KINGSPORT -- Declaring that Tennessee has “moved the goal posts” on K-12 achievement standards to make high school diplomas meaningful, Gov. Phil Bredesen warned parents Tuesday that they should not be shocked if their child is no longer academically proficient when new standards are set later this week by the State Board of Education.
Bredesen said the changes were essential given that state tests indicate 80 percent of all students are proficient in math, but only 21 percent of students score mathematically proficient on the National Assessment of Education Progress test.
“There’s only one reason that could be, and that is, our tests our way too easy,” Bredesen said, while urging the public and lawmakers not to backslide on tougher standards as he leaves office in six months. “To hand someone a diploma who does not have the skills to go out and be successful in college or at one of these (high-tech) companies is not doing anybody any favors or helping us to succeed.
“It may be uncomfortable, but I know you really want what is best for your child. And your child is out competing against a lot of people who have these skills, some of whom are in this country, and some who are in another country.”
Bredesen, delivering the keynote for Kingsport’s Straight to the Top Conference at MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center, applauded Kingsport and Sullivan County for being the quick to realize this fundamental connection between a truly educated workforce and a stable local economy.
“Site selection consultants used to dismiss Kingsport as a part of the rust belt with a lot of old industry,” Bredesen said. “Nobody says that today. This is a part of our state that has really transformed its economy in some really fundamental ways … and is training a 21st century workforce. Kingsport and Sullivan County are gaining national recognition for that. The academic village model is something that is being talked about around the country.”
To highlight the nexus between education and economics, Bredesen indicated that a major manufacturing prospect Tennessee is currently pursuing “is adamant they will not even interview someone without two years of education beyond high school,” adding that 80 percent of jobs today now require a minimum two years of college. Since 2002, Kingsport and Sullivan County have offered every high school graduate free tuition to Northeast State Community College.
“For a long time in our country a good job was a place you went to work right after high school … I suspect Eastman (Chemical Company) was one of those over the years,” Bredesen said. “With the mobile society we live in today, the very best protection is not getting on at Eastman early on, it is to have the skills it takes to go wherever you want and be able to get the kind of job that supports a family and lets you live the American dream.”
Meanwhile, Eastman CEO Jim Rogers, who introduced the Governor, noted his company’s commitment to education, with “200 employees who are trained” to work in more than 100 local school systems.
“I may not be an expert in this area, but I am a customer of the work you do,” Rogers told educators and administrators in the room. “What you do is extremely important to us. And we hope you are going to deliver the graduates who give us a competitive leg up.”
Earlier in Tuesday’s session, former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and current Lecturer in Public Management at the Harvard Kennedy School likewise commended Kingsport for helping residents to “punch their meal ticket” and thereby encouraging trust in the larger direction of local government.
“How does a city become a viable, memorable city in a region and compete in the global economy,” Williams asked. “What are the ingredients? Most are spelled out in a common understanding in terms of building convention centers like this one or having great sports facilities or bringing in some entertainment to your city. But where all of us are impressed with Kingsport is that you are doing all of these things, but you are also looking at education and understanding the role of education in economic development. I think that is the genius of Kingsport’s plan.”
Summing up the conference, Mayor Dennis Phillips noted that the “leadership of Kingsport is not going to fail, and this is only the beginning of what we hope to accomplish.”