Public schools are under siege in this country, and Tennessee is one of the key battleground states. That’s the message I heard last week from area teachers and school administrators who are trying to get the word out about drastic changes in the way educators are evaluated.
They believe the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is part of a coordinated assault on the traditional American model of public education. TVASS, along with programs like charter schools and vouchers that take limited tax dollars away from local schools, are all designed to weaken public education.
Denise Brown, the director of Unicoi County Schools, said bluntly “there is a clear agenda here,” and one that’s “bigger than Tennessee.” Brown believes Gov. Bill Haslam considers his leadership of this national reform to be his “legacy,” and something he will “stand on” in his future political endeavors.
“If we don’t stand up now, in 10 years public education as we’ve known it will not exist,” Brown said.
That’s a candid assessment of what’s going on, and it’s refreshing to hear a school official be so blunt in stating it. Our current system of public education gives every child — rich or poor — equal access to a quality public education. Educators fear the reforms now being pushed by Haslam and other Republicans nationwide will siphon more tax dollars away from local schools.
Jeneé Peters, a math teacher in Washington County Schools, is not hopeful that Haslam will change his mind on TVASS or any of the other measures that he and his commissioner of education, Kevin Huffman, have championed. (Huffman’s policies, by the way, have come under fire by teachers, parents and school administrators alike.)
“He (Haslam) has a clear and focused agenda and I have no confidence, whatsoever, he will do the right thing for public school teachers and public school students in Tennessee,” Peters said. “His agenda is part of a national agenda and his ideology lines up with theirs, not ours.”
Members of the Tennessee Education Association are hoping the state General Assembly will help them put the brakes on an effort to use TVASS scores in considering licensing and rehiring teachers. Last year, members the Tennessee Board of Education (who are appointed by the governor) voted to use the data to evaluate individual teachers.
Joe Crabtree, a sixth-grade social studies/science teacher who serves as president of the Johnson City Education Association, said he is optimistic state legislators will rescind the state school board’s action. He said lawmakers are unhappy that Huffman “usurped” the will of the legislative branch by having TVASS reclassified by the state board.
As a result, a number of bills have or soon will be filed to overturn that action. State Sen. Frank Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, has also introduced a bill to make the state board an elected body.
These bills will not be welcomed by Haslam, who is determined to stick to the plan Huffman has devised. Thus a showdown between the executive and legislative branches is surely on its way.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.