It's here!

Tennessee’s completed schools plan is finally out. Here’s what insiders are saying.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen oversees the department that drafted the state's new education plan in response to a new federal law.

After weeks of teasers, Tennessee on Tuesday released the first draft of its K-12 education plan with the potential to reshape the state’s 1,800 public schools.

The 286-page plan, issued in response to a sweeping new federal education law, includes detailed proposals to alter the way schools are evaluated and the role of the state’s school turnaround district in intervening in struggling schools. It also touches on teacher preparation, arts funding, school counselors, and a multitude of other factors involved in the day-to-day operation of public schools.

The State Department of Education will collect feedback until Jan. 31 on its proposal to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, known as ESSA, and plans to submit its final draft to U.S. Department of Education by April.

“The feedback you share with us during this window is critical,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen wrote in a blog post. “You are helping to build the strategies and strengthen the momentum for the work ahead, and your input will make us better able to serve all of Tennessee’s 1 million students.”

Read our preview of Tennessee’s ESSA plan and our story about how the state-run Achievement School District may lose power under its proposals.

Education leaders who have been waiting for the complete plan, many of whom contributed to it, were generally positive about the proposal as they read through it on Tuesday, though some already see room for edits.

“The Tennessee Department of Education has taken a thoughtful, inclusive approach to writing the draft plan, engaging thousands of Tennesseans in the development process,” said a statement from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

SCORE leaders promised to be student-focused in scrutinizing the proposal. “Our review will pay particular attention to school accountability, school improvement, and delivering excellent and equitable outcomes for students of all backgrounds because of the impact these issues can have on student achievement,” the group’s statement said.

A major theme of the plan is how the state should determine school quality. The draft proposal incorporates a variety of factors, including student test scores, course offerings and growth in the academic performance of students.

“That’s something important, especially for schools serving populations that have struggled in the past,” said Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee School Charter School Center. “Those schools are working toward proficiency, but they also need to celebrate growth.”

Bugg hopes the plan will lead to increased focus and support for historically disadvantaged groups, such as students of color and English learners, by making their test scores a significant part of schools’ final ratings.

Tennessee Education Association President Barbara Gray was cautiously optimistic but wants to review the plan with an eye toward reducing the role of testing. Right now, she said, standardized tests play an outsized role in the state’s schools.

She urged educators and other Tennesseans to offer feedback to the state by the Jan. 31 deadline. “It’s important for teachers to give input on this plan because, if we don’t, nothing will ever change,” she said.

The State Department of Education began collecting public feedback around ESSA in May, and convened working groups to help write the draft in June. In recent weeks, state officials have presented previews at town halls in Knoxville, Jackson, Memphis and Nashville. They plan to conduct two more in January, in Chattanooga and Bristol.

Gini Pupo-Walker is among advocates for Tennessee’s immigrant population who have contributed ideas to the plan’s authors about support for English learners. She said Tuesday that she’s been pleased with the process, although she sees room for further revision, especially around accountability for serving students of color.

“We feel our voices were heard in a lot of ways,” said Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy for Conexión Américas and leader the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition.

state of the union

Challengers claim victories in Denver teachers union elections, race for president heading for recount

Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association

A slate of progressive, social justice-oriented candidates won a majority of seats up for grabs in the Denver teachers union election, and the race for president is headed for a recount, according to results released to union members Friday.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association president Henry Roman edged challenger Tommie Shimrock, the leader of the slate, 906 to 857, according to an email from the union obtained by Chalkbeat.

The margin is within the 3 percent threshold for an automatic recount, which will be held after Denver Public Schools returns from spring break April 3, the email said.

Christina Medina, a northwest Denver elementary school teacher, defeated incumbent vice president Lynne Valencia-Hernández, 922 to 809.

In all, members of the progressive slate — part of a new caucus within the union — took four of the seven seats in play. Along with the top two posts, the elections were for board of director seats representing southwest, northwest and northeast Denver.

