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Education Featured NewsTracker

Haslam Wants to ‘Hold Our Place in Line’ for Federal Pre-K Expansion Dollars

The Tennessee Department of Education is sending a letter of intent to apply for a federal pre-kindergarten expansion grant. But it’s just a placeholder to ensure access to future federal funds, Gov. Bill Haslam said this week.

Haslam said he’s still not ready to start advocating the state expand its existing pre-k program, which now serves about 18,000 mostly lower-income kids.

His administration’s letter to the Obama administration is “basically a way for us to save our place for an application down the road,” the governor told reporters in Knoxville Wednesday.

The announcement that the state intended to apply for the funds comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s visit to Tennessee as a part of his 2014 Back to School Bus Tour to discuss education progress in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. One topic discussed at several stops was the recently announced expansion grants, funded as part of President Obama’s “Pre-k For All” initiative.

At an event in Chattanooga this month, Duncan said he hopes Tennessee will sustain its impressive climb in education quality. He said applying for the federal pre-k grants would bolster that effort, and “could mean as much as $70 million over the next four years” for the Volunteer State.

Haslam said he won’t be inclined to push for expanding pre-k in Tennessee until the final results are in from a Vanderbilt study on the long-run benefits that early-education provides students.  “You look at  academic progress that’s being made and the social progress that’s being made by the child, and then you make a decision based on that,” he said.

The governor said he’s “ultimately a data-driven person.” If the results of the study call into question pre-k’s overall effectiveness, he indicated he’ll be considering whether education funds would be used better elsewhere — such as improving teacher pay or expanding funding for higher education.

Those results are expected sometime in 2015.

“First, we get the date off the study, see the impact, and then decide, in a realm of possibilities for the state to fund, Should that take priority?” Haslam said.

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Education Featured

Feds Pitching Expanded Pre-K in TN

Arne Duncan wants more children to have access to taxpayer-financed early education programs.

During a stopover at Chattanooga’s Chambliss Center for Children on a three-state Southern swing, the U.S. secretary of education talked up pre-kindergarten as a key component of later student development. He said on the federal Department of Education blog that he was trekking through Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to get a first-hand look at government-funded early-childhood-learning programs in action, and “discuss progress, promise and results.”

As in the past, Duncan praised reforms pushed by Tennessee Gov.  Bill Haslam, who — on education at least — is among President Obama’s favorite Republican governors.

Duncan said he’d like to see Tennessee continue working to burnish its new national reputation for innovative thinking on education policy by working closely with the federal government on fresh policy initiatives — like the state did when it went all-in with the president’s Race to the Top program.

In particular, the nation’s education czar said he’s hopeful Tennessee will choose to compete for a portion of the $250 million in federal preschool-development grants the feds are holding out as an incentive to encourage states to sign more kids up for early education programs.

The application deadline is Oct. 14.

Should Tennessee submit a winning grant application, “it could mean as much as $70 million over the next four years,” said Duncan. And that could go a long way toward shortening the waiting lists kids face to get into good pre-K programs, Duncan told a town-hall-style gathering Tuesday.

“Too many children start kindergarten a year to 18 months behind,” he said.

The grants Duncan is pitching would help prepare states to participate in President Barack Obama’s proposed “Preschool for All” program, “a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families,” according to a U.S. Department of Education news release issued last month.

While Duncan urged those in attendance at the Chattanooga event to spread the word about the value of pre-K, he also noted that academic success for young people is never guaranteed without sustained involvement from moms and dads.

“Whether it’s early childhood centers, whether it’s elementary schools, whether it’s middle schools, whether it’s high schools, there are no successful educational schools or programs that don’t have a very serious parental engagement component,” Duncan said.

Because of the importance of parents in education, the preschool grant initiative will only invest in programs that are “very serious, very strategic, very intentional” about improving parental participation in their children’s schooling, Duncan added.

Former Democratic state senator Andy Berke, who is now mayor of Chattanooga, also spoke about the importance of starting the education process with younger children. Berke touted Chattanooga’s investment in “Baby University,” a program intended to teach new parents how to be better parents, as well as the city’s request for a “Head Start” expansion grant.

