The Value Proposition for Teachers

I applaud SCORE CEO Jamie Woodson and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for their column advocating a sharper focus on teacher quality in Tennessee.  They point out that Tennessee’s colleges should be more selective in terms of who enters teacher preparation programs and also that teacher licensure should be a more rigorous process.  These are both laudable goals.

Their basis for making this argument is research suggesting that a child’s teacher is the number one school-based factor influencing student achievement.

Let’s be clear about what this means before we go further.  Most research suggests that school-based factors account for roughly 50% of the impact on student achievement.  Non-school factors (home life, poverty, education level of parents, etc.) account for the other 50%.  Of school-based factors, a child’s teacher can impact up to 50% of student achievement.  That makes it the biggest school-based influencer on student achievement.  But it also means teacher quality accounts for 25% of the impact on student achievement.  75% is beyond the teacher’s control.  At that level, you could have amazing teachers and get the other 75% wrong and the student will still struggle and likely fail.

That said, school systems can only really control school-based factors and of those, teacher quality is the one with the biggest potential for influence.  So, it makes sense to focus attention there.  Of course, it also makes sense to ensure that schools are clean and safe, that class size is optimized, that principals are instructional leaders, and that the overall environment is conducive to learning.  But focusing on teachers from a policy perspective is a sensible approach to impacting student achievement.

So, let’s examine the specific proposals put forth by Huffman and Woodson.  First, they propose a more selective process for admission into teacher preparation programs.  Next, they suggest making licensure a more rigorous process.

Again, both are sensible proposals.

Here’s the challenge in Tennessee.  In order to be more selective about who becomes a candidate for a job or who is admitted to a program, the overall value proposition has to be high.  Fields like law and medicine lure academic high achievers because the outlook for successful completers is positive. Career satisfaction, good pay, prestige.  By contrast, teaching has a low value proposition.  Many teachers in Tennessee will retire never earning what even the average lawyer or doctor makes.  The attrition rate for teaching is high.  Nearly 50% of teachers leave the field in their first five years, according to Richard Ingersoll.  That means teaching is tough and the field weeds out those who can’t or don’t want to do the demanding work involved on the front end.

So, why would a college student choose to submit to a highly selective process for admission to a teacher education program only to enter a field where there’s a good chance they won’t make it past the first five years and if they do, they’ll earn far less than other professionals?  They simply won’t.  Which is why the bar for admission right now is relatively low.

To change this, Tennessee policymakers must stop talking about what they can do TO teachers and start talking about what they can do FOR teachers.

John covered the issue of performance pay in some depth.  However, this plan appears to rely solely on a reallocation or infusion of local dollars to fund a new pay scheme.  There’s no mention of additional state dollars or a revamping of the BEP to allow for the performance pay envisioned in the bill.  Plus, as John points out, a study of performance pay by Vanderbilt of teachers in Tennessee shows such a scheme is not likely to be effective.

What does work, as indicated in this London School of Economics study, is paying teachers more.  The study indicates that raising teacher pay has a clear link to student achievement.  Raise pay 10%, student performance goes up roughly 10%.  Why? Making the field more attractive does two things:  It encourages people to pursue teaching and stay in the field AND it adds to the prestige of the profession (which also helps with retention of high performers).  Metro Nashville Public Schools has some experience with this as when they moved to a new pay scale setting a minimum salary of $40,000 ($6,000 more than it had been) and enabling teachers to reach the top of the scale in 15 years rather than 25, they saw three times as many applicants for teaching jobs than they had in the past.  The value proposition went up and MNPS was able to choose among applicants for the best fits for open positions.

Of course, changing the value proposition is not just about paying teachers more.  It is also about ensuring they have the support they need to succeed.

One area of support is meaningful induction.  That means a focused mentoring program in the first two to three years of a teacher’s career.  Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that a meaningful induction program improves both teacher retention AND student learning.  Tennessee has no comprehensive teacher induction program and no funding on the table to support such a plan.

Yes, we should accelerate our efforts around teacher quality in Tennessee.  But if we focus solely on doing to instead of for teachers, we’ll run out of gas (and teachers) before we get very far down the road.

Pay for Performance Coming to Tennessee?

