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Ten Years of Education Improvements

Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 10:34am

By Mike Edwards, State Board of Education member

Having served on the State Board of Education for ten years now, I am struck by the many education changes we’ve seen in that time. When I served on the education committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we gave Tennessee an “F” for “truth in advertising” in education: while state assessments indicated that almost all students were proficient, national assessments like NAEP and the ACT indicated a much lower rate of preparation for post-secondary and career success. It has been important to me to identify and share reliable data on public education ever since to avoid this gap between the reported data and actual student outcomes.

One area that I have focused on is educator preparation. Ten years ago, folks knew very little about the inner workings of each educator preparation provider (EPP). In between program reviews, there was no way of knowing whether an EPP was excelling or struggling. This knowledge gap limited our ability to make effective policy decisions about educator preparation, despite these programs being critical to building a strong pool of teachers.

Today, we have a much clearer picture of how each EPP performs annually. The public can access quality indicators for each EPP on the Board’s Educator Preparation Report Card, which is updated each February. This tool acts as a “consumer report” for educator preparation to help prospective educators to choose programs and to help school districts target specific EPPs for recruitment. The Tennessee Department of Education uses this and other data to help EPPs improve their programming and build accountability. If an EPP does not meet expectations for two consecutive years, the Department initiates an interim review process. Together, these reports ensure all stakeholders gain insight into this important work.

Another major change in the last decade is the variety of EPPs in Tennessee. Most people think of a traditional college or university where a student majors in education. Such is the case with UT-Knoxville, which has been a perennial standout on the Report Card. In recent years, providers like Teach for America and teacher residency programs have partnered with school districts to train teacher candidates while they work in schools. Other EPPs are operated by school districts themselves. Rutherford County and Knox County are both approved to train candidates in career and technical education (CTE) fields. These candidates want to become teachers so they can use their skills from previous careers to prepare the next generation for in-demand jobs.

No matter its location or design, the EPP quality standards remain consistent. Knox County’s EPP had to meet the same standards as UT-Knoxville. By providing new options for EPPs, while maintaining a constant expectation of quality, Tennessee can meet the demand for well-prepared, effective teachers for all its students. That is a legacy I am proud of.

We all know the news hasn’t always been rosy. A key component of assessing teacher quality is student performance data. After multiple years of challenges with state assessments, it is critical that these assessments are administered fairly and reliably moving forward and results are reported quickly and clearly. In that way, Tennessee schools will be held to the same bar of preparing students for success in their chosen fields. Over the next ten years, it will be critical for the state to re-establish these kinds of benchmarks and reporting for K-12 student outcomes. I supported Governor Lee and the legislature’s call to administer state assessments last year to establish a new baseline of data moving forward after the pandemic. With a continued focus on student performance data and educator preparation, education in Tennessee will continue to rise in the coming years.

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Mike Edwards is a member of the Tennessee State Board of Education representing the Second Congressional District. Mr. Edwards was first appointed to the State Board of Education in 2011 and was reappointed in 2016. He retired in 2019 after serving 17 years as President and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber, where he championed issues related to public education and workforce development. Under his leadership, the Knoxville Chamber was named the 2011 Chamber of the Year by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.