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Press Releases

Alexander Announces First Round of Democrat, Independent Supporters

Press release from the Campaign for Lamar Alexander for U.S. Senate; August 10, 2014:

First round of Democrats and Independents includes former Congressman John Tanner, seven former or current mayors, former UT football Coach Johnny Majors, an Olympic Gold Medalist and numerous civic and political leaders from across the state

NASHVILLE – The Alexander for Senate campaign today announced the first round of “Tennesseans for Alexander,” a list of Democrats and Independents statewide who are supporting Lamar Alexander’s re-election to the U.S. Senate this fall.

“Every time I’ve run for office I’ve done my best to earn the support of Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, because it is my job to represent all Tennesseans once I am elected,” Alexander said. “My goal is to get results, and that means working with people who know how to help solve problems for Tennessee and for our country.”

During his 2008 re-election campaign, Alexander announced two rounds of “Tennesseans for Alexander,” totaling more than 50 members. This year’s first round includes 30 members.

Former Congressman John Tanner, a Democrat who represented the 8th Congressional District from 1989 to 2011 and was in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1976 to 1988, joined the group this year. Tanner said he is supporting Alexander after years of working together on roads, the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority and other issues.

“There are times in this business when friendships and loyalties should be more important than politics, and this is one of those times,” Tanner said. “Lamar Alexander has always been a friend and loyal to my old district, helping us do everything we needed to do to be successful and bring jobs to rural West Tennessee.”

This year’s list is geographically balanced across East, Middle and West Tennessee and also includes seven current or former mayors, an Olympic gold medalist, former University of Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors and numerous civic and political leaders. The list includes:

East Tennessee

  • Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan
  • Etta Clark, Eastman executive from Kingsport
  • Jim Hall of Chattanooga, aide to former Gov. Ned McWherter and chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration
  • Jack Fishman, Morristown-based business man, civic leader and newspaper publisher
  • Former University of Tennessee President Joe Johnson
  • Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey
  • Johnny Majors, former University of Tennessee football coach
  • Former State Senator Carl Moore of Bristol
  • Former Knox County Mayor Tommy Schumpert

Middle Tennessee

  • Steve Bogard, Nashville songwriter
  • Dave Cooley, deputy and chief of staff to former Gov. Phil Bredesen
  • Aubrey Harwell, prominent Nashville attorney
  • State Senator Doug Henry, longest-serving member of the Tennessee General Assembly
  • Patsy Mathews, political activist and widow of former U.S. Senator Harlan Mathews
  • Linda Peak Schacht, Nashville university professor and former aide to President Jimmy Carter and former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd
  • James Pratt, former staffer to former U.S. Senator Jim Sasser
  • Former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell
  • Fate Thomas, Jr. of Nashville, who recently resurrected the Sure Shot Rabbit Hunter’s Supper, a gathering for Middle Tennessee politicians founded by his father, the late Sheriff Fate Thomas
  • Anna Windrow, Nashville business woman, former aide to former Lt. Gov. Frank Gorrell, former Senator Jim Sasser and former Gov. Phil Bredesen
  • Emily Wiseman, former executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging

West Tennessee

  • Laura Adams, executive director of Shelby Farms Park
  • Former State Supreme Court Judge George Brown, the first African American to serve on the court, appointed by then-Gov. Alexander
  • Brenda Duckett, Memphis business woman and community education activist
  • Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist
  • Bishop William Graves of Memphis, former senior bishop of Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and former member of the Tennessee Valley Authority board
  • Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton
  • Cato Johnson, Memphis hospital executive
  • Former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris
  • Rochelle Stevens, Memphis business woman and Olympic gold medalist
  • Former Congressman John Tanner

The Alexander campaign is chaired by Congressman Jimmy Duncan, with co-chairmen Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell, as well as Congressmen Blackburn, Roe, Black, Fincher, and Fleischmann.

The campaign’s Honorary Co-Chairmen include former U.S. Senators Howard Baker (1925-2014), Bill Brock, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, as well as former Governors Winfield Dunn and Don Sundquist.
Serving as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Statewide Committee to Elect Lamar Alexander are all 13 living former state Republican Party chairs.

Categories
Press Releases

Bredesen, Frist Announced as Co-Chairs of USGLC in TN

Press release from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition; August 8, 2013:

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) today announced that Governor Phil Bredesen and Senator Bill Frist will co-chair the USGLC Tennessee State Advisory Committee to raise awareness of the important role U.S. foreign policy plays in Tennessee’s economic growth and security.

“We are pleased to serve as the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s honorary chairs at a time when America’s interests abroad have never been greater,” said Governor Bredesen and Senator Frist. “Investing in smart and effective U.S. development and diplomacy tools is exactly what we need to protect our security, advance our economic interests, and demonstrate our finest values as Americans.”

