Bill Frist released his task force’s report on improving Tennessee schools Thursday, calling for the state to become No. 1 in education in the Southeast in the next five years.
Frist’s Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) issued findings from nearly 60 town hall meetings across the state and conferences in Nashville involving stakeholders in education.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve Tennessee schools,” Frist said.
Tennessee ranks 41st in the country on national student achievement tests—ahead of only Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in the Southeast. But Frist said Tennessee can jump to the top by following his plan.
“It’s an ambitious goal and it’s a challenging goal because we’re among the worst in the Southeast,” the former senator told a news conference. “But these are doable things.”
The report makes 60 recommendations, many of which long have been on the wish lists of education reformers. But the plan is short on suggestions for implementation and dodges political disagreements. It shies away from funding issues and other controversies. Notably, it takes no sides on the question of whether to expand the state’s pre-kindergarten program to all children. Gov. Phil Bredesen has made that one of his main education goals, but Republicans oppose it.
House Democratic Caucus chair Mike Turner pointed out “a lot of the things we’re talking about in this plan are obvious.” But he added, “Maybe Senator Frist is a man with the stature to pull this off. … Try not to pick this plan apart.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
• Require all principals to receive an annual performance evaluation.
• Allow all school districts to use administrative law judges to settle tenured teacher dismissal proceedings.
• Directly link tenure decisions to teacher effectiveness data. This may require a rethinking of the current tenure time frame and structure.
• Launch a three-month task force to develop a comprehensive plan for how all students in the state can be given access to low-cost online courses, especially courses that meet the new high school graduation requirements.