Over the past four decades, schools and their staff have been burdened with burdensome regulations and requirements, hindering effective teaching. Public education is often hampered by convoluted regulations and administrative procedures that squash creativity and initiative. One of the major obstacles to innovation is excessive bureaucracy.
The Tennessee General Assembly should authorize the State Board of Education to enter into a performance contract with any school district, in which the school board of that district agrees to comply with certain performance goals for up to five years. The State Board of Education must approve the performance contract.
In return, the school district is granted statutory and rule exemptions which will allow the district to be innovative for greater autonomy. The state should allow these high-performing districts to renew their exemptions, as long as they continue to meet the qualification benchmarks. Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Education should be required to notify districts annually of their eligibility and the exemptions available to them.
In addition, the local school board could be authorized to deregulate each of its existing public schools; or establish performance-based contractual relationships with its existing public schools to provide them with greater autonomy in return for performance accountability.
Advocating for streamlined processes, reduced testing, and more flexibility in teaching methods can contribute to a more holistic educational experience. This can help the well-being of both students and teachers. Exemptions should not be granted if connected to services for students with disabilities, related to civil rights, and/or student health, safety, and welfare.
Schools and Districts would not be exempt from any statute governing the election of school board members; public meetings and public records requirements; financial disclosure; conflicts of interest; and, the Tennessee Public Records Act, compiled in Title 10, Chapter 7, Part 5 of the Tennessee Code, and the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, compiled in Title 8, Chapter 44, Part 1 of the Tennessee Code.
This strategy is about improving student outcomes, creating better schools, and focusing on improvement. Deregulation is based on a strongly held belief that rules, standards, and regulations cannot in and of themselves foster improvement in education. The appropriate place for developing innovations and meeting student needs is at the local district and individual school site level. If Tennessee embraces this, it must ensure that local schools have the necessary freedom and flexibility to innovate as they strive toward school improvement and student results.
Decentralization involves bringing decision-making closer to people, which can enable them to have a greater say in education decisions and hold everyone more accountable. For systematic reform to effectively change the educational landscape, deregulation, and decentralization are just as essential as choice and competition.
By combining autonomy with accountability, focusing on outcomes, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, policymakers can contribute to creating a more student-centered and effective public school system. These changes aim to empower educators and leaders to excel while ensuring that the primary focus remains on providing the best possible education for students.
If we can successfully reduce bureaucracy and eliminate unnecessary obstacles, enabling our school districts to be more proactive in addressing the changing needs of our families. Education deregulation can help simplify requirements and allow teachers to focus more on teaching. However, it is essential to balance reducing regulations and maintaining the necessary standards to ensure a quality education for our students.
JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee