Tennessee Reform Program Advances

By Ann Bradley — March 07, 1990 2 min read

A committee of the Tennessee legislature has approved a sweeping blueprint for school restructuring that seeks to bring an education system “designed in the days of the Model-T Ford” into the next century.

The “21st Century Challenge,” presented last month by Commissioner of Education Charles E. Smith, outlines 89 initiatives that Gov. Ned McWherter intends to pursue next year if he is re-elected in November.

The plan, approved last month by the legislative-oversight committee on education, will become the state’s official reform program if also adopted by the state board of education.

Implementation of many of the plan’s provisions will depend, however, on passage of legislation next year.

Mr. Smith, who compared the state’s present education system to an antique automobile, described the plan as an unprecedented attempt to redesign the schools.

“Over the years, we have tried to tinker with our educational system,” Mr. Smith said in presenting his proposal. “Every six or eight years we’ve increased taxes and thrown more money at the problem. It is an approach that simply has not worked.”

The essence of the plan would be a shift in the emphasis of education governance from “process control” to “outcomes assessment,” he said.

Some of its recommendations already have been implemented. They include a comprehensive statewide testing program, school-based child care, and new policies requiring local school systems to conduct data-based needs assessments and develop five-year plans with quantifiable goals and objectives.

State officials estimate that all of the recommendations could be implemented in about three years.

Although the plan does not address funding for the school reforms, the Governor has acknowledged that many of the proposals will require more money.

In addition, the state board is work8ing on a new funding formula that would provide a base level of financial support for every school district.

Appointed Superintendents

Among the blueprint’s recommendations is a proposal to require that school superintendents be appointed by local school boards, instead of being popularly elected.

The issue has been controversial in Tennessee, where 79 of the 139 school systems have elected superintendents. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)

Superintendents would be allowed to function as chief executive officers of their school systems, with the authority to hire and fire district personnel.

The plan also calls for school-based decisionmaking to be “the rule rather than the exception” by the year 2000. To achieve that goal, the plan advocates empowering school principals to take charge of their schools, and eliminating state regulations that stifle creativity.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as Tennessee Reform Program Advances