But there’s a contingent of Tennessee politicians, particularly in the Republican-dominated state General Assembly, who remain unconvinced of the merits of early education — and they can point to independent research that tends to back them them up.

“The evidence shows that pre-K does not deliver as promised, and I’d be very hesitant to take money from the federal government to start a program,” Knoxville state Rep. Bill Dunn told TNReport Wednesday.

For starters, Dunn, a member of the House Education Committee, worries that there’s never any guarantee federal dollars won’t start drying up down the road, after the state is already committed to a program and it develops constituencies that’ve come to expect its services. It’s a similar concern GOP lawmakers in Tennessee voice  with respect to Washington, D.C.’s promises that it’ll be paying most of the tab for Medicaid expansion.

But beyond that, Dunn said there are clear indications pre-K isn’t the best place for the state to be targeting taxpayer resources so as to give Tennesseans the best “return on our investment.”

The state would be much better off spending money on improving the education environment and learning opportunities for older kids, like in kindergarten and first grade, said Dunn. The results are better, and with less cost, he said.

To back his claims that pre-K is proving less than effective, Dunn points to the preliminary results released about a year ago from an ongoing, long-term Vanderbilt study on how pre-K impacts student performance in later years.

Results from the Vanderbilt study released in August 2013 showed that “achievement measures observed at the end of the pre‐k year had greatly diminished by the end of the kindergarten year and the differences between participants and nonparticipants were no longer statistically significant.” Strikingly, the report also noted “a marginally significant difference” on reading comprehension “with nonparticipants showing higher scores at the end of the kindergarten year than (pre-K) participants.”

The report also noted “a significant difference that favored the nonparticipant group” on one of the study’s measures for “combined achievement in literacy, language, and math.”

In an interview with The Tennessean last year, Mark Lipsey, director of Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute, which is conducting the pre-K investigation for the U.S. Department of Education, said that while “the whole story is not told yet,” there are indications from the ongoing study involving 3,000 children that “early achievement results have diminished considerably after the pre-K year, so that there is not a significant difference really between the kids who went to pre-K and the kids who didn’t.”

A multi-year study commissioned by the Tennessee Comptroller that was concluded in 2011 examined “whether there is evidence to suggest that Pre-K participation is associated with a positive effect on student performance in Grades K-5 relative to students who did not participate in pre-K.”

According to the pre-K effectiveness report summary submitted to the state comptroller, “no overall differences were found between Pre-K and non-Pre-K students in First Grade.”

The authors of that report wrote that children “who experience economic disadvantage tend to perform better than their non-Pre-K counterparts,” but also added that “this same pattern is not consistently observed for students who do not experience economic disadvantage, and the initial advantage attenuates and is largely diminished by the Second Grade.”

“Among students who do not experience economic disadvantage, the initial advantage of Pre-K is less evident, and the models suggest that they may experience slower academic growth over time,” according to the study.

Dunn said Tennessee education policymakers need to be taking note that studies appear to indicate that by some measures prekindergarten children aren’t just breaking essentially even with the non-preschool kids, “they actually scored worse.”

Gov. Haslam has indicated that he intends to keep funding the state’s preschool program at the same levels, and will consider any possible changes after the long-term study is complete, Dave Smith, Haslam’s spokesman, said in an e-mail. Those results are expected sometime in 2015.

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Education Featured

TN Education Reforms Hailed in New U.S. Chamber Report

Changes in the state’s Department of Education since the Tennessee General Assembly voted to adopt the Common Core standards for education a few years ago are being highlighted in the summer issue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quarterly magazine, Free Enterprise.

According to the magazine, the USCoC recently completed a follow-up to their 2007 report, Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness, which indicates a “growing problem” of a less-than-sufficiently educated and skill-prepared labor force.

