We are five days away from electing Tennessee’s next governor, and education advocates are hoping to continue our positive momentum based on innovations in both K-12 and higher education. Our new governor will forge their own path and set their own priorities, and education advocates are working to find out where candidates stand on key issues, and how to help their networks prepare for the changes ahead.
The Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition wants to ensure that all of our members are informed on the education platforms of Karl Dean and Bill Lee, and that we make decisions based on the most accurate information possible. Earlier this fall we asked both candidates to complete a questionnaire on key education issues within our four policy priorities, and both were generous in providing us with their time and answers.
We have compiled a summary of their responses, and added supplemental information from interviews, debates and news articles in order to help voters understand what the candidates may do if elected. We hope you find this information useful, and that you will share it with colleagues, parents and friends.
Senior Director of Education Policy and Programs
Priority 1: What do the candidates say about excellent teachers and leaders? We asked both candidates to share their policies and priorities that will ensure we have high-quality educators for every child.
Karl Dean supports increasing teacher pay to improve the pipeline of high-quality educators in Tennessee, as well as supporting educators with strong professional development opportunities. “We need to set up schools for success,” Dean says, “and that starts with with helping our teachers.”
Bill Lee places a high value on the teaching profession. “Our teachers deserve to be supported,” Lee claims, “both in salary and in the work environment we create for them.” In addition to increasing teacher pay, Lee points to the importance of rigorous educator preparation programs and professional development opportunities as well.
We also asked each candidate how they would support more diversity in the educator workforce.
On increasing educator diversity, Dean firmly believes “that teachers should reflect the demographics of the school districts they serve.” Dean looks to teacher pay and increasing school success statewide in order to recruit and retain a diverse educator workforce.
Lee points to teacher pay, professional development opportunities, and improving the recruitment pipeline for educator preparation programs for promoting a diverse educator workforce.
Priority 2: What do the candidates say about ensuring strong accountability systems?
We asked the candidates to share their philosophy for school accountability.
Karl Dean tells us that “accountability is essential to making sure students are set up for success”. Dean favors fair, high-quality assessments that operate with input from educators. These assessments should be “timeful”, as well as helpful to educators in addressing student need.
Bill Lee says that school accountability is “an opportunity to use student measurement to help teachers grow and develop”. For Lee, it is imperative that student growth be built into a model of peer coaching and professional development for teachers.
With TNReady facing significant administrative difficulties, we asked the candidates how they would restore public trust in our assessment system.
Karl Dean would restore trust by addressing what he sees as two key concerns: 1.) the concern that TNReady does not reflect what our children know and 2.) the concern that TNReady results are not returned to schools in a timely manner. To take these concerns into account, Dean hopes to develop an educator-advised plan with input from schools statewide. The state should commit to having test results available in a timely manner. “Testing for the sake of testing will never build trust,” Dean tells us. “But reliable, useable test results will.”
On the TNReady administrative challenges, Lee would explore the following question as governor: “What do teachers hope to achieve with such an assessment?” If these goals are not being met, Lee will advocate for a change in TNReady.
The Coalition asked the candidates about their views on meaningful and engaged school improvement strategies for Tennessee’s lowest performing schools.
Says Karl Dean, “local districts need to work with schools on a case by case basis” and also determine what community engagement looks like in their turnaround strategies.
In a similar vein, Bill Lee does not believe in a “one-size-fits-all” school improvement strategy. Schools should develop unique solutions — and praises the Innovation Zone in Memphis for utilizing locally-led and effective improvement.
Priority 3: What do the candidates say about every school district receiving appropriate and equitable resources?
Recognizing the role of geography in education opportunity, we asked the candidates to share about how they might address gaps in resources across school districts in both urban and rural areas.
Karl Dean commits to protecting and increasing school funding statewide. In addition, he will look to local leaders to put forth more local resources into school districts. He will also reexamine our state’s Basic Education Program (BEP), our complex K-12 education funding formula. “We have to be open to reexamining the formula we use to fund our schools to make sure every district has the resources they need.”
Bill Lee has visited the majority of Tennessee counties, telling us “no community I’ve been to believes the BEP benefits them.” Lee will examine the formula and recalibrate it to provide a more equitable distribution of funds.
We also asked the candidates to speak about addressing chronic absenteeism, a persistent challenge statewide. Students must have more than 18 absences, or miss 10% of the academic school year to be considered chronically absent.
Karl Dean believes that chronic absenteeism “is the number one indicator that a student will drop out of school.” Dean advocates for providing school-led interventions based on early-warning systems to address the root of the issue for each student.
Bill Lee approaches chronic absenteeism as an issue to be addressed in coordination with teachers, administrators, community organizations, and parents to understand each individual case and how to address it.
Finally, we asked the candidates to speak about how policies and practices that would reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions in our schools.
Says Dean, “Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to have low test scores, drop out of high school, or end up in prison or the juvenile justice system.” While Dean does not believe that the governor plays a role in telling schools how to discipline students, he does hope to give thoughtful consideration to our discipline trends.
Lee looks forward to the “opportunity to work with schools leaders and lawmakers” to identify, adapt, and scale discipline models that work well across Tennessee.
Priority 4: What do the candidates say about successful outcomes in postsecondary education?
We pointed to the importance of academic preparation in ensuring every child’s postsecondary success, and asked the candidates to share how they will increase the number of college and career-ready Tennesseans.
Karl Dean says that a “high-quality K-12 education” will prepare students for the path they choose post-high school. Dean hopes that each student has access to a talented teacher as a key way to prepare for postsecondary education, which can include college, or a technical school that leads to a skilled trade.
Bill Lee believes that “the most important thing is recognizing that a quality education is one that gets you ready for a high-paying job”. Lee hopes to bring back a focus on career and technical education, and more specifically, “vocational, technical, and agricultural” education.
We also asked the candidates to speak about increasing access to Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs), a key piece of Tennessee’s ESSA Plan.
Karl Dean will make sure that each school has adequate funding to offer multiple early post-secondary courses. Dean recognizes that “these courses usually require more teachers, or specifically trained instructors”, and adequate funding can address this barrier for many schools.
Bill Lee would “work with our TCATs (Colleges of Applied Technology) and partners in the private sector” to expand the opportunity for a more career-focused education in high school.
To conclude, we asked the candidates to share their views on this reality: each year, about ½ of the formerly incarcerated in Tennessee will recidivate. Despite evidence that access to education while incarcerated greatly reduces recidivism rates, only 2 percent of those incarcerated in state facilities participated in postsecondary education last year.
Karl Dean believes that tackling our recidivism rate is “crucial”, and sees providing greater access to education as a great first step.
Bill Lee realizes that “95 percent of those in prison are getting out some day.” Having experience working with those incarcerated, Lee knows the hopelessness that drives many to commit their crimes. To give these individuals new opportunity, Lee sees “helping them develop skills” and “find work” as great steps to take, and looks forward to seeing progress on this issue.