Education advocates: Tennessee must recommit to accelerating learning

NASHVILLE – A group of education advocates from across Tennessee have joined together to raise awareness of the critical need to strengthen K-12 education, particularly amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that experts anticipate will contribute to significant learning losses and worsen equity gaps among vulnerable student populations. 
“We should all be very concerned about the trajectory of Tennessee’s education progress. After years of improvement, Tennessee’s outcomes have started to stall; scores on the Nation’s Report Card have started to stall and we’ve seen a slight drop in average ACT scores as well as the state’s high school graduation rate,” said Tara Scarlett, president and CEO of the Scarlett Family Foundation. “We have launched this initiative to help encourage a renewed focus on K-12 outcomes and raise awareness of strategies that can help generate greater results in our schools – before it’s too late.”

Just a few years ago, Tennessee earned national attention for rapid education improvement, rising from the bottom of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card) rankings of student academic progress. The state improved in overall national rankings in 4th and 8th grade math and reading; Tennessee 4th graders jumped from 46th in the nation in math to 37th and from 41st to 31st in reading. The state also saw strong improvements among Black students and students with disabilities. However, progress has recently slowed, and outcomes are beginning to stagnate.

“We parents and grandparents know our communities best, which is why we are demanding immediate action to strengthen K-12 education across the state,” said Sarah Carpenter, Executive Director of Memphis Lift. “Families in struggling communities are getting hit badly by two crises: COVID and the education gaps created by the virus. We are seeing our children and grandchildren fall further and further behind every day. We need urgency to support these children who need it most because there has never been more at stake.”

Through a new website called Better Student Outcomes Now, advocates will share information about education policies and initiatives that have demonstrated results when it comes to improving student success. Better Student Outcomes Now will also explore different education models and tactics that have been implemented in results-driven schools and districts and regularly spotlight new and emerging issues affecting K-12 education outcomes. 

Supporters of Better Student Outcomes Now include:

Bill Haslam, former Tennessee governor and president of the Bill and Crissy Haslam Foundation, said, “We’ve got to double-down on our work to generate across-the-board results for all students, and the only way to do that is to take a hard look at the policies that have proven effective in classrooms. Our Governor and state leaders recognize how important a great education is to future job prospects, economic opportunities and quality of life. At a time when our communities face tremendous challenges, investing in our children is truly the best strategy for a more promising future.”

Better Student Outcomes Now is intended to be a dynamic source for information and resources. The issues or initiatives that are spotlighted on the website will change periodically as the education conversation in Tennessee evolves. The first issue that is highlighted on the site is the dramatic effect that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on learning loss.
Advocates widely agree that ensuring students have continued educational opportunities during the pandemic will be integral to the future success of Tennessee and its residents. The risks associated with the so-called “COVID Slide” – learning losses that result from prolonged school closures – are expected to dramatically worsen existing achievement and equity gaps in K-12 education in Tennessee and across the United States.
The Better Student Outcomes Now website shares recent research and data related to COVID learning loss as well as a few best practices from Tennessee schools that have been exploring ways to ensure all students have the resources and education opportunities they deserve despite current circumstances. Visit the website at

Interested stakeholders are invited to sign up through the website to receive regular updates and news items that will help them stay informed of the ongoing effort to raise academic achievement for all students. Follow @EdOutcomes4TN on Facebook and Twitter for more updates. 

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