In a new map of the U.S. that details student academic growth, Tennessee is a bright green beacon in a sea of purple.
"If you are looking for Tennessee on a student growth map, just look for the bright green rectangle in the mid South," Kevin Huffman, former state education chief of Tennessee, said on Twitter. "That's us."
The map was included in a research paper, published earlier this month by Sean Reardon at Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, which used standardized test scores from roughly 45 million students in more than 11,000 school districts – almost every district in the U.S. – to show where students were making the greatest academic gains.
MILLINOCKET, ME-FEB 09: A school bus lets kids off early as a snow storm was approaching the area and school was let out early. The towns of East Millinocket and Millinocket have been dealing with revenue issues for years as the once bustling paper mills have closed. Now there's a fear that there may be less emphasis on public school funding with the new Secretary of Education appointed by President Trump.(Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
School Funding Takes Center Stage
As Mother Jones put it, "Tennessee is a green oasis in the middle of a desert of purple. Someone should figure out what they’re doing right."
Tennessee's transformation has been taking place since 2009, when it was among the first states to nab a $500 million grant from the Obama administration's hallmark competitive education program, Race to the Top. The state, under the leadership of Huffman and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, adopted a host of major education reforms, including tougher academic standards, new state tests aligned to those standards, new teacher evaluation and compensation models and an aggressive plan to turn around its worst schools.
To be sure, part of the reason Tennessee is the fastest growing in the country is because it rested at the bottom of the totem pole for so long, and therefore stood to gain the most. But unlike many states that adopt ambitious education overhauls and then move on to tackling the next issue, Tennessee has remained focused on education as a way to drive improvements in other parts of the state, including health care and employment.