Bootstrapping Education 

Entering his last year as governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen is a man on a mission. The special legislative session Bredesen has called for next week in Nashville is designed in a general way to upgrade the state's educational processes and, in a specific sense, to make Tennessee competitive in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" sweepstakes. At stake is a share of some $4 billion earmarked for a handful of states with potential to advance the reciprocal arts of teaching and learning.

Tennessee is one of these, the governor made plain in remarks to the Memphis Rotary Club on Monday, and, indeed, the Gates Foundation, which recently favored Memphis City Schools with a sizable grant of its own related to teacher improvement, has recognized as much and confirmed the city's — and the state's — competitive status.

But impediments remain, and one of these is the state's 1992 compromise agreement with the Tennessee Education Association — a compact which prohibits the use of data concerning teacher evaluations and student performance in determining faculty tenure, pay, and promotions.

The time has come to amend that agreement, Bredesen said, and not just because it stands in the way of the generous stimulus package that Tennessee will be competing for, along with such newly innovative states as Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio.

The Obama administration — as teacher-friendly as any in the nation's history, the governor suggested — has established a deadline of January 19th for coming to a decision and has made it clear that access to, and use of, the kind of data that is cloistered is an important criterion.

Bredesen expressed the hope that bipartisan support can be garnered for making the necessary changes in state law, and we join in that hope.

Willie Mitchell

Memphis has bade more than its share of farewells in recent years to favorite sons — especially those who achieved renown in the international language of music. We said goodbye to one of the most fluent and successful of these this week in Willie Mitchell, the legendary producer of so many class acts at Hi Records.

Al Green, "Booker" Little, Phineas Newborn, Al Jackson: Mitchell worked with all of these and many more, and he was a formidable artist in his own right, as composer, as trumpeter, and as the leader of his own combo. Historians of music will mention him in the same breath as Sam Phillips as one of Memphis' eminent pathfinders and musical guides.

"Papa Willie," he was called, in tribute to his influence, and, at age 81 when he died, he was still a force. No golden oldie, he remained active well into the current century, reviving dormant labels and looking for new talent even as he saw to it that the venerable musical tradition he represented got its proper respect.

Mitchell himself is entitled to a generous share of that, and, make no mistake, an admiring world will make sure that he gets it.

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