Sore at the Core

Dolores Gresham, state Senate education chair, gets an earful of discontent from both the left and right about proposed new educational standards.

| February 20, 2014

It is hard to tell exactly how many members of the general public are worked up about the issue of Common Core educational standards, but there are clearly enough, on both sides of the political spectrum, to bedevil the Tennessee General Assembly as it prepares to wade into the issue.

Gresham at Dutch Treat - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Gresham at Dutch Treat

The most recent legislative pillar to find that out was District 10 state Senator Dolores Gresham, the Somerville Republican who heads the Senate Education Committee and, as such, has been entrusted with the introduction of bills supportive of Common Core, the set of educational standards that are due to become effective in 45 of the 50 states this year.

Tennessee is one of the 45 states, and Governor Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman remain supporters of Common Core, but they and Gresham are now grappling with increasingly vehement resistance to Common Core from the political right and left.

Gresham found this out again Saturday, when she addressed a full house at Pancho's on White Station for a meeting of the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon. Ordinarily, the Dutch Treat group trends to a relative handful of Tea Party conservatives. The Tea Party and other conservative elements were well represented Saturday, but so were critics from left of center, and interruptions were frequent and sustained as Gresham attempted to present her legislative goals.

Essentially, she tried to assure the overflow group that the series of bills she has introduced, among other things, would attempt to minimize the imposition of national controls on Tennessee's version of Common Core, block what she called "data mining" (i.e., sharing the state's statistical results with the federal government), impose local controls on textbook content, and exempt science and social studies from the state's version of Common Core.

That did not ally the critics, either of left or right. The former object chiefly to the reliance of Common Core on teaching-to-the-test techniques, especially in language and math, which they believe restrict educational breadth in favor of artificial results and inflict needless stress on both students and teachers. The latter object to the very idea of standards, which they fear smack of Big Brotherism and creeping statism.

As Gresham and others have explained, Common Core is an outgrowth of initiatives begun in 2009 under state, not federal auspices, specifically at the behest of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. The Common Core standards have evolved with input from the participating states but also from major nonprofit groups such as the Gates Foundation and with support from the current secretary of education, Arne Duncan.

Tennessee's involvement is tightly linked with its success in and subsequent funding from the Race to the Top educational-reform competition developed by Duncan. The state's Race to the Top efforts began under former Governor Phil Bredesen and continue under Haslam.

In any case, there are now serious efforts in the legislature to delay implementation of Common Core in Tennessee, and, given the mounting turmoil across the political spectrum, the task of passing enabling legislation — Gresham's or anybody else's — is clearly going to be formidable.

• One of several hot primary races brewing on the Democratic side of this year's countywide election is that for the new District 10 position on the Shelby County Commission.

As of early in the week, with Thursday's February 20th filing deadline just days away, only relative unknown Curtis Byrd and Reginald Milton had filed, but of the three other Democrats who had picked up petitions — Jake Brown, Martavius Jones, and Louis Morganfield — two, Brown and Jones, have previously attracted considerable attention.

They, along with Milton, a community organizer whose previous campaigns for office have given him considerable name recognition, had been the subject of frequent speculation among local Democrats regarding the ways in which they might split the primary vote.

Jones, a prominent — even pivotal — member of both the old Memphis City Schools board and the provisional Shelby County Schools board that succeeded it, also has significant name recognition. At this point, he may not have as many rank-and-file party activists on his side as Milton (who has been endorsed by 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, among several other influentials), but he has another ace in the hole.

That was demonstrated at a recent well-attended fund-raising affair on Milton's behalf at the Side Street Grill at Overton Square.

Off to the side of Milton's impressive crowd were J.W. Gibson, Aubrey Howard, and Osbie Howard, three prominent African Americans with both business credentials and political connections. They were there not as attendees of the Milton affair but in pursuance of a regular social ritual of their own, built around a love of good cigars.

But they were also, it turned out, leaning strongly not to Milton, the man of the hour that evening, but to Jones, whose profession is that of stockbroker, and their presence — though not intended as such — was a reminder that the former school board member has a potential claim on the loyalty of entrepreneurs in the black community.

Brown, on the other hand, is a young white man who has made something of a splash as a party activist and hopes to draw on a youth vote. In theory, he stands to benefit from a split in the African-American vote between Milton and Jones, but his problem from the beginning has been two-fold: He is a relative newcomer and, so far, lacks strong ties with the black communities that are predominant in District 10.

Worse, from the standpoint of his hopes, Brown also has gone through some recent changes in his professional life and campaign. Formerly associated with Liz Rincon and Associates as a consultant, he said this week he was on a "leave of absence" from that relationship and that Rincon was no longer directly supervising his campaign efforts.

