The Corporate Education Reform Poster State
Since Lamar Alexander served as Governor in the 1980s, Tennessee has been at the forefront of corporate education reform. Tennessee was in the first wave of states to initiate mandatory student competency on standardized tests in order to get a diploma, and it was one of the first to ram down a career ladder program that ended up disproportionately rewarding teachers who worked in the whitest and leafiest suburbs.
Alexander's focus on shiny new things in education earned him the title of Education Governor, while allowing the state to shrink the proportion of funding going to education. More state money was available, then, to to build an economy based on the hospital and prison industries, along with foreign investment in bringing auto manufacturing to Tennessee.
Alexander's gubernatorial replacement, Ned Ray McWherter, wanted to take on the mantle, too, of Education Governor, if he could find a cheap way to do it. Enter the tobacco-chewing agriculture statistician from UT Knoxville named Bill Sanders, who had been trying for years to sell a statistical formulae for measuring the effects of various treatments on the subsequent growth of ag products, from soybeans to cattle. It was called value-added modeling (VAM), and Sanders promised that he could accurately and cheaply measure growth in academic achievement, while sorting out the bad
Sanders offered the perfect education solution by not requiring major investments in teacher pay, facilities, resources, curriculum, or teacher preparation. The state could continue to squeeze the education budget as it continued to avoid any talk of a state income tax, even as it while it expanded the prison industry, the hospital industry, and foreign industries looking for sweet deals to lure companies to Tennessee.
VAM became law in 1992, with Sanders' proprietary algorithm written into state statute.
The details to this sordid case of ed reform run amok can be found in The Mismeasure of Education. The story line in Part II details the contours and dimensions of the education funding shortfalls, and it details the State's commitment to low and entirely regressive taxes. It also traces the State's desperate Schools Matter: The Corporate Education Reform Poster State: