Tennessee Students Show TCAP Math Score Improvement

Students Testing

Tennessee students showed math test scored improvements since hitting a pandemic low point in 2021, just as occurred in English language arts, according to new data released by the Tennessee Department of Education.

The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program places results into four categories – exceed, met, approaching and below – compared to student comprehension expectations.

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Washington D.C. Left-Wing Advocacy Group Human Rights Campaign Foundation Behind Williamson County Transgender Lawsuit

A Washington D.C.-based left-wing advocacy group called the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is behind a lawsuit against the Williamson County Board of Education challenging a state law that restricts students from using multi-person restrooms that do not match their sex.

The plaintiff, a transgender minor, is represented by two attorneys with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, a nonprofit organization under the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC describes itself as “the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization” on its website with local groups in most states.

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Tennessee Public School Teacher, Principal Indicted as Investigators Claim They Stole Thousands with Falsified Time Sheets

Scotts Hill Elementary

A public school principal and teacher in Henderson County were criminally indicted by a grand jury after investigators claimed they falsified hours work to pay out nearly $8,000 in wages and benefits for hours that were never worked.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office announced on Thursday that their investigation into Scotts Hill Elementary School principal Brian Lane and teacher Tiffany Koelsch, who they claim conspired to pay Koelsch “$7,988.50 in wages and benefits that she did not earn,” led to criminal indictments.

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Claiborne Thornton Says Governor Lee Did Not Consult with Homeschoolers While Crafting School Choice Bill

Claiborne Thornton, president of the Tennessee Home Education Association, said Governor Bill Lee did not consult with homeschool families before crafting his universal school choice bill, which is currently undergoing debate in the Tennessee General Assembly.

“The bill, the way it was written, the way it was crafted, was without any consultation from any homeschoolers,” Thornton explained on Tuesday’s edition of The Michael Patrick Leahy Show.

Thornton said particular objections to the bill surround the Tennessee Department of Education’s role in facilitating the program.

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Tennessee State Senator Mark Pody Announces School Safety Grants Will Now Fund Requests for Technology to Alert Law Enforcement of Threats Inside Schools

Tennessee State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) joined Monday’s edition of The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy to discuss the latest developments surrounding his efforts to make new school-specific security technology eligible for the school safety grants approved by the General Assembly last year.

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Tennessee House Democrats Want Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds to Resign over Lack of Classroom Qualifications

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Lizzette Reynolds is facing calls to resign over her appointment allegedly failing to comply with the Tennessee law governing her office, which was originally written in 1925 which specifies commissioners must be qualified to teach in the state’s classrooms.

A collection of Tennessee Democrats and the statewide party held a press conference on Monday to call for Renyolds’ resignation, claiming she is not legally qualified for her position, citing Tennessee Code Section 4-3-802, which specifies the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) must be overseen by a commissioner who “shall be a person of literary and scientific attainments and of skill and experience in school administration” who is also “qualified to teach in the school of the highest standing over which the commissioner has authority.”

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Tennessee Department of Education Presents Updates on School A-F Grades to State Board of Education Ahead of November Rollout

The Tennessee State Department of Education(TDOE) updated the State Board of Education(SBE) last week on progress toward implementing the state’s A-F school grading system.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2016 requiring the TDOE to release school letter grades annually. Grades were intended to be implemented during the 2017/18 school year, but state testing issues and COVID-19 prevented the release of those scores until this year. In anticipation of releasing individual school grades, the Department of Education is revising the grading formula to give parents greater clarity. 

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Commentary: Teaching Tennessee Youth the Keys to Success

Tennessee has emerged as one of the nation’s top destinations for families—and for good reason. The Volunteer State is a wonderful place to work and raise a family. But while many trend lines are positive, there are some storm clouds on the horizon when it comes to marriage, family formation, and work.

Consider that over the past three decades, the percentage of prime-age men not in the labor force rose by 44 percent — from 8.6 percent to 12.4 percent. This is in keeping with national trend lines showing that men in their prime working years are increasingly disconnected from the discipline and value of work.

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Former TN Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Fails Upward, Lands $367k per Year Job with University of Florida

Tennessee’s former commissioner of education, Dr. Penny Schwinn, has landed a new position with the University of Florida. Dr. Schwinn will join the school in a newly created position as vice president for PK-12 and Pre-Bachelors Programs.

According to an email from Cynthia Roldán Hernández, University of Florida’s director of Strategic Communications, this work will earn Schwinn an annual salary of $367,500, making her the second-highest-paid University of Florida vice president.

