My OpEd from today's Hendersonville Star News:
“There is no appreciable difference in student outcomes between those school districts in Tennessee with collective bargaining and those without it.” Those were the words of Senator Jack Johnson of Williamson County in the Senate Education Committee. You might be surprised to learn, then, that Sen. Johnson is the prime sponsor of legislation that would prohibit collective bargaining among local education associations and school boards. Sumner County’s own Debra Maggart is the House sponsor.
I want to repeat Senator Johnson’s words: There is no appreciable difference in student outcomes between those school districts in Tennessee with collective bargaining and those without it.
Here’s what that means. If the Johnson/Maggart anti-bargaining bill passes, Tennesseans can expect no improvement in student achievement.
I’ve been involved at the Tennessee General Assembly for nearly 10 years now in a variety of capacities. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the advocate for a bill suggest that if you pass their legislation, nothing good will happen. Until now.
Tennessee faces a big challenge in terms of improving our public schools. Our schools rank near the bottom in almost every measure of student achievement. Just as one example, Kentucky’s fourth grade students who qualify for free and reduced lunch outperform Tennessee’s by 14 points in science.
We’ve clearly got some work to do.
The good news is that with the collaboration of the Tennessee Education Association, our state won over $500 million in Race to the Top funds in 2010. Reforms in teacher evaluation and compensation are on the horizon.
There’s more good news: In Memphis, one of the most challenged districts in our state, the school board and local education association agreed to innovative reforms that resulted in a $100 million investment by the Gates Foundation. These reforms were bargained collectively and they hold real promise for improving results.
And in Knox County, the local education association and the school board agreed to a Teacher Assistance Program and are now working on new pay and evaluation plans through an Innovation Acceleration Grant. Collective bargaining in these cases is resulting in important collaboration between teachers and school leaders.
Our neighbors in Trousdale County also received an Innovation Acceleration Grant. They will be moving forward fast on new approaches to attract and retain the best teachers.
Meanwhile, here in Sumner County, our Board and County Commission still can’t agree to find the funds to pay for math textbooks while our district continues to face challenges in math achievement. Our teachers are paid less than most of their middle Tennessee counterparts and the Board is now retroactively seizing their pay and unilaterally reducing their insurance match. The Board of Education changed the insurance split from 85/15 to 80/20 and then money was taken out of the February paychecks to cover underpayment for January. These are not exactly great ways to recruit and retain the best teachers. Plus, the Board’s actions have resulted in a lawsuit that will cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. Instead of working to find solutions, though, some members of our school board attended the Senate Committee hearing in support of the anti-bargaining legislation.
Governor Bill Haslam unveiled his education package last week. It includes reforms to tenure that may be uncomfortable for teachers. But, his proposal is evidence-based and worthy of a healthy debate. Movement on this issue could have a real impact on student achievement. It’s noteworthy, too, that Haslam has yet to endorse the anti-bargaining bill. I’m guessing that’s because he’d rather pursue reforms that could actually have an impact on student outcomes.
Sumner County is one of the wealthiest and fastest growing counties in Tennessee. We enjoy close proximity to a vibrant city. We have a real opportunity to be a “big idea” school district – one that uses innovative reforms to get excellent results for our students. This can only happen if we have collaboration between teachers, principals, parents and the community.
As the education reform discussion in our state continues, I’m hoping we’ll focus on those items that research suggests can have the greatest impact for our children. We should be working together to move our schools forward. Instead, some seem intent on spending time and energy on legislation that, according to its own sponsor, will have no impact on student achievement.
We can and must do better for our students.