That turned out to be an understatement. Liz Rincon, whose renamed consulting company, The Rincon Strategy Agency, continues efforts on behalf of several candidates — notably Mike McCusker, a candidate in the Democratic primary for Criminal Court Clerk — says emphatically that, as of December, she had dissolved her professional relationship with Brown.

In any case, Milton would at the moment appear to have the upper hand, with Jones remaining a strong potential challenger. Both he and Brown said early in the week they intended to file by Thursday's deadline.

• Meanwhile, the gang's all there in the Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor. County Commissioner Steve Mulroy's filing on Monday completed a roster of four candidates, all hopeful of opposing incumbent Republican County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who filed for reelection last week.

Mulroy claimed a $55,000 haul from one week's worth of fund-raising and boasted an impressive endorsement list, including commission colleagues Justin Ford and Sidney Chism and former interim county mayor Joe Ford Jr.

Previously filing for the Democratic mayoral primary were former county Commissioner Deidre Malone, current commission Chair James Harvey, and former school board member, the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr.

• Another county commissioner, Henri Brooks, was scheduled to file for the Democratic nomination for Juvenile Court clerk this week in the company of her campaign chairperson, Ruby Wharton, wife of Mayor A C Wharton and the eminence behind the Ruby R. Wharton Award for Outstanding Women, which Brooks won this year for her work toward reforming Juvenile Court.

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A group of concerned Shelby County citizens are organizing against the current unethical trends that dominate the legal community. The state legislature has taken notice of what is going on in Shelby County.

The legal community which includes elected judges and lawyers have been unaccountable for too long. Oversight has been non-existent.

We will be active in this year's county judicial races. We will hold accountable judges running opposed and unopposed.

The public has a right to scrutinize judicial ethics. We ask the legislature to rein in the Shelby County judicial system that is wrought with inefficiency and questionable ethics.

The public is encourage to file complaints against lawyers and incumbent judges running in this year's election regardless of any established state or county electoral deadlines.

For lawyer's:

Board of Professional Responsibility
10 Cadillac Drive, Suite 220
Brentwood, TN 37027
(615) 361-7500
(800) 486-5714

For incumbent judges:

Tim Discenza, Disciplinary Counsel
Board of Judicial Conduct
P.O. Box 50356
Nashville, TN 37205

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Posted by wellsparks56 on 02/22/2014 at 3:28 PM

Questionable ethics gets such a bad rap. If we lived in a world of stalwart, honest people of Widely divergent opinions, little or nothing would get done. I think questionable ethics in the hands of people with questionable abilities is what gives politics such a bad name.
Not that it doesn't bother me that the Board of Professional Responsibility is located on
Cadillac Drive.

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Posted by CL Mullins on 02/22/2014 at 4:44 PM

Senator Gresham's smoke and mirror data protection bills are useless as currently written. Her bills comply with FERPA which makes every proposed protection in her bill null and void. And she knows it. In 2012 the Obama administration gutted FERPA (without Congessional approval) so PARCC would be
able to collect the data and forward it to the federal government and other agencies per PARCC's agreement with the federal government. PARCC does the dirty work for the government and is handsomely paid by the government to the tune of more than $150 million. NGA and CCSSO also do the dirty work for the feds and our tax dollars are the major funding sources for these trade organizations that have no authority from the American people to make these decisions and we cannot request any information from them. When business is in bed with government we are looking at fascism. Then there is the little matter of the campaign contributions Gresham has taken from Students First. SF doesn't give $15,500 to a legislator so she can vote against the SF progressive agenda. Lets not forget the founder of SF was married to Kevin Huffman. In 2012 SF IRS 990 form is very revealing. First it lists two of the lead writers of Common Core....Jason Zimba and David Coleman....oh I am sure nothing to worry about here.....right??? And looking at their campaign contributions it is clear TN was targeted and SF found a willing group of Legislators.....like Gresham, DeBerry, Hensley, Dickerson and many more. In the top 15 contributions alone we see 9 in TN. Bottom line is that if Common Core Standards are not repealed Gresham and many others will not be left in office. It might take us a couple election cycles but they will be gone. There is already a DEFEAT DOLORES group that started in her district. There is a DEFEAT DOLORES Facebook page. Gresham puts out a few sham bills that will do nothing. How come she didn't support the Senate repeal bill??? Because her alliances are with SCORE, ALEC and Students First and her own financial bottom line instead of with the people that elected her. Don't let her sweet smile, fake concern and military record over shadow the facts.

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Posted by Karen Bracken on 02/22/2014 at 4:44 PM
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