Career exploration for all ages will be a new focus of the Tennessee Department of Education, according to the agency’s new strategic plan released Tuesday.
This comes after state officials visited 70 school districts and received over 35,000 comments from teachers, administrators and students.
Commissioner Penny Schwinn told reporters Monday that high schoolers were part of the creation of the “Best for All” plan. And, she said, older students in the state worry high school is too late to learn about what fields they might be interested in.
So, the state will address career readiness sooner, Schwinn said.
“By giving students the opportunity to identify what they like and what they are good at before high school, they will be better able to navigate the opportunities available to them and select pathways that are a best fit,” Schwinn said.
According to the plan, the state will provide school districts with free career exploration for students starting all the way back in pre-K and continuing through middle school. The plan will also create grants for districts to give high schoolers hands-on opportunities.
The focus on job readiness also lines up with Gov. Bill Lee’s focus on vocational education after high school.
State To Narrow Priorities
According to Schwinn, the plan will focus on three areas: academic access, including career exploration; the whole child; and educators.
She said the state will prioritize efforts to improve literacy rates in the state. According to the latest Nation’s Report Card, only 35% of fourth graders in Tennessee can read proficiently.
“We must quadruple down on literacy, with the clear understanding that it is the foundation upon which a child education is built,” Schwinn said. “Without that strong foundation in literacy, our children will not be successful in the future profession.”
In terms of teachers, Schwinn said her department will also propose a change to educator licenses. And the plan proposes creating a track in high school for students interested in becoming teachers, where they can earn college credits.
Beth Brown, the president of the Tennessee Education Association, praised the plan in an interview Tuesday with WPLN. She pointed out the plan’s focus on literacy and on academic and non-academic support.
“I think overall there’s a lot of alignment in the commissioner’s strategic plan and the goal of the Tennessee Education Association,” Brown said.
But Brown warned that teacher compensation also needs to be a priority in order to recruit future educators and to accomplish all of the goals. Schwinn was not clear about what the department will specifically do to increase teacher compensation.
“(Teachers) are not staying in the profession. We don’t have people entering the profession,” Brown said. “Until we get a teacher compensation plan that is going to make this profession attractive and sustainable, we are not going to be able to fill our teacher vacancies.”