Governor Phil Bredesen, Education Commissioner Tim Webb and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist this week launched the First to the Top Coalition, a statewide alliance of more than 30 business, community and education groups joining together to support public education reform in Tennessee.
The coalition’s first project is “Expect More, Achieve More: Raising the Bar in Tennessee Schools,” a campaign designed to raise parent and public awareness of higher academic standards in the classroom. The campaign is working to get ahead of the release of new Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores in late-September.
For more information on the coalition and its members, check out the campaign web site: www.ExpectMoreTN.com.
The coalition and campaign launched during a series of regional news conferences in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis on Tuesday, July 20, through Thursday, July 22. Joining the events are key education leaders from across the state, including Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, and Memphis Mayor AC Wharton.
This year’s TCAP scores, resulting from tests administered statewide in April 2010, will be the first to reflect Tennessee’s new and higher standards. Because the bar has been raised with more rigorous coursework, this year’s scores — compared with those from previous years — are expected to show a drop-off in student proficiency in key subjects including reading and mathematics.
“Raising standards in the classroom is the most important thing we can do to make sure students are career- and college-ready,” said Bredesen, who co-chairs Achieve Inc., a national organization committed to high standards. “But higher standards mean harder tests, and maybe lower test scores in the short term.”
Bredesen added: “It’s important for Tennessee parents and the public to be aware of the state’s higher standards, and then be prepared to help any students who are struggling.”
Senator Frist, chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), said fulfilling Tennessee’s commitment to higher standards means making sure that all stakeholders — from business and community leaders to parents and teachers — are working together to spread the word.
“The First to the Top Coalition is envisioned as a broad-based group that will help make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction in support of education reform across Tennessee,” Frist said. “There’s no greater need right now than making parents and students aware of what’s on the horizon with standards. That’s what ‘Expect More, Achieve More’ is all about.”
Expect More, Achieve More is a grassroots campaign driven by Coalition partner organizations that have the potential to reach millions of Tennesseans. Coalition campaign strategies include:
- Organizing community meetings with and distributing information to individual organization members, clients and employees, or other contacts — many of whom are parents of Tennessee’s more than 930,000 students.
- Distributing messages and materials online at www.ExpectMoreTN.com and through social media outlets such as Facebook, which reaches 1.9 million Tennesseans.
- Airing public service announcements (PSAs) on TV and radio, likely beginning in late August.
Tennessee’s efforts to ratchet up academic standards in public schools began in 2007 when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — representing America’s top employers — gave the state an ‘F’ for lack of high standards and assessments in the classroom.
The following year, officials with the state Department of Education — led by Bredesen, the General Assembly and the State Board of Education — responded by launching the Tennessee Diploma Project to work with local school systems to raise academic standards and implement more rigorous coursework.
Nationally, higher standards are viewed as critical in preparing high school students for graduation — and then a career or college. Thirty-five years ago, just 28 percent of U.S. jobs required training or education after high school. Today, 80 percent of jobs require some form of training beyond high school.
“Short term, raising standards is about tougher courses and likely harder tests,” said Commissioner Webb, who heads the Tennessee Department of Education. “Long term, it’s about getting Tennessee students ready for a career or college — and life.”
The 2009-10 school year was the first year in which the state’s higher standards were fully in effect. In new TCAP reports tentatively scheduled to be released to parents in late-September, any student who is rated “basic” or “below basic” needs help. Students who are rated “advanced” or “proficient” are on track, academically.
TCAP measures student knowledge — in Grades 3 through 8 — in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.
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