enough learning basics such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and how to use their individual minds," she said.
"The state and federal government [are] ruining the minds of children," Sexton said.
"I'd like to comment about Common Core," Jones said at the conclusion of Sexton's comments.
"Common Core is one of the best things to ever happen, in my opinion. It allows students to learn, discuss, share, and analyze more so and more in-depth than anything we've ever done in education," Jones said.
"It was basically brought about by educators, not by some behind-the-table, behind-the-door, underlying federal government or Communist thing, which I've heard people say," he said.
"It simplifies things, breaking down the core of what we need to be teaching -- math, reading, and comprehension," he said.
'NOT JUST MEMORIZE'
The standards, Jones said, help students gain "real" understanding, and "not just memorize it [information], but be able to actually chew on it and know what it's about and be able to share it."
Jones said that Common Core has resulted in all teachers using techniques employed by really good teachers for centuries -- namely, going beyond the textbook to enhance understanding.
"The way most of us in this room were taught is by -- you memorized facts and then you regurgitated them back. And we called that education. Well, it's not," he said.
"A truly educated child, a truly educated person, is the one that can take that knowledge and be able to share it across, discuss it, and say why this [conclusion] is, and there are other ways you can get the same answers, and be creative.
"That's what Common Core is all about," Jones said.
'NOT THE SAME WORLD'
"Don't be afraid of Common Core," he said, adding that it was not a federally instituted program.
"It's not the same world you and I had," Jones said. "We're not using slate rocks and chisels out there. It's a technology world. We need to be experiencing that and sharing that.
"So I stress to everyone ... don't be afraid. Don't let some sort of crazy thought out there that it's been brought up by some radical [agenda] to change America -- it's not.
"It's trying to maximize the ability of the next generation and of future generations so we can stay the greatest nation in the world. That's all it is," he said.
JONES' FINAL REMARKS
"Great things are happening in this school system. This is my last point," Jones said.
He thanked the board, and stressed the need to "speak with one voice" no matter what the vote count.
No matter how the vote may be split, when an item is approved, he said, "that is the voice of this Board of Education. Stand with that."
Speaking with one voice, he said, has not always been the practice with the present board -- or with boards of the past.
"I challenge you -- all of you -- debate it, discuss it, but once we've voted on it, don't bring the same thing back 15 times if the majority of the board has approved something. Work with that," he said.
PRAISE FOR KIRK
Before concluding his remarks, Jones praised the ability of Kirk, and urged members to support her.
"Back Dr. Kirk. She is the most outstanding director I can remember in my lifetime," Jones said.
"She has vision. Let's support her. We've almost had -- no, we have had -- a hostile work environment for her at times. Let's fix that," he said.
"Challenge yourselves to support her leadership [and] this group of people that's out there -- administrators and teachers and students," he said.
"Students are smarter than they've ever been. They're smarter than any of us were as a fifth-grader," he said.
"You work in the most hostile environment in education because everybody's an expert in education. They either went to school or know someone who did," Jones quipped, to laughter from the board.
"We don't tell doctors how to do their jobs. We don't try to tell lawyers how to do their job.
"What we need to be doing is standing up and being proud that we are professional educators and make no apologies if we're trying to do the right things," Jones concluded, thanking the board for their work, and citizens in the county's Seventh School Board District for supporting him through the years.
As Jones concluded his comments, the majority of the audience in attendance -- primarily educators, administrators, and parents -- responded with a standing ovation.
Most board members, with the exception of Kathy Austin and Deborah Johnson -- who have on a number of occasions and issues been at odds with the former chairman -- joined the group in standing to applaud Jones for his comments and service to the board.
AUSTIN, KIRK COMMENT
Following Jones' comments, Austin spoke briefly to say that she encouraged the school system to host community meetings about Common Core to help the public better understand the initiative.
She also urged members of the community to educate themselves by researching Tennessee's Common Core online to review suggested reading lists and other information available about the standards.
"There's a lot of information out there, so in the meantime [until we can host meetings], I do ask the public to educate yourselves about Common Core," Austin concluded.
Kirk also spoke briefly, saying, "I'd like to say a word about Common Core. I would like to encourage folks to come to the schools," she said.
"See what the teachers are doing with these standards and what the students are doing with these standards. Talk to the teachers about how they feel about it. Talk to the students about how they feel about what they're learning," Kirk said.
"Yes, there are some materials out there that we would probably never use. But our teachers are the teachers we've had for a long time. We're getting new ones all the time, but they're great," she said.
"We've asked them to review materials and make sure about what they're putting in front of students, and we've also told them to make sure that what they're choosing for instruction is appropriate for their community and for their grade-level, and they're doing that," Kirk said.
"I don't want anybody to be fearful. We are working hard and doing a good job.
"I would encourage anybody to make an appointment with a principal to go in and see a Common Core lesson if you're curious about what they look like," Kirk concluded.