Release from U.S. Senate:
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. Senate Commission on Art today unveiled a painting of Senator William. H. Frist at a ceremony in the historic Old Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol. The portrait, painted by Tennessee artist Michael Shane Neal, is part of the U.S. Senate Leadership Portrait Collection, which honors past Senate leaders.
(Updated from earlier post with reporting by Rick Locker of The Commercial Appeal)
A statewide education reform commission headed by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist issues its final recommendations today, with a goal of moving Tennessee to the top of the Southern states in K-12 education.
“The very simple goal is to make Tennessee – us, our kids – the best in the South in five years,” Frist said at a State Capitol event unveiling the report. “It’s a challenging, ambitious goal but it can be done.”
The recommendations of the bipartisan “State Collaborative on Reforming Education,” or SCORE, which Frist established early this year, includes 60 specific recommendations that revolve around four key “strategies:”
· Embracing the higher graduation standards that are about to go into effect as part of the Tennessee Diploma Project that aims at both raising standards and graduating more students. There has been some fear that when the impact of the more rigorous standards are felt, there will be political pressure on legislators to scale them back.
· Cultivating stronger school leaders, including superintendents and teachers.
· Ensuring excellent teachers, including mentoring programs and financial incentives to reward teacher performance.
· Using the vast amount of student performance data available in Tennessee to improve learning.
The SCORE report focuses only on kindergarten through high school education, avoiding partisan fights that have occurred in recent years in the state legislature over funding for pre-kindergarten programs championed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.
It does contain some recommendations that are certain to generate controversy, including a proposal that directly links awarding tenure to teachers to such measures of their effectiveness as student achievement gains.
Another recommendation would restructure the state salary schedule for teachers include new elements such as incentives for credentials to teach in high-needs subject areas like math and science, placement in high-needs schools, and performance.
Toward that end, the report proposes that the state launch a year long discussion over how to restructure teacher tenure and pay scales that include the teachers union, school boards and others who would come up with a specific plan and guidelines.
Jerry Winters, government relations manager for the Tennessee Education Association, said that the teachers’ association isn’t closing the door on tenure reform. “There’s going to be a year-long discussion with substantial teacher input. We’re not closing the door but there’s a lot to be discussed. It’s an extremely complex issue.”
The report also recommends that all 132 school districts in Tennessee be allowed to use administrative law judges – state attorneys who sit as judges in disputes – to hear and settle cases when local schools try to fire tenured teachers. In all districts but Memphis City Schools and Metro Nashville, school boards settle such cases.
Winters said TEA supports that proposal. “We could fully support moving to administrative law judges. It’s much more professional. They are trained in dispute resolution and problem cases, and it would take it out of politics,” he said.
Recognizing the state’s budget problems, the Frist commission said it focused on recommendations that will involve no new funding “in the short term” but said
that in the long term, additional money may be needed.
full report available at www.tennesseescore.org