But Free Enterprise notes that Tennessee has been lauded by experts for its willingness to tackle the problem, most notably by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has praised state politicians and elected leaders for sticking to their “controversial but common sense decisions” in the face of pushback against reforms.

Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber, said in the article that the commitment to reform policies under both Gov. Bill Haslam and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, have given Tennessee’s students “the promise of opportunity and success beyond high school.”

Interviewed for the article, Bredesen told Free Enterprise, “Education reform has got to be about picking a course of action and sticking with it over a long period of time, not just letting it flow back and forth when you get a new governor.”

Changes in the way Tennessee teaches kids in public school and measures their performance  has more and more become an area of political controversy. In particular, the nationwide effort to implement the Common Core Standards in Tennessee has over the past year created some odd bedfellows among those who’re becoming reform-weary.

The Obama administration are big fans of Common Core, as are big-name Tennessee political figures like Gov. Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and former U.S. Senator and GOP majority leader Bill Frist

On the other hand, skeptics and out-and-out opponents include both conservatives and liberals, teachers’ unions and anti-tax activists. There’s even a stand-up comedian working criticism of Common Core into his schtick. Conservatives fear that the standards complicate the ability to learn and will lead to liberally biased textbooks. On the left, there’s a worry that the curriculum and standardized evaluations will add to classroom pressures on both teachers and students, which isn’t conducive to enhancing a productive learning environment.

The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national non-profit conservative political advocacy group is big in to the battle here in Tennessee. The state’s AFP arm announced this week  it’d spent about $500,000 in the past six weeks “bringing the issues with Common Core to light.” AFP claims its illumination of the issues impacted outcomes in several state primary elections last week.

In its 2014 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed by Haslam, to halt implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, and do some price-comparisons on others in the meantime. The Volunteer state will continue to use the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program — or TCAP — until the 2015-16 school year.

The state’s largest labor group that represents teachers, the Tennessee Education Association, has claimed it’s lobbying efforts this past session resulted in lawmakers delaying the testing program, which is affiliated with Common Core. The Washington Post called the TEA’s effort’s “instrumental” in passing the delay.

Rep. Glen Casada is a vocal opponent of Common Core whose positions usually don’t line up with the wishes of teachers’ unions. He, too, has claimed responsibility for putting PARCC on the back-burner, and he also hopes that in the interim lawmakers will decide to scrap it altogether.

Casada sought to play up the downsides of Common Core up as much as possible in his Williamson County district’s primary race against a local school board member, Cherie Hammond, who was generally regarded as more politically centrist than the veteran House Republican caucus chairman. Casada won handily.

Casada told TNReport this week he’s not entirely convinced the gains the state’s posted in student performance of late can be attributed in any significant way to anything having to do with Common Core. For example, given that Common Core is still more-or-less in a rollout phase, it’d be a stretch to suggest last year’s big nationwide testing gains for Tennessee touted by both Gov. Haslam and Education Secretary Duncan had a whole lot to do with it, Casada said.

The Franklin lawmaker, who isn’t facing a general election opponent, said the state’s teachers and students posted testing gains that actually appeared to have emerged during a two-year “interim period” when Tennessee public schools got out from under No Child Left Behind and before Common Core Standards were being pushed in earnest.

Casada interprets that to mean, “When no large bureaucracy was guiding what teachers do, we excelled.”

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Governor: Teacher Evals ‘Not Perfect’ But Headed in Right Direction

Gov. Bill Haslam is anything but surprised the state has to hammer out kinks in its teacher evaluation system — even as President Obama’s education secretary said this week Tennessee is actually at the top of the class nationally.

Haslam says he expects the Legislature to fairly easily accept the state Department of Education’s recommendations next spring to recalculate how certain teachers are graded, such as by reducing emphasis on how students perform school-wide. The move follows a year of consternation from educators that new, more rigorous evaluations would be too hard on them.

“We said all along, ‘Hey, we realize it’s not perfect,’” Haslam told reporters after announcing a $620,000 transportation grant in Dickson Wednesday.