Sen. Dolores Gresham, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. Glen Casada (somewhat curiously, since he isn’t on the House Education Committee) have filed legislation to create a pay-for-performance system for teacher pay in Tennessee tied closely to the new evaluation system.  The key here?  Compensation would not based directly on value-added scores, but rather on how a teacher does on his/her evaluation (which itself is composed of at least 35%, but up to 50% value-added scores)

Senate Bill 0827/House Bill 0619 establishes a new compensation system based on a “maximum base salary schedule” to be set by a district, plus performance-based “salary adjustments” and “supplements” for various other things (teaching in high-need subjects, teaching in high-needs schools, taking on leadership roles, etc.)  The broad strokes are that this bill would mandate that local Boards create new salary schedules adhering to certain minimum requirements and restrictions (the most important of which is that pay for years of experience or tenure is absolutely barred).

A few important things to get out of the way first:

(1) This applies to licensed teachers.  The new salary schedule would apply to “instructional personnel,” which is defined as “any person with a license to teach in an LEA” under state rules and regulations but excluding substitute teachers. This would include counselors, librarians, etc.

(2) This applies to new hires, rehires, and new teachers.  The new salary schedule would apply to new hires in 2014 and beyond OR personnel “returning to the district after a break in service without an authorized leave of absence” (for example, parents who take a year or two off from teaching to stay home with young kids) OR personnel “appointed for the first time to a position in the district in the capacity of instructional personnel.”

(3) Anyone can opt-in, but there’s no going back if you do.  Any “instructional personnel” can opt-in to the plan, but “any employee who opts into the performance salary schedule may not return to the grandfathered salary schedule.”

With that out of the way, here’s the way the new pay schedule would work:

(1) A Board would establish a base salary schedule with a cap (the “maximum base salary”).  The Board has a certain amount of freedom to do this: (1) for opt-in folks, it will be their salary from the previous year, plus up to a 5% cost of living adjustment and (2) for new folks, it will be whatever the Board wants.

    • It is important to recognize the difference between salary adjustments versus salary supplements.  Salary adjustments ratchet forward — they increase the “base salary” of the employee (see section (c)(2)(B): “The base salary under the performance salary schedule for instructional personnel shall be recalculated each year to include the prior year’s salary plus any salary adjustments earned by the employee.”  Salary supplements are one-time payments that must be earned year-by-year.
    • Here’s the crucial point: Once you reach the “maximum base salary,” you’re no longer eligible for future salary adjustments, only salary supplements.
    • However (and this is a pretty big “however”), a local Board may “recalculate a maximum base salary schedule each school year, as needed.” (section (c)(3)).

(2) The Board then establishes its salary adjustment.  There’s not a lot of specificity as to what these would be, but presumably it’s an across-the-board compensation bump for those who qualify.  The “salary adjustment” comes with requirements designed to get folks to opt-in to the new payment system:

    • Each “salary adjustment” under the performance plan must be greater than the available step-raise under the old plan (section (c)(4)(A)).
    • Each “salary adjustment” can be no less than 10% of the starting salary under the old plan (section (c)(4)(B)).  In Nashville this would be a minimum “salary adjustment” of $4,000 (10% of MNPS’ $40,000 starting salary).
    • Teachers of tested vs. non-tested subjects cannot have different schedules or salary adjustments (section (c)(4)(C).
    • Salary adjustments are only available to teachers who receive a 3, 4, 5 on their evaluation (no teacher who scores “below expectations” or “significantly below expectations”) (section (c)(4)(D)).

(3) Finally, the Board establishes salary supplements.  These also come with requirements designed to entice  teachers into high-need schools, high-need subjects, etc.  (Note: Many systems, including MNPS, already offer some or all of these types of bonuses (sometimes referred to as “combat pay”)).  Salary supplements are to be available for the following reasons, and only to teachers scoring a 3 or above on their evaluation (i.e., “meets” or “exceeds expectations”):

    • Teaching in  a “Title I eligible school” (MNPS has 122 of them)
    • Teaching in a school in “restructuring” or “reconstitution” status (meaning a school hasn’t made “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind for at least 5 consecutive years)
    • Teaching in a “critical teacher shortage area” as defined by the State Board of Education (usually this is Math, Science, and Special Education, among other areas).
    • “Assignment of additional academic responsibilities,” presumably up to the local district.  MNPS has the ASSET program, under which (again, presumably) participating teachers would be eligible for a supplement under this part for taking on leadership responsibilities.

That’s the basic structure: Base salary + salary adjustments (up to a cap) + salary supplements = total salary.  There are some obvious methods to try to entice current teachers to opt-in (e.g., salary adjustments MUST be great than the existing step-raise under the old plan), as well as some efforts to get teachers allocate themselves where they are needed (e.g., supplements for high-need subjects, Title I schools, etc.).

