Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is forcing 1,600 information technology workers across state government to re-apply for their jobs in an effort to screen out those who can’t master the skills of a rapidly changing field, reports The Tennessean. The state employees association said IT workers are nervous. But the state’s chief information officer said most of them don’t need to worry.
“This is really not about getting rid of people,” Mark Bengel said Wednesday. “It’s about making sure that we do have the skills and we have the ability to develop and retain staff in the future.”
He said Science Applications International Corp., a consulting firm, has started looking at 23 state agencies’ IT operations and analyzing the gap between the skills employees have and the ones they need. Most of its recommendations won’t take effect until the 2014-15 budget year.
“Technology is moving so fast that skills are obsolete in the blink of an eye,” Bengel said.
The changes come in the wake of several large-scale computer system problems that have hindered operations in various state offices, including the Department of Children’s Services, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Department of Human Services. The state’s “Project Edison” system, launched in 2008 to bring outdated payroll, accounting and vendor tracking systems into a single, integrated system, was rife with glitches for a couple of years.
Haslam told The Tennessean last fall that some computer systems were “in the ditch.” In part due to those difficulties, the governor has established a Business Solutions Delivery office to centralize IT expertise as the state embarks on contracting for future projects.
Bengel said the IT challenges at some of the departments “certainly contributed” to the restructuring decision.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) has filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to authorize and encourage coursework in neurological or brain science as part of teacher training programs at the state’s public colleges and universities. Gresham said leading education experts agree that knowledge about the brain is essential for educators at all grade levels as an important part of understanding how students learn.
“Evidence continues to mount that there is great benefit for our teachers to have a rudimentary course on how the human brain works,” said Senator Gresham. “Neuroscience gives us much information to help us adapt learning technology to meet many challenges that face teachers today in trying to raise student achievement. A basic understanding of how the brain works helps teachers not only identify student difficulties, but gives them more information to support families in taking appropriate steps to overcome these challenges.”
Gresham said Senate Bill 59 also promotes coordination between educators and neuroscientists in Tennessee. She supports the establishment of a knowledge exchange network, which would provide cutting edge research regarding proven neurology-based approaches for teaching students.
Research shows remarkable new information regarding the brain’s function during adolescence that experts maintain have implications for everyone working with teenagers. This research includes new findings regarding the effect of sleep deprivation in adolescence. There are also new breakthroughs in understanding how long-term memories are created, which have implications for student learning
“Teachers face many barriers, from adolescent sleep deprivation to learning difficulties like Dyslexia and Dyscalculia,” said Gresham. “Tennessee has incredible scientific resources within our universities and elsewhere that we can tap into to better understand how we can utilize new discoveries to address such barriers. I am very excited about the opportunities that this legislation offers to increase student achievement.”
A longtime University of Tennessee at Martin political science professor who ran for Tennessee governor in 1994 has died following a long illness, reports The Jackson Sun. Richard Chesteen, of Union City, died Tuesday at his home, according to university officials. He was 72.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today at White-Ranson Funeral Home in Union City. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. May 12 at Union City’s First Baptist Church.
Chesteen joined the UT Martin faculty in 1969, taught political science until he retired in December 2007 and completed a post-retirement teaching assignment in December 2009. He was named history and political science department chair in 1986 and also served as president of the Tennessee Political Science Association, the Tennessee County Services Association and the UT Martin Faculty Senate. He received a University of Tennessee Alumni Outstanding Teacher Award in 1991.
“Dr. Chesteen has a broad-based following of former students, faculty and lifelong friends within the region and beyond,” said Tom Rakes, UT Martin chancellor. “Richard’s contributions stem from a balance of political knowledge, scholarship and firsthand experience.”
News release from National Center for Science Education:
All eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences — including a Nobel laureate — have signed a statement (PDF) expressing their firm opposition to House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893. Both bills, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” HB 368 was passed in April 7, 2011, but SB 893 was stalled in committee until March 14, 2012, when the Senate Education Committee passed a slightly amended version.