“But we also thought it was important to go ahead and implement it so we wouldn’t just be having a practice game, if you will. My sense is that the Legislature will get that and understand why it’s important to make that change.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded Tennessee’s education reforms this week, giving special kudos in a Huffington Post column for re-examining the reforms and vowing to improve upon the system.

“More teachers today are treated as true professionals, instead of as interchangeable cogs in an educational assembly line. Exhibit A: Tennessee,” Duncan wrote, attributing the success in part to the federal Race to the Top grant program rewarding education reform, which Tennessee was one of the first to win.

State officials now have two studies examining teacher evaluation reforms. One came from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which concluded the state needs to adjust how teachers are evaluated in untested subjects like gym and music.

The other, released this month by the state Department of Education, echoed that call but added that high teacher evaluation scores many times clashed with the low academic gains from students in those classrooms.

“In implementation, observers systematically failed to identify the lowest performing teachers, leaving these teachers without access to meaningful professional development and leaving their students and parents without a reasonable expectation of improved instruction in the future,” read the report.

If anything, Haslam says the findings are “ironic” after a year of education-reform opponents complaining that the opposite would happen — that principals would be stingy about granting teachers anything above an “average” grade.

“Our kind of hunch was it would play out the way it did. The tendency of people is to grade folks high because you work with them and you go to church with them, et cetera,” he said, adding the state needs to focus energy on better training principals to grade teachers.

“When a deep percentage of teachers aren’t showing real gains in value added, that’s not fair to kids,” he said. “And so our role is to help those teachers to that next year they will show that growth.”

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Press Releases

State Edu. Dep’t Boasts of Duncan’s Teacher Evaluation Praise

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; July 24, 2012:  

Tennessee exemplifies the improved student performance and higher levels of teacher professionalism states can attain through federal Race to the Top education reforms, wrote U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a column for the Huffington Post.

The piece, “The Tennessee Story,” highlights the Tennessee Department of Education’s recent report on its new teacher evaluation system as a national example.

“As Tennessee has shown, our children, our teachers, and our country will be better off when school leaders and educators finally undertake the challenging task of creating a meaningful and useful system for supporting and evaluating our nation’s teachers,” said Duncan, citing Tennessee’s largest-ever gains on student achievement tests that accompanied its first year of comprehensive teacher evaluations.

Duncan applauds Tennessee’s use of student growth as major component of teacher evaluations and its commitment to soliciting feedback from thousands of teachers to improve the system.

“Student growth can and should be one of a number of measures in evaluating the performance of teachers — and it’s important not to ignore a teacher’s impact on student learning just because it is difficult to measure,” he said. “Better evaluation systems improve classroom instruction.”

Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s commissioner of education, said he appreciated the support of the national education department.

“We know we’ve got a ways to go in Tennessee, but we’re excited about the changes we’re seeing,” he said. “It is humbling to be held up as a national example—states all have a lot to learn from each other.”

Under Duncan’s leadership at the U.S. Department of Education, Tennessee became one of the first two states to win Race to the Top funding in 2009 and went on to receive a waiver from certain parts of No Child Left Behind in 2012.

Tennessee implemented one of the country’s first comprehensive, student outcomes-based teacher evaluation systems in the 2011-12 school year, part of its Race to the Top plans to improve teaching and learning.

Earlier this month, the department submitted a thorough review of its first year, recognizing the new system’s success in cultivating higher-quality classroom instruction and recommending further improvements for next year.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Obama Edu. Chief Praises TN Teacher Eval Reforms

Tennessee’s effort to revamp the way public school teachers are graded on classroom performance earned a high-profile national testimonial Monday.

In a column for The Huffington Post, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote that the “Tennessee Story” and the Volunteer State’s improvements in student test-scores represents “Exhibit A” in the Obama administration’s defense of the Race to the Top reforms launched in 2009.

Duncan wrote:

During the first two years of the Race to the Top grant, from 2010 to 2012, an additional 55,000 students in Tennessee were at or above grade level in math and 38,000 additional students were at or above grade level in science. But Tennessee’s story also shows that reforming antiquated practices for evaluating teachers is hard, ongoing work — work that is far from finished.