Bredesen and Frist join a distinguished group of bipartisan national leaders, including former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and former Tennessee Senator Jim Sasser, in an effort to educate Americans about how critical U.S. leadership in the world is to creating jobs here at home and protecting national security.

America’s civilian tools of global development and diplomacy make up just one percent of the federal budget, but provide a powerful return on investment for taxpayers. As 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S., these tools funded through the International Affairs Budget help to open and build markets for American businesses. Tennessee is a national leader in foreign investment, and in 2011 alone the state exported $30 billion in goods and services.

“We live in a global economy, and with one in five Tennessee jobs tied to trade, we have no choice but to be engaged in the world,” said Governor Bredesen. “Countries in the developing world represent the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods and services, and our nation’s investments on the ground pay dividends right here in Tennessee.”

“I have seen how important it is to create opportunities and hope for people around the world,” said Senator Frist. “This is not simply the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do, as our top military leaders tell us time and again how essential our diplomatic and foreign assistance programs are to preventing conflicts and providing stability in a very dangerous world.”

The USGLC will host a luncheon event with Senator Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Nashville on August 22nd from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel. The luncheon is free of charge and open to the public. Click here for additional information and registration.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (www.usglc.org) is a broad-based influential network of 400 businesses and NGOs; national security and foreign policy experts; and business, faith-based, academic and community leaders in all 50 states, including 100 on the Tennessee State Advisory Committee, who support a smart power approach of elevating development and diplomacy alongside defense in order to build a better, safer world.

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Featured Health Care NewsTracker

Haslam Among Republican Governors Who Believe Block Grants Would Improve Obamacare

Gov. Bill Haslam was mentioned prominently in a Forbes piece Thursday, after he and four other GOP governors said they would consider an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care reform law if the money were awarded as a block grant.

“Obviously, as a Republican, I’m with those folks who say, if you can block grant us Medicaid, we’d look at it differently,” Haslam said, according to Politico. The governors were at a weekend meeting of the National Governors Association in Virginia.

The block grant idea is dear to the hearts of conservatives, who say the setup would free states from onerous federal restrictions and give states the power to keep expenses in check. Governing magazine explains the history and criticism that such a plan would reduce the number of people covered, especially in times of economic strain.

The governors have the option of saying no to a Medicaid expansion in their states without losing existing Medicaid funding, based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that upheld the Affordable Care Act.

This week the state held a meeting at Vanderbilt to seek input on what insurers should be required to cover in plans offered in the state, according to the Tennessean:

These rules will apply to individual policies and small-employer group plans, including those offered through the state insurance exchange after Jan. 1, 2014. The federal law, often referred to as Obamacare, directs that these plans have the same level of coverage as those typically offered by a large employer. But the law leaves it up to the states to set those benchmarks. …

States have 10 basic plans currently offered by large employer groups from which to choose a benchmark, but they can modify whichever reference plan they choose.

The meeting attracted people with health complaints from loss of hearing to infertility, wanting to make sure the state’s standards would require their ailment be covered, WPLN reported.

Another component of the health care law got a boost from a Tennessean Wednesday. Former Sen. Bill Frist urged states to set up their own health insurance exchanges. The exchanges will foster competition and are “the most innovative, market-driven, and ultimately constructive part of the law,” Frist wrote in a column for The Week.

Opponents of the law have urged the opposite. The Cato Institute calls them “the new government bureaucracies” for forcing people “to purchase Obamacare’s overpriced and overregulated health insurance.”

In May, the Kaiser Family Foundation expressed doubt that Tennessee would meet a deadline to submit a plan for its exchange this fall. The state has accepted more than $9 million in federal tax dollars for planning and establishment efforts.

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Education Featured

U.S. Education Secretary Praises Tennessee’s Reform Efforts

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did everything Wednesday but come out and say Tennessee will get the waiver it seeks from the No Child Left Behind law, and he had glowing things to say about the state’s education reform efforts.

“I just love what I see here,” Duncan said. “What I see here is courageous leadership at the top.

“I see a governor who is walking the walk. I see he is building a fantastic leadership team. I think he’s uniting the state behind this effort.”

Duncan appeared with Gov. Bill Haslam at a panel discussion at West End Middle School in Nashville and again at a roundtable discussion with rural educators and business leaders hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also in Nashville. Both men met with reporters following each event.

Tennessee, pointing to unreachable expectations in the federal No Child Left Behind law, has publicly sought a waiver from current demands in the law, and Duncan is revamping the system to accommodate waivers. The waiver framework, expected to help many states, is not expected to be finalized until September, but Duncan left little doubt at each stop Wednesday that Tennessee will get what it wants.

