Growing up in Lebanon with teachers in my family, the importance of a good education was clearly evident. At an early age, I began to realize the impact that multiple factors have on the quality of education each student might receive.
And, due to bouncing around schools during my first five years of schooling, it would be fair to say I had a wide range of experiences. However, until I spent years in the workforce, I did not truly understand how the quality of education could directly impact the future of a state.
Over the past few years, Tennesseans have witnessed a number of positive reforms to education ranging from teacher hiring policies, evaluations, licensure measures, and the creation of new high-quality schooling options for families. As a parent, I strongly support these reforms.
The recurring themes in each of these policies are clear. Tennessee should want to place the best teachers in our public school classrooms, find what works well and replicate it across districts, and empower parents with insightful data so they can make the best decisions for their child’s academic success. This is pure common sense.
And to no surprise, I do not stand alone in my support for meaningful education reform. A recent survey of likely voters by Public Opinion Strategies revealed that 93 percent of Tennesseans think the education system needs change to some degree with more than half indicating that change should be major.
Improving education is not just about contending with other states around the region. As a country, we have lost ground internationally. Because of this, another common theme in Tennessee reform efforts has been the focus on raising standards so our children can compete globally.
According to Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, only 7 percent of students in the U.S. reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, in contrast to more than 45 percent in countries like South Korea. As jobs of the future global economy continue to emphasize math and science competences, this lag among American students should raise concern.
The overwhelming support for reform indicates that Tennesseans understand the effect high-quality education has on preparing our students for college and the workforce. Ultimately, education is a pathway to spurring economic growth by attracting businesses and creating jobs. For a growing city like Lebanon, this is crucial.
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Commissioner Kevin Huffman to take on these reforms, and together they have boldly stepped up to the plate on behalf of our students. As I thank them and the entire General Assembly for their dedication, I urge them all to stand tall and keep pushing forward.
As the General Assembly prepares for another legislative session, everyone must play an active role in our democracy and do their part in improving public education. Reach out to your legislators, share your personal stories, and urge our leaders to pass the transformative reforms that will continue to lead Tennessee into the future by empowering parents and putting students first.
Brent Easley is the state director for StudentsFirst Tennessee.