The restrictions:

    1. Low-evaluated teachers aren’t eligible for raises/supplements.  Any teacher who receives a 1 or 2 (below or significantly below expectations) is not eligible for either a salary adjustment OR a salary supplement.  This means that if you go teach at a high-needs or Title I school, you don’t get the salary supplement just for being there.  You still have to get a 3 or above on your evaluation (which, given the way things worked out last year, doesn’t appear to be that difficult).
    2. Low-scoring teachers get reimbursed for professional development for the following year.  Any teacher who receives a 1 or 2 (below or significantly below expectations) “shall be provided professional development reimbursement for the year following the evaluation,” capped at $1,000.  This is in line with the structure of the new evaluations, which are supposed to provide targeted feedback, coaching, and PD to teachers who aren’t doing well.
    3. Cost of living adjustments are permitted, but capped.  These would adjust the base salary.  This provision seems to be a bit redundant given the freedom of the Board to recalculate the base salary yearly, but I suppose it’s supposed to operate in tandem because cost-of -living adjustments are capped at 5% of annual salary AND 25% of the annual salary adjustment available (which means cost-of-living adjustments are capped at whichever is less).
    4. Advanced degrees, except content/certification degrees, cannot be used in setting salary adjustments or supplements.  This appears to be a compromise provision.  In essence, the provision is an effort to get away from raising salary for any advanced degree, whether it relates to teaching or not (i.e., the mythical “underwater basket-weaving” Master’s Degree, earned online solely for the salary bump).  As the State Board and Commissioner argued recently, however, advanced degrees and years of experience are not correlated with increased student achievement as measured by our value-added and evaluation system. This last point is important.  To believe that years of experience and advanced degrees don’t, by themselves, lead to increased student achievement, you must believe that our current value-added model accurately captures whether students are learning, because that’s the data on which the conclusion is based.  There are studies on both sides of this point, but there is generally a consensus that (1) years of experience do increase student achievement early on, and to a point (see the last 1/3 of this post) and (2) some advanced degrees can help; others don’t.
    5. Any pay based on years of experience or tenure is absolutely barred.  No real other way to say this: “A local board may not use the length of service or tenure of any instructional personnel hired on or after May 1, 2014, for the purposes of setting salary, adjustments, or supplements.”
    6. Budget cuts can’t be directed disproportionately at the new salary schedule.  If a Board has to deal with a tight budget, it is not allowed to put the majority of the cuts on the new compensation system.

Some thoughts, though there will be a bit more analysis/discussion later: There are certainly other compensation systems that are even more closely tied to test scores, with the same base salary + adjustment + supplement regime.  In other states (e.g., Colorado), some supplements are explicitly based on a teacher’s value-added scores, a school’s value-added scores, etc.  This kind of direct pay-for-performance was examined by our own Peabody College, and found, experimentally, to be ineffective at raising student achievement.

Rather, this is a pretty tight fit with (and big investment in) our new evaluation system.  Rather than paying strictly for increased value-added scores (as some reform advocates would like), the new compensation system would weigh heavily on the outcome of a teacher’s evaluation.  Given that the State is adjusting the evaluation system as well, to decrease the prevalence of 3, 4, and 5 scores, the success of this new compensation system will depend largely on the success of the underlying evaluation system, for good or ill.

Note: For further reading, the Comptroller has a pretty extensive recent report on alternative salary schedules.  Disclaimer: I haven’t read the whole thing yet.

Edited to include item number 5 under “Restrictions.”  An earlier version of this post included this information, but it was inadvertently deleted in the final version.

Legislative Week Ahead for Education Committees

Here is a look at the legislative week ahead for the Education Committees.

Tuesday – 12:30pm – LP 16 – House Education Committee

The House Education Committee will hear from Brent Easley of StudentsFirst. Brent Easley is a former Senior Research and Policy Analyst for the House Republican Caucus who recently took the post of State Director for StudentsFirst.

The committee will take up House Joint Resolution 10 (Deberry), which designates January 27-February 2, 2013, as “School Choice Week” in Tennessee.

Wednesday – 2:00pm – LP 12 – Senate Education Committee

The committee will take up three items.

1. SJR17– Gresham- Recognizes importance of neurological or brain science in the training of teacher candidates and encourages such training in teacher prep programs in state universities.

