Letter From Jamie Woodson: Road Trips And Roadmaps: Collaborating To Create A Brighter Future For Tennessee Students

Dear Friends,

Summer road trips are a quintessential American tradition. They allow us to discover new things and connect with people and places. In 2009, SCORE took a road trip across Tennessee, visiting and getting feedback from people across the state. Those thoughts and conversations led to the release of A Roadmap to Success, which laid out a specific plan for improving Tennessee student achievement and was foundational to the path Tennessee has taken over the last eight years.

This summer, members of our team embarked on a new educational road trip to learn from people across the state. We invited education stakeholders to a series of regional community conversations to hear their ideas on how Tennessee can deliver on the promise of a high-quality education for all students.

These conversations allow us to take a closer look at our progress and future goals and gather thoughts from a diverse set of Tennesseans invested in our state’s K-12 education system. They once again deepened our understanding of both the challenges and successes individual communities face when it comes to preparing all students for a successful future. Some of those challenges are unique to an area, while others are indicative of wider issues across the state.

Among those issues that emerged across the state, three themes emerged:

• An urgency to address reading in the early grades
• A desire to invest in teachers through improvements both in teacher preparation programs and in teacher professional development
• A focus on aligning efforts between businesses, higher education, and K-12 schools to prepare students for next steps after high school.

SCORE has listened carefully during this summer’s road trips, and what you told us is going to shape a new report we plan to release in the fall that can guide the work of better serving students in the coming years.

While we have grown so much as a state, we still have much more to do. It will take participation and collaboration from all partners to achieve our goals for our students. The summer conversations from this summer education “road trip” renewed both our sense of urgency and our commitment to collaboration, so that from Memphis to Chattanooga, Nashville to the Tri-Cities, every student is prepared for their future after high school.

Very truly yours,

Letter from Jamie Woodson: Through Their Hard Work And Dedication, Teachers Pave The Way For Student Success

Dear Friends,

Teachers encourage confidence and model success for students. They guide students through difficult times, and inspire them to follow their dreams. Eighty-eight percent of American adults reported having a teacher who made a difference in their life. What other profession has the potential to impact the lives of others in such a meaningful, lasting, and personal way?

When I think of great teachers, of course I think of educators who have personally changed my life, such as my AP American History teacher, Mrs. Ruth Dunning, who challenged me with rigorous coursework and inspired me to pursue public service. But I also think of so many Tennessee teachers I have met through SCORE’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship, Elevating and Celebrating Teachers and Teaching (ECET 2), the Tennessee Teacher Leadership Collaborative (TTLC), and other recent initiatives to empower teachers. One inspiring trait I see in all of these teachers is their willingness to go above and beyond to help their students succeed – whether that means creating a math competition for grade-schoolers in Southeast Tennessee, engaging students in a campaign to end book deserts, or working with policymakers and other education stakeholders to advance student-focused policies.

Our educators embrace their unique position to shape future generations. That fact is both a weighty responsibility, which compels them to spend countless hours working for students after the school day, but also the motivation for their dedication, which wakes them up the next day ready to continue. They know their work directly shapes the future.

We see both in research and in experience that teachers have a sizable impact on student achievement. Because of that, SCORE prioritizes accelerating support for educators. During National Teacher Appreciation Month, SCORE, along with other education partners, has launched Teach Today. Change Tomorrow., a statewide teacher empowerment campaign to inspire the next generation of teachers and empower current Tennessee teachers. We have announced the 2017-18 cohort of the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, empowering more educators with the skills to advocate for their students and profession. And our work to improve educator preparation programs and teacher leadership opportunity continues to advance.

Those of us at SCORE are not the ones who spend an extra hour after school with students explaining the Pythagorean Theorem or stay up late meticulously reading and providing feedback to students on their English reports. We do not differentiate instruction to give one student a larger challenge, while at the same time helping another master a concept for the first time. Our state’s teachers are the ones who do all those things. The SCORE role is to support those educators by providing research on quality preparation programs, offering excellent leadership opportunities, and advocating for improved compensation.

In the words of 2015-16 Tennessee Educator Fellow Megan England, “We rise to the challenge of providing what each student needs to be successful.” We salute all Tennessee educators who by their hard work, talent, and dedication help all our students achieve more.

