From the Statehouse

Tennessee legislators want more state control under No Child Left Behind rewrite

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
From left: Reps. Harry Brooks and John Forgety lead a state education panel discussion in Nashville about the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

A rewrite of the sweeping federal No Child Left Behind law has Tennessee lawmakers asking if passage would give states more power over their schools.

Kicking off a two-day study session Wednesday on K-12 schools in Tennessee, a panel of House legislators quizzed a staff member for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on the bipartisan bill co-authored by the Tennessee Republican and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

“Does this decrease federal intrusion, and increase opportunities for state innovation?” asked Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville), chairman of a House education panel.

“The goal of the Senate bill is to have less of a ‘national school board,’ less (U.S.) Department of Education involvement,” said Evann Freeman, a Nashville-based spokesman for Alexander. “You still have accountability, you still hold states accountable, but the states can implement their programs that they feel best work for that state.”

A House version of the rewrite was narrowly approved last week, and a Senate version known as The Every Child Achieves Act passed Thursday.

The Senate version would retain standardized testing, which is the signature feature of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind, but would give states more leeway to set goals for their schools and decide how to address schools that don’t meet them, thus curtailing the federal government’s role.

Approved by Congress in 2001, No Child Left Behind established a stringent school accountability regimen and highlighted disparities in student learning. In Tennessee, it did not increase the number of state-mandated tests, but it did require the state to use test results to make decisions on everything from tutoring services to school closures.

Though No Child Left Behind was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support, it has lost national favor across party lines and the nation and failed to reach its goal of having every child test on grade level in reading and math by 2014.

If approved, the Every Child Achieves Act could lead to a finalized law this fall, although the Obama administration does not support the current bills because of a lack of accountability measures, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Alexander has shaped Tennessee schools in the past. As governor of the state from 1979 to 1987, he implemented higher standards, introduced teacher evaluations and championed a merit pay plan to reward the state’s top teachers.

During Wednesday’s legislative panel, only Rep. Johnnie Turner (D-Memphis) was concerned about a potentially smaller federal role in education. She said the federal government might have a better understanding of how to prepare students for the global marketplace than local lawmakers.

Others said they wish Congress would change part of the current law that does not permit GEDs to be counted in a state’s graduation rate.

“That’s federal government overreach,” said Rep. John Fogerty (R-Athens). But, he continued, “this (proposal) is much better than what we have now.”

The study panel is scheduled discuss the Basic Education Program on Thursday, which dictates the amount of state funding provided to local districts. The system increasingly has frustrated local government leaders who say the state is underfunding the true cost of education in Tennessee.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.