Incoming Tenn. Governor Taps Charter School Founder, TFA Vet for State Chief

By Daarel Burnette II — January 18, 2019 1 min read
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Tennessee’s Gov.-elect Bill Lee has appointed Penny Schwinn, a deputy commissioner at the Texas Education Agency and a former California charter school founder, as the next state commissioner.

Schwinn will be stepping into a difficult job. The Tennessee department of education has been under attack by teachers and district administrators in recent months for its administering of the state’s botched standardized test. After scores were reported inaccurately, the state had to scrap its entire letter-grade accountability system, which determines some students’ grades, teachers’ evaluations, and whether several schools should be shuttered or taken over by the state.

There are other challenges awaiting Schwinn. The state’s Achievement School District, tasked with taking over academically struggling schools and handing them over to charter providers, has failed to improve many of the schools it took over in several impoverished Memphis neighborhoods five years ago. Some of the schools perform worse today than they performed when they were taken over the state. And several charter operators have pulled out of the ambitious experiment which several other states, including Mississippi, Nevada, and North Carolina are now replicating

Lee, a Republican, has pledged to expand the state’s charter sector in the state and push for the expansion of vouchers, which has had a difficult time politically in recent years, even though Republicans have a super-majority in the state legislature.

Schwinn, 36, Texas Education Agency and previously founded a charter school in Sacramento. She worked as a TFA teacher in Baltimore and Los Angeles at the beginning of her career and comes from a family of educators. She replaces Candice McQueen, who resigned shortly after Lee was elected.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.