Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Knoxville News Sentinel on preparing students for college:
Fewer students at Tennessee community colleges and universities are taking remedial courses, but the number arriving on campuses unprepared for the rigors of college work remains unacceptably high.
A report issued last week by the Tennessee Comptroller's Office shows the ongoing need for improving academic performance in K-12 districts statewide and the opportunity for new approaches to meet the needs of students once they begin their post-secondary educations.
These efforts are vital to the success of Gov. Bill Haslam's Drive to 55 campaign, which aims to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by 2025.
In 2014, according to the report issued by the Comptroller's Offices of Research and Accountability, three out of four community college freshman, nearly half the freshmen at Board of Regents universities and 28 percent of University of Tennessee system freshmen were not prepared for a post-secondary education.
Not all students deemed unprepared qualify for remedial classes. At community colleges in 2014, 68 percent of freshmen were assigned to remedial classes, down from 77 percent in 2011. State universities do not offer remedial classes, though supplemental support is available in college-level classes for those who need it.
To continue the positive trend, state officials must maintain high academic standards in K-12 education. The state's English and math standards, adopted in 2010, should result in gradual improvement in college readiness as successive classes graduate.
The Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support program, SAILS, helps high-school seniors catch up before they graduate. The SAILS program in math has been implemented statewide, while the English component is still a pilot program. The TN Achieves Summer Bridge Program prepares students for college. According to the report, of the 554 participants in the Summer Bridge Program, 157 tested out of some remediation and 123 tested well enough to skip remediation in college altogether.
Tennessee students have made dramatic improvement in results from the National Assessment of Education Progress, which tests fourth- and eighth-grade students in reading and math. Among the nation's bottom 10 states in 2011 in all categories, Tennessee fourth-graders now rank 25th in math and 36th in reading, while the state's eighth-graders come in at 37th in math and 30th in reading. ACT scores essentially have remained flat over the past five years but could rise as the students who fueled the increase in NAEP scores begin taking the college readiness test.
Once enrolled in college, students who need remediation are benefiting from new programs aimed at improving the odds they will advance toward graduation. The state's community colleges have instituted a promising program that has boosted the proportion of students who successfully complete college-level courses in math and English.
Instead of completing non-credit remedial classes in English or math before moving on to college-level courses for credit, students do both at the same time. At Pellissippi State Community College, one of the pilot institutions, the proportion of unprepared students who successfully completed college-level classes rose from 20 percent in English to about 59 percent. The increase in math — 45 percent to 59 percent — was impressive if not as dramatic. All 13 community colleges adopted the program in the fall.
While too few Tennessee high school graduates are prepared for college, innovative programs and old-fashioned hard work can close the gap. Improvements can occur only with sufficient resources, high academic standards, dedicated educators, demanding parents and inspired students. If Tennessee can produce that mix, the state will produce a stronger workforce for businesses and offer its students more fulfilling lives.
The Kingsport Times News on State Reps. Hill and Van Huss:
For some, if there is not a demon hiding behind every door and under every rock, there is a Muslim behind every textbook and in every classroom bent on turning our children to the dark side.
Reps. Timothy Hill of Blountville and Micah Van Huss of Johnson City are coming to the rescue of our vulnerable children, saving them from "Islamic religious indoctrination in Tennessee schools." Reps. Hill and Van Huss have introduced House Bill 1905, which creates a whole bunch of work for teachers, schools and boards of education in addressing a nonexistent issue fueled by paranoia and misinformation.
There is "intense public outcry," a press release says, over "current school textbooks that overemphasize Islam while excluding other religions like Christianity and Judaism" that are being used in Tennessee schools.
Not one example of any such textbook is offered to justify that claim. Nor is this legislation the result of a study, or review, or commission finding, or any other attempt to vet the notion that Tennessee children are being led astray by unnamed teachers in unnamed school districts using unidentified textbooks.
