By Randy O’Brien
Special to The Press
Nashville – Some Tennessee educators are challenging the wisdom of politicians’ promises to apply business principles to public education.
Newly inaugurated Gov. Bill Haslam touted his skills at running a major transportation service in his campaign, and promised to reform state government by using sound business practices to the delivery of government services.
But Tennessee Education Association president Jera Summerford says forcing teachers to compete against each other for grants or merit pay is counterproductive.
“We know that schools that work best are schools where teachers work collaboratively and they support one another, and they learn from one another and they’re not in any way set up to be competitive with one another. So, that’s certainly a place where the business model does not apply.”
Another difference, Summerford says, is that businesses’ customers can choose where to spend their time and money, while students are legally obligated to go to school and have little say in the curricula and teaching style.
“The community does have certainly a say in what goes on in schools. They have that through their elected officials that govern their school districts and all the way up to the state government, but there’s not that relationship between a provider and a client that there is in the business community.”
Tennessee’s recent success in the federal “Race to the Top” competition will provide merit money to recruit and retain educators.
However, critics of “Race to the Top” say rewarding education reform is wasteful government spending.