Tennessee must refocus our education system to help more students succeed (The Tennessean)

THE TENNESSEAN | For the better part of two decades, Tennessee has been on a journey to significantly improve public education and workforce opportunities for all Tennesseans.

And by working together, we have made significant progress, moving from the back of the pack to one of the most improved and innovative states in the country on multiple K-12 and higher education measures.  

However, as we emerge from the global pandemic and head into 2023, it is clear we still have much more work to do if we are to build a strong bridge between our education and workforce systems and truly create a lifetime of opportunity for all Tennesseans.

Education opens doors to economic independence, and we must rally around the goal of ensuring our students are part of the best-prepared and best-educated workforce in the nation.

Read the full article here: https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/contributors/2022/12/08/tennessee-must-refocus-education-system-to-help-more-students-succeed/69703226007/

How the U.S. Can Find and Train More Great Teachers

(The Week, April 10, 2012)

By Bill Frist, M.D.

Consider Laura. When she entered the third grade, she couldn’t understand the stories all her friends enjoyed. She was even too embarrassed to read aloud. Why? She could only read at a first grade level.

Laura’s hardly alone — but that’s small comfort. A recent study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that one in six children who are not reading proficiently by the third grade does not graduate from high school on time. In other words, Laura’s abilities in third grade may very well determine her future.

By the time Laura finished third grade, however, she loved to read and was prepared for the fourth grade. How did she catch up? She had a highly effective teacher.

There are no silver bullets in the education reform movement, but one area we cannot afford to overlook is expanding the pool of talented teachers. Popular reform efforts tend to focus on supporting current teachers and improving the standards they teach. But to maximize Laura’s chances, and those of our country, we need to start even earlier.

Our lack of teacher accountability is akin to a drug company producing medicines without measuring if the pills actually cure disease.

Research shows that the No. 1 school-based factor in improving student achievement is a great teacher. Of course, other factors are important as well: High standards, strong school and district leadership, and parent and community involvement, to name a few. But great teaching is the lever that most dramatically changes the trajectory of a child’s future.

To foster great teaching, first we need to know what makes a great teacher. And the good news is, we’re making headway in better understanding teacher effectiveness. Many states are implementing new systems to evaluate teachers, designed to give them feedback on how they are doing and a clear picture of what they can improve on. These evaluation methods replace antiquated approaches in which teachers received feedback only once every few years — feedback that had little connection to what students were learning or to the day-to-day operations of a classroom.

But evaluations alone are of little use without providing the support for a teacher to improve. Thus, many of these new evaluation systems are being connected with professional learning to help teachers continuously improve, as is done in many other industries. Weaknesses identified through these new evaluations are addressed with ongoing, collaborative support, as teachers work in teams to improve their instruction.

Many school districts have also begun to reward teachers for effective teaching, paying them more if they are able to substantially improve student performance. Laura’s teacher, for instance, might see a bonus at the end of the year for the kind of dramatic achievement she brought forth in her students. This replaces the traditional and still-common system in which all teachers with similar education and years of service are paid the same, regardless of how effective they are at actually teaching. The concept of performance-based pay is not new, only new to teaching.

Identifying and rewarding great teaching is critical, but the reform movement is failing to tackle a third important area — focusing on the start of the teacher pipeline and growing the pool of better-prepared teachers before they enter the classroom. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last year that “unfortunately, we all know that the quality of teacher preparation programs is very uneven in the U.S. In fact, a staggering 62 percent of all new teachers — almost two-thirds — report they felt unprepared for the realities of their classroom.” Let’s better prepare our teachers before they enter the classroom by raising the quality of programs that train teachers to teach.

Here are three ways.

We must first enhance accountability in teacher preparation programs by tracking the success and effectiveness of candidates once they begin teaching. Most programs have no idea how their products, the teachers, actually fare in educating students over the ensuing years. This would be like a drug company producing medicines without measuring if the pills actually cure disease.

Second, we must align the curricula of teacher prep programs with the most current, innovative, and proven policies, so that teachers are prepared to teach effectively from the moment they first step into the classroom. There will always be on-the-job training, but our teachers should not have to start over from square one weeks after they themselves graduate.

Preparation should include the use of new teacher evaluation systems which highlight what effective teaching looks like, training on the use of data to improve classroom instruction, and robust preparation to teach the new Common Core State Standards, the state-led higher academic standards being implemented today in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Third, it’s time to fully open the door to alternative teacher training programs, like Teach for America, that are able to recruit, train, and inspire effective teachers in a short period of time. More collaboration between alternative programs and traditional programs would allow for the sharing and replication of best practices across all teacher training programs.