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State Senator Critical of Tennessee Department of Education’s New Hires for Education Commissioner and Turnaround Superintendent

A Tennessee state senator said Dr. Bren Elliott, Tennessee’s new State Turnaround Superintendent, and new State Education Commissioner Lizette Gonzalez Reynolds, do not reflect “the educational philosophy desired by parents and Tennesseans.”

“The hiring of Bren Elliott is the continuation of the bad decision of hiring Commissioner Reynolds. They represent the destructive direction of schools becoming ‘mental and emotional institutions’ rather than traditional educational facilities,” State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma).

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Tennessee School Districts Celebrate TVAAS Results, But Supporting Data Remains Unavailable to Parents Until Mid-September

Tennessee school districts are touting their Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System(TVAAS) scores, even as the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has yet to make those scores available for public inspection.

TVAAS measures student academic growth over the course of a school year. Since it focuses on growth over proficiency, TVAAS allows administrators to see what strategies truly impact student performance.

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Tennessee Department of Education Holds Town Halls on A-F School Grading

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) hosted the first two of ten promised town halls last week designed to gather feedback on A – F letter grades for individual schools.

The TDOE staged initial meetings at the Dixon County High School and the General Motor Inn in Greenville. Neither session drew more than a handful of people. Those in attendance expressed confusion over the purpose of the town halls.

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Tennessee Department of Education to Hold Town Halls as New School Letter Grade System Set to Launch this Fall

n November, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), in compliance with state law, will release school letter grades for individual Tennessee schools. To prepare families, teachers, community members, and decision-makers to review that data, the TDOE is holding a series of 10 Town Halls.

“Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, policymaker, or an interested community member, school letter grades will empower all Tennesseans with the information they need to support K-12 public education and our local schools,” said Lizzette Reynolds, Commissioner of Education. “I encourage all Tennesseans to join us at a town hall or submit a public comment to share what you want to know about schools in your community and how they are serving your kids.”

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Under New State School Funding Formula, Metro Nashville Taxpayers Responsible for a Larger Portion of the Bill

Data released on Friday by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) released last week shows that Metro Nashville taxpayers are paying roughly $120 million a year over the state’s contribution to fund city schools.

Under Tennessee’s new public school funding formula – Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) – most local school districts, except Nashville Sevier County, can expect to pay one-third of the local education cost, with the state paying the other two-thirds for two districts.

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Tennessee Department of Education Releases Data on Third-Grade Retention Appeals

This week, the Tennessee Department of Education(TDOE) released final data on third-grade retention appeals.

In 2021, Tennessee lawmakers passed the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act. It set forth key academic supports for third-grade students who did not score proficient on the English language arts (ELA) portion of their TCAP assessment. It further updated requirements for students to move to the next grade via multiple pathways for fourth-grade promotion.

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New Tennessee Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds Sworn Into Office

Tennessee officially has a new State Commissioner of Education. Lizzette Reynolds, a Texas native, was sworn in last week as the latest head of the Tennessee Department of Education. She replaces Penny Schwinn, who resigned effective June 1.

“I am excited and humbled by having the opportunity to serve Tennessee’s families to ensure they get the best possible education for their children,” said Commissioner Reynolds. “I look forward to meeting with educators, families, elected officials, and stakeholders throughout the state and continuing the great work already happening on behalf of kids in Tennessee.”

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Tennessee Department of Education Partners with Private Firm to Manage Education Savings Account Program

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) started a 5-year, $3.65 million contract with a private firm to manage the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program. While DBA Students First Technologies (SFT) is a relatively new company, ownership said it feels confident in its ability to partner with the state in serving Tennessee families exploring alternative education opportunities.

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Tennessee Department of Education Releases Findings from Teacher Retention Listening Tour

Last week, the Tennessee Department of Education released a report based on its recently concluded teacher retention listening tour. The report lists the top findings as, better professional development, better pay/benefits, a desire for more collaboration, and more leadership support. 

In compiling their report, the TDOE had over a thousand Tennessee teachers express interest in providing input and feedback. The department used a random sampling method to talk with 100 of those teachers, placing them in 10 separate cohorts. The TDOE secured representation from each region, grade level, district and school type, and years of service.

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Tennessee Department of Education Funds 32 School Districts with Perkins Reserve Grants

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) recently announced that 32 school districts across the state have been awarded funds from the Perkins Reserve Grant (PRG) to support career and technical education (CTE) for the 2023-24 school year.

