Press Releases

November 8 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Columnist: Tennessee and D.C. lead education reform (USA Today)

How often does Tennessee get cited nationally for producing great academic gains for its children? Almost never, about the same number of times Washington, D.C., gets touted for its superior academic results. And yet both Tennessee and D.C. stood out Thursday for making the fastest education gains as the results from the “nation’s report card,” the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), were released today. Imagine that. It’s hard to say which location has the most checkered education history. Only a few years ago Tennessee got “outed” for setting embarrassingly low education standards.

Columnist: School Reform Delivers (Wall Street Journal)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (i.e., the nation’s report card) results on Thursday as “encouraging.” That’s true only if you look at Washington, D.C., Tennessee and states that have led on teacher accountability and other reforms. Student scores on the test, which is administered every two years to a sample of schools in all 50 states, have barely budged since 2011. However, a handful of states did post significant gains, and the District of Columbia and Tennessee stand out.

Editorial: Schools show noteworthy gains (Tennessean)

Tennessee’s schools have needed some good news for a long time. On Thursday, they got it. The big leap in test scores measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress by Tennessee fourth- and eighth-graders is a great moment for the students, teachers and local and state education officials who have worked so hard to bring our state’s educational attainment out of the depths of mediocrity. NAEP’s report card measured Tennessee students’ scores in 2013 against the same work in 2011. Tennessee’s progress brought it from 46th nationally in math to 37th and from 41st in reading to 31st.

Editorial: Tennessee’s education reforms are paying dividends (C. Appeal)

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman has emphasized that state-driven reform efforts in public schools across the state would result in students performing better, although the improvement would be incremental. The state got good news on that front Thursday when it got the news that Tennessee made the largest gains in the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math, according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report. While the news is good on the student achievement front, the report shows there still is a lot of work to be done.

Editorial: Tennessee’s improved test scores worth celebrating (Jackson Sun)

The state of Tennessee got some encouraging news when the National Assessment of Educational Progress annual report, commonly regarded at the nation’s report card, was announced on Thursday. Tennessee led the nation with the greatest improvement in student test results in reading and math from 2011 to 2013. This is great news for Tennessee, and reflects years of hard work by teachers, students, parents, school administrators, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, Gov. Bill Haslam, state education leaders and state lawmakers.

U.S. Students Make Slight Progress on Test Scores (Wall Street Journal)

Fourth- and eighth-graders across the country made modest advances in national math and reading exams this year, according to data released Thursday, but proficiency rates remained stubbornly below 50% on every test. Amid the sluggish progress nationwide, a few areas notched drastic improvements on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, with Tennessee and Washington, D.C., —as well as schools on military bases—the only ones achieving statistically significant gains on all tests. Washington gained a cumulative 23 points since 2011, while Tennessee posted a 22-point jump—both compared with a 4-point national gain.

U.S. students show incremental progress on national test (Washington Post)

The nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders made incremental progress on math and reading tests administered earlier this year by the federal government, according to data released Thursday…. Both the District and Tennessee have made significant changes in education policy in recent years, from new teacher-evaluation systems to getting rid of tenure to encouraging the growth of public charter schools. “Where we’re seeing huge progress is where people have taken on really tough work . . . whether investing more in childhood education, adopting higher standards or having a laserlike focus on teacher effectiveness,” Duncan said.

U.S. Math, Reading Achievement Edges Up, But Gaps Remain (Ed Week)

The reading and mathematics achievement of the country’s 8th grade students improved in the last two years, but the performance of 4th graders remains stubbornly mixed, with progress in math, but not in reading, according to national test data released Thursday. The results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the nation’s report card,” show that 8th graders’ average score in math rose 1 point since 2011, the last time the test was given, and 3 points in reading on NAEP’s 500-point scale …Tennessee, the District of Columbia and U.S. Department of Defense schools had much to celebrate as the only three jurisdictions to produce NAEP gains in both subjects at both grade levels.

U.S. Reading and Math Scores Show Slight Gains (New York Times)

American fourth and eighth graders showed incremental gains in reading and math this year, but achievement gaps between whites and blacks, whites and Hispanics, and low-income and more affluent students stubbornly persist, data released by the Education Department on Thursday showed. The results of the tests — administered every two years as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the nation’s report card — continued an upward trend in both areas over the past two decades. But still, far less than half of the nation’s students are performing at a level deemed proficient in either math or reading.

Tenn. students lead nation in improvement (Associated Press/Johnson)

A new report showing Tennessee students leading the nation in academic improvement is partially a result of controversial education reforms the state has put in place over the last few years, education officials said Thursday. Commonly known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, assesses students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. The report released Thursday shows Tennessee students had the largest growth of any state from 2011-2013, with a 22-point growth across all subject areas.

