Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

The race

As governor, Bill Schuette would consider ‘all options’ for struggling schools, including closings

Attorney General Bill Schuette is the GOP nominee for governor in Michigan.

Attorney General Bill Schuette is putting struggling Michigan schools on notice: Shape up or face the consequences if he becomes governor.

“You have to look at schools and see how we can make them improve and function better,” Schuette told reporters last week. “But if a school … isn’t doing the job, then we need to make sure that we help the parents and help the children … Education and outcomes. That ought to be our focus and nothing but that.”

Schuette, the state’s Republican nominee for governor, stopped short of saying that he would actively close schools but he has supported school closings in the past.

In 2016, he issued a legal opinion aimed at clearing a path for school closures in Detroit.

His campaign spokesman, John Sellek, added that Schuette “believes all options should be on the table because the main focus must be on achieving the best outcome for each child, as soon as possible.”

Schuette’s remarks came during an hour-long interview last week with reporters from the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, which includes Chalkbeat and five other nonprofit news organizations.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, the former state senate minority leader, was one of six gubernatorial primary candidates who sat down for similar interviews in July. She has been invited to do another interview now that she’s the Democratic nominee but that has not yet been scheduled. Schuette did not do an interview during the primary.

During his sit-down last week, Schuette took questions on a range of subjects including crucial education issues.

On how Michigan funds schools: He called for a “review” of K-12 education spending, adding “we need to focus on outcomes.”

On whether schools serving children with higher needs should get more funds: He said “we have to look at how we can provide greater training for teachers and for those who have a challenge in terms of their student population.”

On school accountability: He called for an A to F grading system that would lead to improving schools getting extra funds. “I believe in incentives,” he said.

On whether Michigan should provide pre-K to all 4-year-olds: He said he’ll consider it.  “We ought to look at every idea and if it doesn’t work then try something else,” he said.

Watch the full interview with Schuette, including his comments on roads, infrastructure and other issues here. Or, scroll down to read an unedited transcript.

prizes

Tipton County school leader named Tennessee’s principal of the year

Vicki Shipley stands with Education Commissioner Candice McQueen after being named Tennessee's principal of the year. Shipley is principal of Munford Middle School in Tipton County in West Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Education)

A Tipton County middle school administrator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 principal of the year.

Vicki Shipley is in her eighth year as principal of Munford Middle School, north of Memphis, and her 18th year in school administration.

She received the honor at a banquet Thursday evening in Nashville during the state education department’s annual LEAD conference for school leaders at all levels.

Praised for her collaborative approach and emphasis on professional learning, Shipley was one of nine finalists for the annual award and also was named the top principal for West Tennessee.

Other regional winners were:

  • Velena Newton, Richland Elementary, Giles County Schools, Middle Tennessee
  • Joseph Ely, Lincoln Heights Middle, Hamblen County Schools, East Tennessee

The awards were handed out as Tennessee increasingly emphasizes and invests in school leadership. When it comes to the impact of school-related factors on student learning, research shows that school leaders are second in importance only to teachers — but also can have a multiplier effect on the quality of teaching.


READ: How do you improve schools? Start by coaching principals, says new study


Tennessee also honored Maria Warren of Loudon County Schools as its supervisor of the year.

Warren supervises elementary schools in her Knoxville area district and oversees academic interventions for struggling students. She is a 27-year educator and was lauded for her organization of professional learning opportunities for local educators.

Other regional supervisor winners were:

  • Regina T. Merriman, Cannon County School District, Middle Tennessee
  • Angie M. Delloso, Lakeland School System, West Tennessee

Last month, Tennessee named first-grade teacher Melissa Miller of Franklin as its 2018-19 teacher of the year.

You can learn more about recognition of Tennessee’s top educators here.