Tennessee’s CTE consists of “16 nationally recognized career clusters with the ultimate goal of preparing students for success at the postsecondary level and in their chosen careers.”

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Tennessee K-12 Students See Overall Improvements in TCAP Test Scores

Tennessee students saw improved scores in all four subject areas of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test in data released by the Tennessee Department of Education.

That included an overall 1.6 percentage point increase in students scoring proficient in English Language Arts (38.1%), 3.2 percentage point increase in math (34%), 3.4 percentage point increase in science (43.2%) and a 0.5 percentage point increase in social science (43.2%) scores.

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Tennessee Department of Education Announces New State Chief Academic Officer

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) announced Jackson County Superintendent Kristy Brown as the state’s new chief academic officer. Brown replaces former Deputy Secretary Eve Carney. who recently tendered her resignation effective July 1.

The announcement comes just a week before Lizzette Gonzales Reynolds is slated to assume the role of Tennessee’s new Commissioner of Education at the beginning of July. Reynolds replaces Penny Schwinn, who resigned on June 1.

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TEA Fights Payroll Deduction Law, Possibly Puts Pending Teacher Raises at Risk

Three of Tennessee’s teacher associations have filed a lawsuit against Tennessee over a new law prohibiting payroll deductions for labor association dues. The law, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, includes provisions for increased educator pay.

Governor Bill Lee and Interim Education Commissioner Sam Pearcey are named in the lawsuit. TEA is asking for a restraining order and temporary and permanent injunctions on the payroll dues deduction ban.

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Growing Concerns Around Tennessee’s Grow Your Own Teacher Prep Program

Tennessee’s teacher prep program, Grow Your Own (GYO), is in flux. Participating educator preparation providers (EPP) are awaiting Thursday, when they will be notified of how many seats they’ll be available to offer teacher candidates, along with the amount of funding available. The lack of clear answers is making some providers anxious for the fall.

“It is throwing off our staffing plans for next year as we can’t get an answer from Emma McCallie at TDOE or Erin Crisp at the GYO Center,” a source who wished to remain anonymous told The Tennessee Star.

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TCAP Retakes Reveal Most Tennessee Third Graders Are Not Proficient in Language Arts

The Tennessee Department of Education released district-level data on Tuesday from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) retake opportunity, one of the pathways to promotion for third-grade students who failed to score proficient on the original administration of the assessment.

Statewide, roughly 44,000 students, which translates to 60 percent of the state’s third-graders who took the initial assessment, did not score proficient on the spring TCAP English Language Arts assessment. By law, those students are eligible for a retake exam. According to the TDOE, over 25,000 students took advantage of the opportunity.

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Tennessee Department of Education Continues to Lose Veteran Leadership

Two long-term Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) executives have announced they will be leaving the department in the coming months. This announcement comes on the heels of Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s June 1 resignation.

Eve Carney, TDOE deputy commissioner, and Meghan McLeroy, TDOE’s chief statewide support officer, have served the department for over a quarter of a century. Along the way, they have earned accolades and appreciation from the state’s educators.

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Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s Term in Office Officially Concludes

June 1st officially marked the end of Penny Schwinn’s tenure as the top education official in Tennessee. Schwinn submitted her resignation on May 1st but gave the state 30 days’ notice before making it official.

Long-time Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) employee Sam Pearcy will assume the reins for the next 30 days. At that time, Governor Bill Lee’s appointed successor, Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, officially begins her term.

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TDOE Releases 3rd Grade TCAP Scores Late Friday, Leaves Parents Scrambling

As promised, the Tennessee Department of Education released results from this year’s TCAP test for third-graders to districts on Friday. However, it wasn’t until after 3;30 that the data was delivered.

Districts still have to sort through the data and identify exclusions – students who are English Learners or have a disability that affects their ability to read – before they can send notify families of student status, Students failing to score “proficient” are eligible for a retake. That exam window is scheduled to be open from May 22 -June 5.

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Commentary: Advice for the New Tennessee Commissioner of Education

I have some advice for Tennessee’s new Commissioner of Education, Lizzette Gonzales-Reynolds. Please know that you will never be everyone’s cup of tea. And that statement of fact is true for all of us. 

However, everyone is worthy of respect. In an Age of Irreverence, it is worth remembering that simple truth. We are all created in the image of God. It doesn’t mean you have to accept others’ beliefs, or even agree with them. However, it is a good starting point for human interaction.

