Hillsdale applications hint at links between charter school and Common Core ⋆
Hillsdale College’s affiliated charter schools are asking for an exception in Tennessee law to teach a curriculum linked with Common Core, which state lawmakers banned twice.
American Classical Education (ACE) — the Hillsdale-affiliated charter school group — asked in its five applications for an exception to Tennessee’s Unapproved Textbook law, which is common among charter applications, but the school said it plans to teach the Core Knowledge Sequence, a curriculum with several ties to Common Core.
Hillsdale College, a small Christian school that’s located in south-central Michigan, has a satellite campus in Washington, D.C. and is deeply entrenched in right-wing politics. Hillsdale has launched charter schools across the country.
“You can’t say you’re against Common Core, but for Core Knowledge,” said JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennesse. “They’re both ideologically from the same place. They’re very interconnected.”
ACE has applied to open charter schools in Madison, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford and Robertson counties in Tennessee. The Rutherford County School Board was the only county to approve the charter locally. ACE can appeal the denials to the state charter commission later this year.
“The concept behind a charter school is that it can do something that is not currently done,” said Dolores Gresham, ACE board member, in a statement. “They are supposed to diversify opportunities within districts and across the state, so charter schools will naturally use some approved materials but will also incorporate additional materials that aid in their unique approaches to education.”
Common Core is an education initiative adopted by many states in 2010 as an attempt to standardize teaching methods across the United States. The initiative received intense political pushback in the mid-2010s because of its ties to the Obama administration and its tying of federal funding to its implementation.
Core Knowledge is a free curriculum used in various school districts nationwide, including Tennessee. E.D. Hirsch — Core Knowledge’s founder — books and writings inspired much of the education movement that led to Common Core.
Core Knowledge also references the uses of Common Core in several of its teaching materials, including a 2023 content and guidelines document.
Tennessee lawmakers in 2015 banned Common Core and any related teaching materials. Then in 2021, lawmakers passed another law closing what Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called a “loophole” in the 2015 ban.
Lee has deep ties to Hillsdale College and ACE, including announcing the school’s initiative to open charter schools during his 2021 State of the State address.
The governor also appeared on stage with Hillsdale College’s President Larry Arnn in 2022, when he said teachers were trained “in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said any attempt to teach a version of Common Core concerned him.
“I can’t imagine why we would grant such a waiver,” said Lundberg, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
Donna Wright, a former Superintendent for Wilson County Schools, said Tennessee banned Common Core in such a way that any teaching material even closely related to it wasn’t allowed.
“The implications here were, you won’t even speak of Common Core,” Wright said. “Every now and then you’d see remnants of Common Core, and it would quickly get dismissed because we weren’t going to talk about it.”
This story first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, the Tennessee Lookout.
authored by Adam Friedman
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