Six huge storylines that described Tennessee education and learning in 2023


For a third straight 12 months, numerous Tennessee learners strived to climb back from educational and psychological health difficulties after COVID-19 compelled them into distant mastering.

But it was the unforeseen occasions that dominated education and learning news in Tennessee in 2023 and uncovered new fault lines: A deadly shooting at a Nashville personal university sparked protests and a backlash at the point out Capitol. A superintendent search in the state’s greatest faculty district unraveled just as it was about to wrap up. And the point out requested an 11th-hour overhaul of school accountability steps that will fall hardest on universities that serve learners from lower-revenue families.

Outside of that, some of the most important headlines were about the ripple consequences of Tennessee rules that put new strain on general public faculties, which include the rapid distribute of non-public-college vouchers, the stress all around substantial-stakes tests for third graders, and constraints on what lecturers can say in their classrooms about race and bias.

Chalkbeat Tennessee’s Marta W. Aldrich, our senior correspondent in Nashville, and Laura Testino, our Memphis-Shelby County Educational institutions reporter, protected all these issues like honeysuckle handles the South. They connected with authorities and advocates, sought out paperwork and information, and, most of all, showcased the voices of pupils, parents, and educators to carry you closer to the large stories driving training in the Volunteer Point out.

Right here are some of the 2023 tales that resonated most with you — and with us.

Nashville students walked out of school April 3, 2023, and gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol for a demonstration against gun violence, organized by the youth group March for Our Lives.
Nashville pupils walked out of faculty April 3, 2023, and collected at the Tennessee Point out Capitol for a demonstration from gun violence, arranged by the youth team March for Our Life.

Nashville pupils protest the state’s lax gun laws

On March 27, an intruder armed with lawfully acquired, large-powered guns entered The Covenant School in Nashville and killed 3 older people and 3 9-12 months-olds. The faculty was private, but the effects swiftly spread to the general public sphere when countless numbers of college students and educators responded with days of protests from the state’s lax gun legal guidelines.

A tale by Marta about the students protesting at the state Capitol in Nashville was the most-go through story of 2023.

Among the other matters, it known as focus to the disconnect between community assistance for tighter gun security rules and a legislature that has moved in the other way, getting rid of several needs for permits, basic safety schooling and waiting periods, and allowing for buys of some of the most deadly weapons.

Marta’s protection that day showcased the voices — and faces — of the pupils who are coming of age in an period of escalating gun violence and turning their anger and nervousness into activism.

“We all want to reside through large college,” said a 17-calendar year-old student Marta spoke with, “and that’s why we’re in this article nowadays.”

In her continuing protection, Marta concentrated on how Tennessee lawmakers continued to press for broader obtain to guns, even as Nashville instructors were being battling to cope mentally and emotionally with the aftermath of the Covenant taking pictures.

A unique legislative session on gun safety yielded no new restrictions, angering moms and dads, college students, and gun handle activists.

“Today is a complicated working day,” reported David Teague, a father of two young children at Covenant. “A remarkable prospect to make our kids safer and build brighter tomorrow’s has been skipped. And I am saddened for all Tennesseans.”

(From left) Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis speak at a press conference on April 4, 2023, about GOP-sponsored resolutions to kick the three Democrats out of office. The House voted to oust Jones and Pearson, but not Johnson.
(From left) Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis discuss at a push meeting on April 4, 2023, about GOP-sponsored resolutions to kick the a few Democrats out of workplace. The Dwelling voted to oust Jones and Pearson, but not Johnson.

Lawmaker expulsions: When a teachable minute turns into taboo

The gun safety protests roiled the state Capitol, culminating in the expulsion of two lawmakers who led the protests on the Dwelling floor. They also developed confusion in Tennessee classrooms about how to explore what happened.

In all, 3 Democratic lawmakers confronted expulsion resolutions around their part in the protests, but only two of them — Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, the two youthful Black adult men — have been essentially voted out by the GOP-dominated chamber. The Dwelling spared the 3rd lawmaker, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, who is a white girl.