Yes, all this takes time, and won’t be easy. But the time is ripe for systemic change to identify, prepare, support, and reward great teachers. Research suggests the results will be dramatic for kids. All must participate in this work — teachers and principals, backed up with a lot of backbone from policymakers. But remember: Catching up students like Laura and better preparing millions of other students for college and a career is worth the work.

Dr. William H. Frist is a nationally acclaimed heart transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, the chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands and Tennessee SCORE, professor of surgery, and author of six books.


This article was originally featured in The Week http://theweek.com/article/index/226586/how-the-us-can-find-and-train-more-great-teachers

SCORE Joins Highlands Town Hall Debate 2010

COOKEVILLE — The Highlands, Nashville’s WTVF NewsChannel5, Tennessee Tech University, and the League of Women Voters of Tennessee today announced that the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is joining as a sponsor in the Highlands Town Hall Debate 2010, a general-election gubernatorial debate scheduled for September 14 at TTU in Cookeville.

SCORE, a not-for-profit, non-partisan group led by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, encourages sound education policy decisions at the state and local levels. Earlier this year, in January, the group co-sponsored a NewsChannel5 gubernatorial debate that included all major candidates in the Democratic and Republican primary fields.

“SCORE has a track record of promoting a non-partisan focus on important issues in this election,” Sandy Boonstra, news director of NewsChannel5, said. “We’re pleased to work with them once again.”

Frist, a surgeon who represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, said SCORE supports a renewed focus on key issues, including education and health care. “Ensuring a better education for Tennessee students is critical as we work to improve health outcomes and promote a better quality of life for all Tennesseans,” he said. “SCORE is proud to support an open dialogue on the important issues in this election.”

As the first televised general-election gubernatorial debate held outside of Nashville, Memphis, or Knoxville, the Highlands Town Hall Debate 2010 will give focus to hometown issues facing rural and suburban areas — with an emphasis on economic development, education, and health care. The Highlands is a public/private economic development initiative between Overton, Putnam, and White Counties managed by the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.

Using guidelines established by its partners, the debate will offer a unique perspective on voter attitudes by soliciting video questions in advance via YouTube and allowing Tennesseans to vote on which questions they want asked of the candidates. Written questions may also be submitted via the debate’s web site. The debate will include a section for live audience questions and a section for candidate-to-candidate questions.
On the Web: www.HighlandsDebate2010.com.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Pledges $500k to SCORE

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee today announced a $500,000 contribution to advance K-12 public education reform — and better health outcomes — in partnership with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

“BlueCross BlueShield has a history of supporting promising community work across Tennessee, especially when it has the potential to promote better health,” said Vicky Gregg, president and CEO of the not-for-profit health plan. “Supporting a strong K-12 public education system is one of the best strategies for ensuring better health for the next generation.”

Gregg added: “BlueCross BlueShield is proud to partner with Sen. Frist and SCORE in their effort to support key education reform policies and promote school improvement on a statewide basis.”

SCORE is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that works with state government and local school systems to encourage sound policy decisions in K-12 public education. Based at the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University, SCORE provides policy and research support, and advocates on a statewide basis for key education reform initiatives including Tennessee’s First to the Top strategy.

Frist, one of 14 U.S. healthcare leaders serving on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America, said a growing body of researchconfirms that people with more education are likely to live longer, experience better health outcomes and practice healthier behaviors.

“There is an undeniable connection between education and health,” said Frist, a surgeon who represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate for 12 years. “That’s why now, more than ever, we need a public education system producing more high-school graduates who are better prepared for a career or college, and life.”

Frist added: “BlueCross BlueShield’s generous contribution to SCORE sends a powerful message about the strong link between improving educational attainment and ensuring better health outcomes.”

In addition to chairing SCORE, Frist serves as vice chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America, which leads First Lady Michelle Obama’s national campaign to fight childhood obesity. To support the national strategy, Frist and SCORE are exploring new public initiatives to promote healthy kids and healthy communities in Tennessee and the South.

“BlueCross BlueShield’s support is invaluable as we look to further strengthen the connection between education and health,” Frist said. “SCORE looks forward to working with the statewide healthcare community to ensure a smarter, healthier generation of Tennesseans in the years ahead.”

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is the state’s oldest and largest not-for-profit health plan, serving nearly 3 million Tennesseans. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on financing affordable health care coverage and providing peace of mind for all Tennesseans. BlueCross serves its members by delivering quality health care products, services and information. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at www.bcbst.com.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) serves as a resource for state government and local school systems. SCORE is committed to thoughtful advocacy and policy work, and to building and sustaining a diverse coalition of public- and private-sector partners. SCORE is governed by a 14-member board of directors, chaired by Sen. Frist and comprised of Tennessee philanthropic and business leaders who care about public education.

