Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Tennessee's achievements in education reform under Governor Bill Haslam's leadership during a tour of two Knoxville schools Wednesday.
Duncan told reporters he wanted to use the visit to draw attention to programs in the state that are testing and expanding education.
"Tennessee is doing some pretty remarkable work," said Duncan.
As one of the first two states selected to participate in Race to the Top, Duncan says Tennessee is helping to lead the country.
"The results last year were amazing. So there's a lot I want to learn as we try to move the country," said Duncan.
He began the day by listening in on one of West High School's most prestigious programs- the International Baccalaureate, before sitting down to a discussion with the governor, students, and teachers.
Governor Haslam called the secretary Tennessee's greatest friend in Washington and praised Wednesday's opportunity as a chance to show Duncan education reform in action.
He says he especially wanted to highlight "our commitment to continually raising the standards," in light of the state being permitted to opt out of No Child Left Behind.
"It's a win on any number of ways to get him to spend a day in Knoxville," said Haslam.
In recent years Knox County and the state has instituted new teacher evaluation systems, higher testing standards, and pay-for-performance initiatives and Duncan says he's paying attention.
"None of this stuff is easy," said Duncan, elaborating that Tennessee may not be doing it perfectly but they're making progress.
When prompted by Haslam to speak about closing the achievement gap, Duncan told the audience that school's need stronger incentives to bring the best teachers to high-need schools.
He says those assignments should be considered a "badge of honor," adding that in today's economy many high school drop-outs are condemned to poverty.
Duncan also spoke about charter schools, saying that he thinks it's the wrong argument to be having.
He said if charter schools help certain communities develop better choices, he approves. But he emphasized the real focus should be on making every public school a school of choice.
He extended that theory to voucher programs as well.
"My sense is that you really want to make every single public school a school of choice and an option," said Duncan. "If that's something the private sector, business, and philanthropies want to help I fully support that."
But he says with 90% of children attending public schools the focus should be on investing in that system.
When asked to weigh in on school security, Duncan offered he does not believe teachers should be, or want to be, armed while in the classroom.
"That's not what teachers are asking for," said Duncan. He said schools are still some of the safest places for children.
"While we continue to improve school safety, we really have to focus on what we were doing to keep children safe in the community going to and from school."