TN Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and senior department leaders are launching a statewide listening tour to gather input from educators, key advocates, parents, students, and the public to determine how to implement specific components of the nation's new federal education law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The feedback will inform a Tennessee-specific ESSA plan that will guide the department's work over the coming years and help the state capitalize on the new law's empowerment of local leadership. These conversations will also build off feedback the commissioner has received on her Classroom Chronicles tour, during which she has met with more than 10,000 Tennessee teachers to learn how policies impact the classroom.
"We need to continue to elevate educators' ideas to strengthen our education system, and the new federal law provides an opportunity to do that," said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. "We look forward to hearing from a variety of educators - from classroom teachers to directors of schools - as well as advocates, parents, and students as we craft a plan for Tennessee to transition to ESSA."
ESSA replaces the former federal education law, commonly referenced as No Child Left Behind, and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Most of Tennessee's existing policies and statutes are in line with the new law, which will go into effect in August 2016 and will be fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year, but there are opportunities for Tennessee to revisit existing systems and structures regarding assessment, accountability, school improvement, and education for English learners.
With those areas in mind, the department will join or host discussions with a range of education leaders, advocates, parents and community leaders over the coming months. Conversations begin today with the Tennessee School Boards Association and will continue over the coming months with groups such as the state's Assessment Task Force; teacher advisory and leadership groups, including the Tennessee Educators Association and Professional Educators of Tennessee; charter school groups; the business community; and the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, which is working with the department to co-host regional meetings with school district leaders. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) will also co-host a number of the discussions with key stakeholders and advocates.
In addition, given new emphasis in federal law, the department along with SCORE will engage with key advocates and non-profits that support English learners, including the members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, led by Conexion Americas, to get their feedback on how the department can best ensure English learners have access to an equitable and high-quality education. The department will also reach out to groups in this coalition that work to ensure equity for all students, such as the Tennessee chapters of the Urban League and the Tennessee NAACP, to ensure that Tennessee's ESSA plan reflects the federal law's origins in civil rights. The department will continue to talk with groups of principals, teachers, and parents over the summer as it builds out the plan for moving forward.
In an effort to gather as much feedback as possible, the department has published a series of questions - which are the same as the ones that will guide the discussion in other forums - for the public to provide input on the department's ESSA website: www.tn.gov/education/essa.
"Our education system needs to keep student success and our children's entire development at the center of its focus," McQueen said. "We look forward to building off what works now and making adjustments as needed to ensure that Tennessee remains the fastest improving state in the nation in student achievement."
Over the summer and fall, department leadership will draft a plan for transitioning to ESSA based on stakeholder and public feedback. Stakeholders and the general public will have another opportunity to provide input on the draft plan later this fall. In spring 2017, the department will work with stakeholder groups, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly as needed to recommend changes to state law and policy, as well as develop further guidance for school districts.
In addition to the various feedback loops and meetings across the state, the department will also be guided by its strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which was developed with input from thousands of stakeholders over the course of several months to establish a clear vision for the future of Tennessee's schools. It also has established a solid foundation in preparing to transition to ESSA.
More information, including a complete timeline and an outline of the current education laws and policies in Tennessee, is available on the department's ESSA webpage.