Frist Statement on Race to the Top

NASHVILLE — Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who chairs the education-reform group Tennessee SCORE, today issued this statement following news that Tennessee is a finalist in the federal government’s groundbreaking Race to the Top competition:

“Tennessee’s spot as a finalist confirms what we’ve known:  The Volunteer State is poised to move farther, faster in public education reform than any other state in the nation.  Governor Bredesen, the General Assembly, and stakeholders including the TEA are to be commended for their bipartisan work in positioning us for success.  Thanks also to Secretary Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education for recognizing the extraordinary opportunities that exist here.  Statewide, the education-reform community stands ready to help make sure that Tennessee is ‘first to the top.’”

The Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes education innovation.  In October 2009, SCORE released “A Roadmap to Success,” a report outlining comprehensive strategies for improving Tennessee schools.  Many of the strategies were adopted in January’s special legislative session on education reform.

Special Session Presents Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

By: Sen. Bill Frist, M.D.

In my 12 years of service to Tennesseans in the United States Senate, I learned that progress often comes from taking advantage of moments when the stars align around a specific goal.  In Tennessee, one of those moments is upon us, as for the first time in over 25 years the stars have aligned to make real, meaningful improvements to Tennessee’s education system.

Today, there are a number of factors coming together to create a truly unique opportunity for improving our schools.  Earlier this year, Governor Bredesen’s Tennessee Diploma Project went into effect, for the first time raising Tennessee’s academic standards to a nationally competitive level.  At the same time, national foundations, who for far too long have ignored Tennessee, have started to make major investments in our schools.  In the last six months alone, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $90 million to improving teacher effectiveness in Memphis and made several other smaller investments across the state.

Perhaps most importantly is the consensus that has been built over the past year about how to improve Tennessee’s education system.  For the past year, I have chaired the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).  Led by a 25-member steering committee of top education, political, and business leaders from across Tennessee, SCORE has gathered input from all the state’s key education stakeholders by holding 72 town hall meetings across the state, hosting eight statewide meetings with leading education reformers from around the country, and conducting hundreds of one-on-one interviews.

In late October, SCORE released a final report entitled “A Roadmap to Success: A Plan to Make Tennessee Schools #1 in the Southeast Within Five Years.”  This report laid out the specific things each group – whether it be legislators, teachers, parents, or the business community – needs to do to improve our schools.  Over 300 individuals offered feedback on this final report, which represents a bold consensus among the state’s education stakeholders about a detailed plan for improving Tennessee’s education system.  Never before has there been so many different groups come together and agree about the way forward.

As members of the Tennessee General Assembly meet today in a special legislative session focused on education, I encourage them to take advantage of this truly unique moment in our state’s history.  Now is the time to enact truly meaningful education reform.  While the timing of the special session is in part driven by a desire to make the state’s application for federal Race to the Top funds more competitive, many of the ideas proposed in the current legislative package represent ideas that have been developed over the past year through SCORE’s inclusive process and wide-ranging outreach.

Specifically, SCORE’s final report laid out seven policy recommendations for the state legislature.  These seven items make up a large portion of the proposals being recommended by Governor Bredesen and being considered in the General Assembly.  Passing these items will not only ensure that Tennessee is competitive for hundreds of millions of federal Race to the Top dollars, but it will also ensure that Tennessee undertakes much needed education reforms that have been identified as necessary by many of Tennessee’s teachers, principals, superintendents, and maybe even more importantly, by parents and grandparents.    From the classroom to the boardroom, everyone has an interest in seeing our schools improve.

The stars have clearly aligned in Tennessee to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our schools.  My hope is that this legislative special session will bring everyone together to take advantage of this truly unique moment.  If we all rise to the occasion, I am confident our schools will significantly improve and the children in our state will have a brighter future.

Bill Frist served as U.S. Senate Majority Leader from 2003- 2007 and is Chairman of Tennessee SCORE.

SCORE is used as Case Study in National Report


Tennessee SCORE is a case study in a new Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network report, “The Race to Reform: How Education Reform Advocates are Leveraging Race to the Top,” which tells the stories of state advocacy groups with an “outsized” impact on public education policy. The report opens with a description of SCORE and the collaborative process that supported passage of Tennessee’s First to the Top Act, a sweeping bipartisan overhaul of the state’s education reform law. Happy ending to the story – at least for now – is that Tennessee is one of 16 Race to the Top finalists.