TN leads nation in math, reading gains (Tennessean/Garrison)

Tennessee claimed the title Thursday of fastest-improving state in academic growth after boasting the greatest leaps nationally in math and reading assessment scores by middle school students, a feat that drew glowing praise from the top U.S. education official. A celebration among state officials, Republican lawmakers and educators erupted Thursday inside a Mt. Juliet middle school auditorium after Gov. Bill Haslam — who has taken criticism for piloting controversial education reforms — unveiled historic results from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress report card.

Tennessee shows fastest improvement on ‘nation’s report card’ (TFP/Hardy, Sher)

After Tennessee students “blew away” the competition on a national exam and made the state the fastest-improving in the union, Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman took a break from their victory lap to set their sights on a new goal. So what’s next? They hope educators and students will beat the national average in the next round of testing on the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2015. That would be a turnaround for the state, whose performance in 2013 lifted Tennessee from its embarrassing bottom-scraping overall rankings to the mid- or high 30s.

Tenn. shows nation’s best education gains (CA/Locker, McMillin, Locker, Smith)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman took a victory lap Thursday, dropping into John P. Freeman Optional School mid-afternoon to celebrate a glory day: Tennessee made the largest gains in the nation in fourth- and eight-grade reading and math, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report. After years of work in the trenches, only to rank in the high 40s out of 50 states, fourth-graders bolted, going from 46th in math to 37 in the nation. In reading, they did even better, plowing their way up to 31 from No. 41.

Haslam touts U.S.-leading education progress (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the country when it comes to education, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today, citing the results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress. According to a press release from the governor’s office, the results show that Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since the NAEP program, known as “the nation’s report card,” began a decade ago. Tennessee fourth graders went from 46th in the nation to 37th for math, and from 41st to 31st in reading.

State tops rest of nation in student academic gains (Nashville Post/Zelinski)

After years of strife adopting various education reforms, Tennessee ranked as the most improved state in the nation for test scores by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The scores out today — which measure fourth and eighth grade math and reading across the country — showed the students’ academic growth was greater than those of any other state from 2011 to 2013. The improvements ultimately take the state’s NAEP education rankings from the 40s to the 30s in all but eighth grade math. Scores also showed strong growth for African-American students during the same time period.

State leads nation in academic progress (Lebanon Democrat)

Tennessee’s students are the fastest improving in the nation. Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Tennessee had the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress of any state, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation. Haslam and other state and local officials turned out for a fanfare event at West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet. The NAEP results also show that Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since NAEP started nationwide assessments a decade ago.

Tennessee Gets Most Improved In Education, Still Far From U.S. Leader (WPLN)

Tennessee can now claim a title officials have been shooting for in recent years: fastest improving state in education. On a test that is universally considered the best for comparing one state to another, Tennessee students made bigger gains in 2013 than any other state since the test was widely adopted a decade ago. Governor Bill Haslam said he didn’t want to “spike the football” and do an end zone dance at a middle school auditorium in Mt. Juliet. But it was close. “We literally blew away the other states when it comes to education results,” Haslam said at the celebratory event Thursday.

Tennessee Students Lead Nation In Academic Growth (WTVF-TV Nashville)

A new report shows Tennessee students are leading the nation in academic growth. Commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress assesses students in fourth and eighth grade reading and math every two years. The report released Thursday shows Tennessee students had the largest growth of any state from 2011-2013, with a 22-point growth across all subject areas. The next closest state in growth was Indiana with 15. Governor Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Tennessee had the largest academic growth of any state in a single testing cycle since the NAEP started nationwide assessments 10 years ago.

Tennessee Sees Big Gains In Education (WREG-TV Memphis)

Tennessee had the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress of any state according to Governor Bill Haslam. The NAEP tests students in grades 4-8 for reading and math. Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since NAEP started nationwide assessments a decade ago. Governor Haslam will be in Memphis Thursday afternoon. Tennessee went from 46th in the nation in math to 37th and from 41st to 31st in reading for fourth graders.

