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Press Releases

McQueen Announces Task Force on Student Testing, Assessment

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; March 2, 2015:

NASHVILLE — Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today announced the formation of a special Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment to study and identify best practices in testing at the school level and how those assessments align with required state tests.

“We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place. So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels,” McQueen said. “Proper assessment tools are vital in making sure we are supporting our schools, teachers, parents, and students with clear information about what students are learning and mastering. We want to highlight those districts that are finding the right approach and balance on this important topic, and to identify any areas for discussion and improvement.”

The new task force includes a broad spectrum of education leaders, teachers, and stakeholders. The first meeting of the task force will convene in late March, and will focus on the results of a district assessment survey.

“Assessments can be powerful tools in ensuring the work we’re doing in education is effective and that we are gaining a return on our taxpayer investments,” Senate Education Committee Chairman and task force member Dolores Gresham said. “I’m excited to be a part of this important work.”

The task force will issue a report on its findings this summer.

The task force will include the following members:

  • Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
  • Sara Heyburn, Executive Director, State Board of Education
  • Dolores Gresham, Chairman, Senate Education Committee
  • John Forgety, Chairman, House Education Committee
  • Harry Brooks, Chairman, House Education Committee
  • Mike Winstead, Director of Schools, Maryville City
  • Wanda Shelton, Director of Schools, Lincoln County
  • Mary Reel, Director of Schools, Milan Special Schools
  • Nancy Ashe, Assistant Director of Schools, Lebanon Special Schools
  • Beth Unfried, Director of Elementary Schools, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
  • Sharon McNary, Principal, Richland Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Philip Eller, Teacher, Cedar Grove Elementary, Rutherford County Schools
  • Becky McBride, Teacher, Brighton High, Tipton County School
  • Valerie Love, Teacher, Dobyns-Bennett High, Kingsport City Schools
  • Susan Lodal, President, Tennessee School Boards Association
  • Jasmine Carlisle, 11TH-grade Student, Mt. Juliet High, Wilson County Schools
  • Virginia Babb, Member, Knox County Parent-Teacher Association

Ex officio members

  • Kathleen Airhart, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Stephen Smith, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Emily Freitag, Assistant Commissioner, Curriculum and Instruction, Tennessee Department of
  • EducationNakia Towns, Assistant Commissioner, Data and Research, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Eva Boster, Teacher Ambassador, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Alyssa Van Camp, Director of Policy, State Collaborative on Reforming Education
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Press Releases

TN Launches Statewide Partnership to Connect Teachers to Education Policy

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; February 23, 2015:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Education announced today a new partnership with Hope Street Group, a national nonprofit organization known for its teacher engagement work. The Tennessee Education Association and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) join the department in partnership supporting Hope Street Group’s efforts to elevate educator voice and improve teacher leadership opportunities through its Hope Street Group Tennessee State Teacher Fellowship.

Hope Street Group will select a cadre of talented teachers this spring to participate in the 12-month fellowship, which will commence in summer 2015. Fellows will be given the opportunity to attend professional development trainings, engage with their colleagues and collect data and feedback from teachers. Ultimately, Teacher Fellows will influence positive change at the local, state and national levels. In the last few years, Tennessee has launched a number of programs to help elevate the teaching profession and educator voice.

“We are happy to welcome Hope Street Group and its fellowship program to Tennessee,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “Teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is critical that we listen to and learn from our teachers to improve educational opportunities for all students.”

“The Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellows Program exists to amplify teacher engagement and impact. Without the input of teachers, education policy will not reach its full potential. By empowering teachers to offer solutions to classroom and school challenges, we are not only serving the profession of teaching, but improving educator working conditions, something we know is necessary to improve outcomes for students,” said Dan Cruce, Vice President of Education at Hope Street Group.

Already launched in Hawaii and Kentucky, the Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellows program will also now replicate in North Carolina. An independent evaluation of the Kentucky State Teacher Fellows program found that the fellowship provided teachers with “a diverse, unique and transferable set of tools, training and resources” and that Kentucky education leaders “valued the data reported to them and acknowledged the important role Hope Street Group played and can play to support teachers’ participation in the policy process.”