When Dr. James Jones, director of schools in Polk County, asked Haslam at the roundtable, “How do you think your request regarding No Child Left Behind has been received?” it was Duncan who gave the answer.

“Very well,” Duncan said, which drew laughter.

The secretary’s visit blended in with what has been a sustained momentum of attention to education changes in the state. Haslam readily acknowledged Wednesday he took the baton of education reform from the previous administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, who guided the state to its $501 million victory last year in the federal Race to the Top competition.

The state has enacted reforms that include raising standards to get a more accurate read on student progress and making for a more seamless transition from community colleges to four-year schools in higher education. The state is implementing a new teacher evaluation process, based largely on student performance, and has opened the door for more charter schools. The reform movement sprang from a special session of the Legislature in 2010, a key effort in the Race to the Top victory, but continued this year with controversial changes in teacher tenure and in the collective bargaining status of the teachers’ union.

When a question was raised at the panel discussion about the role of the teachers union, Duncan said teachers should be at the table.

“We cannot have a great education system in Tennessee or anyplace else if we don’t have everyone at the table working hard on this, whether it’s unions, whether it’s the business community, the philanthropic community, this has to be a statewide effort — parents, teachers, everyone at the table,” Duncan said. “I think the voice of teachers, the voice of unions, is critical to where we need to go.

“If we’re talking about long-term systemic change, I don’t see how you get there without having teachers at the table helping to shape that.”

Tennessee went to a “collaborative conferencing” system of teacher negotiations this year that legislators say will give all teachers equal access and not be dominated by the state’s large teachers union.

Duncan has seen the state’s efforts across two administrations. It was Duncan who announced the big victory for Bredesen and his team in the first round of Race to the Top. But he commended Tennessee’s leadership at every turn on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the collective commitment to transforming education than here in Tennessee,” Duncan told the audience at West End Middle School. “The investments we made in Race to the Top and other things, those are not gifts. Those are investments.”

But Duncan warned about how far the state has to go to improve. He noted that the state has about 16,000 fewer 12th graders than 9th graders, a sign of a high school drop-out rate and a reminder that the state needs a well-educated workforce if it is to compete for jobs and boost its economy.

“My challenge to you, and my hope is, that Tennessee can be the fastest improving state in the country,” Duncan said. “There are lots of reasons why that’s possible. It might not be the highest performing state, but it can be the fastest improving state.”

Haslam pointed to the need to maintain recent efforts.

“I’m the beneficiary of a lot of work done by people before I came to office,” Haslam said. “I fully intend not just to keep that momentum going but to pick up the pace.”

Duncan would not say outright that Tennessee will get its waiver, but he told reporters, “I have every reason to be hopeful about Tennessee’s submission.”

Duncan called the No Child Left Behind law, enacted under President George W. Bush, “very, very punitive.” A national trend has developed where states are saying the expectations have become so unrealistic that changes must be made, and Congress has been slow to revamp the statute.

Duncan recently said teachers should be paid $60,000-$150,000 a year. Haslam and Duncan talked about that concept in the car as they made their way from West End Middle School to the SCORE headquarters at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center several blocks away.

The governor, facing heavy budgetary issues like all governors, didn’t dismiss the item and used it as a way to say the system may need fundamental changes.

“The issue is how do we attract the best and brightest to teach,” Haslam said. “While most teachers say pay is not the most significant factor in deciding whether to teach or not, let’s don’t kid ourselves. Obviously, how we get compensated impacts how attracted we are to a profession.

“I have no clue in our current budget situation how we do that. But I think it probably involves a fundamental restructuring, everything from looking at class size to how long we go to school. My guess is that 20 years from now the equation of how we do education will look very different.”

Duncan also mentioned the concept of public boarding schools as a possibility, saying he saw one in Washington D.C. a few years ago.

“What works for the wealthy probably works for poor folks as well,” he said. “We’ve had private boarding schools in this country. The elite, who can afford it, their children seem to do pretty well, and it’s just something to think about.

“If we’re serious about ending cycles of poverty and social failure, I think our school days have to be a lot longer — 10, 12, 14-hour days. Maybe some children you need 24/7.”

The roundtable discussion at SCORE focusing on challenges facing rural schools followed a rural summit by SCORE a few weeks ago. SCORE is the reform group formed by Dr. Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader. Frist was not at Wednesday’s event. He is abroad in Somalia, where there is a famine.

SCORE’s president, Jamie Woodson, appeared on the panel at West End Middle School, with state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, superintendent Chris Barbic of the state’s Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest performing schools, and Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford.

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Business and Economy Education

SCORE Conference Accents Connection Between Education, Economic Growth

They held an education summit in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it turned into a jobs summit.

