What’s Going on in Williamson County?

The School Board elections in Williamson County were fought on one primary issue: Common Core. A group of candidates who strongly opposed Common Core were supported by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and won a majority on the School Board.

Some of these individuals have expressed support for vouchers and for bringing charter schools to Williamson County. Those are two primary goals of AFP.

Alvey on Education offers a view of what’s happening from a Williamson County parent’s perspective. A recent post there discusses a pending resolution at the School Board level that would denounce Common Core. Of course, it seems increasingly likely that Common Core will die an early death in Tennessee. But, the post offers some insight into what is happening now in one of the best school systems in Tennessee.

The article concludes with a prediction:

So that’s why the board will vote to approve the anti-Common Core resolution. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself what is going to go down at the Oct. 16 board working session. Formal meeting on new board chair and vice-chair starts at 6pm. Expect lots of AFP t-shirts, and lots of crazy from 912ers. If you want to attend, and not get confused with those groups, put on a WCS or FSSD school shirt, or a Be Nice shirt, to show you’re a real local and not an import. Doors open at 5 pm, and you’ll want to get there earlier rather than later.

But the whole piece is worth a read to get some background on the players from inside and outside Williamson County seeking to disrupt what was once a quiet, and quite successful, suburban school system.

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Williamson County Teachers Vote “No Confidence” in Huffman

The Williamson County Education Association is the latest teacher group to express a lack of confidence in Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s ability to lead the state’s schools.

The announcement of the vote adds to a growing list of teacher groups, superintendents, and school boards expressing frustration at Huffman’s lack of collaboration and top-down leadership style.

Williamson County’s Director of Schools, Mike Looney, signed a letter also signed by directors across the state expressing frustration with Huffman.

While the vote was taken before last week’s release of NAEP results, Williamson County teachers maintain they are not opposed to positive reform, but are frustrated with leadership at the state level they say is not listening to teachers.

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WCS Superintendent Explains Why He Signed Huffman Letter

A group of 56 Tennessee School Superintendents sent a letter to Governor Haslam this week encouraging him to ask his Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, to be more inclusive and collaborative in his approach on education reform.  The letter stirred up a bit of controversy and no doubt created headaches for Huffman last week and into this one.

Now, one of those who signed the letter, Williamson County’s Mike Looney, is explaining why he did.

Looney notes that he is a supporter of common sense education reform.  He indicates that his concern is with both the speed at which reform has been implemented and the lack of collaboration.

Here are a couple of important points made in Looney’s letter:

Our state secured and has spent $500,000,000 in Race to the Top grant funds in the last three years.  At the same time, Tennessee has realized small incremental improvements in student results.  One might argue that the dizzying rate of education reforms in Tennessee is the result of the huge influx of federal dollars rather than a careful, measured understanding of the needs of students.  Others believe these pockets of improvement are a result of implementing The Tennessee Diploma project, which preceded Race to the Top initiatives.  In reality, as most any researcher would concede, it is difficult to know which reforms have been beneficial because we have manipulated too many variables.

Perhaps most discouraging is the fact that 50% of the $500,000,000 was kept by the Tennessee Department of Education.  I wonder for what purpose and to whose benefit?  The district I serve received less than $400,000 which did not come close to covering the cost and burden of implementing these reforms.

This is likely why organizations like Professional Educators of Tennessee are asking for an audit of Race to the Top expenditures.

Looney continues:

Based on the number and pace of reforms, their strategy seems to be to throw as many darts as possible at the problem in hopes that something, anything, will hit the bull’s eye and stick.  Meanwhile, many teachers and administrators have encouraged a more deliberate, reflective and inclusive approach, which I believe will yield long term sustainable results.  In short, Tennessee students, educators and families are not well served by rapid-fire reform efforts that ignore the importance of collaboration and thoughtful implementation.

This is a thoughtful letter raising very legitimate concerns that should certainly be addressed by the Governor and Commissioner Huffman.  If Dr. Looney’s urging won’t encourage their response, perhaps some legislators will raise these very same questions.

Tennesseans deserve excellent education for all children.  They also need to know the reform strategy being pursued is being implemented thoughtfully and is efficiently using the state’s limited funds.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow us @TNEdReport