Teachers from across the state are eager to have additional teacher-led input on education policy that affects their classrooms, and have also welcomed the new fellowship program. “Our purpose at TEA is to promote and advance public education and the teaching profession. Tennessee educators are the real experts on what our students need to succeed and their involvement in important policy decisions is crucial,” said Barbara Gray, Arlington Community Schools administrator and TEA president. “We very much look forward to working with the Hope Street Group Tennessee State Teacher Fellows to increase teacher input regarding what works in our public schools.”

“Teachers are, by definition, leaders,” said Jamie Woodson, President and CEO of SCORE. “Teachers helped lead Tennessee to become the fastest improving state in the country in terms of student achievement outcomes. Hope Street Group aims to provide teachers with resources and opportunities to take their leadership beyond the classroom and to raise teacher voice in our state. For that, we are grateful and eager for Hope Street Group’s Tennessee launch.”

The fellows selected for the program will represent a broad range of outstanding teachers dedicated to working toward improvements for their colleagues and their students. If you are a Tennessee teacher and are interested in learning more about applying to the fellowship, please visit: apply.hopestreetgroup.org.

Hope Street Group is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. For more information, see: www.hopestreetgroup.org

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Press Releases

McQueen Launches Statewide Classroom Tour

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; February 13, 2015:

NASHVILLE— Education Commissioner Candice McQueen on Friday kicked off a statewide tour of classroom visits where she plans to connect with 10,000 Tennessee teachers. The commissioner, whose tour began in her hometown of Clarksville, is committed to this goal as a way to listen and learn from Tennessee educators.

Commissioner McQueen visited three schools on Friday, two of which she attended herself growing up: Burt Elementary and Northeast High. She spent time with teachers, students, and administrators, listening to stories of their successes and challenges.

“I believe it is critical to listen to Tennessee teachers and engage them in policy discussions because they will be living it out in their classrooms. They need to be a significant voice in this discussion,” McQueen said. “We have to partner together to continue the momentum of historic gains in Tennessee.”

The commissioner plans to complete her visits by the end of the calendar year. As a former educator and teacher of teachers, McQueen says she never feels far from the classroom.

“In my both my heart and in my head, I will always be a teacher,” McQueen said.

Commissioner McQueen was sworn in to office in January. Previously she served on Lipscomb University’s executive leadership team as senior vice president, and as dean of the College of Education. McQueen, a native of Clarksville, has a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb, a master’s from Vanderbilt, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas.

The department looks forward to sharing upcoming school visits as they are planned. Please check our blog, Classroom Chronicles, for updates, photos, and videos from the commissioner’s tour: http://tnclassroomchronicles.org/.

For more information, please contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.

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Education NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Womick Redoubles Haslam Criticisms

Rick Womick isn’t backing down from provocative comments he made in a letter sent to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration a week ago.

The Rockvale Republican state representative told the Associated Press this week he’s sticking by his letter. In fact, he’s upped the rhetorical heat a bit, calling the reelection-seeking governor a “traitor to the party.”

“You had the head of our party targeting individual members because we don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, that’s treason,” the former Air Force fighter pilot told the AP.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported that, according to campaign finance reports, Advance Tennessee PAC, with connections to supporters of Haslam and Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House, Beth Harwell, was launched in July and spent $137,725 in five primary races against incumbent legislators who’ve opposed the administration.

Successfully fending off attacks from moderate challengers in the GOP primary were state Reps. Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, Mike Sparks of Smyrna, and  Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough.  Kingsport Rep. Tony Shipley, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chairman, and Stacey Campfield, the notoriously controversial state senator from Knoxville, were both unseated.

Haslam laughed-off Womick’s warlike words. And he defended efforts to purge hostile Republicans from the General Assembly.

“I don’t know why my supporters should be precluded from doing what everybody else is doing, in terms of being engaged and trying to make certain good people are elected,” Haslam told reporters. He added that there are plenty of groups, such as teachers unions, who want to “engage in primaries,” and he doesn’t see his supporters actions as being any different.

Womick was one of 15 state legislators to sign a letter in late June that called for the resignation of Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s embattled education commissioner, on the grounds that he allegedly manipulated the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results when the department delayed their release by four days.

After the release of that letter, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued an opinion — requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet — that affirmed Huffman’s delay of the release of TCAP scores as acceptable under state and federal law.

