This retired district superintendent says that State Commissioner Kevin Huffman has not been alone in his assault on public education on Tennessee. Aside from the support if an extremist governor, he has been able to count on the silence and complicity of the education establishment.

He writes:

“I wish I could share your optimism that a grassroots groundswell will turn the tide against the privatization and corporate takeover of education in Tennessee. Unfortunately, Tennessee is the “perfect storm” for this risky experiment in greed against the children of the state. It goes beyond the culpability of the rubber stamp State Board of Education. Three organizations who should be the caretakers of reason and leaders of school improvement also share in the destruction of public schools here. Through their actions, or often inactions, they, too, should be held accountable at some point.

“First, there are the local school superintendents. I sat in meetings and watched as the cool and calculating Huffman and his TFA State Department ran roughshod over superintendents with their permission. TOSS, the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (really a weak arm of the State Department rather than a real professional organization) looked very much like the Polish resistance to Germany at the onset of WWII. Better described as the “Kick Dirt and Spit Club”, this organization’s main work revolves around organizing golf tournaments and turkey shoots, rather than seriously vetting educational reforms in any serious manner. Over all, superintendents simply have not spoken out as they should against this onslaught. Frankly, I am no better in that I might have done more myself.

“Second, the Tennessee School Boards Association. This group’s leadership enjoys the thrill of hobnobbing with the powerful and elite of what passes for politics in this very red state. Since most School Boards are well meaning, but lack the knowledge and depth of analysis it takes to deal with reform, they follow the lead of TSBA, which is at best a paper tiger in the fight for public schools. A more vocal and stronger resistance is called for on this front.

“Last, there is TEA, of course- the state teachers’ union. For as long as I can remember, this organization’s main goal is keep the membership numbers up and protect ,through lengthy and costly court battles, the small minority of teachers who represent malpractice. They set the public relations stage for public opinion that the kind of reform being placed upon public schools now is needed and desired.

“This may seem harsh, but I believe this to be true. The victims, however, are the thousands of hard working educators and children who do their best each day. For their sake, I hope my pessimism is unfounded.”