US Education Secretary Duncan Visits Nashville

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US Education Secretary Duncan Visits Nashville

CREATED May 20, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a series of stops in Nashville Tuesday.

The last time Duncan was in Nashville he challenged Tennessee to improve student achievement faster than any other state in the nation.

Despite criticism about some of the changes the state has made, Duncan last year attributed the reforms in large part to a national report that showed Tennessee students lead the nation in academic improvement

Tuesday, Duncan applauded the state’s success and stressed more work needs to be done.

“For decades this state was actually lying,” Duncan said. “It was lying to children and lying to families and telling them they're prepared to be successful when they frankly weren't even close.”

Tennessee can now boast about students like Joshua Atkins, a junior at Lead Academy High School.

“I believe one of the biggest problems that face(s) students today is the lack of emersion at a young age about going to college,” Atkins told the audience during a town hall meeting at Brick Church Middle School. “Especially on signing day, I hope to be able to lift the shirt in my hand that says I’m going to Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.”

Reform efforts included the creation of teacher evaluations, tying teacher pay to student test scores and phasing in the Common Core state standards. It's been met with strong opposition and lawmakers have but the brakes on the momentum to further implement those types of reforms.

“For all the progress, Tennessee is nowhere near, I think what anyone thinks is good enough yet,” Duncan said. He stressed the stakes have never been higher.

“Four year universities, two year community colleges, trade, technical, vocational training, if you don’t have something you’re basically condemned to poverty and social failure,” he said.

So Duncan is issuing a new challenge.

“My challenge is, can Tennessee continue to accelerate the rate of progress. Can they get better faster that other states around the nation?”

It's all for students like Atkins, who use education to remove the barriers and beat the odds.

“I'll be able to become a pharmacist,” Atkins said about his future plans. “And then I'll be able to take care of my mother, my father and my aunt.”

After his stop at Brick Church, Secretary Duncan spoke at a meeting of the Education Writers Association at Vanderbilt University.

Duncan concluded his visit at a roundtable about teacher preparation with Vanderbilt University's Peabody College faculty and local teachers.

( The Associated Press contributed to this story)