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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors in Tennessee and North Carolina Focus on Increasing High School Graduation Rates

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“There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right," Haslam said.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the high school graduation rate in the United States hit an all time high of 81 percent for the Class of 2013. In several recent state of the state addresses, the nation’s governors have recognized the gains their respective states have made in increasing their high school graduation rates while also offering new ideas on how to raise the rates even higher.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslam Sets Sights on High School Graduation Rates and Common Core State Standards

During his February 9 state of the state address, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) reminded Tennesseans and the general assembly, “There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right,” a plan he believes centers around improving the graduation rates of Tennessee high school students.

To support an increase in high school graduation rates, Haslam proposed an additional $2.5 million to support Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS), a program that gives high school seniors extra support in math so that they might avoid remedial courses in college.

Haslam also pointed to the importance of his Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to increase the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school to 55 percent by 2025, up from the current 32 percent. The plan is supported by the Tennessee Promise, which guarantees high school graduates two years at a community college or technical school. Haslam pointed to the program’s success, saying “this year, of our 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 of them applied for the Tennessee Promise.”

Haslam also spoke of a need to continue “doing all we can to work with educators and support them as professionals who are shaping the future of our children and our state,” proposing $100 million dollars for increasing teacher salaries.

“We know that a big part of success is to have a great teacher leading every classroom,” he said. “Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain, and reward the best and brightest educators. A big piece of doing that is paying good teachers well.”

Though much of his discussion on education focused on high school graduation rates, Haslam reminded Tennesseans of the state’s ongoing efforts to examine the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and decide if they are right for Tennessee schools. Haslam, a previous strong supporter of the CCSS, is asking the public to review the standards and make comments through a state-run website. The site has already received more than 80,000 comments. Those comments will be taken into consideration by six advisory teams, who will then propose any changes to the State Board of Education.

It is estimated that removing the CCSS could cost the state roughly $4 million over three years. Additionally, many of the state’s superintendents continue to strongly support the CCSS.

“Tennessee has received national attention for making historic gains in student achievement,” Randy Frazier, president of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents told The Tennessean. “That is why we say to the General Assembly this morning, ‘please, do not derail our momentum.’”

North Carolina: Gov. McCrory Focuses on Supporting Teachers

Though his state currently boosts the highest high school graduation rate in its history, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) spoke to the continuing need to improve education in his February 4 state of the state address, noting that “a key part of any jobs plan is a quality education so students can be competitive in a global economy.”

McCrory made several proposals to enhance the teaching profession, saying he wanted to make the state a “teaching destination, not a layover for our state’s best and brightest.” He reminded state legislators and those in his cabinet of his experience as a student teacher at North Rowan High School in Spenser, North Carolina.

“I thought I had the perfect lesson plan for my first day of teaching,” McCrory said. “I worked for days preparing an hour’s worth of teaching material. But I ran out of material after 10 minutes. … Teaching is hard.”

McCrory said the state must fulfill its promise to raise a teacher’s base pay to $35,000 a year and “give our teachers and students the gift of time by testing less and teaching more,” adding that his administration is working to deemphasize “unneeded testing by next year.”

In addition, McCrory suggested expediting teacher certification in the state to “help our schools hire the teachers they need now” by taking into consideration the amount of experience and expertise an individual has in the subject matter. “This bureaucratic process must change,” McCrory said, “We want, and should be encouraging, accomplished people who want to join the teaching profession. The bureaucracy should never, never, stand between their talents and our children.”

McCrory also mentioned a continued focus on job training in community colleges and the need to bring Wi-Fi access to all classrooms and long-distance learning for students.

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