2-Year College Presidents Back Tennessee Academic Standards

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The presidents of Tennessee's 13 community colleges say the state's higher academic standards for elementary and secondary schools are necessary to help students succeed in higher education.

They were joined by other higher education officials at a news conference Wednesday to emphasize their point and to publicly sign a letter in support of the standards that they're sending to Tennessee's education commissioner.

"Perhaps the single thing that we can do to increase success is to make sure that they're absolutely prepared when they enter college upon graduation from high school," said Anthony Wise, president of Pellissippi State Community College.

In the fall of 2014, nearly 70 percent of full-time freshmen in Tennessee's community colleges required learning support in order to perform college-level work, according to the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees the community colleges, as well as six state universities and 27 colleges of applied technology.

Higher education officials say making sure students are prepared is even more important in light of Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise program, which offers two years of community or technical college tuition-free. More than 58,000 Tennessee high school seniors have applied for the program, and many of them are expected to enroll this fall in one of the state's two-year institutions.

"The standards currently in place were developed with college and career readiness as the end goal, and higher education faculty in Tennessee and many other states had a hand in their development," the letter states. "We support these standards."

The letter comes a day after most of the state's superintendents wrote to all members of the General Assembly asking them not to change the standards – which include the controversial Common Core state standards for English and math – this legislative session.

Conservative critics argue that the common education standards represent federal intrusion in matters that should be decided by the state, while those on the left say they impose too many requirements on teachers.

There was little controversy when the bipartisan National Governors Association in 2009 helped develop the standards aimed at improving schools and students' competitiveness across the nation. The standards were quickly adopted by 44 states, but growing criticism has led lawmakers in more than two dozen states to propose either delaying or revoking Common Core last year.

In Tennessee, Common Core opponents want to repeal the current standards and replace them with ones developed at the state level. At least two bills proposed this legislative session seek to do that. One of them was delayed Wednesday to give lawmakers a week to discuss the legislation.

Meanwhile, Haslam has set up a public review process of the standards. So far, the website created to receive comments has gotten nearly 82,000. All the comments will be analyzed in the spring and proposed changes will be submitted to the State Board of Education.

Community college presidents say they hope any changes to the standards will benefit students.

"We support Governor Haslam's commitment to review the standards, and we hope changes will only be made if they further enhance college and career readiness," their letter states.

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