Education officials zoom in on retaining teachers, CTE courses ahead of new administration
Public education in Tennessee has come a long way in eight years. The state has buckled down — under the leadership of two education commissioners — to address big problems like a literacy gap, teacher retention and college prep.
The hard work paid off, according to a national assessment. In eight years, the state moved its grade from an “F” to an “A” on the nation’s report card.
The strides in education, as well as where the state needs to improve, were the focus of an event Tuesday as state education leaders gathered for a luncheon in Nashville.
The Tennessee Department of Education hosted the forum, dubbed “Learnings from the Past Eight Years: Reflections on Educational Progress in Tennessee,” at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
District superintendents, principals and stand-out teachers joined officials from the education department as educators shared in detail how the state now sits at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The report measures strides Tennessee is making to improve education, but the state’s scores are still below the national average in many areas.
In a prerecorded video message, Gov. Bill Haslam told the audience that receiving an “A” on the nation’s report card in 2012 was possibly the best moment of his tenure.
The needle has moved under the leadership of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and her predecessor Kevin Huffman, and the two spent time answering questions about education improvements prompted by moderator David Plazas of The Tennessean.
“This is a natural time for reflection and starting to think about goals anew as we think about a new administration, new governor, new commissioner,” said McQueen, who will leave her post Jan. 1.
Key milestones and areas for improvement include:
- Literacy – In an effort to up literacy marks – less than half of third and fourth graders are reading on grade level based on state tests – the state launched the Read to Be Ready campaign two years ago. With a goal of getting 75 percent of all third-grade students reading proficiently by 2025, the state now has more than 250 district campaign coaches. “We need additional funding for reading coaches and literacy training so teachers have access to that kind of support,” said Cathy Whitehead, 2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
- College prep – The average ACT composite score in Tennessee will be 21 by 2020, increasing every year from an average of 19 in 2013. The state saw improvement in that score after allowing students to retake the ACT a second time free of cost. The state has also made strides in getting more students in college classrooms through its Tennessee Promise scholarship program, launched under Haslam. However, Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause emphasized college prep and the need to improve access in rural areas. He pointed to Lake County, where he said only 12 percent of residents have earned a college degree. “We need to do better in our distressed counties,” he said.
- Attracting and retaining teachers and principals – “I’m foreseeing challenges in retention on compensation,” McQueen said, and added that teachers are often lured to other state districts because of pay. “It’s becoming more of a challenge, particularly in our rural counties that are sitting next to an urban district. We need to keep focus on teacher compensation and support, especially in rural areas.”
- Focus on CTE courses ahead of Amazon infusion – McQueen said she hopes public school graduates will be ready to earn a job at Amazon – set to employ 5,000 people earning $150,000 on average in Nashville – through a more robust engagement in CTE courses. She’d like the state to better prepare kids for IT jobs by increasing coding and technology courses in elementary schools. Data has shown that early exposure to technology courses is likely to encourage a student to participate in IT courses in high school.
Cicely Woodard, 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, noted that 13 percent of Tennessee teachers are teachers of colors, while 37 percent of the state’s students identify as a race other than white. She said that she hoped the state would work toward ensuring teachers reflect who they’re teaching.[Read more at the Tennessean]