Education NewsTracker

Rediscovering the Importance of Childhood Reading

State government has grabbed firmly onto warnings that children whose reading skills are lagging by the third grade face an uphill educational climb from then on.

In a news release Wednesday about a Department of Education website on reading, First Lady Crissy Haslam said, “Research has shown that if children do not read on grade level by third grade, they never catch up with their peers.”

The first lady and the DOE launched, a site the department says is designed to help teachers, parents and community members regarding new standards and higher expectations.

The point about the third grade has become a recurring theme on many fronts.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law this year regarding “social promotion,” saying students who do not perform at expected reading levels in the third grade will not be sent to the fourth grade.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville

“We cheat our children and ourselves when we allow students to move through our schools without actually learning the material,” Burks said in a release in May about the bill.

The Senate Republican Caucus said about 45,000 students in the state had been considered to be socially promoted.

“The main problem with social promotion is that the student falls further and further behind if they cannot master the third-grade-appropriate testing,” Gresham said in a release.

“Mastery of the basics, which are tested in the third grade, is critical to a child’s future success in school. Everything else builds on that foundation.”

The measure was highlighted in a recent speech by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (see video), but while Ramsey and Gov. Bill Haslam were campaigning in 2010 on a jobs agenda, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp was the strongest voice on the campaign trail about third-grade reading levels. His emphasis on the issue in the Republican primary was noticeable as far back as 2009.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, is another passionate advocate of improving early elementary school reading skills. Parkinson said he’s learned that it is possible to project as early as the third grade whether a child may be incarcerated later in life.

“Think about that. Third grade. We know the likelihood of you going to prison based on how you come out of the third grade,” Parkinson said.

The new website the Department of Education announced Wednesday is geared with information boosting student achievement. It includes an online toolkit for teachers to connect them with various resources related to the issue.

Press Releases

TN Dept. of Ed: Early Reading Key to Student Success

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, July 13, 2011:

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education announced today the launch of, a website that will help teachers, parents, and community members understand new curriculum standards and increased expectations for learning. The online toolkits provide information on promoting early grades reading and accelerating student achievement for young students across the state.

“Research has shown that if children do not read on grade level by third grade, they may never catch up with their peers,” Tenn. First Lady Crissy Haslam said. “’s tool kits offer resources to parents, teachers and community members to help us improve early childhood literacy making our children competitive for college and prepared for a high quality workforce.”

Read Tennessee provides an easy to navigate resource for teachers, families and community members to utilize in the classroom and at home. Each section compiles information, activities, and tools to help inspire young children to engage and develop early grades reading and learning skills. These tools will help teachers create more challenging lessons, guide parents and guardians in better understanding what their child might be learning and doing at different stages of his/her development, and encourage community members to get informed and get involved in motivating our children towards successful futures.

“We must support collaboration and innovation as drivers of our effort to expand opportunities for students,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “Our reading goals are very ambitious, and we have to continue to maintain focus on producing great student results.”

“We encourage you to explore our website and to take advantage of the information provided to help accelerate the learning of Tennessee’s children,” said Bobbi Lussier, Assistant Commissioner for School Readiness and Early Learning. is in partnership with the TDOE Division of School Readiness and Early Learning, Center for Literacy Studies at The University of Tennessee, Tennessee First to the Top, Tennessee Head Start, United Ways of Tennessee and the Office of the First Lady. Visit to learn more.


Press Releases

‘First Ladies for Healthy Babies’ Launched

Press Release from First Lady Crissy Haslam, June 22, 2011:

Mrs. Haslam Supports Operation Smart Child in Memphis

NASHVILLE – First Lady Crissy Haslam visited with members of the faith-based community in Memphis today to help launch the “First Ladies for Healthy Babies” Initiative in support of the Operation Smart Child program.

Operation Smart Child is a family outreach and education initiative of the Neighborhood Christian Centers, in partnership with The Urban Child Institute in Memphis. It is designed to impact the mental, social, economic, and spiritual lives of children through early brain development strategies and interventions.

“Those first years of a child’s life are crucial for healthy development,” Mrs. Haslam said. “The faith-based community is in a great position to help raise awareness for the importance of those first years of life and to help direct parents and families to the best resources.”

Since 2009, more than 1,000 parents and caregivers in Memphis and Shelby County have been introduced to the Top Ten Brain Developing Tasks and engaged in Touch*Talk*Read*Play activities.

Wednesday’s meeting with First Lady Crissy Haslam and more than 175 West Tennessee women at the Neighborhood Christian Center included community and church leaders as well as inner-city and suburban pastor wives, known in their community as the First Ladies of the church.

