By JC Bowman
We are truly in a transformation time. We either drive the agenda from the ground up or it will be hammered down from federal and state government. The real education getting done right now is at the local level.
We need to analyze what is working and what is not in our schools and local districts. We need to evaluate that quickly, which is an appropriate task for the state government. The federal government needs to gather that information from the states and communicate that compilation with states and districts. Everyone has to be held accountable in the process.
The more change taking place in society necessitates we must become more interconnected. In 2019, the Associated Press reported that an estimated 17 percent of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18 percent do not have home access to broadband internet, according to census data. That number is likely higher in Tennessee. Our state must address this issue, especially in rural areas. This should be tied to annual state funding for schools as well.
We are beginning to sound like a broken record, in our advocacy for improved funding for schools and districts. This must be a priority for the Tennessee General Assembly. It is time to update our school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. We need a plan and a funding formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies.
This formula should also support teachers, funds facilities, and facilitates innovation and technology, while better connecting K-12 education with workforce needs. We must retain our educators and recruit new educators to our states. This must be done with a keen eye on evaluating the cost-effectiveness of taxpayer investment.
In their paper “Unleashing a 21st Century Narrative,” Ken Hunter, Bill Miller, and Rick Smyre point out that we are trapped “searching for creativity and new ideas aligned with the needs of an increasingly fast-paced, interconnected, interdependent and complex society and economy.”
Many leaders continue to “emphasize the need for standard answers, best practices, and increasing efficiency (continuous improvement). In other words, we continue to wander in the world of ‘either/or’ when a different worldview based on systems, connections, parallel processes, and multiple answers is being birthed…. a world of ‘and/both.’”
As a result, according to Hunter, Miller, and Smyre’s research, “there is a need to reconceptualize and redesign the ways in which our society is organized, the concepts and methods of leadership for a world that doesn’t exist – yet.”
We have known for years that “we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.” That 1993 quote by Richard Riley, former US Secretary of Education, is more applicable now than ever.
We must do a better job identifying innovative practices wherever they are found and encouraging their growth and adoption throughout our state. We must explore advances in educational technology, revolutionary new teaching methods, and everything in between to change the trajectory of education in our state. The question for stakeholders and policymakers alike, do you want the freedom to institute the change at the local level, or do you want policy driven by federal and state authorities. The time for discussion is now.
We look forward to continued collaboration with stakeholders and to adding input to policymakers. Embracing innovation was a hallmark of Bill Lee’s campaign for Governor. It is time that public schools are given more freedom to innovate. Our values define what is important, and it is time we recognize that radical individualism of the Industrial Age has given way to the emergence of connected individuality. It is time we link new and innovative ideas, people, or processes.
Leaders must always include stakeholders in policy discussions to better discover the quality of education at the grassroots and monitor the direction of change, to determine if it is appropriate and effective. Our state must look to our local districts and educators, not just national programs that try to merely retrofit into what our students need here in Tennessee. Governor Bill Lee stated during his campaign that “Tennessee taxpayers deserve a transparent and open government.” We could not agree more.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.