Tennessee schools see largest academic growth (Nooga)

Tennessee students showed the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, making it the fastest-improving state in the nation, leaders announced Thursday. “These historic gains are a result of years of hard work by a lot of people across Tennessee: our teachers, students, principals, superintendents, parents, lawmakers, school board members, business leaders and many others,” Gov. Bill Haslam said, according to a news release. “As a state, we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”

Tennessee, Virginia students celebrate national rankings (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Tennessee students exceeded the scores of those in every other state in annual National Assessment of Educational Progress testing in the core areas of math and reading, state education officials announced Thursday. In neighboring Virginia , educators were celebrating reading scores that were among the top 12 in the nation and the highest for the state in four years. Four tests in math and reading are given each year to fourth- and eighth-grade students to compare educational outcomes across the 50 states and Tennessee improved in overall national ranking in each of those tests, moving from 46th to 37th in fourth-grade math and from 41st to 31st in reading, according to statistics released by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Haslam chooses Mt. Juliet school to tout education (Lebanon Democrat)

Gov. Bill Haslam used West Wilson Middle School as the backdrop Thursday to announce Tennessee leads the nation in education improvement in 2013. “No state has ever shown the gains made this year in the 10-year history of all 50 states taking the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] tests,” Haslam tweeted during the event. According to data released Thursday, Tennessee showed a 21.8-percent growth rate, which state officials said is the No. 2 fastest growth rate recorded on NAEP since 2003. Indiana was second this year with a 14.67-percent increase.

Looney says Williamson schools reflect statewide success (Tennessean)

Williamson County Schools director Mike Looney welcomed the news today that Tennessee is the only state that made both math and reading gains in both fourth and eighth grades during the past two years, noting that a large number of Williamson schools participated in the testing that yielded the result. Gov. Bill Haslam, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and former Gov. Phil Bredesen announced the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress this morning. “I stand with the Governor and celebrate the improved NAEP scores that school districts across the state experienced, thanks to the work of thousands of teachers in Tennessee, and more specifically, the outstanding work of our own,” Looney said in a response released after the news broke.

White House map colors outside Medicaid lines (Politico)

The White House is broadening its fight with states over Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, challenging them to cover millions of low-income people as it seeks to pivot from a barrage of negative headlines about people losing their health plans. “Nearly half of states are so locked into the politics of Obamacare that they’re willing to leave nearly 5.4 million of their own people uninsured,” a map circulated by the administration Thursday says. But the Medicaid map seems to count some potential allies as enemies and at least one expansion resister as a friend…Tennessee, too, is listed as refusing to expand Medicaid, but Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has been in constant negotiation with the Obama administration about a potential pathway to expansion.

Tennessee insurance commish warns of ‘death spiral’ (Nashville Biz Journal)

As Americans are beginning to receive notices of health insurance cancellations or rate increases, Tennessee has been touted as a state with some of the lowest rates in the country. But Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak says that’s not the full story. “We still have significant increases in the individual and small group market that are being posted on the federal marketplace and off the exchange,” McPeak said, speaking today to Nashville’s health care community.

Commerce and Insurance officials warn of ACA scams (TFP/Harrison)

Scam artists don’t need a lot of special knowledge about the Affordable Care Act to take advantage of their newest round of victims. They only need to capitalize on confusion. The law’s sheer complexity and the political rhetoric surrounding its rocky rollout have created ample opportunity for scam artists to target people worried about changes in their health coverage — especially the elderly, state officials say. “It’s the same old routine as other telemarketing scams, it is just in a different costume,” said Kate Abernathy, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

TDOT chief says $8 billion wish list has department in bind (Tennessean/Walters)

State Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer says his department faces a years-long backlog of road projects totaling $8 billion and the possible loss of funding from the U.S. Highway Trust Fund. Schroer brought up the backlog and the “pretty good chance” that federal highway dollars could dry up in two years’ time during a session this week outlining ways to jump-start the long-stalled western extension of Mack Hatcher Parkway around Franklin. Schroer, former mayor of Franklin, amplified his comments Thursday at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new access road into the city’s 110-acre Civil War Park off Lewisburg Pike.

TWRA officers seize 50 snakes from Campbell County church (N-S/Coleman)

Authorities could prove Pastor Andrew Hamblin had venomous snakes just by watching him on the National Geographic television show “Snake Salvation.” They just needed to prove where he was. “The roadblock we kept running into with getting a search warrant was we could not prove that the footage filmed was actually in Tennessee and actually at his church,” Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Matthew Cameron said. So wildlife officers went and asked him. Two TWRA sergeants went to Hamblin’s home in Campbell County shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday and asked him if he had venomous snakes.

