Tennessean - Chas Sisk
Local business people should put more effort into supporting performance bonuses for teachers and other ideas to improve the Metro school system, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Thursday in a lunchtime address to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The state's junior senator and former governor said producing better-educated workers, not recruiting companies from outside Middle Tennessee, should be the chamber's highest priority. He
singled out bonus payments for high-performing teachers, an idea that the local teachers union voted down earlier this month, as one program that the chamber should support.
"Ninety-five percent of education boils down to parents, teachers and principals," said Alexander, R-Tenn. "It's hard to pass a better parent law. … So, if you can't do that much about parents, you go to work on teachers and principals."
Appearing in Nashville during a congressional recess, Alexander spoke for 20 minutes, also touching on his expectations for the post-election legislative session and the state's auto industry. He tied both subjects to a call to introduce more competition into the nation's elementary and high schools, through vouchers and financial incentives.
Alexander spoke less than two weeks after the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association rejected an offer from Blair Wilson, of the Anne Potter Wilson Foundation, to award $1.2 million in bonuses over the next three years to teachers and principals at Inglewood and Alex Green elementary schools, if students improve their state test scores.
The teachers union is considering a second vote on the issue. Erick Huth, vice president of the teachers union, said he was not surprised by Alexander's remarks.
"Senator Alexander has a long history of being in favor of all forms of merit pay," he said.
Alexander said such programs are an effective way to improve Middle Tennessee's competitiveness, better, even, than programs that try to attract businesses through incentives and other tactics.
"If you could say, 'We have the best big-city public schools in America,' that's probably the best thing you could do," he said.
Alexander also urged business people to consider ideas that will reward principals for performance and to work with the teachers union to devise a system that's fair. The goal, he said, should be to give workers the skills they need to hold jobs in the future.
"It's not really about recruiting jobs," he said. "Most of the jobs that Nashville needs to maintain its standard of living, you won't recruit them here. You'll grow them here." •