Every child should have a meaningful opportunity for educational success. After winning the federal Race to the Top competition, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-imagine public education in Tennessee. Indeed, our state is poised to lead the nation in education reform. But it is not going to happen without forward-thinking, engaged leaders who will work tirelessly to meet our moral obligation to put kids first and reject excuses for failure. We must cut the dropout rate in half over the next four years and double the number of students completing some form of post-secondary education over the next eight years.
Unleashing Innovation: Government in general, and public schools in particular, are still designed like a 1950s corporation with rigid hierarchies, one-size-fits-all approaches, and a bureaucratic bias in favor of the status quo. Tennesseans are tired of being included in the bottom 10 of every national education ranking, but it’s going to take openness to new ideas and dogged persistence to make the necessary changes. Recognizing that students attend schools rather than school systems, we need to be bold in creating new schools and redesigning old schools.
Developing and Supporting First-Class Educators: Each school day, teachers take on the lion’s share of our government’s most important function. It is critical to provide supportive working conditions and adequate compensation for our teachers as we ask them to do more and more. However, the work doesn’t stop there. We must also bring talented new teachers into our schools and constantly improve teaching methods and curriculum.
Strong Leaders for Every School: Research increasingly shows that effective school leaders are essential to setting and implementing a vision for educational success in schools. We have to move past the outdated vision of principals as disciplinarians or as managers of staffs and buildings. Instead, we must have instructional leaders focused on results.
High Expectations for Every Student: No Child Left Behind has too often resulted in a focus on reaching the bare minimum of educational success—teaching to the middle. Our children’s strengths and weaknesses are not standardized, and neither can our entire approach to their education be. Our schools have to fight for every child to reach his or her full potential.
Expanding Parental & Community Involvement: While teachers and principals are incredible resources in educating our children, they cannot do it alone. If we are going to cut the dropout rate in half and double the number of students completing some form of post-secondary education over the next eight years, it will take the full resources of Tennessee’s families and communities. A child’s learning experience cannot stop when the afternoon bell rings.
Strengthening Special Education and Pre-K Programs: Schools should be inclusive places of learning and personal growth, regardless of a student’s specific needs or background. We must ensure that our schools have not only a space for every student, but the ability to meet their individual needs and ensure their success. Our children deserve every advantage we can provide them.
Charter Schools: The Center for Education Reform gives Tennessee a “D” for its charter school law, which is the 13th weakest in the nation. While charter schools are not a panacea, they are a critical part of our pathway to success. I’ve worked with Mayor Dean to support existing charter schools and to create a statewide Charter School Incubator for new ones. Charter schools can show us what is possible in education by demonstrating actual results in student achievement gains.