Academic standards

Tennessee launches review of social studies standards amid concerns over world religion studies

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The State Board of Education kicked off its social studies standards review on Friday, months after receiving some complaints that middle school students are being “indoctrinated” into Islam, and days after lawmakers filed bills that would alter the way world religion is taught in Tennessee classrooms.

The state reviews academic standards roughly every six years, and the current social studies standards are only in their second year. But the State Board decided last summer to bump up its review by two years based partly on feedback from parents and teachers.

Across the state, many school board members have heard concerns from vocal parents and activists that the study of world geography and history, including a unit on “the Islamic world” up to the year 1500 A.D., are encouraging the spread of Islam — just as the world seeks to stop attacks by terrorists who claim to espouse Islamic beliefs.

Social studies teachers have issues with the current standards too — but not about religion. “What I’ve heard from teachers across the state, regardless of grade level, is that there are too many standards for the time we have,” Mark Finchum, a teacher at Jefferson County High School and president of the Tennessee Council for the Social Studies, told Chalkbeat in October. 

Any Tennessee resident can review the standards at the board’s website and offer comments until April 30. The feedback will be incorporated into revisions this summer by a panel of social studies teachers from across the state, and a second public review will held in the fall.

Some Republican state lawmakers already have passed judgment on the standards, however. Legislation filed this week would revert to the previous standard for the study of world religions in middle school. Another bill would prohibit teaching religious doctrine at all before 10th grade.

The bills are unlikely to gain steam, however, as the standards review process put into place by Gov. Bill Haslam was tweaked and embraced by the legislature last year.

The social studies review will follow the same process for a separate review coming to a close for the Common Core State Standards for math and English. Launched in the fall of 2014, that review has included two public feedback periods and multiple revisions. The State Board is scheduled next week to take its first vote on the results.

“There are significant changes to a good number of standards,” said Laura Encalade, director of policy and research for the board, which plans to release more specifics next week.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.