By Sally Absher

The week before Christmas, Gov. Bill Haslam announced that he was appointing Dr. Candice McQueen to serve as Tennessee Commissioner of Education, ending weeks of speculation about who would replace outgoing Commissioner Kevin Huffman. After watching Huffman institute years of “rigorous and robust” profit-driven public school reform, many of us worried if it could get any worse.

Candice McQueen is Dean of Lipscomb University’s college of education and oversees its private K-12 school, Lipscomb Academy. She’s been a ‘teacher of teachers’ for most of her career after spending a few years in the classroom teaching children. After only 3 years in public schools, she left the classroom, climbing the proverbial career ladder to reach the top, to be appointed Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education.

McQueen taught 5th grade at Lipscomb Middle school for two years (1996-1998), then quit teaching to get a Masters of Education from Vanderbilt in Nashville, and then taught for 3 years at a public elementary school (Lakeway Elementary in Austin, TX) while earning her doctorate from University of Austin.

The Tennessee public education advocacy group Momma Bears has researched Candice McQueen’s background, including an interesting analysis of her doctoral thesis (read the blog here:, so we’ll just hit the highlights here. It’s not very encouraging…

On the surface, McQueen brings some improvements over Huffman – she spent 5 years as a real teacher (as opposed to Huffman’s 2 years as a “teach for America” corpsman). But, as Momma Bears points out, she has been a tireless cheerleader for Common Core. Last year she testified to the TN legislature in support of the Common Core and the high-stakes PARCC test.

Associations mean everything. McQueen serves on the board of SCORE (the organization headed by former state senator Jamie Woodson and funded by Bill Gates to support Common Core other education “reforms”). She’s also served on boards that profit from Common Core (like the Ayers Foundation who received Race to the Top money to develop Common Core videos). She’s involved with Pearson (the British mega-corporation that controls the majority of textbooks, tests, and test prep materials) through Pearson’s EDTPA program that grants teaching licenses to people who can pass Pearson’s tests.

So, we know McQueen is a strong supporter of Common Core standards, having been frequently called on by the state department of Education to defend against criticism of the standards, which is growing. But, she has not put the Common Core standards in place at the private schools she oversees. Lipscomb’s three private schools have their own standards.

In fact, in a letter she wrote to parents of children enrolled in Lipscomb Academy earlier this year after some expressed concern about her public support for the standards, she said, “I will continue to be part of the ongoing CCSS conversation. However, this should not be extrapolated to indicate or predict the adoption of CCSS at Lipscomb Academy.”

Asked by public radio station WPLN (Nashville) why the standards were not adopted at the academy, she said, “We make decisions about what’s going to be the best within the context of our community. I would say that’s absolutely what we’re going to do now and for the future.”

It would be unusual if Lipscomb adopted Common Core. Most of Nashville’s private schools – and private schools across the state – blend state and national standards and don’t use the same standardized tests as public schools.

The Tennessee Education Association – which has clashed with outgoing commissioner Kevin Huffman – asked for someone from Tennessee who had more classroom experience. In a statement, they said they hope that McQueen will listen to “veteran educators.”

“The people who work with children in the classroom every day are the real experts and should have a significant voice in decision-making at the state level,” TEA president Barbara Gray said in a statement.

McQueen will start Jan. 20, about the same time as the next legislative session. As Momma Bears bloggers suggest, there are many unanswered questions, including: Will she be the Governor’s puppet? Will she still be a champion for the Common Core initiative? Will she defend and strengthen the battered teaching profession? Will she be an advocate for children or for business interests? Will she listen to parents when we tell her the testing is excessive? Will she understand and act wisely upon what she hears? Will she see parents as the enemies as Kevin Huffman did? Will she truly listen?”

Only time will tell, but you can be sure we will be watching, and reporting.