Why can't Tennessee students read? Bill Lee calls for a Special Legislative Session to address education concerns

Jan 01, 2021 at 10:00 am by Voice Wire

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently announced a call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene for a special legislative session on Jan. 19, 2021, to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.

Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in third grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. This loss only exacerbates issues that existed prior to the pandemic, where only one third of Tennessee third graders were reading on grade level.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption for Tennessee’s students, educators, and districts, and the challenges they face must be addressed urgently,” said Gov. Lee. “Even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level. I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues, so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.”

“As we have heard from districts since March, students need their teachers and schools like never before,” said Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “No child’s future should suffer academically because of COVID-19. Not only as commissioner, but as a mother of two school-aged children, I am grateful for the bold solutions that our governor and legislature will provide for our students and schools across the state and the department stands ready to work together to accomplish this mission-critical work.”

"In addition to presenting a public health crisis and disrupting our economy, the coronavirus also created enormous obstacles for our parents, teachers and students. Tennessee has made tremendous improvements in education over the last decade. The virus has begun to put all of that at risk,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “It is of paramount importance that we take steps to reverse the learning loss that has taken place and prevent any further erosion of our progress. I appreciate Governor Lee calling this special session to draw our focus on the pressing needs of education in this state. The Senate will work with the House and the Administration to address these issues in an expeditious and efficient manner to the benefit of our students and our teachers."

“I support Gov. Lee’s call for a special session on education,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “The pandemic has caused considerable disruption for our students, teachers and schools.  Our goal is to make sure students are learning in the classroom, teachers have the resources they need, and our students have additional assistance in their educational journeys to improve their chances of success.”

“Over the past few years Tennessee has seen exciting growth in student achievement, and we must take all necessary steps to make sure our students continue to learn through this ongoing pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). “I salute the governor for calling us into special session to address this important problem and thank him for his continued commitment to education.”

“As a parent of two children in the public school system and a Representative of so many thousands of other families, I know it is critical for us to have the best education system in the nation,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland). “I appreciate the Governor calling us into Special Session to ensure our children and teachers have the support they need in these difficult times."

During the special session, the legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues: Learning Loss, Funding, Accountability, Literacy, and Teacher Pay. Details on each proposal will be released by the Department of Education in the near future, in addition to the department’s plans to implement a new literacy program, “Reading 360.” The program will leverage one-time federal relief funding to support a phonics-based approach to literacy and will ensure Tennessee districts, teachers, and families are equipped with tools and resources to help students read on grade level by third grade.

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Urgent issue # 1. GO BACK TO IN SCHOOL TEACHING. Period. Full stop. Without that you are just pissing into the wind.
Many students graduate from TN high schools each year who are "functionally illiterate". They cannot read well-enough to adequately function in our society. Testing shows this but is made difficult for the general public to realize because the headlines of the stories about school test results usually hail "improvement'. To "'improve" from fifth to sixth grade reading level for high school students does not mean that the students are doing well ( The same can be said for other subjects, but of course reading is at the heart of all learning!). As long as we pass students on from one grade to another despite whether they have mastered what they were to have mastered in the grade before, we will not get the job done. As long as we graduate students who have not actually learned basic skills, we will not get the job done. There has to be a halt called to this process and some difficult decisions made about how to insure that learning at each level, starting with the ability to read, is accomplished before students are passed on to yet another grade level. Governor Lee and the TN General Assembly say they are going to have a special session to work on "education". Will this be something that can really help or will it be just another waste of money - money which will be paid to one more "program" sold to us by the friend of a person high in government or connected with the Commissioner of Education, etc. which will finally go the way of "No Child Left Behind", "Race to the Top" and all the others I have seen used since 1963? Pay teachers well. Give them good benefits. Give them small classes. Give them training in the business of teaching basic reading skills done by people who really know what they are doing - who have real classroom experience. Make it clear that this is to be taught "across the curriculum". History teachers can teach reading, just like science teachers can teach math. I am not sure what happened to that concept which was very much alive and being used forty years ago and before. And engage parents and community leaders to help. But tell them the TRUTH. Let them know just how poorly many of our young people are really doing!! Only then may we begin to see some success. It won't happen quickly, but it can happen and will happen, but only if we clearly face our negatives and stop thinking that everything must be coined as a "positive". (This "positive" stuff began about 1980 and it has NOT been a "positive" for public education in TN!)
I could be wrong, but wasn’t the Lottery supposed to raise the Test Scores? It did help the capital projects over at MTSU.
That is one of the biggest problems, Srockdoug. Citizens of this state have been promised over and over ( as in old Lamar with the infamous Career Ladder) that THIS is the THING that will solve it all. I know they are sick of it and I don't blame them.
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