The incident drew national interest, and scorn, as an case in point of racism and white privilege in the halls of electric power. But simply because of a state legislation that restricts teaching about race, a lot of lecturers struggled with how to respond to students’ issues or engage them in discussions about it. Although tracking the expulsion tale, Marta and Laura also explored what transpires when condition guidelines collide with learning and engagement in the classroom, and what learners lose when they do.

“I assume these conversations would go a great deal further if our instructors did not have the panic of these new legislation hanging about them,” a person high school senior in Nashville advised them.

The exact same themes resurfaced in Laura’s coverage of a e book function at Whitehaven H.S. in Memphis, showcasing authors of “His Title Is George Floyd.”

Laura found out a social media trade that uncovered how the authors faced limitations on presenting their reserve to students for the reason that of issues about the condition guidelines governing library publications and “age appropriate” products. Tennessee’s guidelines proscribing classroom conversations of race also loomed in the background.

Laura resolved to tell the story of how the restrictions arrived to be, and how they were being communicated to the organizers of the book function and the authors. But the state law is a touchy topic for educators attempting to steer crystal clear of trouble, and Laura identified it challenging to get the total story from the school district.

According to the authors of the reserve, journalists Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, pupils at Whitehaven did not get the total story about George Floyd possibly. Samuels wrote an essay about the expertise in The New Yorker.

Memphis superintendent look for moves in suits and commences

It was just over a calendar year ago that Memphis-Shelby County Colleges declared an accelerated method for choosing a lasting successor to Joris Ray, who resigned in August 2022 amid rates that he abused his electric power and violated district guidelines.

But the superintendent put up is continue to vacant, and the lookup proceeds.

What was intended to be a grand unveiling of finalists in April devolved into an argument about system when some board members determined they did not like the slate of candidates selected by the lookup firm.

Toni Williams, interim superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Schools, addresses the board during a special-called meeting on June 13, 2023.
Toni Williams, interim superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Colleges, addresses the board all through a special-identified as conference on June 13, 2023.

A major sticking position was the collection of the interim superintendent, Toni Williams, as a finalist. She experienced the moment pledged not to apply for the long term put up. And Chalkbeat Tennessee described that the research organization, Hazard, Younger, Attea & Associates, didn’t implement board policies on minimum amount qualifications for the occupation in screening candidates.

Chalkbeat Tennessee has closely tracked the ensuing drama, which includes the resignation of the board’s vice chair, the banning of a number of activists from district residence, and massive thoughts about whether or not the community exhibit of board dysfunction would repel prime countrywide candidates.

A rebooted research is now reaching its closing stages, with a focus on of having the next superintendent on the occupation by summertime. Whoever emerges as the leader will have a heavy workload: navigating difficult finances choices, coordinating a huge amenities overhaul, and driving tutorial recovery in a district where approximately 80% of learners aren’t proficient in studying.

Accountability steps include to pressure on districts — and children

In a signal of continuing restoration from the pandemic, students’ proficiency fees in math and language arts enhanced in most districts across the condition, in accordance to effects from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Software, or TCAP exam. The gains in Memphis-Shelby County faculties have been a lot more muted than in earlier decades.

Alongside with Thomas Wilburn, Chalkbeat’s senior facts editor, Marta offered a thorough report on the success and a knowledge instrument to support audience appear up how students in each district carried out.

Beyond the scores, Chalkbeat’s coverage zeroed in on very last year’s course of 3rd-graders, and the outsized load they carried. These pupils were being kindergartners when the pandemic struck in March 2020, sent residence to learn remotely just as their formal instruction was commencing.

Statewide, this was also the initially cohort of 3rd-graders who confronted the danger of staying held back if they could not reveal proficiency on the TCAP language arts exam. Statewide, about 60% of third-graders did not fulfill the common for proficiency. In MSCS alone, much more than 6,000 college students missed the mark.

Laura focused on one particular of them: 8-calendar year-aged Kamryn, an nervous third-grader who chose to walk out of her school instead than facial area the success of a state check that could bring about her to stay in the third grade.