Indeed, student achievement rose virtually across the board this year based on scores on the TCAP, or Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program, test given to students in 3rd through 8th grade, a result that, as the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted, prompted much “celebratory back slapping” by Gov. Bill Haslam and his education team.

Duncan acknowledged “initial blowback” to the Tennessee system, which puts more emphasis on test scores, requires more frequent evaluations and was first used in the 2011-12 school year. Continued poor performance, judged on a five-point scale, can lead to dismissal, and the evaluations are used in deciding whether to award tenure.

The state’s response to that criticism is another reason for accolades, added Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief executive, who devoted fully one-third of his HuffPo column to recent efforts by state officials to adapt and evolve the evaluation system based on feedback.

“It is vital that school leaders and administrators continue to solicit feedback, learn from their mistakes, and make improvements,” he wrote.

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Education

Huffman Optimistic TN’s New, Long-Form NCLB Waiver Request Will Win Approval

Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman says Tennessee is still “well-positioned” to get a waiver from the federal government on the No Child Left Behind law, although the state was caught off-guard by some criteria for the move.

Tennessee applied for a waiver in July and expected a fairly quick response. The state had also heard substantial positive feedback from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about its chances of getting the waiver.

But the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance material in September outlining what was required in the waiver process, and the state is looking at a Nov. 14 deadline to submit a revised application.

Huffman acknowledged one aspect of the guidance came “out of left field.” That item requires the state to identify 10 percent of its schools where achievement gaps are pronounced and how to address them.

The achievement gaps could be in any number of subgroups, such as how white students perform compared to non-whites, or how students from low-income families perform compared to other students.

Huffman said there is a lot of overlap in the state’s original waiver application and what is required in the follow-up, but he noted the “focus schools” in the 10 percent looking at achievement gaps presented the department with a new task in terms of requirements and specificity.

“This we did not anticipate until we opened up our guidance at the end of September,” Huffman said.

He said the state would attempt to target interventions for schools with achievement gaps, and he said competitive federal grants could provide the resources needed.

A later deadline than Nov. 14 will also be available early next year for states to apply, Huffman said.

“People have suggested only 5 or 10 states are positioned to get a waiver in the first round, primarily because most states have not gone down the path on some of the things we’ve gone down the path on,” Huffman said in a presentation this week to the Tennessee State School Board. “So I think we’re well-positioned relative to our peers to get a waiver.”

Huffman said the state’s original waiver request was seven-and-a-half pages long, but he expects the Nov. 14 application to be hundreds of pages long, including attachments.

The commissioner said one strength in the state’s application, as in the original application, is its intervention efforts on the bottom 5 percent of schools in proficiency. Those efforts include Tennessee’s steps in developing its achievement school district.

Huffman said the federal government has not said publicly when a response to the application could be expected, but he said the state would like to hear results by the end of this year. The process would involve simply meeting criteria for the waiver and would not be a matter of Tennessee competing with other states.

Many states have complained about unrealistic expectations in the No Child Left Behind law as it stands pertaining to adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

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Press Releases

Governor Boasts on TN Edu Reforms at White House

State of Tennessee Press Release; Sept. 19, 2011:

Looks forward to federal government narrowing its role

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today delivered remarks in the East Room of the White House highlighting the state’s role as a national leader in education reform.

Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and educators from across the country at the event where President Barack Obama released criteria for states to receive a waiver to the No Child Left Behind legislation.

In July, Haslam and Huffman said Tennessee would pursue a waiver to No Child Left Behind.

The text of his remarks today is below:

Let me begin this morning by thanking Secretary Arne Duncan. We are grateful for your commitment to higher standards, for setting the expectation that every child can learn, and to shrinking the achievement gap. We in Tennessee appreciate the working relationship we have with you and the Department of Education.

As a Republican Governor, I may not always agree with this administration on policy issues or the proper role of the federal government. But I do believe that when there are things we can work on together, we should.

