U.S. Education Secretary visits Knox County Schools

U.S. Education Secretary visits Knox County Schools

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Dr. McIntyre, Sec. Duncan, Gov. Haslam and West High School Principal Katherine Banner. Dr. McIntyre, Sec. Duncan, Gov. Haslam and West High School Principal Katherine Banner.
Duncan visits with students at West High School. Duncan visits with students at West High School.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan paid a visit to East Tennessee Wednesday.

Duncan visited Knox County Schools to take a look at how educational reforms have worked in the county and to discuss new goals for American schools, including President Obama's State of the Union proposal to train more high schoolers for high-tech jobs.

On Wednesday morning, Duncan made classroom visits and took part in a roundtable discussion at West High School that also included Gov. Bill Haslam and Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre.

"To see the progress, and the courage, and the leadership that the governor, and the state chief, and the principals, teachers have show in the past few years is remarkable," Duncan said.

Duncan said Tennessee is one of the states leading the country right now in terms of improvement and driving change.  

One of those improvements Duncan learned about was West High School's International Baccalaureate program, graduating its first class in May.

Senior Lauren Winder transferred from a private school just to take part in the program.

"It's not just like an advanced placement program where you learn a lot of hard material and take a test. They focus on building well-rounded students, in general," said Winder.  

Several participants weighed in on how to prepare students better for the workforce.

Gov. Haslam said the focus was shifting from not just graduating students, but ensuring they have a future after graduation.

"Education issues are really at the front of what we're doing. We want to have that kind of communication, and we want show him (Duncan) the results of what's happening in Tennessee," said Gov. Haslam.

One contributor said that it was important for students to have more than just a diploma, but also skills they can use on the job, in order to be competitive in the current market.

Teacher evaluations were another topic of conversation, with some educators talking about the apprehension teachers faced because of the standards they are held against.

Dr. McIntyre said one way the district was working to improve the evaluation process was by appointing a fellow teacher, called a "lead teacher," to take part in the assessments to make the process more constructive.

Duncan also praised the state's revamped teacher evaluation system, which now evaluates teachers once a year. Under the old system, teachers were evaluated twice a decade.

School board members were invited to ask questions and one board member asked Duncan about his stance on charter schools.

Duncan said that many students don't have any options for a quality education and that his focusing was on changing that, regardless of the type of school.

"I just want good schools," he said.

Duncan said that there are good and bad charter schools, just as there are good and bad traditional schools.

Duncan also said he hopes to work with Congress to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act.

Tennessee was granted a waiver in 2012, and will have to improve overall achievement by three to five percent each year and cut achievement gaps in half over an eight-year period.

Duncan says the latest Race to the Top annual report is encouraging for Tennessee.

'I think again what Tennessee did is not lower the bar, but raise the bar, and challenge themselves on that process,"  Duncan said.

Sec. Duncan and Gov. Haslam differ on school vouchers. Haslam has proposed a limited voucher program, applying to the lowest income children in the lowest performing schools.

"We feel very strongly that our bill is the strongest approach," Haslam said.

However Duncan disagrees. He even tweeted after the meeting, "Vouchers aren't the solution."

"Our goal is should to make every single public school a good school, and put our resources there," Duncan said.

Later in the day, Duncan spoke at the Howard Baker Center on University of Tennessee's campus about expanding early learning programs.

He also visited Ritta Elementary School and take part in a closed-door discussion on education reform.

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