Category Archives: education

Draft of TN social studies standards cuts references to Islam

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — Seventh-grade students in Tennessee would no longer spend as much time learning about the history of Islam by 2019 under a proposed draft revision being developed by state educators, a newspaper reports.

A section on Islam currently taught in social studies classes has been removed from the state Board of Education’s draft , which went online for public review Sept. 15, the Kingsport Times-News reported. Most of the sections involving Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions have remained in the draft in some form.

With the proposed deletion of the “Islamic World, 400 A.D./C.E. – 1500s” section, students would no longer be learning about the Quran or the differences between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the religion, the newspaper had reported. Continue reading

TN StudentFirst: New name, same staff & game plan

News release from TennesseeCAN
NASHVILLE, TN- Today, StudentsFirst Tennessee announced the continuation of its statewide education advocacy efforts under the new name and organizational structure of the Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now (TennesseeCAN).

As part of the transition, TennesseeCAN will now operate as an official member of the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) network. In March 2016, StudentsFirst and 50CAN announced they would merge.

“We are excited to continue our work on behalf of Tennessee students and families,” said state Executive Director Brent Easley. “We have an exciting vision for our priorities in 2017 and we are looking forward to rolling those out in the coming weeks.  Also, we are constantly working to push our operation to improve, and by joining the 50CAN network, this merger represents a great opportunity to combine the strengths of both organizations for an improved and more effective advocacy effort.”

TennesseeCAN will function as a new and autonomous organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged.

Since 2011, the organization has overseen one of the state’s premier non-profit education policy and advocacy movements focused on broadening student access to great schools and great teachers. During those years, the team has championed many high-profile reform initiatives, including proposed Opportunity Scholarships legislation, expanded charter school authorizing practices, transparent A-F school letter grades, and many other policies to bring quality education to Tennessee families that need it most.

As part of the announcement, TennesseeCAN released its first annual Tennessee Education Snapshot.  The report provides a broad and interactive view of Tennessee’s most essential education statistics.  It includes a comprehensive collection of facts and data ranging from academic achievement measures and student demographics to teacher preparation figures and tax dollar cost distributions, all within the context of larger national comparisons.

In examining the key data points within the Tennessee Education Snapshot, Easley noted, “We have experienced extraordinary growth over the past five years that is due to the hard work of our educators, students, and innovative state policies, and there are still opportunities for our state to improve. This ‘Education Snapshot’ both outlines current data in Tennessee education and informs the work ahead to ensure our state is not only a national model for education policy, but a leader in overall performance as well.”

Note: the ‘Snapshot’ is HERE.

Registry board votes to review activities of Stand for Children PAC

The Registry of Election Finance board has taken the first step toward a hearing on allegations against the Stand for Children political action committee and several Nashville school board candidates it supported violated campaign finance laws, reports The Tennessean.

A complaint against the PAC was filed by Tennessee Citizens Action, which bills itself as promoting consumer rights and civic action.The complaint contends Stand for Children illegally coordinated its activities with several pro-charter school candidates during the election.

“My gut feeling is there is enough smoke to open up and look at it,” said Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry board. He added: “If they violated (the law), we need to be consistent. We don’t have to be punitive, we can be constructive.”

The complaint was filed Aug. 4, a day before Nashville’s school board elections, and cites a story by The Tennessean that details emails sent by the head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit that appear to show she coordinated with Stand for Children to find campaign workers for the four school board candidates.

It also cites a July 29 WSMV report that says Stand for Children Director Daniel O’Donnell met with candidate Thom Druffel during a 10-day mandatory blackout period before the election. Stand’s attorney said O’Donnell took a day off from work that day and was not in violation of the law.

Stephen Zralek, an attorney with Nashville law firm Bone McAllester Norton PLLC who represents Stand for Children, said the organization takes election ethics issues seriously and consistently follows the law.

“The Registry’s order is standard procedure whenever a complaint is filed. We look forward to answering the Registry’s questions and providing an accurate account of the facts,” he said in a Wednesday email.

Gerard Stranch, the attorney who filed the complaint, told the registry he thought it was clear that there was evidence Stand for Children exceeded campaign contribution limits by coordinating with candidates, and violated laws banning donations by a PAC within a “blackout period” in the days immediately leading up to the election.

Nashville sues state over education funding

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville is suing the state over what it says is inadequate funding of public education, in violation of the Tennessee Constitution.

Nashville joins Shelby County and a cluster of seven counties that includes Hamilton, which have filed their own lawsuits over the state’s funding of the Basic Education Program, or BEP. That’s the method the state uses to meet its constitutional obligation to provide free K-12 public education.

According to the Nashville lawsuit filed Thursday, lawmakers have not provided enough money for the school system to hire the legally required number of teachers and translators for its English language learners.

Nashville has the highest number of students who come from a non-English language background in the state, according to the lawsuit. They make up about a quarter of total Metro Nashville Public School students and include more than 16,000 Spanish speakers, more than 3,000 Arabic speakers and more than 1,000 Kurdish speakers. Continue reading

School money stolen for drinking, gambling

A former Knox County Schools supervisor accused of using his district-issued credit card to place online gambling bets pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony theft of more than $10,000, according to the News Sentinel.

