Update On the CLT in Tennessee

Update On the CLT in Tennessee

By Kimberly Farley

There is a business side to education, and it doesn't always put student needs first.

When I think of big business, companies in the sectors of industry and finance come to mind. I never really considered education a business. Education is a calling. It is a mission, for the good of children and our society. But I learned quite clearly last Tuesday that there is much business to education, and that business must be protected.

I have been working in my home state of Tennessee for recognition of the CLT in state sponsored scholarships, which are funded by the lottery. We have a robust program in place that makes it possible for Tennessee students to pursue post-secondary education, even using those dollars for many of the private colleges and universities in the state. I was frustrated with the process of having my daughter take our preferred test, the CLT, and then also having to take the ACT to qualify for state-sponsored scholarships. Her college of choice accepts the CLT, but she also had to dedicate time and money to taking the ACT.

So I contacted my state representative, Scott Cepicky. He is a passionate advocate for better education in Tennessee, and he listened to my concerns. As I shared more information with him and connected him with CLT leadership, he thought even state colleges should be utilizing this test for admissions. He set up meetings to pursue legislative action and talk to colleges about recognizing this assessment. Many CLT students are top performers. Shouldn’t the state colleges of Tennessee be welcoming these students, and perhaps attracting some top students from other states as well?

We were all surprised at how hostile some of the college legislative liaisons were to the idea of using an additional assessment. Despite the high performance of many CLT students, their answer was a firm No.

It is the legislator's job to listen to their constituents and make sure they have a voice.

With the door firmly closed to pursuing admissions changes at major state universities, Rep. Cepicky chose to move forward with legislative action. After meeting with several key players, the main concern was identified as lack of data that CLT test-takers complete college successfully and in a timely manner. So a resolution was proposed that urged the state to “evaluate the Classic Learning Test (CLT) for State-sponsored scholarships and admission to public universities.” The CLT is researching this data as its students graduate; this resolution would bring light to the CLT and the students it serves while that research progresses. If the data are as favorable as projected, this could be introduced as a bill in future state sessions.

The resolution was heard Tuesday by the Higher Education Sub-committee. I arrived at Rep. Cepicky’s office shortly before the meeting. He had previously anticipated no trouble getting this through the committee; but that morning he let me know that he and other lawmakers had been visited by ACT representatives. The legislative liaisons for some of the state colleges had also pushed back against this resolution. This was going to be a hard fight.

At the meeting, Rep. Cepicky spoke about the purpose behind the resolution: to give more options to students, and to analyze the data as it becomes available. Members of the committee questioned him aggressively, and made derogatory statements about the resolutionone legislator went so far as to say that he “despised the bill.” Rep. Cepicky continued to answer questions, and said that the ACT and SAT are silencing the voices of individual students, and it is the legislator’s job to listen to their constituents and make sure that they have a voice. Surprisingly, only one question was asked about the CLT. The committee chairman wanted to know whether it was based on a great books curriculum. When told “Yes,” he stated that that was “admirable”; he then proceeded to vote Nay along with every committee member.

As I left the meeting room I thought about the absurdity of shutting down a resolution that asked the state to evaluate data. Isn’t education about pursuing what is best for our students? Isn’t it about exposing them to a variety of ideas so that they can come to their own conclusions? On Tuesday, it was not about any of these lofty values. It was about the value of a dollar and preserving market share. As it turns out, education is big business too.

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