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Tenn. Gov. Haslam Talks Ed. Policy, Election 2012

By Nirvi Shah — August 29, 2012 2 min read
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Safety Harbor, Fla.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, in town for the GOP convention in Tampa this week, said he’ll be looking forward to a continued strong emphasis on preparing the future workforce if now-official Republican nominee Mitt Romney is elected president.

I talked to Haslam because he’s one Republican who has visibly supported the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver initiative and introduced the President during the unveiling of that plan, which is largely disparaged by Republicans in Congress.

Haslam noted the general decline in world rankings for the U.S. education system over the years.

“If we’re going to compete that’s not going work,” Haslam said during a chat Tuesday at the scenic Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, where other members of the Tennessee delegation to the Republican National Convention are staying.

Hopefully, he said, the message of preparing a future workforce will seep deep into middle schools, so that students start thinking about, and taking the right courses, to prepare for their ultimate careers.

(Fun fact: Ohio television reporters eagerly awaited the conclusion of my interview. They weren’t going to talk education though. They were more curious about Haslam’s brother Jimmy’s recent purchase of the Cleveland Browns.)

Weighing Obama’s Initiatives

Though I asked Haslam about looking forward, we also looked back on some of the major federal initiatives of the Obama administration and how they’ve shaped the current state of the Tennessee education system.

Under Haslam’s predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, Tennessee was one of the first two states to secure a Race to the Top grant. Bredesen also set in motion the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

Haslam, considered a moderate Republican, gave props to Race to the Top, one of President Barack Obama’s signature education accomplishments.

“The things that the Obama administration was asking to emphasize were things that ,if you look, a lot of Republicans said, ‘Hey, those are ideas we’re comfortable with,’ and I think that’s still true,” Haslam said.

Race to the Top was the trigger for Tennessee to reinvent its teacher-evaluation process.

“If it had come from a Republican president and only Republicans were pushing it ... I think Democrats in our legislature and other places would have risen up against it,” Haslam said.

The evaluation plan is facing some backlash from teachers, but it hasn’t been overturned.

Haslam has also embraced the Common Core State Standards, which have almost been too well-received by the federal government.

If you polled Republicans in town for the convention, he said, “they’d say we believe in more rigor. We believe in more math and science,” he said. The standards, in other words, dovetail with Republican principles.

“As a governor, I don’t ever want to get hung up on ‘Well, this idea came from this place and therefore we shouldn’t be for it,’” he said. “I always want to be about what’s the right idea.”

Photo: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, center, talks to delegates on the floor at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. (David Goldman/AP)