Teachers’ unions and entrenched education bureaucratic interests do not take criticism well, especially when conservative, free-market and school-choice supporters correctly point out public education’s flaws. The public pressure against school choice and charter school supporters led one East Tennessee charter school to formally cut ties between it and Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college which has supported charter school efforts in the Volunteer State.
Ivy Academy’s Skillern Elementary, which is located north of Chattanooga, published a news release which announced the severing of ties. Local news outlet WBIR said that Ivy Academy CEO and founder, Angie Markum, announced the following:
“In order to use our time tending to the mission of the school rather than defending ourselves from attempts to mischaracterize our efforts, we have terminated the agreement with Hillsdale that would have allowed us to use a program guide as a planning aid for our teachers.”
Ivy Academy was one of several Tennessee charter schools which received guides and materials for classroom instruction as a part of Hillsdale College’s charter school affiliation programming.
Hillsdale College acknowledged that its relationship with Ivy Academy ended on July 6 due to “inaccurate media attention” from the controversy. Lee, in an interview, said that Arnn’s remarks were geared towards teaching in general, not Tennessee’s teachers. “There is a recognition, there is an agenda, by many in this country — a left-wing agenda, frankly — that creeps its way into our public school system, at the detriment of our teachers which was mainly, broadly what that conversation was about,” the governor told a Tennessee radio station.
The backlash against charter schools started when a Nashville news outlet published the secretly-recorded remarks from Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn at a private event. Arnn was in attendance with Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee, and during his speech, Arnn criticized the ineptitude of public school teachers, taxpayer-funded teachers’ colleges, and public education’s lack of progress or achievement.
Anti-charter school activists within the local media, teachers’ unions, and state Democrats, focused on the following excerpted remarks made by Arnn:
- “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
- “They are taught that they are going to go and do something to those kids … Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?”
- “In colleges, what you hire now is administrators … Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It’s easy. You don’t have to know anything.”
- “You will see how education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.”
- “Here’s a key thing that we’re going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”
Teachers’ unions and the Tennessee Democratic Party pounced on Arnn’s criticisms and said that Arnn’s remarks were unfounded, inaccurate, and hurtful. For example, a teachers’ association called the Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (TACTE) called on Lee to repudiate Arnn’s remarks.
Joy Pullmann of The Federalist penned an article defending Arnn’s comments and providing context to back up Arnn, Gov. Lee, and the conservative, school choice movement. She pointed out that Arnn’s remarks “were aimed at the education bureaucracy that everyone but leftist knows is politically and morally corrupt.” She noted that much of the context around the aforementioned excerpted comments was missing in the media’s reports, which was done to disparage Arnn and charter school supporters.
Pullmann countered the false narratives and wrote that Arnn and Lee “are working to recruit, train, and employ more public school teachers” in order to “overhaul Tennessee’s struggling public education system by opening new public schools as fast as they can recruit highly qualified teachers.”
Tennessee’s education data does not lie, either, according to Pullmann. She claimed that national data shows that 69% of Tennessee high school seniors were not proficient in reading, which is a devastating statistic. In mathematics, 83% of Tennessee senior students were not proficient. Neither statistic is above the national average.
Regarding teachers’ colleges and education schools, Pullmann highlighted the problems facing aspiring teachers. These programs rarely prepare their graduates for realistic teaching environments and oftentimes accept applicants whose test scores (such as the ACT or SAT) are lower than other colleges and “require… more remedial college coursework than their counterparts.”
As the manufactured controversy in Tennessee shows, the media, teachers’ unions, and entrenched education bureaucrats are hell bent on stopping the progress of the school choice and charter school movement as it gains momentum post-pandemic.