Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is Tennessee's Education Reformed or Not?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 5:12 AM

Over at the Huffington Post, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is raving about the success of Tennessee's education reform:

Tennessee — one of the first two states to win a federal Race to the Top grant — recently released an important report on the first year of implementing its new teacher evaluation system. The report found that after one year, Tennessee's students made their biggest single-year jump in achievement ever recorded in the state. That is a remarkable accomplishment.

Duncan acknowledges that the evaluation system isn't perfect: "Reforming antiquated practices for evaluating teachers is hard, ongoing work — work that is far from finished." Still, it's hard not to read his post and feel a little fist-pumping pride in Tennessee.

Until you read this editorial in The Daily News Journal—"Politicians tie teachers with rolls of red tape." From the title alone, you can guess that the DNJ is less about "woo, jump in achievement!" and more about "was this reform worth it since it created all this bureaucracy?"

The editorial reads:

Perhaps it’s because lawmakers imposed a one-size-fits-all approach to Tennessee schools. The state’s Republican-led Legislature went against standard party practices by creating bigger government. Instead of leaving Rutherford County’s elected school board, county commission, parents and educators to decide the best way to measure success in their own schools, legislators decided we need to use the same approach used to judge Memphis, Nashville and Cannon County teachers.

And I think it's time for some eye-rolling here. Obviously I'm not a great fan of the Republicans. But blaming the Republicans for doing what they had to do to get money doled out by Democrats seems dishonest to me. I'm also unmoved by the argument that Rutherford County needs different standards for evaluating students than we need in Memphis or Nashville or Cannon county. After all, if a student moved from Memphis or Nashville or Cannon County to Murfreesboro, would they get to use the standards of their old school systems or would they be expected to adapt? If students can adapt to new standards, so can teachers.

Anyway, obviously the teacher evaluations are still a work in progress, as Duncan notes, but turning it into a partisan issue is kind of beside the point. There's plenty about education "reform" we can blame on the Republicans. I just don't think this is one.

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