Union representatives and the candidates did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While mixed, the results are a boost for members of the caucus, who view their efforts as part of a national movement to reinvigorate teachers unions, many of which have experienced flat or declining membership.

Roman, Valencia-Hernández and their allies ran on a platform that the union has been making progress in better engaging members, challenging Denver Public Schools in court and turning out large numbers for contract bargaining.

Shimrock, Medina and their peers portrayed the status quo as ineffective in battling a “corporatist” district agenda, unsuccessful in influencing school board elections and inadequate in addressing broader social justice issues facing the community.

Here are the full results, according to the union email. Members of the progressive slate are designated with an “s.”


Henry Roman: 906
Tommie Shimrock (s): 857


Christina Medina (s): 922
Lynne Valencia-Hernandez: 809

Jocelyn Palomino: 192
Marguerite Finnegan (s): 174
Janell Martinez: 66

NW BOARD OF DIRECTORS (three openings)

Hipolito (Polo) Garcia (s): 246
Kris Bethscheider: 177
Kate Tynan-Ridgeway (s): 170
Brianna Myers: 152
Terrilyn Hagerty: 135


Tiffany Choi (s): 271
Bill Weisberger: 203

Week In Review

Week in review: Controversy about superintendent opening and lawsuits against the state

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

Who will be the next superintendent of Detroit schools? The board of education did not grant Alycia Meriweather an interview, but many in Detroit are pushing the board to make her a candidate. Another wrinkle: One of the three finalists withdrew from the competition.

If you were not able to attend Chalkbeat’s kickoff event last Friday, be sure to watch our coverage. You can also view the show here.

Read on for more about Meriweather, mascots, and how school lunches affect test scores.

— Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Interim chief rejected: Detroit schools superintendent Alycia Meriweather is trying to stay focused on the district’s future, like bringing struggling schools run by the state back into the district, but her departure creates another layer of uncertainty for parents and teachers.

Populist support: Meriweather’s exclusion from the search process has triggered angry reactions on social media. Hundreds of people have signed a petition urging the school board to reconsider. And on Wednesday, the union representing Detroit teachers called on the board to give her a shot.

And then there were two: One finalist withdrew, leaving two candidates vying to be Detroit schools superintendent. Both have ties to the area and bring experience from other low-performing districts.  

Opinion: Secretly discussing potential Detroit superintendent candidates and voting behind closed doors to tell 16 schools on the state’s priority list that their contracts may not be renewed was called a disservice to parents and students. One newspaper calls for better accountability and transparency.

Opinion: Another commentator believes Michigan doesn’t have the will to improve its underperforming schools.

Getting that diploma: The state’s graduation rate was down slightly for the class of 2016.  But fewer students are dropping out and instead are continuing school beyond four years.

Who gets the credit: East Detroit is no longer under the control of a state-appointed CEO. Local leaders object to state efforts to credit him with district improvements, which they say happened before he arrived.

Mascot fines: The state superintendent wants the power to fine school districts that refuse to change mascots and logos that are widely seen as offensive.

Lawsuit against the state: Educators, parent groups, and others interested in education sued to stop Michigan from giving $2.5 million to private schools to reimburse them for costs associated with state requirements.

Another lawsuit against the state: Detroit schools officially filed papers to keep the state from forcing the closure of failing schools.

Shuttle bumps: A school transportation system that some Detroit leaders had been exploring for this city faces challenges in Denver. The system won praise from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Pushback: The state board of education spurned a recommendation from Gov. Rick Snyder’s education panel to disband the board, claiming it provides “transparency and continuous oversight” of school policy.  

Transformation: A nonprofit group hopes to transform a neighborhood by turning the former Durfee Elementary and Middle School into a community innovation center.

Eat to learn: One large study shows students at schools that serve lunches from healthier vendors get better test scores.

Harsh measures? A teacher’s aide at a Detroit school has been disciplined after a video appeared to show her throwing a student.