The Wilson Post

Opinion: Keep the ‘public’ in public education

Education is at a crossroads in Tennessee. People say public education is broken and beyond repair. I tell those critics that they are wrong.


We succeed every single day in small victories across our classrooms and schools. Our success with the students we serve far outweighs our failures. We can acknowledge those failures and take on those challenges head-on.

Currently, the state is looking at revamping its rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools and districts. I agree that districts, schools, and families should be able to understand what the data means and what can be done about it. As a state, we must make accountability clearer and more actionable. Hit-and-miss town halls are not the best vehicle for doing this, especially at the start of a new school year.

I agree that our current system is too complicated for families/non-school stakeholders to understand.  It is hard for districts to explain, let alone know what to do about it. It is difficult to figure out what the data means for teachers and administrators and what are the best actions to take as a school.

Grading schools and school systems creates a false impression of significance. It also ignores the unique strengths of each school and unfairly reduces each student’s worth to the school’s assigned grade. Data is a fickle tool and a cruel mistress in the wrong hands.  Data is subject to conditions and variables often outside the purview of an educator or system.

Public education can overcome most challenges when the right people are involved, and the goal is educator support for student success. We must recognize the importance of daily accomplishments and the positive impact that educators, students, and the community collectively achieve within the education system. How do you put a grade on that work?

Focusing on the successes and progress happening within classrooms and schools is a motivating and empowering approach. Acknowledging failures and challenges openly, we demonstrate transparency and a commitment to improvement. A positive attitude and a sense of hope can be powerful drivers for change. Nevertheless, remaining stagnant is not an option.

At times, I know we have gone down a few rabbit holes and lost focus in education. And often federal constraints like Race to the Top hurt our schools. In education, we must recognize that change will continue and that more change is on the way. We should welcome the debate over change in public education and continue the discussion, knowing that a one-size-fits-all strategy does not work in any school, district, or community.

Change and improvement within any system often start with these small victories and the dedication of those involved. If there is a determination to address shortcomings and a willingness to adapt, there is certainly potential for positive transformation in public education. It’s about fostering a culture of continuous learning, innovation, and collaboration that can lead to a brighter future for education in the state.

We must remember that addressing the issues within public education requires a multifaceted approach involving educators, administrators, policymakers, parents, and the community. With collective efforts and a commitment to making a difference, public education can indeed have a bright future in Tennessee.

Together, we cultivate a supportive ecosystem where not only teachers and students but also parents, community members, and institutions work together to nurture student success.

Increased parental and community involvement in public education is a must. Collaboration can have several benefits. It can lead to a more holistic and supportive learning environment for students, foster better communication between schools and families, and strengthen ties within the community.

We must keep the public in public education.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.