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Tennessee House to Consider Increasing Voucher Eligibility

An amendment being brought forth this week by House Education Chair Mark White (R-Memphis) if made law, would make more families eligible to participate in the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program. Often referred to as “vouchers”, ESAs provide funding to eligible families to enroll their children in private schools.

Currently, only students in Davidson and Shelby counties are eligible to participate, but earlier this session SB0012 was passed by the State Senate, expanding eligibility to Hamilton County students. The proposed amendment increases the potential for participation by students in even more districts. 

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Bill Would Increase Tennessee Teacher Pay, Stop Payroll Collection of Dues

A bill to both raise the minimum Tennessee teacher salary to $50,000 by 2026-27 and eliminate the option of districts collecting Tennessee Education Association dues from paychecks passed the Senate Education Committee this week.

The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, but was termed an administration bill supported by Gov. Bill Lee. When asked why the two topics were combined by both a Republican and Democratic member of the committee, representatives from the Tennessee Department of Education said that was the choice of Lee.

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‘Chiefs for Change’ Names Newest Member Cohort, Includes Two Candidates from Tennessee

A national education policy advocacy group founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has named its newest cohort of future members. Among them are Tennesseans, Eve Carney of the Tennessee Department of Education and Hamilton County’s Deputy Superintendent, Sonia Stewart. The two are part of the Chiefs for Change seventh cohort of its Future Chiefs ​leadership development program.

Eve Carney, per the Tennessee Department of Education’s organizational chart, serves as the Chief of Districts and Schools, despite the Chiefs for Change press release identifying her as Deputy Commissioner. Carney, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, has served with the TDOE since 2014. 

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American Classical Education Announces Intent to Apply for Charter Schools in Five Tennessee Counties

American Classical Education (ACE) informed the Tennessee Department of Education and school boards of education in five counties – Rutherford, Montgomery, Madison, Maury, and Robertson – in separate letters last week it intends to apply for public school charters to operate classical schools in those five counties.

“We’ve filed our letters of intent with the school districts and the department,” Dolores Gresham, an ACE board member, former Tennessee State Senator, and former Senate Education Committee Chair, told The Tennessee Star.

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TDOE Announces Partnership to Deliver Foundational Reading Books to Young Children Through the Christmas Season

The Tennessee Department of Education announced a partnership with the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) on Wednesday aimed to deliver books to the parents of young elementary school-aged children this winter. The books are offered at no cost and are for kindergarten through second grade children. The effort is part of the state’s increased commitment to early childhood literacy under Governor Lee.

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New TDOE State Report Card Shows Improvement in Some Areas, but Falls Short of Lawmakers’ Standard

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) released the 2021-22 State Report Card on Monday. The Report Card serves as an annual reflection of lawmakers’ desires to bring greater transparency into how Tennessee’s schools are serving students and families.

State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a statement about the report, “With the release of the State Report Card, Tennessee continues our firm commitment to providing families with clear, actionable information on how our districts and schools are serving students.”

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Commissioner Schwinn Presents Department of Education Budget for Coming Year, Promising More of the Same

An optimistic Penny Schwinn, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, presented the department’s2023/2024 proposed budget to Governor Lee and his advisors. For his part, the Governor was cordial, congratulatory, and to the point – often raising questions during the 30-minute presentation.

With confidence in his re-election bid running high, Governor Lee scheduled state departmental budget hearings for November 9th. A day after Tuesday’s statewide election that awarded him four more years as Governor. In the wake of securing his job for another term, Governor Lee indicated that education would remain a top priority going forth.

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Tennessee Officials Celebrate Teacher Apprenticeship Program During National Apprenticeship Week

Novemer 14 to 18 is National Apprenticeship Week, and the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) is celebrating by touting its one-of-a-kind teacher apprenticeship program. 

“This week, the Tennessee Department of Education is celebrating the important role apprenticeships play in postsecondary preparation during the 8th Annual National Apprenticeship Week, happening November 14-18. Specifically, the department is highlighting the Tennessee Teacher Apprenticeship, the first registered apprenticeship program for teaching in the country, paving the way for the future of the teaching profession,” according to a release.

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The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office Issues Report Providing Optimism, While Raising Questions Around K-3 Student Reading

A recently released report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s office shows that Tennessee K-3 students are making positive, albeit slight, growth in acquiring reading skills. Those conclusions were drawn from state-mandated K-3 universal reading screeners (URS), which all school districts are required to administer as part of legislation passed in 2021 during a Special Session of the General Assembly on education.