In Tennessee, we have raised our standards, linked teacher evaluation to student performance, and we are holding ourselves accountable. We believe we are most qualified to make our own decisions about how to continue our progress in making certain every child has an opportunity to learn.

I look forward to the federal government narrowing its role in education and allowing Tennessee the flexibility to abide by its own rigorous standards. Education decisions are best made at the state and local levels.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the President of the United States.

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NewsTracker

Video Gallery: Arne Duncan Talks TN Education Reforms

When U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan swung through Nashville last week to chat about his recent push to give states an out from the No Child Left Behind Act, he spent plenty of time talking about moving the needle on student performance in Tennessee.

“I just love what I see here,” he told reporters. “What I see here is courageous leadership at the top, I see a governor who’s walking the walk.”

TNReport shot lots of video, including the entire panel discussion that included him, Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford, State Collaborative on Reforming Education CEO Jamie Woodson, and Chris Barbic, superintendent of the newly-created Achievement School District.

Part 1 of the panel discussion at West End Middle School includes opening comments from the governor and Duncan as well as introductions of all the session’s participants. The panelists each offer their take on the biggest challenges to sustaining momentum on education reform, thoughts about the new teacher evaluation process and the disconnect between governors promising reforms and actually delivering them.

Part 2 includes questions from the audience, like what the structure and operation of the state’s new “Achievement School District” will look like, the role of school counselors in promoting emotional and educational development, the Volunteer State’s chances of opting out of the No Child Left Behind education law, thoughts about the state banning teachers unions from traditional contract negotiations, what the state is doing to recruit high-quality teachers and whether loosening up charter school restrictions helped Tennessee win the federal Race to the Top contest.

Part 3 includes more audience questions, such as how to get parents more involved in their children’s education and whether it’s possible for officials at all levels of government to embrace the belief that all children are capable of learning. Haslam wrapped up the session.

In this video, Duncan tells reporters he will exempt states from No Child Left Behind standards if they can show they’re working to improve education and are being brutally honest about their results.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Haslam, who added that compensation may not be the most important thing that motivates teachers, but it is important nonetheless.

Haslam and Duncan weighed in on the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of state-funded pre-K programs. Haslam says the public should expect incremental growth in the state’s program as it collects more in tax revenues. Duncan added that the key is a quality pre-K program, not “bonafide babysitters.”

Duncan talks with reporters specifically about what he thinks of Tennessee’s education reforms and the push-back it is getting from teachers.

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Education Featured

U.S. Education Secretary Praises Tennessee’s Reform Efforts

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did everything Wednesday but come out and say Tennessee will get the waiver it seeks from the No Child Left Behind law, and he had glowing things to say about the state’s education reform efforts.

“I just love what I see here,” Duncan said. “What I see here is courageous leadership at the top.

“I see a governor who is walking the walk. I see he is building a fantastic leadership team. I think he’s uniting the state behind this effort.”

Duncan appeared with Gov. Bill Haslam at a panel discussion at West End Middle School in Nashville and again at a roundtable discussion with rural educators and business leaders hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also in Nashville. Both men met with reporters following each event.

Tennessee, pointing to unreachable expectations in the federal No Child Left Behind law, has publicly sought a waiver from current demands in the law, and Duncan is revamping the system to accommodate waivers. The waiver framework, expected to help many states, is not expected to be finalized until September, but Duncan left little doubt at each stop Wednesday that Tennessee will get what it wants.

When Dr. James Jones, director of schools in Polk County, asked Haslam at the roundtable, “How do you think your request regarding No Child Left Behind has been received?” it was Duncan who gave the answer.

“Very well,” Duncan said, which drew laughter.

The secretary’s visit blended in with what has been a sustained momentum of attention to education changes in the state. Haslam readily acknowledged Wednesday he took the baton of education reform from the previous administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, who guided the state to its $501 million victory last year in the federal Race to the Top competition.