State GOP and former top aide settle lawsuit (Associated Press)

The state GOP and former chief of staff Mark Winslow have settled a lawsuit over the public disclosure of his severance pay after he left the party. State Party Chairman Chris Devaney in a release Thursday called the agreement “amicable” and said he looked forward to putting the episode behind the party. Terms were not disclosed. Devaney chose not to retain Winslow after he was elected to replace Chairwoman Robin Smith, who left to run for Congress in 2009. Winslow went to work as a top aide to Smith’s campaign, and later details of the confidential severance agreement became the subject of media reports and television ads by the campaign of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

Former TN Gov: More Manpower Won’t Solve Botched Obamacare Site (WPLN)

Tennessee’s former governor is dubious that simply adding manpower will fix the glitchy Obamacare website. Two-term Democrat Phil Bredesen made his fortune in healthcare technology. And he says in his experience, “you can’t just throw bodies” at such a complex problem. “If you just hire a whole bunch of people and send them out to try and fix a complicated system like that, I don’t know, it’s kind of like getting nine women together in a room and saying, ‘produce a baby in one month.’ It just doesn’t work quite that way.”

Alexander, Corker vote against non-discrimination bill (Gannett/Barton)

Both Tennessee senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted against gay rights legislation Thursday when they opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “This legislation represents too much federal overreach,” Alexander said in a statement. “These changes in our society should be addressed by state legislatures, city councils, private businesses and other community organizations – not the federal government.” Corker said that while he believes “discrimination in the workplace is wrong,” he felt the act intruded on First Amendment rights on freedom of speech and religion that “guarantee significant room for every individual to hold, express and organize around their beliefs.”

TVA coal plants polluting groundwater, report says (Tennessean/Gang)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has polluted groundwater supplies around all its coal-fired power plants, including ones near Gallatin and Clarksville, a national environmental group concluded in a report released Thursday. The report, released in anticipation of next month’s five-year anniversary of a massive coal ash spill in Kingston, found that TVA’s pollution problems extend far beyond the damage done by that environmental disaster. It said TVA could be doing more to protect drinking water supplies.

Group claims water near 11 TVA coal plants is polluted (TFP/Flessner)

Nearly five years after the Tennessee Valley Authority dumped more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers at its Kingston Fossil Plant, an environmental group has uncovered evidence of other groundwater pollution at all 11 TVA coal plants. The Environmental Integrity Project said Thursday that “decades of mismanagement” by TVA left unhealthy residues of arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese, and other pollutants exceeding health-based guidelines in dozens of wells at TVA’s coal plants.

Instead of Luring Productions, Film Council’s Staffing Ones Already Here (WPLN)

Thursday, Mayor Karl Dean announced a new effort to bring more film and television production to Nashville. City leaders are eager to build on the number of music videos made here, as well as the ABC drama Nashville. Anastasia Brown works as a music supervisor in the film industry. She says it’s a great thing for the ABC show to shoot in Music City, but it creates big problems staffing other projects. “Right now, when Nashville is in production, the music video directors have no crew left,” Brown says. “They have to bring in crew from Atlanta. So, we need to develop this crew so we have multiple layers and it’s not so thin and challenging for multiple film and TV productions.”

Election of boards starts process of establishing education districts (CA/Bailey)

With the election of six separate municipal school boards on Thursday, Shelby County’s suburban cities venture into the reality of forming school systems basically from scratch — an endeavor that will take many hours of work, tedious negotiations and the hiring the right leaders to set the foundation for the cities’ education districts. From Millington in Shelby County’s northwest corner to Collierville in the southeast, the new school boards now begin a historic effort of separating from Shelby County Schools. . “For me, personally, it’s a great adventure,” said Lisa Parker, who won Germantown’s Position 4 seat Thursday without opposition.

Suburban Voters Decide School Board Races (Memphis Daily News)

Voters in Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities elected their respective municipal schools boards Thursday, Nov. 7 with low voter turnouts that reflected that most of the school board positions on the ballots were one-candidate uncontested races. The turnout based on the unofficial vote counts ranged from 1.4 percent in Collierville where all five school board races were uncontested to an 8 percent turnout in Germantown where the lone contested race featured a field of three, the largest field of candidates in any of the six contested races across the six towns and cities. There were also no contested school board races in Arlington.

In Knox and elsewhere, teachers’ concerns echoing across the state (N-S/McCoy)

The school where Melissa Batista teaches was once an enjoyable place, she told members of the Knox County school board Wednesday night. “It was full of smiling teachers and happy children. My colleagues and I were treated as professionals,” the Fountain City Elementary School teacher said. “Now, on any given day, I see my co-workers or students in tears. We are treated with mistrust and micromanaged to the nth degree. Many are fearful of losing their jobs … we are expected to cover 61 criteria in a one-hour lesson.” Batista was one of 19 teachers, counselors, librarians and even a high school student who stood in front of several hundred of their colleagues and voiced their concerns and frustrations with teacher evaluations, student testing, teacher morale and how all of those things are affecting students.

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