Womick’s most recent letter to the administration accused the AG and Huffman of collusion on the opinion, and referred to it as “an orchestrated cover-up” and “Clintonesque.” Womick’s letter added that while many other legislators were unhappy with Haslam, to prevent further retaliation, he would not name them.

He also told the AP that in the future he expects a stronger legislative stance against Haslam, who is “making a lot of enemies very quickly.”

But Haslam said he plans to continue business as usual.

“For any governor, the job is to propose an idea and then to get at least 50 members of the House and 17 members of the Senate to vote in favor of it,” Haslam said. “I don’t think that’s changed.”

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Press Releases

Haslam Announces 2013-14 Reward Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 21, 2014: 

NASHVILLE— Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced 168 schools as the 2013-14 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for academic achievement and the top 5 percent for annual growth.

The Reward Schools span 49 districts across Tennessee and include 90 schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations.

“Tennessee teachers and students continue to show their dedication to teaching and learning,” Haslam said at an event held at Hazelwood Elementary in Clarksville, recognized for both its high overall achievement and strong growth. “Our Reward Schools are leading the state in progress and performance, and we are thrilled to recognize the extraordinary efforts of staff and students at these Tennessee schools.”

This year’s list recognizes 67 schools for overall academic achievement and 84 schools for annual value-added growth. The list also names 17 schools that earned both designations, rising to the top 5 percent for annual value-added growth while also ranking in the state’s top 5 percent for overall achievement.

These 10 percent of schools receive recognition for their success, and the department interviewed the 2013 Reward Schools to compile best practices for schools across the state. “Learning From The Best: Promising Practices from Tennessee’s 2013 Reward Schools” identifies themes and promising practices in leadership, instruction, and school climate. You can view the report online at http://tn.gov/education/data/doc/learning_from_reward_schools.pdf.

“We believe there are many lessons to be learned from these top performing schools. Every student deserves a school where they will be supported and challenged, and we are excited to share best practices that have proven successful,” Huffman said. “Because our accountability system recognizes growth and different starting points, we have enormous diversity in our Reward Schools.”

A complete list of 2014 Reward Schools is available here: http://www.tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml.

School-level achievement data is available here: http://tn.gov/education/data/tcap_2014_school.shtml.

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Press Releases

TN Recognized for “Noteworthy” Gains in Student ACT Scores

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 21, 2014:

NASHVILLE—Tennessee’s composite ACT score showed its largest gain in more than a decade, and increased more than it has since the state began testing all students in 2010, according to scores released today by ACT. Officials with ACT called the 0.3 gain “noteworthy.”

“Tennessee’s average ACT composite score growth of 0.3 is statistically significant and indicative of real academic progress,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions. “A gain of this size is unusual and impressive – particularly for a state that administers the test to all students.”

Tennessee’s composite ACT score for public school students rose from 19.0 to 19.3. For all students, which includes those who attend private school, the average composite score increased from 19.5 to 19.8.

These gains correlate with recent academic growth in high school on the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. For instance, proficiency in Algebra II grew nearly 6 percentage points over 2013, and more than 17 percentage points since the state began testing students three years ago. Nearly 50 percent of Algebra II students are on grade level, up from 31 percent in 2011. More than 13,000 additional Tennessee students are on grade level in Algebra II than when we first administered the test in 2011.

“These ACT scores show us that the work students and teachers are doing across the state is paying off, and will lead to real improvements for Tennesseans,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “Offering two free years of college to the state’s high school graduates through our Tennessee Promise initiative is only successful if students finish high school ready for college. We must continue to make certain that happens.”

Richard Bayer, assistant provost and director of enrollment services for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said this year’s ACT scores are encouraging.

“As an enrollment officer who views academic achievement levels on a regular basis, a 0.3 jump would be a very significant increase in measuring the academic performance level of an incoming freshman class,” Bayer said. “As a state, we should view the score jump as very significant and a testimony to our upward trajectory in preparing more students to be college ready for degree completion.”

Tennessee is one of 12 states that require all students to take the ACT. While the composite ACT score showed that all students grew, the 2014 results point to the continued need to close achievement gaps for certain groups of minority students; the average ACT composite score for Hispanic students was 18.0, and the average for black students was 16.4.

