When politicians control schools, be careful what you wish for

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

For the first time in more than 140 years, all the reins of government in Tennessee are controlled by a single party.

The Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship. Beyond this, they have a super majority in both houses of the legislature that renders Democratic opposition virtually moot. In this reality, Tennessee state government has put Memphis and Shelby County in their cross-hairs concerning educational issues and in particular, the unification of the school systems.

This has brought about some serious consequences in regards to those who educate our children.One of the key tenets of the Republican ascension to power was the breaking of typically Democratic-leaning labor organizations. This is understandable since these organizations have traditionally provided support, funding and votes for Democratic candidates. Oddly, while definitely supporting the Democratic Party teacher organizations, such as the state-level Tennessee Education Association and the local Memphis Education Association and Shelby Education Association, are not even unions — they are associations.

These teacher associations do not possess the right to strike — a key facet of being a union. The only powers that these teacher organizations wielded was the right to collectively bargain for fair compensation and a grievance procedure for teachers who had a disagreement with their administrators. These have been subverted.

Teachers pay and compensation have become matters of debate. Ironically, teachers will no longer be compensated based upon earning advanced degrees or completing nationally recognized certifications such as National Board for Professional Teachers (NBPT) Certification. Completing the rigorous NBPT Certification process will no longer be rewarded despite reams of research showing that students of NBPT routinely out perform their non-NBPT peers by a wide margin. Four years of college is now enough. Additional scholarly pursuits such as master’s degrees, education specialists, and doctorates are no longer valued.

What message are politicians sending our children? Being a lifelong learner deserves no financial compensation or rewards?

The all-out assault on teachers have accomplished little more than to drive morale to the lowest level on record. Wisconsin, under Governor Scott Walker, provided the blueprint which is now being enacted by our legislature and rubber stamped by our governor. Dismantle teachers unions/associations so the state government can freely dictate what will be taught, how it will be taught, and by whom it will be taught.

Interestingly, most of these politicians dictating these “reforms” have no direct classroom experience or for that matter educational experience other than attending school and college decades ago. A dangerous precedent is being set here where political might is trumping instructional knowledge and practical education experience. What is the cost?

The teaching profession, which already has a 45 percent attrition rate for new teachers within five years, will surely suffer even greater losses. Eager idealists who go into the teaching profession to change the world and make a positive difference will now choose another, less regulated profession.

Already, there are far too few qualified educators being matriculated by our nation’s universities. As politicians, ignorant of effective educational practices continue to meddle in local education affairs and limit teachers’ rights this dire situation will only grow worse. So where do we stand? While the two systems are merging there remains much disagreement.

Although it now appears that both Memphis City and Shelby County will be a part of the new unified system for at least the 2013-2014 school year, the municipality schools are looking to leave as soon as possible. Thus, the future of a unified Shelby County School system is in limbo.

The facts are that this effort to disengage from a unified system was aided by the Republican-controlled legislature and governorship. As an aside, it will be interesting seeing our brethren in the municipalities grapple with astronomically increased property taxes to finance their independent systems.

These financial realities will be necessary if they wish to retain the experienced, well educated, highly qualified teachers that help maintain their schools’ success. Based on my conversations with a number of these teachers, they are not willing to take big pay or benefit cuts just to stay in a municipal school. So how and with whom will you staff these schools?While many of our fellow citizens across the state wanted a more proactive, conservative government to remedy amongst other things perceived educational woes, they also wanted to maintain local control of their school systems.

In my opinion, they may soon find they got something quite different than what they bargained for. Be careful what you wish for. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a teacher and educational consultant with over 20 years of experience. Please forward questions or comments to: djacksonmaxwell@gmail.com

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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