2. SB18 -Gresham – As introduced, prohibits an LEA or school from adopting an attendance policy that exempts students who have been absent less than a specified number of days from taking examinations or tests required of other students.

3. SB59 -Gresham- As introduced, authorizes and encourages teacher training programs at public institutions of higher education to offer coursework on neurological or brain science research.

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Democrats Introduce Legislation to Repeal Virtual Schools

In the wake of K12 Inc.’s broadly publicized failures, and the dust-up on Capitol Hill about them, two Democrats, Representative Mike Stewart and Senator Lowe Finney, have filed legislation (HB 0728/SB 0807) to repeal the Virtual Public Schools Act.  Many folks may not be aware that the Virtual Public Schools Act (T.C.A. 49-16-201 et seq.) is actually self-repealing.  Section 216 of the Act reads:

This part is repealed effective June 30, 2015.

Rep. Stewart/Sen. Finney’s bill simply changes the repeal date from June 30, 2015 to June 30, 2013.

There’s a good bit of frustration with K12 Inc. and virtual schools right now, even by members of the Republican majority.  That being said, however, Sen. Gresham, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has signaled that she’s not ready to do away with virtual schools just yet, as has Governor Haslam.

A Conservative Remedy to the Great Hearts Mess

In the wake of the Great Hearts mess in Nashville, there has been much discussion of a statewide charter authorizer.  The Tennessee Charter Schools Association, the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, and the powerful lobbying group StudentsFirst, led by Michelle Rhee, are on the record supporting a statewide authorizer.

The political question has been, however, whether rural Republicans would support such an entity, given that it would supplant local control with an appointed, statewide body.  It looks like this split between urban and rural Republicans might be real.  Speaker Harwell (R-Nashville), for instance, looks like she would support such a measure.  Just within the last few days, however, Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens) has filed a bill (HB 0446) that would change the existing charter appeal law.  This could well be taken as a signal that some part of the Republican caucus (or perhaps just Rep. Forgety — there doesn’t yet seem to be a Senate sponsor) would rather just fix the existing law than create a new statewide authorizer.  Here’s the pertinent text:

(D) Either the local board of education or the sponsor proposing the charter school application may appeal the final decision of the state board of education within thirty (30) days of its entry to the chancery court in the judicial circuit in which the local board of education is located. The review of the court shall be de novo on the record and shall be undertaken in accordance with the procedures governing common law writs of certiorari.

Does this foreshadow a split in the Republican caucus on this issue?  We shall see.

John Deberry and the Parent Trigger Bill

State Representative John DeBerry (D-Mempis) has filed the first parent trigger bill of the session. DeBerry, who survived his primary challenge thanks to over $112,000 from StudentsFirst, rewrites the current parent trigger laws in his bill (Yes, we already have trigger laws on the books). House Bill 77* lowers the threshold, from 60 percent to 51 percent, for how many signatures the parents must have before the school can be turned over to a charter. The bill is only for eligible public schools that are in the bottom twenty percent of the state in student academic performance. This bill is exactly what StudentsFirst wants to happen in Tennessee. StudentsFirst recently held a screening for the movie “Won’t Back Down” in Nashville. The movie, which is about two women who want to convert their failing inner city school over to a charter school, was attended by many political figures.  Huffington Post reported that “Won’t Back Down” set the record for worst opening of a film that released in over 2,500 theaters.

While StudentsFirst wants Tennessee to make it easier to “pull the trigger”, The Nashville City Paper reported that the current law has only “been in play” two times since the law was put on the books in 2002. The first in Memphis in 2007 when a school was turned over to a charter and is currently taking place in Knoxville, where a charter school is trying to take over a school after the charter was denied by the school board. Deberry is trying to change the law that has rarely been used.

Deberry has also filed a resolution to designate January 26 – February 2013 as “School Choice Week” in Tennessee.

*Senator Reginald Tate (D-Mempis) has filed the companion bill, SB483. Senator Tate is the 1st Vice-Chair for the Senate Education Committee.

Virtual Schools in Tennessee

In the wake of the renewed K12 dust-up, Andy Sher over at the Times Free Press has another good article out this morning highlighting a new bill put forward by the Haslam Administration to cap online school enrollment.  By the way, let it be known that the Times Free Press (and Andy Sher) have had consistently excellent coverage of this issue over the past year.  Whether it’s because Chattanooga native (and almost certainly next Mayor) Andy Berke started the anti-virtual schools crusade (and then homed in on* K12 as its dismal performance became public), or because K12’s Tennessee “home” is in Union County, just a ways down the road from Chattanooga, who knows.