“She instructed me that she was tired of university,” her mom informed Laura.

Kamryn’s tale reflected the human toll of tests and accountability measures in a faculty district where by little ones ended up, extended right before the disruption of COVID-19, by now going through quite a few difficulties.

Lizzette Reynolds takes her oath during her swearing in ceremony as Tennessee’s newest education commissioner. She ordered a revamp of the state's grading system for schools, stressing proficiency over growth.
Lizzette Reynolds can take her oath throughout her swearing in ceremony as Tennessee’s latest training commissioner. She purchased a revamp of the state’s grading system for schools, stressing proficiency in excess of growth.

School district leaders and directors now deal with a different established of accountability pressures: the start off of a new letter-grading system for all general public educational facilities, mandated by a 2016 state law.

They had been waiting around for these A-F grades for several years, pondering they recognized what the criteria would be. But the condition education and learning section made a decision to alter the standards late this yr to stress proficiency around advancement, primarily disregarding the feed-back it received from town halls and public responses. That suggests extra universities in struggling locations are very likely to get D’s or F’s.

The grades are thanks out Thursday.

Laura and Marta’s protection adds to the discourse of how Tennessee carries on to implement new scrutiny to general public educational facilities with no ensures of assisting them to strengthen.

Tennessee legislature appears to be at rejecting billions of dollars in federal instruction money

To many observers, it seemed like just political posturing when Tennessee Dwelling Speaker Cameron Sexton advised that the condition reject billions of dollars in federal schooling money so it could absolutely free by itself from federal regulations.

But Marta knew that these kinds of a likely sweeping notion essential to be treated very seriously, because Tennessee receives about $1.8 billion in federal aid — and due to the fact no state had ever rejected federal funding just before.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton in the Tennessee State House chamber in 2022. Sexton suggested this year that Tennessee forgo federal education funding.
Residence Speaker Cameron Sexton in the Tennessee State Dwelling chamber in 2022. Sexton recommended this yr that Tennessee forgo federal education funding.

She went to perform on a Q&A for readers to display what offering up federal funds would necessarily mean for families and the state’s most vulnerable students. In individual, Marta observed, without having the disorders that appear with federal funding, there’s no assurance that Tennessee regulation would function as perfectly as federal laws intended to defend pupils with disabilities.

Confident enough, Sexton was significant ample about his recommendation to order a total-blown legislative examine, with hearings showcasing testimony from university district leaders and conservative assume tanks — but not moms and dads.

The panel thinking of the strategy is nonetheless doing its research, but its co-chair says it’s not likely the state will adhere to via.

Tennessee governor proposes to make private-faculty vouchers out there to all

One particular by a single, hurdles to Gov. Monthly bill Lee’s non-public-faculty voucher program have fallen away.

A software once billed as a pilot venture for two counties has expanded to a third less than a legislation handed this yr. And Lee now would like to make it common, readily available to all students statewide.

Gov. Bill Lee calls for a statewide education voucher program in Tennessee during a press conference in Nashville on November 28, 2023, as Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders offers her support.
Gov. Monthly bill Lee calls for a statewide training voucher software in Tennessee all through a press meeting in Nashville on November 28, 2023, as Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivers her assist.

Marta’s protection of the proposal delivered required context about Lee’s continuing effort to persuade additional moms and dads to indicator on to the system, which has captivated only about 2,000 pupils so considerably, very well below ability.

The story also seems in advance to the road blocks Lee will confront in acquiring his monthly bill via the legislature. Currently, leaders of numerous rural and suburban college districts have declared their opposition to the bill dependent on the very same concern that city districts have: that it will divert far more income away from public schools.

It’s a story that we’ll be following closely when the legislature convenes next thirty day period and the comprehensive language of the invoice gets readily available. Continue to be tuned.

Bureau Main Tonyaa Weathersbee oversees Chalkbeat Tennessee’s instruction coverage. Attain her at [email protected].


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