What did the great leaders have in common?  They had a vision, set a goal and refused to be distracted from it; refused to listen to informed people who told them it couldn’t be done.  Great leaders persevere.  Great leaders champion others to believe and to join the struggle to attain a great goal.  On the other hand, half measures always achieve half results.  Mediocre expectations result in mediocrity.

It was recently reported that Governor Haslam is weighing the proposed voucher bill and Tennessee School Choice would like to share an open letter concerning education reform in Tennessee with Governor Haslam, but we hope all of Tennessee state legislators, educators, school boards and parents give thought to our words.

All the rules, regulations, laws and tweaking in the world cannot, have not and will never create an efficient or effective monopoly.

All the benefits in the world cannot and will never satiate union leadership.

Those sacrificing our children’s education in order to benefit themselves, protect their lifestyle, buy votes or for other known and unknown reasons will never stop until the power they robe themselves in is forcibly taken away.

Why would we choose to continue with endless lawsuits, conflict and resentments that result in forcing widely diverse people to come together based solely on a zip code or street address?

Why would we choose to continue to argue over benefits, evaluations, time spent in school, testing, single gender or coeducational, new math or old math, memorization or inspiration, prayer and expressions of faith, which holidays to celebrate and what to call them, potatoes for lunch or green veggies, zoning, books, sex ed. or abstinence, ID or evolution, etc., etc., etc.

Why continue to chip away, battle by battle, take two steps forward and three back while sacrificing another generation?

Why not recognize our educational system for what it is – broken – indefensible – and – incapable of being “fixed?”

Empowering EVERY parent to choose the school that best serves the educational needs of their child is not only the best way to FIX education in Tennessee and the U.S. it is the ONLY way.  We call on Gov. Haslam to free every child to reach their potential by freeing their parents to find a school that will meet the needs of their children; to free them from the dysfunctional education system that has been failing children for forty years and tossing aside generations; free them from an educational system that seeks to serve the wants of the adults above the needs of the children.  If we are going to fight a battle on behalf of Tennessee’s children, why would we fight to only save a few?  Why not liberate all our children?

To those who argue that choice will destroy the public education system we ask:  Why does the public education system in this state or country deserve to continue?  You and your ilk have had 40+ years and destroyed generations.  Your admission that parents empowered to choose might choose other than the public education system is an admission that – even you – know the public education system is and has been failing our children.  If you want to retain students (their funding), then earn them.  You should not be guaranteed new fodder year after year.

To those who argue we should empower only poor parents or those in “failing” schools we ask: How do you define failing?  Failing compared to other states or to our global competitors – those for whom our children are and will be competing against?  Is our goal to simply not to be the worse state?  Thanks to the Global Report Card we can see with a few clicks that even our “best” districts are failing to educate our children to compete with their global counterparts: Williamson County only ranked in the 58 percentile in math and 73 percentile in reading; Shelby County ranked in the 43 percentile in math and 57 percentile in reading; Oak Ridge ranked in the 46 percentile in math and 60 percentile in reading.  We could go on.

To those who argue we risk diversity if parents are empowered to choose, we ask:  Is not and should not the ultimate goal of education be excellence in education?  Diversity is a positive and noble goal, but it cannot be called segregation if people are freely choosing with whom they associate.  That, my friend, is freedom.  Choosing based on interests, skills, religion, self-interest or any other reason instead of race…is simply…liberty.  It is empowerment.

To those who say it’s not our fault; it’s not the system’s fault; it’s the parent’s fault.  Parents aren’t engaged.   We say:  If you want engaged parents, empower them.  We need only look to the example of the D.C. voucher program.  Parents who stumbled onto the program have become its greatest defenders.  After being peddled hopelessness for generations and then coming to realize thanks to the D.C. Scholarship Program that their children can actually have a future and “become somebody,” D.C. parents with little education themselves became engaged and successfully fought to reinstate the program.  Many of these parents have gone on to get their GED and have begun college themselves.  As RiShawn Biddle articulated so well recently, …the way schools deal with parents of all backgrounds (especially poor families) is particularly disdainful; from inconveniently-scheduled parent-teacher conferences, to the lack of meaningful communication about student progress until it is far too late to help kids succeed, traditional districts offer little to parents. The penchant for many teachers and administrators to treat families as nuisances and afterthoughts is as strong in suburbia — where parents supposedly have the clout to force change — as it is in big-city districts.  Parents who perceive they have no power see little point in becoming involved.

The freedom to choose a school that best fits the needs of your child is a reality in many nations around the world – countries with scores exceeding our “best” districts.  Freeing up our education system and allowing competition to create and innovate is inevitable.  The question is how bad will it have to get?  How many more generations are we willing to sacrifice?

As an accomplished business man we’re guessing Governor Haslam understands these truths.  We are calling on Governor Haslam to be the leader our children need; to fight for them and if necessary to sacrifice for them; to end the unnecessary conflict; to end half measures; to be the spark that sets Tennessee as the greatest education system in the country.  How we empower parents, though vouchers, tax credits, scholarships, etc. is a lengthy article for another day, but we call on Haslam to be the first Governor to take education to the end point, empowered parents and a competitive, innovating education system full of diverse options meeting a wide range of needs and interests.  Half measures achieve half results and mediocre expectations result in mediocrity.

Or, we can continue with fad reforms and power bartering.  We can continue spending hand over fist with little results while charters and private schools spend little with better results.  The wealthy will continue to provide their children with great educations, while the middle class, the poor and the entire U.S. economy will continue wither behind their global counterparts.  We can continue tossing aside portions of Tennessee’s children, upwards of 30 percent in some areas like Memphis.

We can continue waiting – waiting for a leader – waiting to be rescued – waiting to hit rock bottom – waiting…

…for a John Wayne, a leader with grit who is aware of the colossal battle in front of us, but willing to take on the fight because it is right and noble.

…for a Harriet Tubman willing to lead us into freedom; freedom to educate our children at schools that will prepare them to reach their potential.

… for a Steve Jobs, a visionary leader who understands where we need to go and the determination to lead us there.


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