And that’s pretty much what organizers of the event had in mind all along.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the organization founded by former Sen. Bill Frist, hosted the Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit at Lipscomb University, pulling together various interests in education — from the classroom to the philanthropic realm. It was notable for its emphasis on rural areas, where issues ranging from education to unemployment can be difficult and complex

But it was clear the event was not simply about educating kids in rural communities. It was about preparing them for the workforce and, in turn, boosting the economy in those rural areas.

“It’s making real this close connection between education and jobs,” said Jamie Woodson, the former state senator and president of SCORE.

“They’re so interrelated. It’s not just something we talk about theoretically. It really is a matter of economic viability for these communities around our state and the families that support those communities.”

To drive home that point, the event had a high-powered panel discussion Tuesday morning that included Kevin Huffman, the state’s commissioner of education, and Bill Hagerty, the state’s commissioner of economic and community development, along with Frist and Woodson. Huffman said the jobs of the future will be different from jobs in the past. Hagerty said the connection between jobs and education is very tight.

But the same angle was evident in a morning panel discussion Wednesday. Joe Barker, executive director of the Southwest Tennessee Development District, drove home the point of workforce development and in the process referred to a megasite in West Tennessee aimed at economic development.

Barker also referred to the REDI College Access Program. REDI stands for Regional Economic Development Initiative.

“The key part of this is to recognize we’re an economic development organization. We’re not an educational entity,” Barker said.

“We got involved in the College Access Program purely from an economic development sense.”

He spelled out some details of the large tract of land set aside as the Haywood County Megasite.

“It is a large, potentially very attractive industrial site for heavy manufacturing. It is the only certified megasite left in the state of Tennessee,” Barker said.

“Leaders came together to talk about what we could do as a region to enhance attracting jobs to that megasite, and at the end of the day it all went back to the quality of our workforce and our educational attainment levels.”

John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the largest higher education organization in the state, zeroed in on the high number of students who require some type of remedial education when they enter the state’s colleges. He focused on the community colleges in the Board of Regents system since they will be the institutions dealing most with remedial education.

“Roughly four out of five freshmen who come to our community colleges require some kind of remedial or developmental education,” Morgan said. “Of those, about three out of four will have math deficiencies.

“That’s kind of the big problem. But even when you look at reading, about one-third end up in developmental or remedial reading courses, and about half end up in writing courses. That’s troubling.”

Morgan pointed to the state’s Complete College Act, which is geared toward moving students more seamlessly toward college degrees.

“In an environment where completion is now the agenda, where our schools are incented in a very strong way through our outcome-based formula to focus on completion, obviously that represents a substantial challenge,” Morgan said.

Morgan said no matter how well Tennessee handles remedial education, real success will come only when students arrive at college prepared to learn.

“We can cry about that. We can whine about the lack of preparation if we choose to,” Morgan said. “But that’s not going to help us hit our numbers. It’s not going to help us achieve our outcomes.

“So what we have to do is figure out how we at our institutions can work with our high schools, with our middle schools, with our communities to lead to better success for students as they come to us.”

Morgan said there will always be a need for remedial and developmental courses for adult learners, pointing out that if he were to go back to college he would probably “test in” to needing some kind of help.

But the summit was still somewhat out of the ordinary for its focus on rural communities.

“There is a great deal of focus and data related to urban turnaround strategies,” Woodson said. “But we wanted to look at rural communities — and a third of Tennessee students are in schools in rural communities — which is particularly important. So we thought it would be smart and productive to focus on that.”

David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for SCORE, echoed that desire.

“A lot of the education reform going on nationally is focused on urban areas,” he said. “In talking to folks and learning from people across the state, there was a real need, not only convening about rural education but to talk about best practices, then bring folks together to replicate those practices.”

Woodson said the idea for the rural summit came from listening tours SCORE has conducted across the state, adding that those efforts will continue.

“This really resulted from those conversations,” she said.

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Press Releases

Woodson to Join SCORE in July

Press Release from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, April 14, 2011:

Education Leader and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore to Lead Tennessee-Based Reform Organization

(Nashville) – The Chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced today that Jamie Woodson will lead the organization as President and Chief Executive Officer, following a national search for the position. Woodson, an attorney who currently serves as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Tennessee State Senate, will resign from the General Assembly at the end of the current legislative session to begin her new role at SCORE.

“Improving public education has been the hallmark of Jamie Woodson’s career in public service and her commitment to student achievement and growth has been remarkable,” Frist said. “As SCORE’s President and CEO, Jamie will not only lead one of the nation’s most innovative education reform organizations, but will have the unique opportunity to continue bringing about meaningful change for Tennessee’s children by working with educators, policymakers, philanthropists, business leaders, and parents.”