The state has enacted reforms that include raising standards to get a more accurate read on student progress and making for a more seamless transition from community colleges to four-year schools in higher education. The state is implementing a new teacher evaluation process, based largely on student performance, and has opened the door for more charter schools. The reform movement sprang from a special session of the Legislature in 2010, a key effort in the Race to the Top victory, but continued this year with controversial changes in teacher tenure and in the collective bargaining status of the teachers’ union.

When a question was raised at the panel discussion about the role of the teachers union, Duncan said teachers should be at the table.

“We cannot have a great education system in Tennessee or anyplace else if we don’t have everyone at the table working hard on this, whether it’s unions, whether it’s the business community, the philanthropic community, this has to be a statewide effort — parents, teachers, everyone at the table,” Duncan said. “I think the voice of teachers, the voice of unions, is critical to where we need to go.

“If we’re talking about long-term systemic change, I don’t see how you get there without having teachers at the table helping to shape that.”

Tennessee went to a “collaborative conferencing” system of teacher negotiations this year that legislators say will give all teachers equal access and not be dominated by the state’s large teachers union.

Duncan has seen the state’s efforts across two administrations. It was Duncan who announced the big victory for Bredesen and his team in the first round of Race to the Top. But he commended Tennessee’s leadership at every turn on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the collective commitment to transforming education than here in Tennessee,” Duncan told the audience at West End Middle School. “The investments we made in Race to the Top and other things, those are not gifts. Those are investments.”

But Duncan warned about how far the state has to go to improve. He noted that the state has about 16,000 fewer 12th graders than 9th graders, a sign of a high school drop-out rate and a reminder that the state needs a well-educated workforce if it is to compete for jobs and boost its economy.

“My challenge to you, and my hope is, that Tennessee can be the fastest improving state in the country,” Duncan said. “There are lots of reasons why that’s possible. It might not be the highest performing state, but it can be the fastest improving state.”

Haslam pointed to the need to maintain recent efforts.

“I’m the beneficiary of a lot of work done by people before I came to office,” Haslam said. “I fully intend not just to keep that momentum going but to pick up the pace.”

Duncan would not say outright that Tennessee will get its waiver, but he told reporters, “I have every reason to be hopeful about Tennessee’s submission.”

Duncan called the No Child Left Behind law, enacted under President George W. Bush, “very, very punitive.” A national trend has developed where states are saying the expectations have become so unrealistic that changes must be made, and Congress has been slow to revamp the statute.

Duncan recently said teachers should be paid $60,000-$150,000 a year. Haslam and Duncan talked about that concept in the car as they made their way from West End Middle School to the SCORE headquarters at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center several blocks away.

The governor, facing heavy budgetary issues like all governors, didn’t dismiss the item and used it as a way to say the system may need fundamental changes.

“The issue is how do we attract the best and brightest to teach,” Haslam said. “While most teachers say pay is not the most significant factor in deciding whether to teach or not, let’s don’t kid ourselves. Obviously, how we get compensated impacts how attracted we are to a profession.

“I have no clue in our current budget situation how we do that. But I think it probably involves a fundamental restructuring, everything from looking at class size to how long we go to school. My guess is that 20 years from now the equation of how we do education will look very different.”

Duncan also mentioned the concept of public boarding schools as a possibility, saying he saw one in Washington D.C. a few years ago.

“What works for the wealthy probably works for poor folks as well,” he said. “We’ve had private boarding schools in this country. The elite, who can afford it, their children seem to do pretty well, and it’s just something to think about.

“If we’re serious about ending cycles of poverty and social failure, I think our school days have to be a lot longer — 10, 12, 14-hour days. Maybe some children you need 24/7.”

The roundtable discussion at SCORE focusing on challenges facing rural schools followed a rural summit by SCORE a few weeks ago. SCORE is the reform group formed by Dr. Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader. Frist was not at Wednesday’s event. He is abroad in Somalia, where there is a famine.

SCORE’s president, Jamie Woodson, appeared on the panel at West End Middle School, with state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, superintendent Chris Barbic of the state’s Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest performing schools, and Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford.

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