Roger Underwood, 61, has agreed to a three-year sentence, but the details will be determined by Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Sept. 29.

The state plans to object to judicial diversion, said Sean McDermott, a Knox County assistant district attorney general.

Underwood has agreed to repay the $11,989 he stole by that hearing, McDermott said.

The former accounts payable supervisor, who had an annual salary of $96,074, was fired in October after admitting to using his school credit card for personal purchases. Investigators found he placed bets ranging from $99 to $299 on the card, losing as much as $1,800 in one day gambling online.

A report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury also questioned $731 in charges during a retirement reception at a Mississippi casino, where Underwood also ordered martinis, peach schnapps and a $200 tray of hors d’oeuvres and gave a $115 tip.

He also received reimbursements for school-related trips he never took, officials said.

“Because Underwood was responsible for reviewing school credit card charges, including his own, officials were unaware of these inappropriate charges,” the comptroller’s report states.

Educationally, Haslam says Trump talking ‘bogeyman;’ Clinton going backward

Gov. Bill Haslam says the presidential candidate’s aren’t talking enough about education issues and are off base when they do bring up the issue, reports the Times-Free Press.

“There’s very little conversation about education” by Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton, said Haslam at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.

The Republican governor called education “a really hard problem.” But, he said, that’s not an excuse to “back up” on the issue.

“We won’t fix poverty issues until we address education issues,” said Haslam, who was introduced by former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

In the 25 or more presidential debates so far by both the political parties, there has been “a minute and a half of conversation about education,” Haslam said.

Trump has talked about doing away with Common Core standards and removing federal intervention from local schools, Haslam said. But, he said, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., led efforts to make it unlawful for such intervention in the schools.

“There’s no such thing as Common Core to worry about anymore,” Haslam said. “That’s a boogeyman that has gone.”

Meanwhile, Clinton has taken a step backward on what Haslam said was a bold move by President Barack Obama to make sure teacher evaluations are tied to student assessments, contrary to teacher unions.

“Clinton has basically said ‘I don’t believe that,”‘ the governor said. He said the Democrat nominee has indicated she’s not sure about end-of-the-year assessment.

“Both national parties are not focusing on one of the key issues,” Haslam said.

First statewide TN student mock election set

News release from secretary of state’s office
Nashville, Tennessee – (August 24, 2016) – Tennessee’s first ever statewide Student Mock Election is off to an amazing start. As of today, more than 170 schools across the state are registered to participate, meaning an estimated 76,000 students will do something most kids can’t: vote for president of the United States.

Now the Secretary of State’s office is also rolling out an essay contest to encourage students to be actively engaged citizens. Essays topics will be about voting and length requirements vary by grade level. Schools may submit two essays at each grade level. Winners from each level will receive a TNStars 529 College Savings Program scholarship worth $100, $250 or $500 in addition to a trip to the State Capitol. Continue reading

TN commentary on transgender bathroom ruling

A federal judge in Texas today blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. And, naturally, Tennesseans on both sides of the issue are promptly providing media with press releases giving their perspective — just like folks in the rest of the nation.

Here’s a sampler: Continue reading

Mismanagement prompts Dept. of Ed takeover at ASD

Tennessee Department of Education officials have been quietly taken over because of inept handling of fiscal affairs, according to a Comptroller’s audit outlined to legislators Wednesday. The actions included dismissal of the entire financial management staff at ASD. The audit reported troubles ranging from a $2,500 expenditure for a party where liquor was served to generally loose oversight of money.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

The intervention, which began last fall, only came to light Wednesday — the result of the public release of a blistering state comptroller performance audit that represented the watchdog agency’s first comprehensive look at the district’s internal controls since it was created in 2010.

Many of the findings don’t look good for the agency created to help low-performing schools. (Note: Full audit HERE)
Continue reading

ACLU settles lawsuit over student’s shirt slogan

News release from ACLU of Tennessee
NASHVILLE — In a victory for free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee announced a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Richland High School graduate Rebecca Young, who was censored by her school system for wearing a shirt to school supporting equality for lesbian and gay people. The Giles County school system has modified its discriminatory dress code policy that banned pro-LGBT speech.

“This is a victory not just for one student’s right to free speech, but for all students in the Giles County school system,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “Our settlement reinforces that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. We are pleased that Giles County students will no longer face unjust censorship if they choose to express support for the LGBT community while at school.”

The lawsuit, Rebecca Young v. Giles County Board of Education, et al., stemmed from an incident on August 5, 2015, when Young wore a shirt to school that read, “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.” At the end of the school day, the principal publicly reprimanded Young for wearing the shirt, telling her that she could not wear that shirt or any other shirt referencing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender rights to school because it supposedly made her a target and provoked other students. Young had worn the shirt the entire day without incident. Continue reading