During her 12 years in the General Assembly, Woodson has helped spearhead Tennessee’s education reform efforts. She chaired the Senate Education Committee from 2005 until 2009, and during that time led successful efforts to overhaul the Basic Education Program (BEP), the mechanism for funding K-12 public education in Tennessee. In 2009, she sponsored key revisions to the Tennessee Public Charter School Act, resulting in more charter schools, expanded student eligibility, and increased statewide public and philanthropic support.

In 2010, Woodson served on Tennessee’s five-member Race to the Top pitch team, which helped secure the more than $500 million grant by demonstrating Tennessee’s commitment to reforming K-12 public schools to the U.S. Department of Education. Since then, she has chaired Tennessee’s First to the Top Advisory Council, a panel of national and state education experts that provides strategic guidance on implementation of the state’s landmark Race to the Top reforms.

“I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to lead SCORE at such a critical time for Tennessee,” Woodson said. “As a legislator, supporting and improving public education in Tennessee has truly been my passion. There is no higher priority for parents, school systems, and our state. While I will miss my work in the legislature, this new opportunity is a natural continuation of the work in which I have already been engaged, and gives me the opportunity to dedicate 100 percent of my efforts to improving public education in our state.”

Woodson’s first task at SCORE will be leading a strategic planning process to chart the organization’s future. This planning work, which will be supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will help define and expand SCORE’s ongoing activities in areas such as advocacy, policy, research, and technical assistance.

“Since launching in 2009, SCORE has done an excellent job of building and maintaining the case for meaningful education reform,” Frist said. “Looking ahead, we want to make sure the organization is properly positioned to support the work of state government and our local school systems. No one is better suited for this role than Jamie Woodson.”

Woodson will resign from the State Senate effective July 1, 2011, or at the close of business on the last day of the current legislative session, whichever comes first. Woodson will begin her work at SCORE at that time.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with state and local governments to encourage sound policy decisions in public education and advance innovative reform on a statewide basis.

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Education News

Woodson Leaving Senate to Lead SCORE

Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, an integral figure in historic education reforms in Tennessee in recent years, is leaving the Legislature to become president of SCORE, the education reform organization put together by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

Woodson, speaker pro tempore in the Senate, will formally leave the Legislature after the final day of the current legislative session, or on July 1, whichever comes first.

The governor will set a special election date for sometime in the fall, and voters in the district will pick a new senator.

Woodson will have the title of president and chief executive officer of the group formally known as the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. She replaces Brad Smith, who has joined the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

SCORE itself, while a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, has had a strong link to the reforms Woodson and many others have worked on legislatively in K-12 education, stretching from the administration of former Gov. Phil Bredesen to current Gov. Bill Haslam.

Woodson was chosen after a national search to fill the SCORE position.

She said Thursday she will not run for public office again.

“All the organization partners in public education are at the table and really focused on one thing, and one thing only, and that’s working diligently to make sure students are prepared for success in post-secondary education and the workforce when they graduate from high school,” Woodson said.

“It’s a big mission, but it’s a simple mission.”

Woodson, who has spent 12 years in the Legislature and is former chair of the Senate Education Committee, was involved in the intensive special session on education reform in January 2010, where the road was paved for the state’s successful application for the federal Race to the Top competition. She has also been influential in steering education reforms favored by Haslam in the current legislative session.

Woodson has served on the steering committee of SCORE since the organization began in 2009.

She said Thursday she will treat the new position much like the “odd commuter lifestyle” she currently has as a leader in the Legislature. Knoxville will continue to be home, she said. SCORE operates in the offices of the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center on 18th Avenue South in Nashville.

“I will spend a good bit of time in Nashville, as well as around the state,” she said.

“I think the organization has been very relevant and important to the success that we have achieved thus far.”

Woodson said Haslam, former mayor of Knoxville, has been “very encouraging” about her new role.

“We have dreamed big about education reform for many years, well before he put his hat into the ring to serve as governor,” she said. “It’s something obviously that’s a priority to him, and he was very kind and encouraging.”

One of Woodson’s first tasks will involve strategic planning with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been heavily involved in philanthropic measures for public education in Tennessee. SCORE is funded by numerous individuals and organizations at the state and national levels that are engaged in improving student achievement.

SCORE issued a report recently, acknowledging strides made in education reform but continuing to emphasize the need for improvement, especially through sustaining a pipeline of leaders in public schools.

Frist has been the driving force behind the organization and brought instant credibility to the organization formed to focus on public education. He is chairman of SCORE.

“Improving public education has been the hallmark of Jamie Woodson’s career in public service and her commitment to student achievement and growth has been remarkable,” Frist said in a formal statement Thursday.

