Big Ideas in Education are Blooming

    Three years ago, Tennessee was awarded the Race to the Top grant for its ideas and changes in rewriting curriculums as well as rethinking the way it dealt with educators.  The half-billion dollar grant is geared at getting students who may be some of the lower-achieving nationally moving back up to the top. As part of the grant, teachers will be assessed routinely on their classroom test scores and performance.

    Tennessee is not the only state hoping to make some waves in education changes. Country wide, people are putting on their thinking caps to figure out new ways to improve the education system. While Tennessee may not be adopting all of these ideas, one thing governor Bill Haslam is sure of is that changes are on the horizon.

    “I think the reason Tennessee won (the) Race to the Top (grant) … is because we were seen as being at the very edge of education reform,” Haslam said. “That being said, we have some ground to make up, so we need to be at the forefront.”

    There are new ideas for education coming forth every day, but five in particular are being consistently pushed throughout the country as of late:

    1. The Pre-K Movement

    The Pre-K Movement is pushing for pre-kindergarten for all 3 and 4-year olds in conjunction with a consistent curriculum through third grade. Tennessee currently offers voluntary pre-k for 4-year olds, although the wait list is notoriously quite lengthy, with preference given to students who may qualify for reduced-price or free lunches.

    2. GPS for Learning

    Knowledge of technology and knowing how to use it is a skill set in high demand in today’s workplace. Researchers at Vanderbilt are now studying the affects of technology use before students hit the workforce—in the classroom. They are wondering if the use of GPS, global positional systems, and computerized maps in class lead to higher test scores.  John Williams, executive director of Metro Nashville’s department of Technology and Information Services, added his thoughts: “Imagine a geography course where you could see the actual country,” he added,” You’ll have less problems in the classroom and more students engaged.”

    In our area, schools are already working on implementing more technology use in their classrooms—Williamson County is kicking off a new program this Thursday. Cleverly titled BYOT, Bring Your Own Technology, the program will allow students to bring a iPod, iPad or laptop to school to be used as an in-classroom resource and tool for note-taking, research, collaborative research and more.

    Another district making the most of technology in Tennessee is Metro Nashville Public Schools, who are opening up a virtual school with 135 full-time spots open currently for those students who live in Davidson County.  The virtual school will provide learning in all core subjects as well as Advanced Placement courses. For more information on the school, visit www.vlearn.mnps.org.

    3. Charter School Help

    Charter Management Groups have a positive track record of helping troubled schools seek a fresh start. In Tennessee, there are now around 40 Charter schools, with many hoping to make changes of their own. LEAD Academy now runs one grade at Cameron Middle School in Nashville, with plans to take over one grade per year. Following suit, there are several charter schools that have placed bids to take over poor performing schools in the area, with all remaining bids due in by September 15.

    4. Restructuring Teacher Pay

    There are several countries worldwide that only offer teaching positions to the top third ranking college graduates, and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, thinks that the U.S. should implement a similar goal.

    “We should be asking how the teaching profession might change if salaries started at $60,000 and rose to $150,000,” Duncan said during a recent speech at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

    Tennessee is implementing a performance-based pay plan this year by allowing 13 districts to grant bonuses to those teachers that push their students above average gains.

    5. Paying More Attention to Sciences

    Jobs in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are currently growing more readily than any other fields and require specialized preparation for those students soon entering the work force.

    The National Academy of Science recently released a new curriculum for science goals for grades K-12, to be voluntarily adapted as individual states see fit. The new guide suggests teaching in four areas of science: life sciences, physical sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology and the application of science.

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