Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Q&A with Bredesen on Education Reform

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Here's our Q&A with the governor today on his deal with the Tennessee Education Association to mandate the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations and also on his hopes for improving colleges and universities. In higher education, Bredesen wants to tie state money to graduation rates, which are pathetic in this state. Only 44 percent of students at four-year schools graduate and only 12 percent at community colleges. Q: What do you think brought TEA to make concessions? Bredesen: Look, I think TEA is an organization comprised of a lot of different members from a lot of different point sof view. When I talked to them yesterday, somebody said to me, 'you know, we've got a third of the teachers are against his, a third of them are for it, a third of them got open minds.' So it's kind of like running for governor. Yeah, you're never going to have everybody on board with it. ... I think what's happened is a lot of members of the board have looked at it more broadly and talked to other people and come to the conclusion that this is a thing that we need to move forward with. The thing that's really important to me on this is that they're going to forward and also they're going to move forward enthusiastically. One of the pitches that I've made to them is to say, look don't just say OK, we're not going to interfere with the legislation and be passive aggressive about this for the next four years. Let's do it, let's get together. Q: With respect to higher education, colleges already face major cuts. And here you are moving to a funding formula that rewards them for retaining students. What's going to happen to some of these schools that aren't doing a good job? And is this going to lead to more layoffs and program and service and how do you handle that? Bredesen: This stuff is going to become effective over a period of time. When you're running a big institution, you can't take some huge change in the short term. ... But no, part of the idea is if you're not graduating students at the level that we think is appropriate and you're peer institutions do, you're going to lose funding. There's none of this hold harmless or anything of this kind of stuff. We're going to put the money, as I think the taxpayers would expect us to do, with the organizations that are trying to get things done, which is to graduate the students. Q: Would you expect any institutions to fail? Bredesen: I think there probably would always be a safety net that they don't absolutely fail, but I can easily imagine some institutions becoming smaller than they are today. Or probably more likely they'll find a new president who will do the job in the institution. We spend a lot of money on higher education in this state and we ought to be putting it to the best effect. ... In Tennessee, we have a lot of kids who come from families that do not have a long history of that. It's gotta be a culture shock. You're talking to somebody who grew up in a town of 1,100 people, went to a public school and showed up as a freshman at Harvard with 1,200 other people who went to Andover or Exeter, OK? So you're talking to somebody who is very sympathetic to the challenges of somebody having to change their whole world around at the age of 18 and deal with academic issues and everything else. I think we can do a lot better job at community colleges of helping these kids get through.

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