The commission that will be recommending new social studies textbooks for Tennessee students is operating with a majority of its members unconfirmed by the legislature or still serving after their terms have expired.
The 10-member Tennessee State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission currently has only four positions that do not require immediate legislative action due to expired terms, two of them appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell. Three other members who have not been approved by the General Assembly apparently voted in commission meetings last year.
The Department of Education and the Governor’s office declined to comment on the current state of the commission.
This year the commission is tasked with approving the state’s new social studies textbook with their next meeting set for March 19.
The commission is comprised of three appointees each from the Governor, the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House which must be approved by the General Assembly, and one designee from the Commissioner of the Department of Education.
Before Sen. Mike Bell (R-Cleveland) sponsored Senate Bill 1602 in 2014, the commission included the commissioner of education and nine members appointed by the governor. The change in appointing powers assumed the General Assembly has more capacity to appoint the most capable members of the commission and restore responsiveness to the textbook selection process.
“When we started hearing problems last summer and even before from our constituents with our textbook commission, they weren’t calling the Governor. They weren’t calling the Commissioner’s office. They were calling us,” Bell said. “I feel that it’s very important that this body have more influence and more say over who sits on this board.”
Bell said it was necessary to expand the appointing authority of the textbook commission to the General Assembly had oversight over the process. At the time, the state was on the cusps of beginning a nearly two-year review to phase out Common Core learning standards across the state.
For this session, oversight from the General Assembly has been limited. Despite the legislature being back in session for a month, Speaker Harwell has filled two of the three joint resolutions required to get the appointees approved by the General Assembly.
“The third position, which must be filled by someone from East Tennessee, was offered to someone who declined,” a Harwell spokesperson said. “As soon as someone is identified and agrees to the take the position, an HJR will be filed for that one as well.”
While some of the biggest controversy surrounding Common Core standards was the lack of parental and community involvement, the reform of the commission sought to get parents more closely involved by allowing LEAs to create parental review committees to select the textbooks from the commission.
Common Core was only adopted in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math in Tennessee, before being repealed. Tennessee never adopted Common Core Social Studies Standards
A spokesperson for Harwell denied that allowing the members’ terms to expire is a nod to Common Core standards, saying that she “voted for the repeal of Common Core standards in 2015.”
When the same spokesperson was asked if Harwell supported Common Core by Chalkbeat, she “didn’t answer directly, but said that Harwell believed that ‘Tennessee — and not the federal government — knows what is best for Tennesseans.'”
Since the “repeal,” Chalkbeat has reported, “The Tennessee Academic Standards for math and English language arts, which will reach K-12 classrooms this fall, aren’t dramatically different from Common Core standards used in Tennessee since 2012.”