A powerful advocacy group helping to steer Tennessee’s education policy is now working to shape the conversation around schools heading into the 2018 governor’s race.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE, on Wednesday unveiled five priorities aimed at moving Tennessee up from the middle of the pack on student achievement.

The list offered no big surprises. The priorities are mostly based on strategies that have emerged in overhauling K-12 education during the last 16 years under two governors, Democrat Phil Bredesen and most recently Republican Bill Haslam.

However, this checklist offers a sharper focus than any previous ones from SCORE. The group’s leaders credit learnings from major reforms launched in Tennessee during the Race to the Top era.

The priorities are:

  • Make Tennessee the best state to live, work and grow as a teacher by recruiting preparing, supporting, and rewarding them.
  • Support every student to become a strong reader and writer by expanding access to materials and training teachers on literacy instruction.
  • Develop school leaders who are ready to lead learning and people by investing in high-quality principal preparation programs.
  • Make high school the on-ramp to postsecondary studies and jobs via redesigned high schools.
  • Provide students with the greatest needs a high-quality education through an equitable distribution of highly effective teachers, strong school leadership, and innovative supports.
Bill Frist

Since its 2009 founding by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, SCORE has worked closely with education stakeholders and the State Department of Education to develop a roadmap for improving schools. The nonpartisan organization grew out of the state’s 2007 wakeup call from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which gave Tennessee Fs for exceptionally weak academic standards and postsecondary and workforce readiness.

The state has since improved its standing through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, but it’s still not risen above the national average on that important measurement.

The next few years will be critical, said Jamie Woodson, SCORE’s chief executive officer.

“Next year, Tennesseans will elect a new governor and at least 23 new members of the Tennessee General Assembly,” Woodson said. “Tennessee voters rank K-12 education among the top issues in the state, so there is no better time for those of us who care deeply about Tennessee students to put forth a new vision to achieve even greater academic success.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson speaks during a panel discussion.

Six of the seven major gubernatorial candidates were on hand Wednesday as SCORE outlined its priorities in a new report and hosted a panel discussion in Nashville featuring Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson; Tennessee Teacher of the Year Cicely Woodard of Metro Nashville Public Schools; Nancy Dishner, president and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation; Eastman Chemical Co. executive David Golden; and Sharon Roberts, chief strategy officer at SCORE.

“This supercharges education as an issue,” Frist said of the report and the gathering. “It’s a complex issue that nobody has the answers for. The only way we’re going to make progress is to have knowledgeable leaders who can work with the education community.”