Business Engagement in Tennessee Education Critical to Success
What does Tennessee have that many other states do not? How about a reform-minded Governor and state chief and an engaged business community committed to student achievement. In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness and gave Tennessee an ‘F’ on Academic Achievement of Low-Income and Minority Students and an ‘F’ on Truth in Advertising about Student Proficiency. It is well documented that this report was the impetus the state needed to get serious about change. Then-Governor Phil Bredesen began a series of modifications that has landed Tennessee at the top in terms of education reform and won the state one of only two coveted first round Race to the Top awards.
Tennessee’s current Governor, Bill Haslam, has picked up the mantel from his predecessor and is building on the state policy changes enacted in 2009 and 2010, with teacher tenure reform and charter school expansion in 2011. The policy changes enacted by the legislature over the past three years have propelled Tennessee to the forefront in education.
The hard work of implementation has begun and while many are pleased with the states progress thus far (according to the 2012 Building a Grad Nation report released last week, Tennessee leads the nation in graduation rate gains) satisfaction will not come until student achievement scores rise dramatically.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show only 28% of Tennessee 8th graders are proficient in reading and only 25% are proficient in math. Just 15% of Tennessee’s 11th graders are college and career ready across all four of ACT’s benchmarks--when seven out of ten of the fastest growing jobs in the state will require some postsecondary education. This is where the business community has and will continue to play an important role.
The state and local chambers of commerce, the Tennessee Business Roundtable, and the Tennessee Business Education Coalition are committed to raising student achievement levels in Tennessee because the competitiveness of the workforce and of the nation is at stake. Last year, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce released Partnership is a Two-Way Street: What it Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform profiling three communities in which business played a valuable role in retooling school systems and providing the leverage, expertise, and leadership to help educators and public officials make tough decisions to reform public education. Nashville’s business community and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce were profiled for their dedication to improving Metro Nashville Public Schools--specifically their work in supporting a new academy model within the majority of the metro area high schools.
To the east of Nashville, the business community in Knoxville challenged itself to have the best workforce in the country as well as be a beacon for new business. But in order to achieve this goal, they knew they needed to commit financial resources to public education. However, they were unable to answer questions like: What should we fund? How will we know what is working? How will investment outcomes be measured? The Knoxville Chamber, along with philanthropic funding and the expertise of a retired CEO, created the Education Management Information System (EMIS). EMIS comprises years of student data and is accessible by teachers, principles, and administrators; who are then able to turn that data into usable information that drives smart decision making in Knoxville.
The business community in Tennessee is very comfortable playing the dual roles of critical customer and partner. Just last week, Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education and Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, visited Tennessee to offer her support and encouragement for continuing on the path of reform as the going gets tough and game changing policies are implemented. With the continued support of the business community, success will come and the children of Tennessee will benefit the most.