Tennessee has a new Commissioner of Education.
Chalkbeat has the story of Penny Schwinn:
Penny Schwinn was tapped Thursday by governor-elect Bill Lee to join his administration in one of his most important and closely watched cabinet picks.
She will leave her job as chief deputy commissioner of academics for the Texas Education Agency, where she has been responsible since 2016 for school programs, standards, special education, and research and analysis, among other things.
In a statement, Lee praised Schwinn’s experience as both a teacher and administrator. An accompanying news release touted her reform work for leading to “the transformation of a failing state assessment program” and expansion of career readiness programs for students in Texas.
Here’s a word from the President of the Tennessee Education Association, Beth Brown:
As the president of the largest professional association for Tennessee educators, I look forward to working with Commissioner Penny Schwinn in the best interest of Tennessee students, educators and our great public schools. As a newcomer to our state, I hope she will take time to see firsthand the meaningful work happening in classrooms all across Tennessee, and also gain an understanding of the support and resources needed to ensure student success.
Based on our first conversation, I am confident we have common ground on the importance of test transparency, including educators’ voices in policy decisions and working to ensure all students have access to a quality public education.
Schwinn will take over a Department of Education reeling from repeated failures of the state’s standardized test, TNReady, and the subsequent lies to cover up the state’s culpability in those failures.
Additionally, the state’s turnaround district — the Achievement School District (ASD) is simply not getting results.
Schwinn’s tenure in Texas was not without controversy, as noted by the Texas Tribune:
In an audit released Wednesday morning, the State Auditor’s Office reviewed the education agency’s work and found it failed to follow all the required steps before offering a no-bid $4.4 million contract to SPEDx, which was hired to analyze how schools serve students with disabilities and help create a long-term special education plan for the state.
State auditors also said the TEA failed to “identify and address a preexisting professional relationship” between a SPEDx subcontractor and the agency’s “primary decision maker” for the contract. Penny Schwinn — that decision maker and the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics — did not disclose that she had received professional development training from the person who ultimately became a subcontractor on the project.
Schwinn will likely be tasked with taking action on both testing and the ASD as immediate action items. Additionally, it is expected that the Lee Administration will soon pursue an education agenda that includes using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools by way some form of voucher scheme.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport