Frist Touts New Education Initiative

By Bill Dries

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Former U.S. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist started the year by announcing he would not be a candidate for Tennessee governor in 2010.

One of the reasons is his work in education reform through a collaborative called Tennessee SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education).

Bill Frist

Frist is heading an effort that examines best practices with a realization that what works in one school system might not work in another.

“We are failing relative to six of the eight states surrounding us,” he said during a recent visit with Memphis educators. “And to address that issue we pulled together a collaborative. ... This partnership is systematically spending a year looking at best practices across the state.”

SCORE would serve as a clearinghouse of education reform ideas. And it is not commissioned by a governor or any other elected official. Its work will span the exit of Gov. Phil Bredesen and the arrival of the governor elected next year.

Q: What is different about this effort?

A: What we have that’s unique is a forum in which a dialogue can be held where you have all stakeholders at the table. It’s never been done before. ... It is citizen-led, which again is very unique. Other states have done some similar things. ... It will transition through this period of the Tennessee Diploma project in which Tennessee (education) standards are raised, more math teachers are going to be required, more science teachers required.”

Q: There has been some discussion already that perhaps relationships with nonprofit foundations that make specific demands for their financial support will need to change. Is there a role for nonprofit education foundations?

A: It will be interesting. Memphis has been on the forefront of engaging nonprofit entities with teacher projects, with Teach For America. ... There’s no other city in the state that has been as active in working with the nonprofits in innovative arenas. ... Those relationships will have to be constantly adjusted and everybody will have to be flexible as we go forward in this changing environment.

Q: What about mentoring programs for teachers and students?

A: Mentors and measures like that work to some extent. But we are not getting as much bang for the buck. ... Mentoring teacher to teacher will have a huge impact. ... The mentoring that goes on within schools where private corporations or private companies can come in and have role models for students is very powerful. We really haven’t explored it in Tennessee in an active sense. Individual schools have. Individual companies have. But there’s not a statewide mentoring program that has really been pushed.