Newly formed lawmaker group takes aim at improving Tennessee’s early education system
Tennessee lawmakers hope a newly formed Senate and House caucus can take a focused look on strategies that increase the state’s stubbornly low third-grade math and reading scores.
The Tennessee Early Education Caucus, an informal assembly announced Wednesday, will focus on early education policy and strategies to increase the improvement of third-grade students.
The goal is to ensure the state continues to improve after increasing its national standing in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to House Education Chair Mark White, R-Memphis.
“Our focus is to make progress with the goal of improving our early education system by having more effective early education programs all the way through third grade,” White said.
About 37 percent of the state’s third-grade students read on grade level. And in math, 39.7 percent score proficient on the state’s test.
Those woefully low numbers deserve action, and Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said the caucus will focus on bringing in experts so lawmakers can find avenues for improvements.
“We owe it to our children to give them the best we can offer,” Gresham said.
The Early Education Caucus plans to meet regularly during and outside of the legislative session and is open to any member of the legislature.
It is expected that along with bringing in expert testimony on early education topics, the caucus will highlight promising local and national programs, according to a news release on the announcement.
Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, a group that advocates for statewide access to strong birth through third-grade programs, praised the caucus’ formation.
“Because improving and expanding high-quality early childhood education is the most important action Tennessee can take to improve public education, this is tremendous news,” said Mike Carpenter, TQEE executive director. “The caucus will have the ability to evaluate and pursue, with the administration, the best national practices that can be applied here to positively impact learning outcomes for young Tennesseans.”
White said the group will take a look at voluntary pre-kindergarten, which has been studied heavily in the state, but also bring a more intense focus on what is going on in grades K-3.
A Vanderbilt University study found Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K programs varied in quality and students that attended lost gains by third grade. Researchers also added that there needs to be a focus on what happens to those students in subsequent grades.
With the formation of the committee, White said lawmakers will also continue on some of the early education initiatives that were a hallmark under former Gov. Bill Haslam and his Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.[Read more at the Tennessean]