education

State drops two now-required tests for high school students

Tennessee will drop two end-of-course exams for high schoolers next school year in its most significant reduction of state testing in recent years, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee.

The state’s testing task force voted Monday to eliminate standardized tests for chemistry and English III — essentially cutting by more than half the amount of state-ordered testing for students in their junior year of high school.

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Report finds 109 TN school districts allow corporal punishment; legislature eyes new restrictions

A report from the state Comptroller’s Office says that 109 of the state’s 148 school districts still allow corporal punishment, though it’s rarely used in some of them. The report, requested by state legislators last year, also found that students suffering disabilities more often get corporal punishment than others.

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Legislator seeks state review after one school bus driver falls asleep, another charged with DUI

One Washington County school bus driver fell asleep at the wheel on Tuesday, leading to a mishap that sent several children to a hospital with minor injuries. On Wednesday, another Washington County school bus driver was arrested for DUI. On Friday, the county school superintendent, Kimber Halliburton, announced she had fired the system’s transportation director.

Now, state Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) has asked the state Department of Education to review the school system’s safety procedures, reports WJHL TV.

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Black skipped gubernatorial forum to attend fundraiser

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who cited a scheduling conflict in declining an invitation to join other gubernatorial candidates at a Tuesday evening forum on education issues, attended a fundraiser instead, reports The Tennessean.

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates talk education during SCORE event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, January 23, 2018. (Photo credit: Belmont Univeristy)

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates talk education during SCORE event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, January 23, 2018. (Photo credit: Belmont University)

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Five gubernatorial candidates agree on most education issues

Five Tennessee gubernatorial candidates had a “cordial hourlong forum” on education Tuesday evening at Belmont University in Nashville, displaying few disagreements and making plenty of promises, reports The Tennessean.

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates talk education during SCORE event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, January 23, 2018. (Photo credit: Belmont University)

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates talk education during SCORE event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, January 23, 2018. (Photo credit: Belmont University)

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Knox County school board renews lobbying contract, criticizes legislators

The Knox County Schools Board of Education voted to continue paying for lobbying at the Legislature Wednesday after a discussion that included criticism of legislators, reports the News Sentinel.

“It’s been our local lawmakers pushing forward on harmful legislation that has impacted our schools and all schools in Tennessee,” said board member Jennifer Owen. “They accuse board members of only being interested in what teachers want and refuse to acknowledge the decades of experience many of us have in education.”

The board voted 7-2 to approve the funding for the lobbying group, Millsaps Gowan Government Relations. Knox County Schools will pay the group $37,500 to renew the contract it shares with the three other largest school districts across the state.  (Note: That’s known as the Coalition of Large School Systems.)

…”Our legislators refuse to listen to us in meetings and have gone so far as to insult board members in person and deny us access to meetings they have with teachers,” Owen went on. “It’s sad we need a lobbying group to let our legislators hear our concerns rather than have them shared by our own representatives.”

…’Myself personally and other members of the board have reached out numerous times to this delegation and tried to grow our relationship with them,” said board member Amber Rountree.

She said the board “does not have a relationship with the delegation where we’re on the same page.”

“I would be open to suggestions on how we can foster a positive relationship because I know I’m not the only one who has tried to work with our representatives and have a conversation that involves empirical data showing that things like Pre-K are absolutely essential,” Rountree said.

“We have experienced some adverse legislation from our delegation, but I think that speaks to our responsibility to get the types of things into legislation that we want,” Norman said. “To go ahead and spend this kind of money on a lobbyist when it’s our responsibility, I just don’t agree with it, so I’ll be voting against it.”

‘Myself personally and other members of the board have reached out numerous times to this delegation and tried to grow our relationship with them,” said board member Amber Rountree. She said the board “does not have a relationship with the delegation where we’re on the same page.”

DeVos in TN speech: ‘I’m just getting started!’

Speaking in Nashville at the National Summit on Education Reform, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rallied education leaders to expand “school choice,” took swipes at teachers unions and Democrats, and put in a good word for her boss’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s tax structure.

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Alexander keeping U.S. Department of Education on a ‘tight leash’

First paragraphs of a Politico report:

Several months ago, Sen. Lamar Alexander phoned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with a message: Back off.

Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, was furious that a top DeVos aide was circumventing a new law aimed at reducing the federal government’s role in K-12 education. He contended that the agency was out of bounds by challenging state officials, for instance, about whether they were setting sufficiently ambitious goals for their students.

DeVos’ agency quickly yielded to his interpretation of the law — and she “thanked me for it,” Alexander told POLITICO.

Alexander’s heavy hand raises questions about who’s calling some of the shots at the Education Department, an agency he once headed — and to which DeVos came with virtually no expertise in running government bureaucracies.

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Lawsuit contends state owes fired TNReady contractor $25.3M

The company fired last year by the state Department of Education after major problems came up in trying to implement a then-new student testing system has filed a legal claim contending the state wrongfully broke the contract. State officials won’t comment on the matter, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee, but the company’s president will.

Henry Scherich says Tennessee owes Measurement Inc. $25.3 million for services associated with TNReady, the state’s new standardized test for its public schools. That’s nearly a quarter of the company’s five-year, $108 million contract with the state, which Tennessee officials canceled after technical problems roiled the test’s 2016 rollout.

So far, the state has paid the Durham, North Carolina-based company about $545,000 for its services, representing about 2 percent of the total bill, according to a claim recently obtained by Chalkbeat.

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McQueen seeks $73 million increase in state education budget, not counting anticipated teacher pay raise

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen wants a third consecutive annual teacher pay raise included in the state budget next year for and new funding to help local school districts pay for Tennessee’s required but unfunded intervention program aimed at keeping struggling students from falling through the cracks, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee.

McQueen presented her wish list to the governor during budget hearings Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Tennessee is projecting a slowdown in the growth of tax revenue next fiscal year — about $350 million compared to $1 billion this year — but Haslam says that investing in teacher pay continues to be a priority of his two-term administration.

“We want to continue to fund teacher salaries the best we can,” he said following Tuesday’s budget presentations.

McQueen offered up $73 million in specific requests, the bulk of which would cover growth and inflationary costs associated with the state’s funding formula known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP.  The list also includes $10 million for school improvement grants for “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent, another $6 million to help charter schools pay for facilities for a second year in a row, and almost $4.5 million for the state’s reading initiative in its third year.

But she did not attach dollar amounts for her big-ticket requests like teacher pay and the unfunded program known as Response to Instruction and Intervention, or RTI. She told reporters later that her department will pound out those important details with Haslam’s administration during the months ahead before the governor presents his final spending proposal to lawmakers in February.