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What's going on in the Volunteer State?

(Note: If you're too lazy to read this, you can just watch this TV interview that has the a lot of the same info, though without my priceless insight...but no hard feelings!)

Sometimes, I find myself perusing statistical data on our country's adult education programs...for fun. I know. Anyway, I recently found myself checking out the NAEPDC Blue Book to learn more about how state and federal funding streams differ across the country. I was just minding my own business, scrolling through each state's fact sheet when I stopped dead in my tracks at Tennessee.

Now, really study that table at the top under "Enrollment." 6,055 HSE graduates in 2014-15? I was -- and continue to be -- in awe.

I immediately wanted to know how the Volunteer State has achieved such amazing success with their adult education population, and TN Director Jason Beard was kind enough to talk with me. Here are my take-aways of what I think are key elements that can and should be replicated by other decision makers.

1. Cut the big (i.e., expensive) stuff. Jason doesn't pull any punches. When he entered his new job, he quickly saw potential for downsizing the administrative structure, and thus the structure's cost. By reducing to 8 statewide programs, a savings of over $2 million was then directed toward hiring more full-time teachers, a definite key to success of a program. Raising the starting salary to over $40K/year didn't hurt either. Valuing teachers is pretty much the best investment you can make in a program.

2. Strategic implementation of standards and other initiatives. Strategic examination of key and effective elements of standards implementation led to the establishment of implementation teams who created and utilized curriculum maps for the matching of the CCRS with state-identified resources of choice. Bingo. Jason and his team weren't out to check a box to say they "have standards." They implement a comprehensive plan with integrity. Classrooms can only benefit from such a process.

3. Work with a professional curriculum designer. Tennessee has contracted with ETS (creator of the HiSET) to develop lesson plans that are then field-tested by Tennessee teachers. This will be an insanely profitable idea. Not only have troops on the ground been a valuable part of the process, but the maker of the HiSET is creating materials that will lead to student success.

4. A willingness to be honest. In talking with Jason, it's clear he makes honest assessment of himself and his programs. He moves forward with what works, and he revises what doesn't. How refreshing.

While I continue to bask in the data of USA adult education, think about steps you can take to emulate Tennessee's model. You'll be glad you did.

A special thank you again to Jason Beard for speaking to me!

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