“Gains on the ACT—especially when they are historic for our state—are always encouraging,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “The hard work of teachers to implement higher academic standards is having an impact. But the reality remains that only 16 percent of our students graduate from high school prepared to take college courses without remediation. We must continue to press forward with improvements to our education system so we can ensure that our students are ready to take advantage of the opportunities that await them.”

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Press Releases

TN Announces New Priority, Focus Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 20, 2014:

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education today announced the newest round of Priority and Focus Schools, as well as school-level TCAP results.

Tennessee’s accountability system identifies three types of schools, as required by the U.S. Department of Education: Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools. Priority and Focus Schools are named every three years, and the first designation was in 2012. Priority Schools are the 5 percent of schools across the state with the lowest overall performance. Focus Schools are 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, regardless of overall performance. A complete list of 2014 Reward Schools (those with the highest overall performance or growth) will be released on Thursday, Aug. 21.

All three school-level accountability lists are preliminary, pending final approval by the State Board of Education on Aug. 26.

With the announcement of this year’s Priority Schools also comes an investment from the state of more than $7 million to support districts in turning around these lowest performing schools. Most of this money will go toward a competitive planning grant for districts that have Priority Schools. These districts will have one year to plan before their schools receive mandatory intervention, such as inclusion in the Achievement School District or a district-led “Innovation Zone.” The state is also building an intensive, regional support team to help Focus Schools close achievement gaps.

“For the past several years, our state has been focused both on improving overall performance of all kids in Tennessee, while closing achievement gaps between historically low-performing groups of students and their peers; our school accountability system aligns with these goals,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We’ve also made a significant financial investment in our lowest performing, or Priority Schools, and we’re starting to see signs of hope that this investment is paying off.”

After being named Priority and Focus Schools in 2012, the previously targeted schools made gains such as:

  • Since being named Priority Schools in 2012, the 13 Shelby County schools in the district’s Innovation Zone have significantly outpaced the state’s growth in math and reading.
  • The majority of Priority schools across the state outpaced the average state growth in elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • Nearly 80 percent of Focus Schools had a smaller achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers than the state as a whole, after two years of work.

Huffman said he was pleased with the results from the first cohort, and hoped to see the newest round of Priority and Focus Schools continue to move students forward.

“This is hard work, but results from the first round of Priority and Focus Schools show us that it’s doable. We’ve seen signs of hope and that’s why we believe it is critical to continue investing in these schools,” Huffman said. “We know it is unacceptable to have entire schools where less than 20 percent of the students are proficient in reading and math, and we must, therefore, work aggressively to help turn them around.”

To see a full list of Focus and Priority Schools visit: http://tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml.

To see district-level Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores, visit: http://tn.gov/education/data/tcap_2014_school.shtml.

To see value-added growth scores for districts and schools, visit: https://tvaas.sas.com/welcome.html?as=b&aj=b.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Critics of Huffman Want Decision from Haslam

Despite a recent opinion by Tennessee’s attorney general offering legal cover to the state Department of Education for its decision to delay release of student test scores, critics of the agency’s embattled commissioner aren’t letting up on their demand that he be cut loose.

And they want Gov. Bill Haslam to make a decision sooner this summer rather than later in the fall after the general election, as he’s indicated he intends to do.

“I haven’t sat down and had that conversation with [any of the commissioners] about the next four years, because it’s not appropriate,” Haslam said on July 8. “I’m in the middle of a campaign right now, and we will — this fall, if I’m re-elected, we’ll sit down with all 23, and see if they want to continue, and if that works for us.”

Kevin Huffman has been a lightning rod for criticism from both the left and the right. But by the same token he’s got staunch defenders among both Republicans and Democrats as well. Two of his biggest fans have been Tennessee’s GOP governor and the Obama administration’s education chief, Arne Duncan.

Haslam has been emphasizing improvements in test scores that have come about under Huffman, including Tennessee’s status as the fastest improving education system in the nation. The fundamental test of his administration’s education efforts ought to be student performance, the governor said, and in his estimation kids in Tennessee’s publicly funded classrooms are “learning more than they ever have before.”

However, opposition to Haslam on education — in particular, his embrace of both Common Core and student-testing as a means of evaluating the job teachers are doing — runs deep both among educators and conservative politicians who fear the state is giving up control of its education system to outside forces.

