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State BOE delays vote on controversial program

10:02 PM, Jul 26, 2013   |    comments
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The State Board of Education has delayed a vote that would change a controversial teacher licensing program.

The proposed policy would tie teacher licenses to student achievement. It would also lower the number of possible licenses from 20 to three.    

The changes are meant to make it tougher for teachers to get and maintain their licenses.    

Education leaders hoped linking teacher licensing with teaching effectiveness would create more accountability for teachers.    

Only six other states have adopted similar programs.    

The board could vote on the program by as early as August 16.

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By Lisa Fingeroot, Tennessean

Proposed changes to the state's social studies curriculum would give Tennessee the highest score in the nation from a group that grades states on how well they teach the civil rights movement to schoolchildren.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve the changes at a 9 a.m. meeting today after a lengthy review by the state Department of Education that included a delay to consider input from opponents.

Tennessee geography teachers began protesting changes to the social studies curriculum in January when they learned the plan would incorporate geography lessons into history classes to create more time for teaching the language skills measured by standardized tests. Their protests caused Education Department officials to consider some of their concerns and create a revised plan.

"Based on the revisions, Tennessee will now have the highest-rated civil rights standards in the nation," said Jared Myracle, supervisor of instruction for Gibson County schools, who led the revision process. Myracle presented the newest plan to state board members on Thursday and included a letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., praising the curriculum.

If the board approves the plan, Tennessee will move from a 2011 grade of D, earned by meeting only 39 percent of the law center's goals for teaching civil rights, to the highest score in the nation with an A, earned by meeting 77 percent of the metrics, according to the letter Myracle presented.

Myracle was questioned by board members who worry geography is getting cheated out of class time. But board Chairman Fielding Rolston and Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman support the changes.

"I've spent a lot of time looking at the proposal and what we're currently doing, and I am absolutely convinced that we are covering geography more than we have," Rolston said. "I really believe it is a much better curriculum than we are working with at the present time."

Tennessee high school students now choose either geography or world history to meet graduation requirements, but either choice causes them to miss some information. Students who now opt for a stand-alone geography class in high school can miss all of world history from 1500 to current times.

Geography educators, however, think combining the two subjects will cheat Tennessee students of information that's increasingly important - like the mapping systems that keep Fed­Ex packages moving and determine the best routes for military units. They fear students won't be college- or career-ready without that information.

Board member Janet Ayers said she would be more supportive of the changes if a professional geography group had endorsed the revision.

"We have to make a choice whether we go with a combined course or continue to live in a world where you choose one or the other," Huffman said.

Stand-alone geography classes will be available as electives for students who want to delve deeper into the subject, but students would no longer leave school without some knowledge of both subjects, he added.

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