Tennessee needs to spend more on students, pay for teachers

Published 9:26 am Monday, December 4, 2017

To the editor:
Education in Tennessee could use some improvements. The state currently ranks in the bottom half of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s national report card. It is currently one of only 14 states that doesn’t have a statewide average ACT composite score of at least 20. Only 42 percent of Tennessee students make at least a 21 on their ACT, which is the qualifying score for the HOPE scholarship. According to the NAEP, only 36 percent of fourth grade students in Tennessee can read on a proficient level. It is obvious that if Tennessee wants to compete nationally in terms of education, then there must be reforms.
Tennessee should create statewide standards that are centered around critical thinking. The state should also require all high school seniors to pass a statewide “exit exam” before being allowed to graduate. This would make educators more accountable and ensure every student has a proficient education to enter college or the workforce. These were two of the multiple reforms that Massachusetts implemented under its Education Reform Law of 1993. Massachusetts focused on critical thinking by integrating subject material rather than focusing solely on rote memorization for standardized, multiple choice testing. Today, Massachusetts is the top scoring state in regard to the PISA assessment, while Tennessee remains one of the 10 worst scoring states.
Tennessee must make it harder to be an educator while also rewarding those who pass harder certification exams with higher salaries. It is possible for a teacher who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English to teach physics if he or she passes the PRAXIS exam for that subject. Teaching has become a less desirable profession as salaries are not competitive with other professions. According to the National Education Association, the average starting salary is $44,668 for public accounting professionals and $45,570 for registered nurses. However, the base salary for Tennessee teachers is $32,455. If it is harder to become a teacher and salaries are significantly increased, schools will get much better candidates to mold young minds.
Tennessee must increase per pupil expenditures as well. Tennessee only spends $9,499 per student while the national average is $11,841 per student. There is a direct correlation between states that have higher per pupil expenditures and higher student success. For example, the top seven scoring states in the NAEP assessment spent much more per pupil than the national average. Although Tennessee is currently not the richest state, it could better its future economy by investing in K-12 education which in turn leads to more students going to college, higher incomes, and lower unemployment rates.
The argument could be made that the standards required with the Every Student Succeeds Act signed into law by President Obama are a step to hold the state more accountable. However, Tennessee must take further actions by implementing educational reforms such as a more rigorous curriculum, better teacher salaries, and higher per pupil expenditures.
Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Knowledge is power, and it is a power that can change the world. I encourage you to give your kids the power to make the world a place where everyone can learn and prosper.

Hunter Greene

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