“As SCORE’s president and CEO, Jamie will not only lead one of the nation’s most innovative education reform organizations, but will have the unique opportunity to continue bringing about meaningful change for Tennessee’s children by working with educators, policymakers, philanthropists, business leaders and parents.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey issued a formal statement, saying, “Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson has been a pioneering and passionate advocate for education reform since the very beginning of her tenure in the Legislature.

“She has served her district and her state with a dedication I see in too few public servants these days. It has been a true honor and privilege to serve alongside Jamie, and I wish her all the best in this new phase of her career.”

Woodson said she will miss serving in the Legislature, but she sees a logical transition from one role to the next.

“There are so many things I will miss, first and foremost representing the citizens in my community in Knox County,” she said. “I knocked on my first door and asked a wonderful family for the privilege of serving them in the state Legislature when I was 25 years old. Several thousand doors later and many years later, I know I will feel like the work I will be doing with SCORE is a very natural continuation of that service.”

The nature of the new job has a strong appeal to her.

“There are so many things I love about what I do now, but the work I’ve had the privilege of doing in education policy has been the passion,” Woodson said. “The opportunity to spend a hundred percent of your efforts in your passion is a blessing. I’m really excited about it.”

Categories
Education Featured News

Frist: To the Top

Tenure reform for teachers has passed both houses of the Legislature, but in the eyes of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, what’s going at the Capitol is part of a much bigger picture.

On Thursday, Frist and his education reform organization SCORE — the State Collaborative on Reforming Education — released a list of marching orders it sees as vital to the effort to transform education in Tennessee. The report on the state of education in Tennessee keeps the pressure on state officials even as some of the organization’s recommended reforms are already gaining ground in the Legislature.

Frist expressed support for Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to reform teacher tenure in an interview with TNReport, and he described education reform in broad, sweeping terms that lend insight into why the transplant surgeon, also formerly one of the most powerful politicians in America, is so involved in education nowadays.

“Within education, you can do Pre-K and do higher education, but then if I have to ask myself based on these experiences of having done a lot of health care and a lot of policy and a lot of legislation, how can you best spend your time, it comes by K-12 education,” he said.

“If you win there, if you can be productive there, you can literally change the course of the history of the United States of America. That’s why I’m there, and not there for a month, not there for a year, but for many years and as far as the future I can see now.”

Frist served two terms in the Senate. He was at one point considered a potential presidential candidate. Frist contemplated running for governor at a time when he basically needed only to announce his candidacy and otherwise potentially serious contenders would have stood aside.

But he chose instead to focus on curing Tennessee’s education ills. The reason, he said, was because that one issue touches so many others — among them jobs, workforce training, rising health care costs, and U.S. global competitiveness — “big problems that really hit the greatness of America.”

Frist said he contemplated how he could have best have an impact. His conclusion: “It all — all — comes back to education.”

Education & Jobs

The SCORE report said Haslam and other leaders must keep education reform at the top of their agenda by emphasizing the connection between education and jobs (pdf). It said Tennessee should focus on developing a pipeline of district and school leaders, saying research has shown that the quality of the leader has a large impact on how much students learn.

The report said the state must place a “relentless focus” on improving instruction, saying that even with debates in the Legislature over tenure, collective bargaining and teacher evaluations, it’s easy to forget the quality of instruction in the individual classroom.

The report then puts the heat on the Tennessee Department of Education and its incoming commissioner, Kevin Huffman, due to take the job in April. The report said the department must change from a “compliance-oriented” organization to a “service-oriented” operation.

Despite his obvious prominence in the Republican Party, Frist asserts that SCORE is “religiously nonpartisan.”

“Education is a nonpartisan issue,” he said. Frist sees Haslam, a Republican, as picking up where Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen left off.

“What Gov. Bredesen was able to accomplish was getting rid of the hypocrisy of false standards and putting in accurate standards,” said Frist. “What Gov. Haslam is doing is taking the same concept, the same philosophy, to the next step.”

‘Probably Not a Lot’ of Bad Teachers: Frist

The state has been through a lot since the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an “F” in education in 2007. It has adopted the Tennessee Diploma Project meant to update standards. It adopted a “First to the Top” reform package in a special legislative session that resulted in, among other things, teacher evaluations being based on student achievement. That package was passed in order to apply for federal “Race to the Top” federal stimulus funds, and Tennessee won $501 million. Half of those funds were allotted to local districts, and half were designated for the state level.

Now, the Legislature is embroiled in an effort to remove the teachers’ union’s collective bargaining power, SB113, an issue Haslam has only recently spoken up on. The governor has sided more with a compromise measure in the House than the hard-line effort in the Senate.

Tenure reform and dramatic changes for charter schools have been high on Haslam’s priorities and have so far seen much smoother sailing in the Legislature.

Frist said he likes the tenure proposal and has made his own video backing the effort. He was asked Thursday if there are too many bad teachers who should be shown the door.