Citing a “complete lack of trust” in the commissioner, as well as alleging the manipulation of test scores, a letter sent to Haslam on June 19 demanded Huffman be replaced. Fifteen Republican members of the Tennessee General Assembly — 13 lawmakers in the House and two senators, endorsed the letter, which declared that mistrust of Huffman stems from his “actions and general attitude,” and that he’s demonstrated a “failure to uphold and follow the laws of the state of Tennessee in this latest TCAP debacle we are currently witnessing.”

The letter also questioned whether or not Huffman had the authority to waive the inclusion of TCAP scores, considering that a bill passed by the General Assembly in the 2014 session granted Huffman waiver abilities, but specifically excluded waiving requirements related to “assessments and accountability.”

But state Attorney General Bob Cooper recently released an opinion, requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, that found Huffman in fact didn’t abuse his authority by waiving those requirements, that no state or federal law “would be violated by a delay in releasing TCAP test scores,” as long as the results were provided by June 30, which they were.

The attorney general’s opinion did little, though, to change the minds of Huffman’s detractors.

Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the attorney general’s office opinion, and said it didn’t really carry any legal weight. And anyway, “there are a lot of different issues” on which Hensley said he’s had problems with Commissioner Huffman.

Hensley, a member of the Senate Education Committee, indicated he stands by the letter’s main thrust. Huffman should “go somewhere else,” he said. “I just feel like the commissioner doesn’t listen to the superintendents and the teachers and the principles, and he doesn’t listen too much to the Legislature, either.”

Julie West, the president of Parents for Truth in Education, said that she thinks that Cooper’s opinion is just splitting hairs.

“The irony is Commissioner Huffman pushed for this, because he’s all about the testing, and when he doesn’t get the results he wants all of a sudden he wants to do away with that being factored in,” West said. “And let me say, if the Governor and the Commissioner were really as proud of TCAP scores as they want us to believe, it certainly would not have been announced during the Fourth of July.”

West said that she was not just in favor of Huffman’s resignation, but that he should be fired. West also said that part of the problem, and what was “more disturbing,” was that Cooper “seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be the attorney for the people of Tennessee, rather than a servant of the Governor.”

“I think that part of the issue is the people of Tennessee don’t have a voice in who the Commissioner of Education is, and don’t have a voice in who the Attorney General is,” West said. “And for that reason they don’t feel, or they seem to act in ways that don’t show a lot of concern for what we believe, and truthfully for what the law seems to be.”

West described her group as not of any particular political perspective, but just people who are not “tolerating” what’s happening to their kids under Common Core or Huffman’s education department.

And regardless of the attorney general’s view on the controversy over the TCAP scores, those on the left wing of Tennessee’s political spectrum still think Huffman needs to go, too. The Tennessee Democratic Party has regularly called for Huffman’s ouster, on the grounds that he is aloof and unresponsive to local teachers and education officials.

The governor owes it to the people of Tennessee to declare whether or not he plans to keep Huffman around, said Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron. That decision, Herron told TNReport, “is overdue, and should be both made and announced as soon as possible.”

“The commissioner has refused to listen to the teachers in public schools, and to the superintendents and schools boards who run those schools,” Herron said in a phone interview. “But the commissioner has united Tennesseans, from Tea Party Republicans to Tennessee Democrats, from 60 superintendents to thousands of teachers, who all agree it is past time for this commissioner to go back to Washington.”

Mary Mancini, a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee State Senate district being vacated by longtime state legislator, Sen. Douglas Henry, said that Haslam needs to either make his decision about Huffman, or “explain in non-political terms” why he has not made that decision yet, because she finds the education commissioner’s performance to be lacking.

“When looking at this job performance, it’s clear that [Huffman]’s just not working the way he should be; doing his job basically,” said Mancini. “He’s been difficult and unresponsive to legislators on both sides of the aisle. Somebody needs to hold him accountable, and both Republicans and Democrats have been trying to do that, and he’s been completely ignoring them, and unresponsive, and that’s not acceptable.”

And the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, believes that the TCAP delay is another in a line of issues with the state’s top education executive, said Jim Wrye, government relations manager for the TEA.