Here’s the important point to take from Sher’s article today:

Haslam’s legislation would apply to the Tennessee Virtual Academy and any other online schools that come down the path. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who is carrying the administration’s package of bills, said Tuesday he had not been fully briefed on the measure.

Huffman spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said in an email, “This bill is meant to enhance the accountability for virtual schools, and to base their future growth on demonstrated performance.

“This is not about K12; this is a matter of learning from the first year of implementation of the Virtual Schools Act and making improvements with a focus on student achievement,” she said.

The bill restricts new operators of online schools to no more than 1,500 students. After students demonstrate they are indeed learning through state achievement tests, they can enroll no more than 5,000. That cap also applies to K12 Inc.’s operation, Gauthier confirmed.

Another provision in the bill restricts a county online school’s ability to accept students from outside the local district.

That initially would not apply to K12 Inc.’s current student population in Union County. But Gauthier confirmed that in the future it would apply to new students.

That’s right.  K12 is not on its own here.  Aside from the prospect of future virtual schools, there is already at least one other virtual school operating in Tennessee.  Did you know that Metro Nashville Public Schools has its own virtual school?  It’s true!

For all of the protesting by the spokeswoman for Commissioner Huffman, this most certainly is about K12 and the Tennessee Virtual Academy.  What the response signals, however, is that the current legislature (and Governor and Commissioner) appear to be unwilling to backtrack on virtual schools entirely, as many K12 critics would like.  Instead, the measure put forward would be a compromise, while still preserving the opportunity for growth in Tennessee of (1) virtual schools and (2) for-profit school operators.**

*It is unclear whether the correct usage is “home in on” or “hone in on.”  I have used the former, because it appears to make more sense grammatically.

**The New York Times did an extensive piece on for-profit online school operators in 2011.

Tennessee’s Vouchers Bill

As highlighted in Gov. Haslam’s speech last night, he’s putting forward a relatively conservative version of vouchers this year.  The bill itself (HB 0190/SB 0196) was filed yesterday.  It’s being carried in the House by Rep. McCormick and in the Senate by Sen. Norris.  The salient points are as follows:

(1) It’s only for low-income students (family must qualify for free or reduced price lunch to be eligible)

(2) It’s only for students in low-performing schools (must be a bottom 5% school “in overall achievement as determined by the performance standards and other criteria set by the state board”)

(3) It’s only for public school students (sort of — you have to have been in a public school for at least 2 semesters immediately prior to receiving a voucher OR you’re enrolling in a Tennessee school for the first time)

(4) Participation by private schools is voluntary (and they have to agree to take what the state pays and not charge parents anything above that)

(5) Participating private schools will have to give state assessments and turn over certain data on performance of voucher students.

(6) (THIS IS  A BIG ONE) Participating private schools do not have to offer special education services.  They cannot “discriminate against students with special education needs” BUT “as a nonpublic school, a participating school is required to offer only those services it already provides to assist students with special needs. If a scholarship student would have been entitled to receive special education services in the public school the student would otherwise be attending, the parent shall acknowledge in writing, as part of the enrollment process, that the parent agrees to accept only services that are available to the student in the nonpublic school.”

Some general thoughts:

Just as a point of comparison, our charter schools legislation started the exact same way, with regards to the first few requirements.  Originally, charter school enrollment was limited to free and reduced price lunch students who were in “failing” schools.  Over the years, these requirements have been dropped.  Tennessee is now an “open enrollment” charter school state (anyone can go to a charter school), with no caps on the number of charters operating.

If/when the vouchers legislation passes, I expect to see similar broadening in coming years (unless the generally anti-voucher (with the notable exception of Rep. John DeBerry) Democrats stage an amazing electoral comeback).

Other thoughts: The requirement that participating private schools not offer any special education services beyond what they already offer (which, for most private schools (with some exceptions), is very little — most private schools are not equipped/interested in catering to severe special needs students), is a very important point.  Though this provision is in line with the TNGOP’s stance on not forcing private entities to act a certain way (unless you happen to be Vanderbilt University), it’s still feeds the narrative among anti-voucher (and anti-charter) folks that these reforms simply skim the cream off of public school enrollment (“cream” including high-performing students and, more importantly, students with motivated and active parents) and leave behind low-performing students and high-needs special education students.

