Overbey gives perspective on education changes

The State Legislature recently ended a special called session on education, and State Sen. Doug Overbey shared his thoughts on the sweeping changes to both K-12 and higher education.

The senator said on Jan. 21 that the legislation lawmakers passed was designed to grow the number of college graduates in Tennessee.

Overbey said the first week of the two-week session focused on improving K-12 education by tying 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations to student performance. The second week saw the legislature turn its attention to the goal of how to get more Tennesseans to pursue a post-secondary education that fits their academic and workplace needs. It also included a focus on measures to help ensure students are successful in completing their college degrees or post-secondary academic programs.

The higher education bill, called the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010” puts the framework in place to retool the funding formula for higher education to make it substantially based on outcomes. Currently the formula is based primarily on beginning of term enrollment. The bill focuses on outcomes by calling for a funding formula that looks at end of term enrollment or student retention as well as timely progress toward degree attainment and degree completion.

Unified college system

The bill calls for a more cohesive system to be in place by Fall 2012 to unlock the potential of affordable and effective gateways to higher education through Tennessee’s community college system.

The legislation directs the Board of Regents to develop coordinated programs and services, including a 41-hour common course catalog to make credits earned at community colleges easily transferrable to the four-year college institutions. This means that an associate of science or arts degree from a Tennessee community college will enable a student to transfer to a Tennessee public university as a junior.

Also, the 19 hours of pre-major courses will be transferrable as a block to meet the requirements of any Tennessee university offering that major. This system will provide a clearly designated path for students to further their education after completion of an associate degree in the state’s community colleges.

Dual enrollment and remedial instruction

The bill calls for dual admission and dual enrollment to community colleges and four year universities to be widely available for students intending to transfer. The legislation, however, prohibits remedial or developmental instruction to be offered in a four-year Tennessee university, except when they coordinate with a community college to offer these courses to dually enrolled students.

Research Institutions

The General Assembly has approved $6.2 million to establish a new world-class graduate energy sciences and engineering program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in partnership with Oak Ridge National Lab. The premise is to make the university a top-25 public research institution by placing dramatically heightened levels of instruction in the nation’s premier national lab. The move is expected to create 200 new faculty appointments among the existing researchers at Oak Ridge National Lab. The partnership would be similar to one currently in place with the University of California at Berkeley and the Berkeley National Lab.

The bill, as amended, also allows any other four-year Tennessee university to establish an academic unit in collaboration with the Oak Ridge Lab. It calls for keeping those entrepreneurial opportunities in Tennessee, the senator said.

Race to the Top application for stimulus money submitted

Tennessee has submitted the state’s application to compete with other states to receive up to $501.8 million in funds under the federal Race to the Top program. The application was submitted on the same day the president called for adding $1.3 billion to the budget for the program.

The program currently has $4.3 billion allocated to it to reward states which are implementing significant reforms in four education areas: enhancing standards and assessments; improving the collection and use of data; increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution; and, turning around struggling schools. The grants are expected to be announced in April to be followed by a second round of competition later in the year, Overbey said.

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