Teacher voice

Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address

Erin Glenn teaches U.S. history at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts in Chattanooga. She is a Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

When eighth-grade history teacher Erin Glenn hears Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address Monday night, she’ll be listening closely for what he says about education — not only for her own eighth-grade students in Chattanooga but for future teachers attending Tennessee’s teacher training programs.

A teacher at a Title I magnet school serving inner-city students, she’s especially interested in what Haslam will say about investments in career readiness, including state partnerships with business leaders to ensure that her students have the skills they’ll need after graduating from high school.

She also wants to know the progress of the state’s Ready to be Ready initiative, as well as how the state is using public feedback to improve its schools proposal under the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act.

Glenn has taught for a decade at the high school level and now teaches middle school U.S. history at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts in Hamilton County Schools. A Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, she spoke with Chalkbeat over the weekend about Haslam’s upcoming address, in which he’ll set administration priorities for the upcoming year.

What specifically would you like to hear the governor say to Tennessee parents, educators and students about K-12 education?  

I would like the governor to remind listeners of the big picture — (how Tennessee’s) revised standards and assessment equips students with the skills and knowledge needed for post-secondary success. … Parents, educators, community leaders, business partners and stakeholders have a common interest — the success of all students beyond high school graduation. Recognizing the need to ensure our students’ preparedness, we are fortunate to have a statewide assessment, TNReady, that measures students’ proficiency and growth each year. Not only does this assessment reveal a student’s achievement from one year to the next, it is an assessment of skills needed for the workforce and military interests. Statewide accomplishments that enabled us to become the fastest growing state in the nation and rank 16th in science on the National Assessment of Education Progress will only continue with rigorous classroom instruction and examination of data provided in TNReady.

What are the most important ways that Gov. Haslam and the state legislature can improve our schools?

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his 2016 State of the State address.

Equitable outcomes are not easily attained for underrepresented groups. Given the achievement gaps among demographic groups and sub-categories, additional supports are needed to address this population of students. In order to prepare rising educators to effectively address our underrepresented (students), targeted teacher preparation and supports are needed. As rising educators develop their teaching philosophies to prepare for their own classrooms, additional considerations are needed to equip them with the tools, strategies and practices critical to equity of underrepresented students.

What would you like Gov. Haslam to know specifically about your classroom and your school when setting the budget and policy for Tennessee public schools?

In years past, my eighth-grade students were the recipient of a “Know How To Go” grant that allowed them to tour one of four college campuses across the state. While this grant no longer exists, a renewed interest in firsthand college and career experiences beginning in middle school will provide early exposure for these considerations. It is during eighth grade that students apply to high schools aligned to specific subjects and possible career paths. As a result, this is an ideal time to allow them to tour college and career opportunities available within their communities and possibly the state. Financial supports that afford exposure to college and career possibilities, as early as middle school, will enable students to determine which high schools are best aligned to their long-term goals.

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.