NASHVILLE (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam lauded the state on Tuesday for improvements made in the well-being of children, saying gains particularly in the area of education justify reforms that have been implemented in recent years.
The Kids Count Data Book, an annual report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Tennessee among five states that have made the biggest improvement in the last year. The other states are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Utah.
The report by the nonprofit children’s advocacy group grades states on education, health care and poverty.
Overall, Tennessee moved from 39th to 36th this year. In the area of education, the state improved from 42nd to 37th. According to the report, more children met reading and math goals, preschool enrollments increased, and more teenagers graduated from high school on time.
“When we look at the future of kids ... education is one of the biggest factors and we’re making great progress in Tennessee,” Haslam told reporters after a rotary luncheon in Springfield.
The Republican governor credited education reforms for the state’s improvements noted in the report.
“I do think the changes that have been made in education ... are making a difference,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I want to make sure that we don’t back up.”
In May, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Nashville and once again applauded Tennessee for its reforms, despite pushback.
Tennessee and Delaware were the first two states to win the $500 million Race to the Top competition in 2010. Last year, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed Tennessee students led the nation in academic improvement.
However, the state has been heavily criticized for some of its reforms, such as tying student performance on standardized test scores to teacher licensing, a proposal that was eventually redrawn after state lawmakers passed – and the governor signed – legislation opposing it.
And during the last legislative session, lawmakers voted to delay the testing component associated with Common Core for one year. Haslam reluctantly signed the measure into law.
However, Teresa Wasson, spokeswoman for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, agreed the state's reforms – such as implementation of Common Core standards – have made a difference.
“Tennessee has put in place a solid package of student-focused policies, specifically higher academic standards, great teaching, strong school leadership, and using data to make smart decisions about instruction,” Wasson said. “The Kids Count report shows that the hard work of educators is better preparing more Tennessee students for college and the workforce.”
Another area in which the state showed significant improvement was in health care – from 33rd to 31st – with improvements in measurements of low-birth weight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths per 100,000, and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.
“Good public policies and wise investments in improving outcomes for children over the years have made a difference in the overall well-being of children in Tennessee,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the state Kids Count affiliate.