The scientists object to the misdescription of evolution as scientifically controversial, insisting, “As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm — along with the nation’s leading scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences — that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals (‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’) and there is no scientific evidence against it.”
The scientists also object to the encouragement to teachers to present the so-called scientific weaknesses of evolution, which, they contend, “in practice are likely to include scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution. As educators whose teaching involves and is based on evolution, we affirm — along with the nation’s leading science education organizations, including the National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association — that evolution is a central and crucial part of science education. Neglecting evolution is pedagogically irresponsible.”
Their statement concludes, “By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools, HB 368 and SB 893 would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.” The statement is signed by Stanley Cohen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986, Roger D. Cone, George M. Hornberger, Daniel Masys, John A. Oates, Liane Russell, Charles J. Sherr, and Robert Webster; all eight are members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific organizations.
— Note: As explained by Sen. Bo Watson in committee, his amendment (which had not been posted on the legislative website four days after adopted in committee) deletes the word “controversial” and replaces is with “debated or disputed.” That may well be, as the release suggests, a matter of ‘slightly amending” the original version.
News release from Vanderbilt University:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – “What’s in a name?” Juliet Capulet asks in one of William Shakespeare’s best known plays. If you’re talking about elections in which voters don’t know the candidates very well, the answer is quite a lot, according to new Vanderbilt political science research.
Mere name recognition can give candidates an important advantage in political races in which voters know little about any of the contenders, according to the study by political scientists Cindy Kam and Elizabeth Zechmeister.
“Our study offers fairly conclusive evidence that, in low-information races, a candidate’s name recognition alone positively affects voter support,” said Zechmeister, who co-authored the paper with Kam.
Although the media pays a lot of attention to high-profile races, in the majority of decisions that American voters make, they have very little information about the candidates. Sometimes partisanship is not even available, so voters need to rely on some shortcuts to make decisions. “These findings are important because low-information races are the rule, not the exception, in American politics,” said Kam.
A controversial, House-passed bill to protect teachers who promote discussion of alternatives to prevailing scientific theories was quietly sidelined in the Senate Wednesday – almost certainly postponing any action until next year.
The measure has been attacked by critics as a backdoor means of teaching creationism in schools as an alternative to evolution.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, told the Senate Education Committee he was putting HB368 into “general sub,” which means he is not pushing it forward to a vote. The move came on the last scheduled meeting of the committee for this year.
“Practically speaking, I probably am not going to be able to run the bill this year,” he said.
Watson said he believes the measure is “a good bill” and should be approved “in concept” but has listened to concerns of UT-Chattanooga faculty and others who have proposed possible amendments.
“I want to listen some more,” he said.
The bill passed the House 70-23 on April 7 under sponsorship of Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who says it is intended to promote “critical thinking” in science classes. All no votes came from Democrats. Update: The Senate Education Committee wound up adjourning Wednesday night with some other bills left hanging, raising the possibility of another meeting where Watson could revive the measure.
A bill that would prohibit sanctions against teachers who promote discussion of alternatives to prevailing scientific theories – criticized by some as a backdoor means of promoting creationism – was approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, sponsor of HB368, said it will simply promote “creative thinking.”
House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh called it “the monkey bill,” likening the measure to a 1925 state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. The trial of Dayton teacher John Scopes for violation of that law lead to a trial drawing national attention and filming of the movie, “Inherit the Wind.”
Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis, the only Democrat who supported the bill, sharply criticized opposition to the measure from university professors and scientists, who he said favored a status quo that “allows one segment of the population to make a determination of what everybody else thinks.”
“I find that totally un-American,” DeBerry said.
Hedy Weinberg, who heads the ACLU in Tennessee and staunchly opposed the bill, acknowledged afterwards that the measure appears headed for passage. She said that, if enacted, the ACLU will monitor what happens in classrooms with an eye toward legal action if needed.
“It’s going to embolden some teachers to inject religious beliefs into the classroom,” she said.