Haslam hopes to launch similar learning programs to other faith-based communities across the state, and continue to emphasize the important role that parents play as their child’s first teacher.

“I am thrilled to launch our initial First Ladies for Healthy Babies event in Memphis,” Mrs. Haslam said. “I’m looking forward to the progress we can make together for the state of Tennessee.”

Featured News

UT’s Coach Summitt Honored by Haslam, TN Women’s Group

Gov. Bill Haslam wore an orange tie Friday, and his orange ties showed as he presented an award to University of Tennessee women’s basketball Coach Pat Summitt, inducting Summitt into the Tennessee Economic Council on Women‘s Hall of Fame.

The honor put Summitt in elite company as only the third inductee, following Jane Eskind, the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee, and Martha Craig “Cissy” Daughtrey, a senior judge on the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals. Eskind was an activist for the Tennessee League of Women’s Voters and won a seat on the state Public Service Commission in 1980.

Summitt has won 1,037 games and eight NCAA championships as head coach of the Lady Vols.

Haslam said Summitt is a model for excelling.

“If Pat were a CEO, she would be a great one. If she were a school principal, her school would be the best one in the district. If she were a lawyer, she would be arguing before the Supreme Court,” he said.

“If she were running for governor, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

Haslam, former mayor of Knoxville, noted that every player who has finished at the program has graduated, that you never hear about a player for Summitt getting into trouble and that every player for Summitt talks about their playing career as being a formative experience in their lives.

“Would that all of college athletics were like that,” he said.

“It is an honor for me to play a role in recognizing Pat. There are a lot of great Tennesseans, but as governor I can’t think of anybody I am more proud of than Pat Summitt.”

Joan Cronan, women’s athletic director at the school, told a story of how the Lady Vols were playing in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville last season and didn’t play well in the first half of a game. At halftime, Cronan invited Haslam to go to the locker room with her. He said sure. Summitt was intense. Cronan and Haslam were standing against the wall in the back of the locker room. Summitt stopped and asked, “Governor, what do you have to say to these girls?”

According to Cronan, Haslam said, “Ladies, the economy is not real good in Nashville right now. There are 9,000 people in orange out there. Please play well.”

First Lady Crissy Haslam also attended the luncheon at the Airport Marriott in Nashville.

“The Haslam family has been so wonderful to all of us,” Summitt said before the event. “And to have the governor here today, and for him to take time out of his busy schedule and come to this event … but that’s the Haslam family.”

Summitt made special note of the governor’s father, James Haslam II, founder of Pilot Corp. and long-time benefactor of the University of Tennessee.

“Big Jim, he and Natalie, they have done such a great job with that family,” she said. “They’re all grounded. They all have focus. They all have purpose, and they all love the University of Tennessee.”

Summitt, who played at Cheatham County Central High School and UT-Martin, seemed overwhelmed at the prestige of the honor.

“I had no idea how big this event was going to be. It just touches your heart, when all those people from Ashland City, Cheatham County, show up and I’m looking around thinking, ‘I’m not believing this,'” Summitt said. is an independent, not-for-profit news organization supported by generous donors like you!

Press Releases

Dollar General Donates $85K to Books from Birth

State of Tennessee Press Release; April 25, 2011:

Dollar General Renews Commitment to Tennessee’s Imagination Library

Nashville, Tenn. (April 25, 2011) – – Dollar General, headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tenn., has again made a significant contribution to our state’s youngest citizens. Since 2005, the company known for their commitment to literacy has donated $495,000 to Tennessee’s Statewide Imagination Library program.

Dollar General’s most recent donation of $85,000 to the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) will primarily support the GBBF’s Distressed County Grant program. The program covers the cost of Imagination Library programs in counties where industry or an adequate donor database is absent or scant.

“The children of Tennessee are our most vulnerable citizens, and providing them with the opportunity to learn to read at a very young age benefits us all in the future,” said First Lady Crissy Haslam. “We are grateful for this generous gift to continue supporting our state’s children.”

Dollar General has been a statewide supporter of the Imagination Library program in Tennessee since the program’s statewide debut in 2005. Dollar General’s co-founder J.L. Turner was functionally illiterate when he started the company. Thus, literacy is an integral part of the company’s culture. Dollar General’s commitment remains strong, saying literacy is “the one gift that lasts a lifetime.”

