Advice to TN: Build on Your Success, Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

In 2008, Tennessee learned it had some of the lowest standards in the nation and was the recipient of an “ F” grade from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for “Truth in Advertising about Student Proficiency” and “Academic Achievement of Low Income and Minority Students.” The state was at a crossroads with its K-12 public education system: it could ignore, deny, or refute these national comparisons and keep its head down (as other states did), or it could embrace the data, take the challenging path and do something about it. Luckily for Tennessee’s students, families and business community, the state saw this as a wake-up call and took action. Tennessee has twice raised standards in the core subjects of math and English/language arts, and its teachers are using these standards and aligned resources to ensure that students have the skills they need to be successful in education beyond high school, in the workforce and in life. This courage and investment is working. In 2013, Tennessee was the fastest-growing state on NAEP. In 2014, Tennessee students saw the biggest bump on ACT since the State started administering the test. Last week, Governor Haslam announced “the formation of panels to review the math and English components of the Common Core standards, and to report their recommendations at the end of next year.” Similar to actions recently announced by Kentucky, this process acknowledges the success the state has had, while recognizing the need for continuous improvement and a relentless determination to raise the bar for children. As Tennessee finalizes its next steps, a few things to consider:
  • Developing high-quality, rigorous and clear standards is hard and technical work. Common Core took years, required multiple work groups and significant input from educators, experts and stakeholders through multiple revisions.
  • The process should be rigorous and structured. Changes to something as important as educational standards should not be politically driven or impulsive, but instead should be evidence-based, precise and clear.
  • The process should be transparent in order to allow stakeholders to remain active and vigilant in ensuring that the academic expectations for students are in no way lowered, either through this process or any other.
  • The state should not reinvent the wheel, but instead build on its success.
Wherever Tennessee ends up, the task remains the same in 2014 as it was in 2008: high standards that ensure Tennessee children will succeed in college, work and life.
Ann Whalen
Ann Whalen is senior advisor to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Prior to returning to the U.S. Department of Education, she served as the director of policy for Education Post. Whalen has served more than five years in the Obama Administration with the U.S. Department of Education. At the department, Ann was director of the Implementation and Support Unit, providing technical assistance to ...

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