Very truly yours,

Letter From Jamie Woodson: From 2007 to 2017, Collaboration In Helping Students Graduate Ready For Success

Dear Friends,

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths,” author and statesman Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote. After two weeks of successful administration of the TNReady assessment, many educational stakeholders in our state feel like we are about to crest a summit after a challenging trek.

TNReady is the culmination of a push to raise student achievement in Tennessee that started in 2007. From the beginning, the student-focused plan relied on setting higher expectations in the classroom and measuring how well our students are meeting those expectations with a high-quality assessment. The work began with raising academic standards and creating an evaluation system to give teachers feedback for improving instruction. The first year of full implementation of TNReady puts in place a measuring stick that fully aligns with the standards. Any endeavor that is difficult but worthwhile brings some unexpected trials, but today Tennessee is closer than ever to preparing every student for postsecondary education and the workforce.

Educators have done Herculean work in providing the instruction that students need for TNReady, and SCORE and Expect More, Achieve More wanted to provide support. Beginning soon after school started last fall, these two organizations have collaborated with the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and district leaders to provide TNReady information, and sometimes inspiration, to teachers, parents, and students.

Radio public service announcements and digital advertising campaigns shared news about the value of TNReady and reductions in the testing schedule. Districts distributed around 350,000 brochures to help parents understand the value of TNReady, while teachers handed out 15,000 TNReady bookmarks assuring students, “You’ve Got This!” Professional development sessions led by teachers and TDOE helped more than 750 teachers learn how to use the new TNReady score reports to inform instruction, and more of these sessions are planned for later this year. Lunch and learn meetings updated community leaders on TNReady. I think my favorite collaboration was to distribute a letter of encouragement from Governor Haslam and No. 2 pencils to 250,000 elementary students taking TNReady for the first time.

These collaborative efforts underscore that we Tennesseans are in this together for our students. As teachers, parents, community members, and policymakers, we all share the collective responsibility of educating our young people. As Expect More, Achieve More puts it, we all want our students to be ready – for school, career, and life. TNReady, and the information it will provide for improving student learning, matters to delivering that future to our students.

Very truly yours,

The Volunteer State Is Stepping Up to Support Military Students in School

DeaAIm High JW blogr Friends,

Tennessee’s famous nickname the “Volunteer State” comes from our citizens’ history of volunteering for military service. To this day, Tennessee ranks 12th in the nation in the number of military families, with more than 2,189 active duty military servicemen and women and nearly 19,000 members of the military reserves, and half a million veterans. These men and women have kept and continue to keep our country safe and strong, sacrificing their own safety and stability.

Behind those strong men and women are families who also sacrifice. Children of military families move six to nine times over the course of their K-12 education, and those children also face additional stress as their parents deploy. In Tennessee, each of the 95 counties is home to a military family, and our public schools help support the 40,000 military children in the state.

To eliminate some of those hurdles for the children of military members, SCORE and the Expect More, Achieve More Coalition have joined other Tennessee education and military leaders to launch the AIM (Achievement, Innovation, Measurement) High TN initiative. This initiative was started to help military families and children succeed both in the classroom and in life by raising awareness among education and community leaders about the unique challenges military families face and providing resources to help support the academic success of their children.

Those leaders came together on February 15 to announce this initiative and to share their perspectives with the Tennessee community. Raising awareness is a big part of the AIM High TN initiative, Major General Terry M. “Max” Haston explained. “We will do this by providing resources directly to families and working with teachers and school leaders to expand their understanding of how to support military students in their classrooms,” he said.

Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher Martha Shaffer, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who teaches JROTC at Maplewood High School, explained her involvement on the AIM High TN steering committee in this way: “We need to give military families, already under significant stress, the resources to help their children succeed academically throughout their coursework and on their end-of-year test, TNReady. AIM High TN does both, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Their insights from the day emphasize the importance of caring for our military families and also acknowledged that each one of us can play a role in supporting students from military families. I invite you to learn more about AIM High TN by reading this blog post from the organization’s Steering Committee and visiting the AIMHighTN.com website, where you can find resources for military families.

