The Tennessee General Assembly will begin its special called session Tuesday to debate legislation focusing on education.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton said virtual and hybrid learning has created an issue Governor Bill Lee wants to address.
“Learning loss is a big issue in our state,” Sexton said. “As well as, literacy and maintaining our reading and math proficiency rates. They are continuing to increase instead of having them decrease, so we are really worried about that. So, the special session will deal a lot with how do we overcome learning loss in the state of Tennessee as we are moving out of this pandemic.”
Sexton said a proposed learning loss program is one way that learning can be regained. It includes learning camps to fill gaps for students up to the high school age.
“After-school tutoring and mentoring and then also short, concentrated summer camps.” Sexton said. “Where it is intensive, based on subjects that may last three or four weeks maybe four or five days a week minimum of six hours a day. They don’t obviously have to do that six hours a day. There will be some outside time and lunch time.”
Sexton said a stipend will be included in this bill for teachers that participate in the extra tutoring. Proposed legislation also strengthens the third grade reading gate.
“Really what we wanted to do is we felt like it would be a great direction,” Sexton said. “We agree with the Governor and his direction. To really put an emphasis on it, if a child is behind, let’s create a summer program to try and get them up and going before they get back to the academic year and try to gain them so ground.”
To further address literacy, Sexton said Governor Lee looks to move back to phonics-based instruction for kindergarten through third grade reading. Sexton said this goes hand in hand with the Reading 360 initiative that provides optional reading for students.
“Making sure that we go and do phonics and go back to the old-school way of kids learning how to read through phonics,” Sexton said. “There is also some testing in there, but we think we’d decrease the overall amount of tests that would be required for the current RTI program. So we feel good about it. It is a huge investment in our state. I think it is over 100 million dollars that we are using with federal money and match with some state money to do that program. We look forward to having that debate and trying to get something instilled in the state of Tennessee a lot of people believe in, which is phonics.”
A third bill up for debate is extending hold harmless provisions for teacher evaluations. Sexton said standardized tests will still be administered.
“There performance has been based on standardized tests, so we are going to hold them harmless once again,” Sexton said. “I think the standardized tests are really important for us to see how well virtual school worked or didn’t work.”
If passed, each state bill will be implemented the summer before the 2021 school year.