“Reading is the single most important activity parents can do for their children to provide them with the tools necessary for a lifetime of learning,” said Denine Torr, Dollar General’s director of community initiatives. “We salute the mission of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and their partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This program is helping enrich communities statewide.”

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was created in 1996 by Dolly Parton as a gift to the children in her hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. and was later expanded to the entire state with the creation of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. Just $24 annually provides for the purchase and delivery of 12 books to one child. This cost is split evenly between a non-profit sponsoring organization in every Tennessee county, and a state budgetary allocation administered by the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation.

Currently, 57 percent of all Tennessee children birth to five are registered in the Imagination Library and are receiving free books in the mail. More than 213,000 Tennessee five-year-olds have already “graduated” from the program. The statewide program has helped deliver more than 12 million books to Tennessee children since the creation of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation in 2004.

About the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation:

The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation® was established in 2004 and currently serves Imagination Library organizers in all 95 counties by providing fund-raising, public relations, and other support. To learn how to support your county’s Imagination Library program, or for information on how to register a child, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-99-BOOKS.

About Dollar General:

Dollar General is a leading discount retailer with more than 9,300 neighborhood stores in 35 states. Dollar General stores provide convenience and value to customers by offering consumable basic items such as food, snacks, health and beauty aids and cleaning supplies, as well as basic apparel, house wares and seasonal items at everyday low prices. The company has a longstanding tradition of supporting literacy and education. Since its inception in 1993, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $53 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, helping more than 2.9 million individuals take their first steps toward literacy, a general education diploma or English proficiency. To learn more about Dollar General, visit

Press Releases

Parental Involvement Talks Take First Lady to Putnam County

Press Release from First Lady Crissy Haslam; March 28, 2011:

First Lady Continues Education Roundtables With Parents

NASHVILLE –First Lady Crissy Haslam sat down with parents and guardians at Algood Elementary School in Putnam County today. Mrs. Haslam invited parents of school-age children to participate in the roundtable discussion as part of her effort to learn how the state can encourage parental and community engagement.

During the visit, Mrs. Haslam learned about the Algood school’s unique plan to improve parent and family participation, having adopted the Putnam County Schools Family Engagement Plan.

“Education is a shared responsibility by the schools, parents, and communities, and I’m very impressed with the school system’s family engagement plan,” Mrs. Haslam said. “It recognizes that parents and guardians are a vital part of a child’s learning, and creates a comfortable environment for parents and teachers to work together.”

Mrs. Haslam also acknowledged that there are 7,300 children in state custody in Tennessee, and a foster parent and grandparent were among those included in the Algood school roundtable discussion.

“If someone other than a parent is primarily involved in a child’s education, then that adult is also a central part of this conversation.”

Mrs. Haslam will continue to meet with parents all across the state in order to learn how the state can help parents and communities to achieve local educational goals.

Press Releases

First Lady Begins Soliciting Suggestions on Parental Involvement

State of Tennessee Press Release; March 17, 2011:

Mrs. Haslam Listens to Parents to Find Solutions to Low Literacy Levels

NASHVILLE – First Lady Crissy Haslam sat down with parents at Parkview Montessori Magnet School in Jackson today. It was the first education roundtable discussion hosted by Mrs. Haslam since she announced her focus on encouraging parental involvement in early childhood reading and community engagement in primary education.

During the visit, parents and community members were able to share their challenges with school involvement, and make suggestions to the First Lady on ways the state can help parents and communities meet local educational goals.

“As I start this journey to find new ways to encourage parental and community involvement for young children in Tennessee, I know the greatest insight can come from parents themselves,” Mrs. Haslam said. “I look forward to more discussions with parents and community members all over the state as we work towards a high quality education for every child.”

Press Releases

First Lady: Parents Should Get Involved in Kids’ Education

Press Release from First Lady Crissy Haslam; March 16, 2011:

NASHVILLE – First Lady Crissy Haslam announced at Children’s Advocacy Days 2011 event that she will creatively seek out ways to increase and inspire parental involvement, both in Tennessee schools and during early childhood development.

“To help convey the message that a parent is a child’s first teacher, I want to encourage parents, engage communities and empower families in Tennessee,” Mrs. Haslam said.

The First Lady said she plans to travel the state and meet with parents in order to listen and challenge communities to set local objectives for parental engagement. Mrs. Haslam plans to work with parents to help meet their goals.

The First Lady also announced as part of her initiative, she will be focusing this first year on early childhood reading and plans to partner with Governor Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Education to raise the literacy rates for children.