“The policies were placed in that it would be anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of a student’s grade, and that it wasn’t ready at the end of school just threw a huge wrench into what is one of the most important things — which are final grades — for students, and especially for teachers,” Wrye said.

Wrye, though admitting he’s not a lawyer, said that he found the AG’s opinion interesting  because “the idea that you could be exempted from student assessments was something that was prohibited in that flexibility bill. It was something we had discussed at length during the legislative session.”

In September 2013, 63 school superintendents from around the state signed a letter criticizing the education reform policies being implemented by the state’s top education office. And later in 2013, teachers’ unions across the Volunteer State cast votes of “no confidence” in Huffman.

However, Huffman has enjoyed some recent support, with a petition of support recently announced that, as of press time, features over 400 signatures from Tennesseans, including Kate Ezell, a consultant associated with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator as a funds-raiser from September 2011 to January 2013.

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Press Releases

Stewart Criticizes House GOP for Opposition to Federal Expansion of Pre-K in TN

Press release from the Office of Tennessee State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; December 19, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) released the following statement following news that the Republican leadership in the House was going to oppose a federally funded expansion of Pre-K in Tennessee:

“Even in these hyper-political times, yesterday’s announcement by House Republican Leaders that they planned to give up $64.3 million in federal tax dollars freely available to expand Pre-K came as a shock and a disappointment.

“Sadly, Tennessee Republicans appear to be taking the lead from their national leaders, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who have made a profession of putting their narrow political needs before the good of the nation as a whole. Here we have a program – Pre-K – that has bi-partisan support and that has proven to be highly effective. Here in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute, working with the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Curriculum, recently conducted a “rigorous, independent evaluation” of Pre-K in Tennessee. The key finding? “[T[he Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten program produces significant improvements in the academic skills generally regarded as important for school readiness compared to the gains made by comparable children who did not participate in the program.”

“At one time, Tennessee leaders, whether Republicans under Governors Lamar Alexander and Don Sundquist or Democrats under Democratic Governors Ned Ray McWherter and Phil Bredesen, would not have thought twice about putting good policy before politics and bringing these millions of dollars in to help our neediest school children. What a disappointment that the same radical spirit that has so undermined our government in Washington is now seeping into Tennessee politics.

“Those of us elected by Tennesseans should remember that these federal funds are our citizens’ tax dollars at work. The money that we send to Washington can either be put to work in Tennessee or put to work in other states. Already this year we’ve seen the Republicans refuse billions of dollars in healthcare funding by refusing to expand Medicaid – a program that is already helping thousands of working families and seniors just over the border in Kentucky. Now they give up millions that would allow over seven thousand Tennessee kids a better start in life. Apparently, handing out our citizens’ money to other states is the New Math among Tennessee Republicans. It doesn’t add up – unless you care more about your radical base than about doing what’s right for Tennessee school children and working families.”

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Press Releases

State Releases Report on Year 2 of the Teacher Evaluation System

Press release from the Tennessee Dept. of Education; December 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Education released a report today on the second year of the teacher evaluation system across the state as part of the process of continuous improvement.

The report details measurable improvements during the 2012-13 school year, including improved teacher perception of the evaluation system, a strong correlation between observation scores and student achievement indicators, and an increase of teachers who received individual growth metrics.

“Developing an effective model for evaluating educators is part of our system-wide effort to develop better conditions for teaching and learning in Tennessee,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We are encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far, and the department will continue to use feedback from stakeholders and measurable outcomes in classrooms to improve evaluations year after year.”

While implementation of the teacher evaluation system in Year 2 was significantly improved from Year 1, the department recognizes opportunities to further refine and advance the evaluation system. As a result of feedback from the second year of implementation, the report details additional changes for the 2013–14 school year. These changes include a more comprehensive and rigorous certification exam for all evaluators, an increased number of evaluation coaches working in regional offices, and a new model for assessing growth for World Language teachers.

Much like the report the department issued in July 2012 on the first year of implementation, this report is part of a commitment to ensure that the evaluation system is studied and modified based on stakeholder input, external and internal study, and detailed data analyses.

The department is committed to continuing to study and improve the system each year to ensure teachers receive high-quality, timely feedback that supports excellent instruction and improved student outcomes.