“Probably not a lot,” he said. But if a teacher, year after year, on average leaves students less educated than when they entered the class, the teacher probably should not be teaching, he said.

On collective bargaining, Frist said, “It’s very important for teachers to have an appropriate voice. When that voice becomes so ingrained it hurts students, for example, restricts the number of days a student can be in a classroom — at a time other countries are going in the opposite direction — the system needs to be reformed.”

He said he is “very supportive” of Haslam’s charter school proposals. Haslam has called for lifting the cap on charter schools and allowing a state-run achievement school district to establish charters, rather than just local school boards. A $40 million public/private partnership to expand charter schools was recently announced.

Frist worked on the federal No Child Left Behind law while in Washington and has called for updates in the law, which is up for re-authorization.

“I think it was reasonably successful,” he said. “But what it clearly did is set the stage for what we’re doing in Tennessee today.”

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Press Releases

SCORE Releases Yearly Education Assessment

Press Release from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, March 24, 2011:

Frist: Tremendous Progress Has Been Made – Important Work Still Remains

(Nashville) – The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released its annual State of Education in Tennessee report. SCORE Chairman and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist presented the report during SCORE’s quarterly Steering Committee meeting of major education stakeholders from across Tennessee.

“To be economically competitive and increase job growth, Tennessee must improve its public education system,” said SCORE Chairman Bill Frist. “This annual report gives a comprehensive look at education reform in Tennessee, highlights innovative successes across the state, and gives clear recommendations and direction for improvement in public K-12 education. Tremendous progress has been made in the Volunteer State in the last year. But this report clearly shows that important work remains to ensure that every Tennessee child graduates high school prepared for college or the workforce.”

The report includes a Year In Review, outlining the significant progress that Tennessee made in education in 2010, and highlights four “Promising Practices” of innovative reform efforts in different regions of the state.

In addition, the report outlines four priorities that SCORE believes will be crucial to continued progress in 2011. These priorities include:

  • Sustained policy leadership in education reform from state leaders, including legislators, educators, and business and community leaders. These leaders must ensure that recent reforms are successfully implemented and push forward with other reforms, especially those related to more directly connecting the state’s new teacher evaluations system to hiring, tenure, and compensation decisions.
  • A comprehensive strategy for improving the pipeline of district and school leaders through the launching of a statewide initiative to create a network of high quality school leadership programs. These programs would recruit, train, and support highly effective school leaders.
  • A relentless focus on instructional quality by ensuring that there is an effective teacher at the front of every classroom. This requires connecting the state’s new teacher evaluation system to high-quality feedback and professional development opportunities, and by creating and expanding mentoring programs for new and low-performing teachers.
  • Increasing the capacity of the Tennessee Department of Education by aggressively recruiting high-quality staff to the Department, and strengthening the Department’s regional offices so they can support individual local districts in implementing reforms

“These four priorities are crucial to maintaining the historic momentum in education that Tennessee has experienced,” said Senator Frist. “They are based in the belief that successful implementation, and not just policy change, is critical to seeing real improvement in student achievement.”

The full report can be viewed here: http://www.tnscore.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Score-2010-Annual-Report-Full.pdf

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with state and local governments to encourage sound policy decisions in public education and advance innovative reform on a statewide basis.

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Education Featured News

No More Waiting: Huffman Named Haslam’s Top Education Official

Gov. Bill Haslam has often positioned himself as a supporter of bold innovation in the realm of education reform.

The Republican governor has also said that in order to “capitalize on the momentum that exists right now in education,” his administration will energetically institute the “First to the Top” K-12 reforms initiated in 2010 by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee General Assembly. That bipartisan legislative effort positioned Tennessee to later win $501 million from the U.S. Department of Education as part of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program designed to entice states to adopt higher education standards.

On Thursday, after a nationwide search, the governor named a prominent national advocate of bold and dynamic education reform efforts to oversee the state’s public schools and serve as the governor’s point man on “First to the Top.”

Kevin Huffman, an executive with the Teach for America program, is the new commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education. He replaces Patrick Smith, who had been serving as interim commissioner.

“There is a national conversation going on right now about how to improve our schools and how to ensure that American kids can compete with kids anywhere in the world,” Huffman told reporters gathered for his introductory press conference Thursday. “Tennessee is at the epicenter of that conversation. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m excited to take this job.”

Huffman’s experiences and accomplishments with the innovation-focused Teach for America, where he worked for the past 11 years, uniquely qualify him to lead the department, said Haslam.

The governor said that in the process of searching the country for suitable candidates for the post, he discovered that education experts everywhere are paying close attention to what’s happening in Tennessee.

