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Memphis is final stop on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school tour

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s fifth annual back-to-school tour will bring him to Tennessee next Tuesday, Sept. 9 and Wednesday, Sept. 10.

Memphis is the final destination of the tour, which will also pass through Georgia and Alabama.

The education department has dubbed the tour “Partners in Progress.” From the release:

The trip will include stops in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee and highlight the commitment that those states are making to encourage reform and innovation. Traveling through places that represent the cradle of America’s civil rights effort, the tour will focus on important work being done to close gaps of opportunity that many young Americans face.

Duncan’s last stop is at Cornerstone Prep in Memphis, a school in the state-run Achievement School District. Ending the stop at Cornerstone, which saw its test scores increase in its second year in the ASD, draws attention to the one of Duncan’s signature programs—the Race to the Top grants—which helped fund the ASD.

Some of Duncan’s favored policies have been embraced by Tennessee’s education department under current commissioner Kevin Huffman. Duncan touted the state as a model for school improvement when scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released last year. Tennessee’s gains were some of the largest in the nation.

Those policies have occasionally been controversial. For instance, the federal department has incentivized states and districts to tie teachers’ and principals’ evaluations to test scores through grant programs like Race to the Top and through waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind. But the Tennessee Education Association says that research demonstrates that Tennessee’s method of evaluating teachers is both unconstitutional and unfair.

The department has also incentivized the adoption of college- and career-ready standards—which has led most states, including Tennessee, to embrace the Common Core State Standards. State legislators in Tennessee considered backing away from the standards last spring, as constituents perceived them as a federal intrusion on state power, among other concerns.

Duncan’s education department recently announced significant changes to another signature program that’s had a big impact on Tennessee schools: the School Improvement Grant program, which helped fund much-touted Innovation Zone turnaround efforts in Memphis and Nashville. The changes mean, among other things, that districts can now create their own methods for school improvement rather than adhering to a set recommended by the the federal government.

Here are the Tennessee stops on Duncan’s tour:


5:40 p.m. ET

The secretary will visit the Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga to emphasize the importance of quality early learning in children’s education development. He will read to a group of 3-year-olds. Later, he will participate with about 100 parents, students and educators in an Early Learning Town Hall.

Chambliss Center for Children, 315 Gillespie Road, Chattanooga, Tennessee.


9:15 a.m. CST

The secretary will visit William Henry Oliver Middle School and participate in a town hall with about 150 parents, teachers and stakeholders.

William Henry Oliver Middle School, 6211 Nolensville Rd., Nashville, Tennessee

 2:30 p.m. CST

Secretary Duncan will conclude the tour with a celebratory rally and town hall with parents, elected officials and stakeholders at Cornerstone Preparatory School, a unique elementary whose school structure, perspective, methods and systems are based on the best practices from high-performing school across the country.

Cornerstone Preparatory School, 320 Carpenter St., Memphis, Tennessee