TN Gov. Haslam: “Cautious on TEA Bargaining Issue” but Not on Denouncing Apparent “Anti-Teacher” Mood in General Assembly
The Tennessee Report kind of buried he lead in their story last week covering Governor Bill Haslam’s official position on collective bargaining for teachers. The headline read “Haslam Cautious on TEA Bargaining Issue,” and the first paragraph stated:
Gov. Bill Haslam is so far keeping mum on his official position as to whether public school teachers and their union, the Tennessee Education Association, should maintain collective bargaining leverage over local school boards.
But read much further into the story and you get to this exchange between Governor Haslam and the reporter:
Reporter: Is there somewhat of an anti-teacher mood out there, or an anti-TEA mood?
Haslam: I actually think that’s a really good point. I hope there’s not an anti-teacher mood because the wrong thing to do right now I think is to point fingers at teachers, OK. I think what we should start with the basis of is saying how do we really help move education for children forward. And to say that our problem is all teachers’ faults is just dead wrong. I think (with) a lot of things in Tennessee we need to do better. We need to increase parental involvement in schools, we need to make certain we have the very best principals in schools. So to point the finger at teachers and say it’s all your fault — that’s something you won’t see me doing. Now, there are places we won’t engage — do I want to engage on tenure and that issue, you bet. So will we maybe disagree with TEA on that, you bet. But it won’t be about saying that teachers are at fault here.
Reporter: Going back to K-12, do you think that teachers and the TEA should maintain their bargaining rights?
Haslam: Well, I mean, I think that’s part of the discussion we should have. Ultimately, you know, I’m obviously a guy who thinks that you want to have — people should have a seat at the table when it comes to discussions. As a mayor, I was always — I worked against having our police and firefighters have collective bargaining rights, so I kind of have a position on that. I do think with TEA — I told them it was something I’m willing to talk about with them and continue. …We’re going to have a lot of discussion around tenure, a lot of discussions around charter schools and a lot of discussions around…how do we measure teachers’ effectiveness, and make certain we use that data in terms of how we look at these teachers.
Emphasis mine, obviously, but important to highlight nonetheless.
And it’s also important to point out that our Republican Governor’s opinion echos that of Senator Andy Berke, a Democrat from Chattanooga. In a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press op-ed entitled “Targeting Teachers is Wrong” Senator Berke wrote:
Yet even as we talk about the importance of hiring, training and encouraging our teachers, a different message has emerged in Nashville that seeks to undermine and frustrate them.
Despite repeated studies that call for intense focus on classroom instruction, numerous bills have been filed to stop teachers from negotiating with school boards; prevent them from contributing to political candidates; and to remove their representative on the pension board. The legislation is purely partisan and is meant to stir controversy rather than build consensus.
This attitude seems a world away from last year’s special legislative session on education. Back then, I co-sponsored the First to the Top legislation that grew out of bipartisan efforts led by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen. It demanded accountability on the part of teachers through the use of value-added scores in evaluations. Paired with that accountability, I sponsored an amendment that put money into a teacher professional development fund to help our teachers learn the latest and best methods of instruction. The teachers agreed to these changes, and President Obama awarded Tennessee roughly $500 million for our innovation.
Our legislation should be a model for education reform. It was bipartisan, bold and brave. The resulting bill recognized that an excellent education begins with a quality teacher in every classroom. The experience proved that if we concentrate our efforts on that principle, we can make real gains in achievement. The current proposals push in the opposite direction. They degrade teachers rather than assist them. Taking away the teachers’ representative on the pension board sends a message that their voice is irrelevant. It is a small matter, but sometimes small matters reverberate loudly.
Because of the positive influence a quality public school education has on our young people, we should always be thinking of ways to improve our education system. And because of the important role they have played in protecting our most valuable resource – the working people of Tennessee – we should always be thinking of ways to improve unions. But we should never attack hardworking teachers searching for better working conditions (working conditions that benefits students as well) under the guise of improving our public education system.