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Bill Haslam: Colorful picture of education progress in Tennessee

Bill Haslam • Jan 3, 2018 at 8:27 PM

We’re accustomed to the beauty of the green rolling hills throughout much of Tennessee, but our state never looked more green and beautiful as it did in an education graphic this month. 

An academic study at Stanford University crunched the numbers on students’ performance based on the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” We’ve known for a couple of years that Tennessee’s students were the fastest improving in the country in NAEP results, but we couldn’t have said it better than the color-coded graphic used by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford.

Tennessee stands out in the graphic as a predominantly green state of high achievement surrounded by purple. We are literally making our mark in student growth.  

As I travel across the state, I can tell people that we are making great strides in student improvement, but the independent study shows it in living color. Still, we can tell people how we got to this point. We’ve done big things in K-12 education since we’ve been in office, and they have all contributed to our progress. We now have higher Tennessee state standards and a better way to measure how students are doing. We have tied our assessment of students to teachers’ evaluations and the evaluations to tenure so teachers can receive the professional support they might need to improve, because every student in every zip code deserves a high-quality teacher leading the classroom. 

We also lifted the cap on charter schools in Tennessee to give Tennessee parents more choices. We have seen significant growth in student performance, and it’s nice to see the accomplishments of our hard-working teachers and students being recognized.

Making college well connected

Like many media outlets, USA Today published a Year in Review this month, and one of its features was “50 stories from 50 states that moved us in 2017,” highlighting a significant story from each state. 

The story they chose for our state was Tennessee Reconnect, our program to extend the opportunity for adults to attend a community or technical college free of tuition and fees, just as we did with the Tennessee Promise for new high school graduates. Just as we have laid the foundation for higher education with our K-12 initiatives, our efforts in higher education are geared toward a well-educated, highly skilled workforce, and it’s great to see the attention we’re receiving for it.

Home for the holidays

We hope everyone has enjoyed the holiday season, and it has been a busy month at the Tennessee Residence. Crissy and I opened the residence for the seventh annual Tennessee Home for the Holidays, inviting all Tennesseans to tour the decorations. 

The theme this year was “Tennessee Heroes,” with trees celebrating Tennesseans who serve or have served in the military, law enforcement, first responders and emergency management. 

The trees we had in Conservation Hall were decorated with ornaments created by Tennessee military children and families, military-connected youth and other military-connected organizations, including Fort Campbell students, American Legion posts and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Crissy and I love sharing the residence with Tennesseans, and the annual Home for the Holidays has been a joy for us.

Special graduation and an        anniversary

Few events this month have been as rewarding as seeing 44 students graduate from the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna. The Department of Human Services program is for people with disabilities of all kinds to be trained for jobs. 44 students graduated this month. 

The concept is to match employers’ needs with workers and to partner with businesses to help put people in the program into jobs. The graduates were from across the state, and the significance of the event this year was twofold. It was a crowning achievement for the students, and it was the 40th anniversary of the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center. We congratulate everyone involved.

More great employment numbers

We have had a string of impressive results in employment this year, and the unemployment rate for November announced this month show us continuing on a successful path. Our statewide unemployment rate is 3.1 percent, which is lower than the national average of 4.1 percent and two percentage points lower in the state than just one year ago. 

December also gave us a chance to celebrate economic investment in Tennessee, with the opening of Bridgestone Tower in downtown Nashville, which will be a home base for 1,700 employees, and the kick-off for production of the 2018 LEAF at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna.

A winner in Major League     Soccer

Our state scored yet again with the announcement that a Major League Soccer team will be in Nashville. Congratulations to the entire ownership team led by John Ingram. Tennessee now has teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS. The latest announcement is a win for our state’s economy and a win for our sports fans. Welcome to Tennessee, MLS.

So, from academic progress to creating more access to college, to seeing businesses expand and Tennesseans succeeding in the workplace, this has been an outstanding year for our state. Crissy and I are grateful to all Tennesseans for playing a part in making this such a great state – the greatest state in the nation in our opinion. We look forward to another great year in Tennessee.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Bill Haslam is the Republican governor of Tennessee.

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