Common Core booklets go to educational scrap heap

By: - June 22, 2021 5:00 am
(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Less than a decade ago, Tennessee author Bill Carey couldn’t sell his historical booklets to school districts and teachers without a Common Core stamp on them. 

Today, he fears his publications are being trashed because of a new state law banning Common Core supplemental materials after they fell out of political favor as the state adopted its own curriculum standards.

With an eye toward that measure, the Legislature passed a Lee Administration bill this year, House Bill 782/Senate Bill 769 and Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law in April, effectively banning those items. 

The law prohibits the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission, State Board of Education and public schools from recommending, approving or using textbooks, instructional and supplemental materials created to align exclusively with Common Core standards or that are marketed or identified as Common Core. If districts or teachers intentionally violate the law, they run the risk of having state funding withheld. 

Bill Carey (Tennessee History for Kids)
Bill Carey (Tennessee History for Kids)

Reacting to action, Carey says, “I’ve been writing for years, and this is the first time I’ve written something that’s been banned.”

A former news reporter and author of six books, the Vanderbilt University graduate co-founded Tennessee History for Kids in November 2008 and published several supplemental booklets for history courses.

Six years ago, his group produced and marketed primary reading materials containing excerpts from the Gettysburg Address, U.S. Constitution, David Crockett’s biography, Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop speech,” “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, a letter written home by a soldier later killed by Germans during World War II, part of Matthew Maury’s 1832 Tennessee map and the Donelson Journal from the Donelson Party Journey.

Oddly enough, when former Gov. Bill Haslam was in office, Carey’s organization was directed to call them “Common Core Reading Booklets.” They sold them for $2 each, with Shelby County Schools buying a large number, according to Carey. Tennessee History for Kids later rebranded them as “primary source reading booklets.”

But the damage was done. They were already stamped with Common Core, and the new state law focuses on getting rid of supplemental items with that designation after a shift in philosophies that made Common Core items suddenly inappropriate.

“Librarians and teachers are already being told to throw away a lot of books, booklets and workbooks – ELA, math, social studies and science – including ours,” Carey said in an email.

House Education Administration Committee Chairman Mark White says the new law is designed to “close a loophole” in cases where teachers might send home booklets with instructional items stamped with Common Core or identified as Common Core, potentially catching the ire of parents who object to that national curriculum.Tennessee History for Kids logo

White acknowledges that problems can crop up if the instructional material also aligns with the state’s new standards but just happens to have Common Core stamped on it.

“It does maybe cause a little confusion. But I guess the administration felt that after eight years of dealing with this, if it’s something that is blatantly labeled Common Core, don’t bring it into the classroom,” White says. “But there again … there’s some high-quality material on both sides.”

White notes the Department of Education told him it is not trying to stop high-quality materials from being used but to discourage teachers from using items that are strictly Common Core and sending them home with students.

Brian Blackley, a spokesman for the Department of Education, says in a statement the new state law, Public Chapter 205, closes a loophole that allowed Common Core to continue to be used in state classrooms as supplemental materials even though the Legislature repealed Common Core standards in 2015 and replaced them with Tennessee State Standards in 2017.

The prohibitions are on materials “created to align exclusively with the Common Core State Standards or that are marketed or otherwise identified as Common Core textbooks or materials,” Blackley says in a statement.

He points out materials aligned to multiple state standards but not created exclusively to align to Common Core standards or that aren’t identified or labeled as Common Core would be allowed.

“The department is still in the process of fully analyzing the law and intends to share additional detail and guidance with school districts in the near future. Districts are encouraged to ground all their instruction in high-quality instructional materials,” Blackley says in the statement.

Rutherford County Schools is not aware of any supplemental materials being disposed of because the materials it uses align with Tennessee State Standards, according to spokesman James Evans.

Metro Nashville Public Schools isn’t aware of any “purging activities” either, related to the legislation. The district adopts curriculum materials aligned with Tennessee state standards, according to spokesman Sean Braisted.

“We are in the process of a new English Language Arts adoption, so schools are replacing some older books and materials with these new ones,” Braisted adds.

Shelby County Schools did not respond to questions from the Tennessee Lookout.

Nevertheless, Carey calls it a “very sad day” for Tennessee History for Kids.

But while the organization will maneuver its way through this trouble spot, Carey doesn’t want any teachers or school districts to get into trouble and lose state funding for using his booklets. He points out teachers will use just about anything they can find to back up their courses, and they still might be using his materials.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.