Harr: Giving thanks for teachers

Harr: Giving thanks for teachers

November 29th, 2013 By Ron Harr in Opinion Columns

Thanksgiving week is a time to remember our blessings and reflect on the past year. Traditionally, we gather with family to share a great meal and celebrate our many fortunes. This year I encourage you to add our local educators to the list of reasons to be grateful.

Tennessee is making extraordinary gains in educational achievement. In 2010, our elected leaders and policy makers enacted bold reforms in public education with the goal of moving our schools from worst to first in the nation. Our reforms focused on student achievement measured by higher standards, increased teacher and principal accountability backed by stronger professional development opportunities, and an increased focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines among other improvements.

Earlier this month, we received strong confirmation that these reforms are succeeding. On Nov. 7, Gov. Bill Haslam announced that Tennessee made the largest gains of any state on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is considered the nation's report card. This news is nothing short of spectacular.

While policymakers played an important role, it was local teachers who accomplished wonders by embracing the reforms and bringing their skill, drive and enthusiasm into the classroom. Let's face it. Good education policy is a critical starting point, but we could not get very far without the on-the-ground expertise and hard work of Tennessee's teachers and school administrators.

By adapting daily to the needs of individual students, our teachers, principals and assistant principals transformed reform ideas into actual gains in student performance. As a result, Tennessee leaped from embarrassing bottom-of-the-nation rankings to the mid-to-high 30s on all NAEP measures in just two short years. This is an astonishing improvement by any measure.

Of course, the job is not done. I hear from many of the Chamber's members about the gaps between the workforce we have and the skills businesses need. However, Tennessee's NAEP scores show that we're on the right track. We're shrinking the gap, and we're doing it faster than any other state. Our teachers and school administrators are directly responsible for those gains, and they are succeeding despite significant challenges.

The excellence of local educators benefits everyone in our community. As they prepare our young people for higher-paying jobs, teachers are also providing local companies with high-performing employees. In turn, these employees help our existing companies create new jobs while making our area more attractive to outside companies as they consider where to locate new operations, bringing new wealth to the region.

That's why I ask you to join me in expressing our thanks and appreciation for teachers and principals in Hamilton County and across the state who are doing such a tremendous job for all of us. If you know a teacher personally, please tell them, "Thank you!"

Teachers and school administrators: On behalf of the business community in southeast Tennessee, please accept our gratitude for what you are accomplishing. You are doing the important work of educating our next generation of citizens. You are preparing them to earn a good living for themselves while keeping our whole economy growing. The recent scores are a clear indicator that you know how to motivate and teach our young people. We thank each of you and want you to know how much we all appreciate your outstanding efforts.

Ron Harr is president & CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.