SCORE and the Expect More, Achieve More Coalition are both committed to ensuring excellence in education for all our students. By raising awareness about the difficulties Tennessee military families face and by providing supports to those families and their students, we move forward in that goal of academic excellence and we also better serve those who serve our country.

Very truly yours,

Jamie Woodson

Letter from Jamie Woodson: Charting the Path toward Greater Student Achievement

AR 2017 cover vertical borderDear Friends,

In 2011, Tennessee was trailing the nation educationally. Ranking between 46 to 41 in reading and math for fourth- and eighth-graders, Tennessee needed to do better. And, remarkably, Tennessee did.

Our students now rank in the top half of all states for fourth-grade math and in the top 20 for fourth- and eighth-grade science. This progress came about with a collaborative, student-centered vision, courage in setting bold goals, excellence and innovation in achieving those goals, and an optimistic belief in the ability of Tennessee students to achieve at the high levels.

Our 2016-17 State of Education in Tennessee report updates readers with the work from the past year and sets priorities for the year ahead. These priorities form a student-focused “to-do list” to help continue the work to sustain our gains in student achievement and accelerate the pace of improvement in Tennessee.

This year, the list is focused and forthright, with three priorities:

Full Priorities

These three priorities reflect both Tennessee’s progress, areas of improvement, and the goals that SCORE and education partners across the state strive to achieve:

• Maintaining Tennessee’s place as one of the fastest-improving states,
• Making real progress in narrowing long-standing gaps in educational achievement, and
• Enhancing the postsecondary preparedness of high school graduates.

Our vision is bold but also necessary. A better future for Tennessee students requires us to resist complacency with our initial success and to feel a sense of urgency in pressing forward. Improving education in Tennessee doesn’t just lift student outcomes today, it moves the entire state toward a more equal and flourishing society tomorrow. In these early days of 2017, I want to thank Tennessee’s educators, policymakers, and community and business members for your sustained effort. Our collective work has been exceptional, but it is not anywhere close to complete.

Very truly yours,

Jamie Signature 4-2014

Letter from Jamie Woodson: SCORE Education Impact Series Begins with the Military and National Security

Dear Friends,

Military Impact LogoA strong education touches all facets of society. Schools mold students, but those students then become doctors, farmers, soldiers, business owners, and citizens of tomorrow. From healthcare to the economy, K-12 education affects the vitality of diverse fields of industry and the community at large.  Education is not just an end in itself, it is also a way to secure the prosperity of communities across Tennessee.

In that vein, SCORE will host the Education Impact Series, a series of events to highlight the deep connections between education and critical public policy areas in Tennessee – military, agriculture, health, economic growth, and criminal justice. On Friday, December 16, SCORE will convene the first of the series, “Protecting Our Future: How K-12 Student Achievement Impacts the Military and National Security.” This event will gather military and education leaders to examine the intersection between military readiness and education.

There is a strong connection between military readiness and education, especially around the issue of improving student achievement. While many Tennessee students might aspire to a military career, too many are held back by insufficient knowledge or skills. A representative sample from 2004-2009 showed about one in four applicants failed to score high enough to enter the Army.  Other students will meet minimum entry-level requirements, but, as SCORE Director of Outreach Taylor Hall writes in a SCORE Sheet blog, “They have restricted opportunities for professional growth due to low academic performance.” As Tennessee prepares all students for their future, we should not overlook preparing students for success in the military.

Similarly, Tennessee education should support all students, including the 40,000 students from military families living in Tennessee. Understanding the unique backgrounds of these students can help the state provide a quality education, better tailored to their needs to supporting our military families as they support our communities through their service.

These are just a few of the ways education and military readiness converge in Tennessee. I invite you to learn more and join us on December 16 at the SCORE Impact Series on Military Readiness. Please RSVP to obtain a free ticket for admission.

The SCORE Education Impact Series aims to inform and inspire action to advance greater K-12 student achievement in Tennessee. By working across fields to improve Tennessee education and open more doors for all students, we are also working toward the future security and success of our state and our country.

Very truly yours,


Letter from Jamie Woodson: Preparing Tennessee Students for the Opportunity Ahead

Dear Friends,

Opportunity. That is the one word astronaut Butch Wilmore, a Tennessean who spent half a year on the International Space Station, wants Tennessee students to remember.