“At the end of the day I chose Kevin for three reasons,” said Haslam. “Number one, he is committed to the idea that every child can learn. Number two, he understands that having great teachers in the classroom, and great principals in the school, are the key. And he is going to do everything he can to encourage those great teachers to be in the classrooms in Tennessee. Third, is this: He understands a lot of the great things that are happening in Tennessee and wants to be a part of continuing that momentum.”

Teach for America places ambitious young teachers in troubled American classrooms where they commit themselves to “going above and beyond traditional expectations” in order to inspire students to learn. Tennessee currently has more than 250 Teach for America members reaching 18,000 students in high-need public schools, according to the state education department.

Launched in 1990, Teach for America has “become one of the nation’s largest providers of teachers for low-income communities” and is dedicated to “building a pipeline of leaders committed to educational equity and excellence,” the organization’s website says. Teach for America founder and CEO, Wendy Kopp, wrote in a September 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “We are the top employer of graduating seniors at over 40 colleges and universities across the country, including Yale, Spelman and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.”

Huffman, who was Teach for America’s vice president for public affairs and a member of the 28,000-strong organization’s “leadership team” before accepting his new assignment, is taking the job of education commissioner in the middle of a rancorous debate between the state’s powerful teachers’ union and politically energized GOP lawmakers, the most contentious aspect of which is a battle over a Republican proposal to prohibit local Tennessee school districts from engaging in collective bargaining with union negotiators.

The governor is also leading an effort to expand opportunities for children to enroll in charter schools, as well as lengthen the time a teacher has to work in a public school before becoming eligible for tenure — an idea that, while worrisome to some teachers, is popular among Tennesseans, according to a recent MTSU poll.

Huffman, who accepted the position on Wednesday, said Thursday he had not had a chance yet to meet with the Tennessee Education Association.

Asked if he believes the state needs to end collective bargaining with teachers, Huffman wouldn’t say. He said his priorities are aligned with those already articulated by Haslam, who himself has thus far refused to publicly jump in the middle of the collective bargaining brouhaha.

“I’m excited about the focus on tenure reform,” said Huffman. “I’m excited about the opportunity to bring in high-performing charter schools. I’m excited about the chance to improve the level of performance of administrators, teachers and students across the state.”

Huffman was also asked about the state’s pre-K program. Haslam has staked out a position that the state would try to maintain the pre-K program it currently has, but he does not wish to expand it to a universal program.

“My thought isn’t that different than it is on K-12,” Huffman said. “It’s got to be academically focused and focused on measurable results.

“Simply having access to a program that doesn’t actually advance learning isn’t good enough. But every kid should have access to something that readies them to go into kindergarten on an equal playing field. It’s important to look at the outcomes, not just what the access is.”

Huffman has been quite clear in the past that he supports much of what marches under the “school-choice” reform banner.

“In this country, if you are middle or upper class, you have school choice. You can, and probably do, choose your home based on the quality of local schools. Or you can opt out of the system by scraping together the funds for a parochial school,” Huffman wrote recently in the Washington Post — where, incidentally, in 2009 Huffman won the paper’s America’s Next Great Pundit Contest.

“But if you are poor,” Huffman continued, “you’re out of luck, subject to the generally anti-choice bureaucracy. Hoping to win the lottery into an open enrollment ‘choice’ school in your district? Good luck. How about a high-performing charter school? Sure – if your state doesn’t limit their numbers and funding like most states do. And vouchers? Hiss! You just touched a political third rail.”

He further declared in the Post piece, which appeared Jan. 31:

The intellectual argument against school choice is thin and generally propagated by people with myriad options. If we let the most astute families opt out of neighborhood schools, the thinking goes, those schools lose the best parents and the best students. The children stuck behind in failing schools really get hurt.

But kids are getting hurt right now, every day, in ways that take years to play out but limit their life prospects as surgically as many segregation-era laws. We can debate whether lying on school paperwork is the same as refusing to move to the back of the bus, but the harsh reality is this: We may have done away with Jim Crow laws, but we have a Jim Crow public education system.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, who has himself taken a keen interest in Tennessee education reform, issued a statement Thursday applauding Haslam’s selection of Huffman.

“Kevin Huffman is exactly the type of reform-minded individual that Tennessee needs to lead its public school system,” Frist said.

“Kevin’s experience in the classroom, in education law, and in leadership at one of our nation’s most innovative education organizations give him the unique knowledge and background to make a significant positive impact on behalf of our state’s children.”

Huffman is originally from Ohio. He’s worked as a lawyer specializing in education matters and was a bilingual first- and second-grade teacher for Teach for America in Houston. He was previously married to Michelle Rhee, a prominent school reformer who was featured in the film Waiting for ‘Superman,’ which a number of Tennessee General Assembly members watched during a special screening at Legislative Plaza last month.