Much more ink will be spilled about this in the coming weeks and months, so be sure to check back.

K12 Inc. Making the Rounds

Though this year’s legislative session isn’t yet running at full steam, there are a few trends already emerging.  As Andy mentioned, vouchers, charters, and the new parent trigger legislation will certainly be featured.  However, there is almost certainly going to be action on virtual schools as well.

If you haven’t heard before, the Tennessee Virtual Academy, run by the for-profit company K12 Inc., got into some hot water last year for its dreadful performance (even the New York Times dipped its toe in).  Tennessee, by the way, isn’t the only place that K12 has been having issues.  These troubles may explain why K12’s stock price has been plummeting over the last few years.

With that in mind, K12 has sent some emissaries to the legislature this year.  In the first official kick-off meeting for the Senate Education Committee, K12 made a presentation and faced (a few) tough questions regarding its performance (click below to see Sen. Campfield get sassy).  If you missed it the first time ’round, never fear: There’ll be a matinee performance tomorrow for the House Education Committee.  Be sure to tune in.

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Vouchers, Charters, and Triggers — Oh My! A Preview of Education Legislation in the 2013 Tennessee General Assembly

Michelle Rhee seems to have her hands firmly around Tennessee Education policy as this legislative session begins. Rhee’s group, StudentsFirst, contributed more than $200,000 (or was it more?) in state legislative races in 2012 and they’re getting what they paid for. In short, Rhee’s top policy priorities are now the top priorities of the legislature and Governor Haslam. Here’s a rundown of these policies — all very much en vogue among the education reform elite. None particularly useful in moving Tennessee schools forward.


Or, as some like to call them, “Opportunity Scholarships.” After the Governor’s Task Force on Vouchers came up short of clear recommendations for a voucher scheme, Governor Haslam appeared to cool to the idea. He noted instead that legislators may bring forth a plan and he’d work with that. Then, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came to town in early January and immediately following the Governor’s public event with Bush, Haslam announced he’d be introducing his own version of a voucher scheme. Never mind that the four largest school districts — the ones most likely to be impacted by a voucher plan — have all expressed opposition. And never mind that many private schools have indicated that they won’t accept the vouchers. Haslam has seen the light as shown to him by Bush and Rhee and he’ll now be moving to divert state education dollars to private schools. This in a state that ranks near the bottom in per pupil spending on public education.


Tennessee already has among the most liberal charter school laws in the country. Any student in any district that has charter schools may attend a charter school. The local school boards do, however, have control over authorizing a charter to operate in their district and control over closing charters if they are failing. All seemed to be going well with charters opening and growing in Memphis and Nashville. And then there was Great Hearts vs. Metro Nashville. While the Metro Nashville School Board approved several new charters in 2012 and has been fairly aggressive about recruiting charter operators to town, the Board rejected the charter application of Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy. They did so over concerns about diversity and legitimate questions over whether the school would truly meet the community’s needs. The State Board of Education over-ruled the Metro Board and directed them to reconsider. A new school board was elected. And the new board ALSO rejected Great Hearts. So, the state department of education, headed-up by Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, hit Metro with a $3.4 million penalty — withholding BEP funds the district was counting on. Now, Great Hearts is lobbying for a state charter authorizer — a state board that would be unelected and unaccountable — to be created. This charter authorizer would allow charter operators to bypass local school boards and be authorized to operate a charter in a district whether or not the locally elected school board wanted it.

Parent Trigger

The “parent trigger” concept is the idea that if a school is failing and 50% +1 of the parents in that school vote to do so, the parents can convert the school to a charter. Those parents may then “run” the school and hire/fire faculty and obtain other budgetary controls. This may sound like a reasonable proposition. However, in practice, it is a disaster. A school in Indiana recently “pulled the trigger” and the parents were stunned to discover the lack of available resources. The parents presented a list of demands including iPads for all students. The Board replied that in order for that demand to be met, a number of faculty would have to be let go. Parent trigger can also be used by sketchy charter operators to gain a foothold into a school. Rhee is of course behind this measure as well.

Each of these efforts appeals to policymakers because none require any new investment in Tennessee schools. The idea is that we already have money out there, and that if we just did these “new, cool things” we’d have better schools. They allow politicians to claim to be pro-education without making the hard decisions that would lead to meaningful new investments in our schools. Moreover, each of these policies has potentially disastrous effects on an already struggling school system. Stay tuned as the 2013 legislative session advances and these policies gain traction.