“Education gives opportunity. And that’s the only thing that gives you opportunity to choose what field you want to go into,” Captain Wilmore told students during a statewide tour last week with Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen. The reason for the visits to hundreds of students at three schools was to share the good news that Tennessee students have made record-setting gains in science on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

November NL -SciNAEP, commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, is a yardstick for measuring Tennessee academic performance over time and in comparison to other states. These science results show that Tennessee students not only grew faster than the nation as a whole, their gains were double the national pace. You will recall that last year we learned that Tennessee ranked in the top 25 states for the first time on the NAEP fourth-grade math assessment. Now Tennessee has added two more top 25 achievements, with fourth-graders 19th in the nation and eighth-graders 21st on the 2015 NAEP science test.

Captain Wilmore was exactly right when he put the focus on “opportunity.” The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects Tennessee will have more than 280,000 health, science, technology, and engineering jobs by 2020. Our students, and our state, must be ready for those career opportunities.

This outstanding academic performance in science is evidence that the work by teachers, school and district leaders, parents, policymakers, and education stakeholders is preparing more Tennessee students for the future. Once Tennessee began raising expectations, strengthening teaching, and emphasizing postsecondary education and workforce readiness for all students, our academic growth has been fast and sustained in multiple subjects over multiple years. While work remains to ensure all students in our state are prepared for their future, the trend in Tennessee is in the right direction.

Many of us remember when Tennessee was among the lowest-ranked states for student achievement. When Tennessee pledged to become the fastest-improving state for student achievement, we knew that the goal was bold but believed that our state – and especially our educators and students – could rise to the challenge. We collectively worked for a better future for Tennessee students, and these science results should give us all a reason to feel especially proud.

Tennessee has shown once again that when we expect more, our students achieve more. Thank you for all you have done, are doing, and will do to give Tennessee students the opportunity to have a bright and successful future.

Very sincerely yours,

Jamie Signature 4-2014

Letter from Jamie Woodson: Tennessee Can Make Sure Early-Career Teachers Are Prepared for Day One

Dear Friends,EdPrep Cover

Tennessee has become a national leader in raising student achievement because of strong resolve to set bold student achievement goals and to make ground-breaking change to reach those goals. On Tuesday, SCORE released Prepared for Day One: Improving the Effectiveness of Early-Career Teaching, a report that explores new opportunities to support greater student achievement.

Well-prepared teachers help students learn and achieve more. Many people know this by experience, and the data support that conclusion. A year with highly effective teaching can help students gain more than a year’s worth of learning growth.

The SCORE report, reflecting thoughtful insight from experts on educator preparation in Tennessee and the nation, is grounded on the premise that thorough preparation for the next generation of teachers will have a tremendous impact on student learning and achievement gaps. Prepared for Day One examines the current state of educator preparation and issues eight recommendations, including strengthening classroom-based experiences for teacher candidates, enhancing the racial and ethnic diversity of the teaching population, and increasing collaboration between educator preparation programs (EPPs) and school districts.

Student teaching, classroom observation, internships, job-embedded experiences, and residencies are all ways prospective teachers can gain experience and refine their practice before graduation. Tennessee already has models worth sharing and drawing inspiration from. The Tennessee Board of Regents’ Ready2Teach provides teachers with a full year in the classroom and a highly effective mentor teacher. Other Tennessee models include the Memphis Teacher Residency, Nashville Teacher Residency, Belmont Urban Teacher Residency, and Project Inspire.

Stronger collaboration between districts and EPPs, another of the report’s recommendations, supports strengthening classroom-based experiences and furthers EPP and district communication on staffing needs and professional expectations for teachers. Districts and EPP partnerships can better prepare future Tennessee teachers through collaboration and innovation.

As Tennessee schools serve an increasingly diverse population of students, we need to intensify efforts to recruit teachers of similarly diverse backgrounds and to provide the support they need for success. A diverse teaching workforce will help students from all backgrounds achieve more.