Well, there is that situation in Maury County last year where, according to the release, "children were being instructed to recite and write 'Allah is the only god' (and) students were assigned a Five Pillars of Islam project that included the translation of the pillar of 'Shahada' as being 'There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is his prophet,'" says the press release.
Dr. Jan Hanvey of the Maury County district said this was all part of a curriculum dealing with the geography, culture, economics and government of the Mideast and that Islam was discussed for about one day of the three-week period. "By the end of the year, students will have studied Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions," she said. "It's part of history. If you don't talk about it, then you are leaving out the why. Children need to know the why and they need to be able to learn and know where to find the facts, instead of going by what they hear or what they see on the Internet."
This isn't the first time that a course on Islam has been misrepresented as government sanctioned indoctrination into the Islamic faith. And it certainly won't be the last. The press release states "similar situations have been reported across the state, including multiple instances in the Tri-Cities area."
Learning, from a historical context that Jesus performed miracles isn't going to turn a Muslim to Christianity any more than learning about the Five Pillars of Islam is going to turn a Christian to Islam. The bill includes this nonsensical statement: "any inclusion of religion in textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, or academic standards can only be for educational purposes and are strictly prohibited from being used to promote or establish any religion or religious belief." Uh, OK. Just the facts teachers. No indoctrination. Got it?
That aside, the bill requires school boards adopt a policy regarding the appropriate inclusion of religion in local curriculum and instructional materials, with the opportunity for public comment before adoption; requires districts to make publicly available a syllabus for all grade six through 12 social studies, science, math and English courses including a course calendar detailing standards, objectives and topics covered, major assignments required, and procedures for parents to have access to all instructional materials to be used. And, it requires the state board of education to initiate a revision process for the Tennessee social studies standards adopted in 2013 to ensure new standards do not promote religion and do not amount to indoctrination or proselytism in any way.
Requiring such an effort across the state is an unjustified intrusion into the educational process by lawmakers pandering on a religious basis. If children are being "indoctrinated" to Islam across the state, prove it.
Find these teachers who are turning children to Islam and identify them. List these textbooks that ignore Christianity only to advance Islam.
For that matter, identify a single student in Tennessee who gave up Christianity for Islam because of public classroom instruction.
No doubt Reps. Hill and Van Huss would like to see religious indoctrination in public schools — of their faith, and no one else's. This bill should be soundly defeated.
The Jackson Sun on investing in education:
Gov. Bill Haslam visited our editorial board Wednesday and discussed his $34.8 billion spending plan. Of the many sectors he plans on investing money in, we were excited to hear about increases in funding for education - public K-12 schools and colleges and universities.
And the best part is that he plans to do what he described as the largest investment in public education in the state's history without a tax increase.
The Associated Press reported that Haslam presented his annual State of the State address Monday night during the joint session of the General Assembly gathered in the House chamber. His plan calls for $261 million in new funding for K-12 education, including $105 million to pay for teacher raises. He also told the General Assembly that he hopes was hoping to improve advanced education graduation rates in Tennessee by giving four-year schools in the Tennessee Board of Regents system more independence, along with plans to refocus attention on two-year community and technical colleges.
We agreed with Haslam when he said in our editorial board meeting that although we are making progress in education in Tennessee, it is important that we continue to push forward.
He also said he wants to invest more money in literacy coaches.
There is no question that investing in education is a good decision. An educated workforce will make our communities more attractive to future employers. Our workforce must be prepared for companies that are looking to locate here. After all, we do have 4,800 acres in Haywood County ready and waiting for large-scale employers. The more educated our workforce is, the more likely large companies would want to be located here, which could lead to economic and job stability.
Haslam is committed to investing in public K-12 education and advanced education. That shows us he recognizes and is presenting a possible solution to many of our lower economic communities that remain high in unemployment due to lack of jobs. A lot of those communities are right here in West Tennessee.
We believe Haslam's investment in education will pay off for West Tennessee and the rest of the state.
We encourage the state legislature to support Haslam's vision for investing in education. We admire Haslam's passion and dedication to making education our state's top priority.