Editorial: State officials must get on same page for education

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 11:46 PM

Since Gov. Bill Haslam’s election in 2010, a myriad of changes have come down the pike for educators, by both state and federal mandate.

Changes to teacher tenure and collective bargaining began the sea change back in the summer of 2011.

“For years upon years, one union has thwarted the progress of education in Tennessee,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement. “Reform after reform has been refused or dismantled. The barrier that has prevented us from putting the best possible teacher in every classroom will soon be removed.”

Now Common Core has further changed the landscape of Tennessee education, as the state adopted the federal standards this year.

“My initial challenge is not just helping my fellow governors (embrace Common Core); it’s helping my fellow legislators,” Haslam, a supporter of the Common Core, said Tuesday at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference in Washington on improving education standards.

The state is currently hearing opponents of the Common Core during the second of a two-day hearing at the Capitol today, and it appears the fight over Common Core in Tennessee will likely stretch on into next year’s legislative session.

“It will be a real battle,” Haslam  said. “It’s just one of these interesting political deals where you have people on the far right who have heard it’s ‘Obama-core’ ... and then you have folks on the far left, who don’t like the fact that teachers’ evaluations are being tied to students’ test scores.”

Either way, for teachers it’s simply another stressor adding to the uncertainty that has come about in the state education system over the past few years. Just last week 60 school directors from across the state signed a petition calling on Haslam and the state legislature to can state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

The letter alleges Huffman’s office “has no interest in a dialogue” with school leaders. It also says state policy changes — including pay scale changes and a stop to pay increases for educators earning degrees over a master’s level — have caused teacher morale to hit rock bottom.

Haslam said by email Monday that critics should ease up on Huffman.

“The bottom line is that we are at a critical point in the implementation of key reforms that I believe will lead to continued progress in education, and this work is simply too important to get sidetracked,” Haslam wrote. “I was disappointed when I learned from the media about a letter that was signed by some superintendents and apparently is making its way to me.”

With the bevy of reforms the state’s education department has made in the past two years, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. 

Change is never easy, and change for the sake of change isn’t always right. Changes are coming quickly and often for Tennessee schools, for better or worse, it appears.

Here’s to hoping the sides can come to some level of agreement, put politics to the side and clearly focus on the true purpose at hand — education of the children of the state of Tennessee.