Most successful Tennesseans can point to a teacher who challenged and supported them. For me, that teacher was Mrs. Ruth Dunning, who taught AP American History and International Studies and sponsored Model UN at my high school. Mrs. Dunning had very high expectations for me and all of my peers. She supported my earliest interest in public service and leadership. My hope is that every Tennessee student experiences highly effective teaching, like the teaching I experienced in Mrs. Dunning’s class. Prepared for Day One: Improving the Effectiveness of Early-Career Teaching charts the steps Tennessee can take to ensure that new teachers enter Tennessee classrooms with the preparation they and our students deserve.

Very truly yours,

Jamie Woodson

Letter from Jamie Woodson: Learning, Growing, and Developing New Strategies for Student Success

Dear Friends,

The SCORE Prize Summit, a 36-hour event that brought hundreds of Tennessee educators together to learn, grow, and develop new strategies for student success, began bright and early on a Friday morning. With their first cups of coffee, these educators from all across the state began conversations that echoed around the convention site in Nashville and would continue beyond the conference’s close.

Throughout the summit, educators listened closely to each other, jotting down what they were hearing, as they discussed the best ways to achieve academic excellence for all Tennessee students. They literally leaned into conversations – sharing ideas and experiences, pausing with furrowed brow to consider, raising their hands with another question. They applauded the work of their colleagues, invested in each oSP-Summitther’s success. When they said goodbye at the end of the summit, many had strengthened their ties with colleagues on their district teams and made new connections, revived by the conversation and looking forward to continuing that conversation through the school year.

We knew this event was going to foster collaboration, illuminate proven approaches for greater student achievement, and unleash innovative thinking. But these Tennessee educators embraced the spirit of the summit with their focus, capability, and dedication.

In education, policy is just a part of picture. Much of the difficult, complicated work lies in the implementation of that policy – translating the idea into student-focused practice. Seeing first-hand the caliber of educators leading districts, schools, and classrooms renewed my belief that real, generational change is not just possible but within reach in Tennessee. The educators at SCORE Prize Summit are individuals who will stay the course and who will help Tennessee build on the progress of the last few years and accelerate the gains for students.

As with SCORE Prize, the enthusiasm kindled at SCORE Prize Summit will be felt long after the event itself. The summit indeed was, as SCORE Policy and Research Analyst Jeremy Meredith put it, a place “where ideas take root and translate to action, and a sustained dialogue about empowerment, high expectations, and innovation spreads into the culture of schools and districts.”

Seeing firsthand the expertise and the dedication of educators has left me feeling both inspired and confident that creating and sharing strong strategies for student success is an integral part of the Tennessee way.

Very sincerely yours,

Jamie Signature 4-2014

Letter from Jamie Woodson: Great Teachers Dream and Drive as Tennessee Goes Back to School

Dear Friends,

As school starts again, I cannot help but think of Tennessee’s teachers.

The teachers I know are busy creating engaging lesson plans, planning their own professional learning, and focusing intentionally on how best to help their students broaden and deepen their understanding so they are ready for the next week, the next grade, and beyond.

T8-2016 Jamie letterennessee teachers hold great expectations for the upcoming school year and spend countless hours before the students are even in the building preparing to make the new school year even better than the last. Teachers dream, and then they put their dreams into action to help their students achieve more.

I was privileged to see some of that drive and passion during the first convening of the 2016-17 Tennessee Educator Fellowship. Hailing from all parts of the state and teaching a wide variety of subjects, the Educator Fellows are brimming with big ideas for their classrooms, schools, profession, and students. It was clear from the days we spent with them that they have the drive to turn their ideas into reality.

As we look to the months ahead for our teachers and students, it is worth remembering the significant progress Tennessee has experienced in the last five years. This growth would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, and leadership of so many Tennessee educators. Maintaining the progress will require empowering people at all levels – district leaders so they can set a student-focused vision, principals so they can drive instructional excellence, and, especially, teachers so they can lead, inform, and enliven conversations on education practices and policy.

So this August, please join me in thinking of Tennessee’s teachers and supporting these amazing educators – the teachers who stay late making sure their classroom is perfect for the first day, the teachers who spent chunks of their summer poring over books to better their instruction, the teachers who reach into their own pockets to pay for the materials their students need, and the teachers who took on a new leadership project and collaborated with other educators.

Thank you, teachers, for your dreams, your drive, and your commitment to students. The outlook for 2016-17 in Tennessee is bright because of your efforts.

Very sincerely yours,

Jamie Signature 4-2014