“Outside of parental support, literacy is the number-one predictor of a child’s ability to succeed in school,” Mrs. Haslam said. “We have to be preoccupied with teaching our children to read, because it is a foundational skill upon which the rest of schooling is built.”

The First Lady will support the Department of Education’s Early Grades Reading Delivery plan, which aspires that 60 percent of all Tennessee third graders read at a proficient level or above by 2014.

“Until third grade, it’s important that we teach our children to read, because after the third grade, they read to learn,” Mrs. Haslam said. “Without appropriate grade level reading, children are not equipped for the transition of acquiring reading skills to using the skill to learn other things.”

While the First Lady is encouraging parents to start reading to their children early, she acknowledges that 7,300 children are living in state custody and will work to steer volunteers to be sure that every child has an engaged support network.

“We cannot leave these children out of the growing process,” Mrs. Haslam added. “Community groups and volunteers all play a part in ensuring that we have upward growth in how we empower children from all walks of life.”

The First Lady plans to join Governor Haslam as he talks to principals and teachers at small breakfast gatherings across the state, and she will reach out to local parents to meet, listen and learn how to overcome the obstacles parents might face.

“Bill and I know from experience that being a parent is challenging work,” Mrs. Haslam said, “so my objective is to listen to parents and to be better informed on how we can encourage them.”


Guv Meets With Dem Lawmakers

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam met with members of the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly Wednesday night at the Tennessee Residence.

The meeting, which was closed to the media, came after a similar event with Republicans on Tuesday at the residence on Curtiswood Lane in Nashville.

Claude Ramsey, deputy governor and chief of staff to Haslam, described the event with the Democrats as an example of camaraderie and “getting to know each other.” First Lady Crissy Haslam participated in the event.

Democrats are at a decided disadvantage with Republicans holding control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction. The Republican majorities grew in the last election to a 64-34-1 advantage in the House of Representatives and a 20-13 majority in the Senate. But Ramsey said the meeting at the residence was upbeat.

“I thought it was very productive, and I hope we will be able to continue to do that sort of thing, much as we did with the Republicans,” Ramsey said. “We listened a lot. We talked a lot.”

Topics of discussion were no surprise.

“I think the budget is on their minds. I think education is on their minds. I’ve never seen a politician yet that didn’t want jobs in the state and in their districts,” Ramsey said. “Those are all goals in common.

“They understand that we are going to try to tighten up state government. They understand the last budget was tough, and it was made with some one-time money that’s not recurring, and we’re going to have to deal with that. That makes this a tough budget, but we’re going to work our way through that.”

The dinner with Democrats came one day before Haslam was scheduled to begin a series of regional “jobs roundtables” on Thursday in Memphis.

Haslam is scheduled to attend the opening of a solar plant in Jackson on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., with the roundtable at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at 3 p.m. The governor is also scheduled Thursday for the swearing-in of Amy Weirich as Shelby County district attorney general, a post vacated by Bill Gibbons, who has become Haslam’s commissioner of safety.

Ramsey said the conversation with Democrats varied and characterized it as “sharing thoughts.”

“Some of it was philosophical,” Ramsey said. “We talked a little politics, and everybody has concerns about the budget. Everybody has concerns about the economy, and that’s not a Democrat issue. That’s not a Republican issue. That’s a Tennessee issue we all share.”

Ramsey said, at least while he was in the room, he did not hear discussion with the Democrats about any specific budget cuts.

Budget issues are at the forefront with the governor scheduled to begin budget hearings Monday. They begin with a hearing on Health at 1 p.m. Monday in the Executive Conference Room on the ground floor of the Capitol.

The budget hearings will be available on video online at

The Haslams are the first couple to live at the Tennessee Residence in eight years. The mansion went through a major renovation during the terms of Gov. Phil Bredesen and was a major project headed by First Lady Andrea Conte. Bredesen and Conte lived in their Nashville home during his time as governor.

Press Releases

Haslam to Open Executive Residence to Public on Sunday

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, Jan. 19, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Following his inauguration and first week in office, Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam will open the Tennessee Executive Residence to Middle Tennesseans on Sunday, January 23.

Guests attending the open house will visit Conservation Hall and the Residence’s first floor.

For more information and to RSVP, please visit

Sunday, January 23

12:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Open House for Middle Tennesseans

Shuttle Service Available at the Following Locations:

Franklin Road Academy

4700 Franklin Road

Nashville, TN

Father Ryan High School

700 Norwood Drive

Nashville, TN

First Presbyterian Church

4815 Franklin Road

Nashville, TN

*Shuttle Service runs from this location 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.