Legislators passed the Tennessee Literacy Success Act (TLSA), with the intent to ensure that students were on track to become proficient readers by the end of grade 3. The URS requirement was embedded in the bill as a means to safeguard taxpayer investment while delivering on promises made to Tennessee students.

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TDOE Touts ‘Grow Your Own’ Teacher Apprenticeship Program

Tennessee’s Department of Education (TDOE) is celebrating a first-of-it’s kind initiative that allows future teachers to qualify for that position by completing an apprenticeship program. 

Announced in January, 2022, the “Grow Your Own” initiative has “set a new path for the educator profession as the top state to become and remain a teacher and leader for all” by “support[ing] partnerships between Educator Preparation Providers (EPPs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to provide innovative, no-cost pathways to the teaching profession and will continue to build pipelines of qualified teachers and school district professionals.”

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Commentary: Let’s Talk Dropouts and Student Attendance

We have seen the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) grab headlines in recent days. Pundits are quick to proclaim that the sky is falling, but the truth is the scores have been consistent and relatively flat since 1970, particularly in reading. Not every student in a state takes NAEP, only a random sample of students – every two years. There is no individual data. I agree with historian Diane Ravitch, a big takeaway on NAEP is “that virtual learning is a fourth-rate substitute for a real teacher and interaction with peers.”

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Federal Department of Education Threatens to Ask for Money Back from Tennessee Department of Education

A late September letter from the Federal Department of Education (DOE) to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) threatened to pull TDOE’s federal funding over what the federal government describes as failure to comply with federal assessment reporting standards in 2021.

“The assessment and accountability compliance issues are significant because they not only impact the State’s ability to provide clear and transparent information to the public about school performance, but also result in the State using information that is not comparable across schools in TDOE’s statewide accountability system,” said the letter addressed to Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Peggy Schwinn.

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Tennessee Textbook Commission Requests Additional Staff Following Passage of Library Materials Law

The Tennessee textbook commission expressed their need for additional staff and an attorney, following the library materials law, requiring schools to catalog and publicize their list of library and classroom materials.

Director of Schools for Bradley County and Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission chair Linda Cash spoke to the legislative subcommittee that the law has added a lot of work “to people who already have a full load.”

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Tennessee Selects Finalists for State’s Principal of the Year

Tennessee’s Department of Education (TDOE) has announced its finalists for the 2022-2023 Principal of the Year Award.

“Principals and supervisors play a foundational role in the success of their teachers and students, and we are fortunate to have so many incredible principals and supervisors in the state of Tennessee,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “I am inspired by these outstanding leaders that continually work to support students and school communities across Tennessee.”

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Tennessee Department of Education Announces $10.2 Million Grant Opportunity for All Public School Districts

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) announced on Wednesday that a $10.2 million investment grant is open for all Tennessee public school districts.

The agency said the Resilient School Communities Grant is available to address needs for school-based support, expand school-based initiatives, and increase staff capacity to best serve students.

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Tennessee Department of Education Sends First Approval Letters to Families Applying for Education Savings Accounts

The Tennessee Department of Education has sent out its first approval letters to families applying for the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program, with 46 applicants approved thus far, out of a total number of 517, as of Wednesday.

“To note, an award for an Education Savings Account does not mean that a student is accepted to a participating private school,” said Brian Blackley, director of media for the department. “A student must still apply to a participating private school. A participating private school’s decision to accept or reject a student is the sole decision of the school.”

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Tennessee Department of Education Invites School Districts to Apply for ‘Innovative School Models’ Grants

School districts in Tennessee can now apply for Innovative School Model Grants that focus on job training for students. 

“Through reimagining the middle or high school experience, students will have a variety of opportunities to gain real-world experience, explore various industries and available jobs, and choose a pathway best suited to their skillset,” said Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “I thank Governor Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly who passed this historic opportunity, all districts interested in applying for this funding, and those who helped us celebrate throughout the month.” 

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Tennessee Announces Statewide Teacher of the Year Finalists

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) announced Thursday the nine finalists for the statewide Teacher of the Year award.

“The nine finalists represent each of the eight Center of Regional Excellence (CORE) areas in the state, as well as the Shelby County-Municipals area,” according to the TDOE. “The 2022-23 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, and winners for each grand division of the state, will be selected from this group and announced during an honorary banquet this fall.”

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