Year of Publication

2021

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Education

Department/School/Program

Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Lars Bjork

Abstract

In 2010, Tennessee’s 106th General Assembly passed the First to the Top Act (2010), a companion legislation for the federal Race to the Top Act (2009) program launched by the Obama Administration. A provision of this state law required that half of teacher and principal evaluations be based upon student achievement, which included a component of required continuous academic growth. For school districts whose students scored at the highest academic performance levels, the continuous growth component would negatively impact their teachers’ and principals’ annual evaluations. In 2012, the Williamson County Schools (WCS) superintendent requested mitigation for relieve from the Tennessee Commissioner of Education regarding the inadvertent negative impact of this evaluation provision. Without relief, this provision of the law could jeopardize the continued employment of teachers and principals who could not meet the growth score threshold. This imminent threat to WCS and other similarly situated high performing school districts became the catalyst for development and passage of Tennessee’s High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act (2013). This law allowed high performing school districts to seek relief from any state government mandate that the district believed “inhibits or hinders the district's ability to meet its goals or comply with its mission statement” (Tennessee High Performing School Districts Flexibility, 2013).

This qualitative exploratory case study sought to better understand the political role of one school district superintendent in promulgating Tennessee’s High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act (2013) as well as the influence relationship between local and state leaders and key stakeholders who facilitated the process. This study is unique in time and place where an analysis of publicly available demographic data suggests that the WCS district is the primary beneficiary of the Act as well as the only district to utilize its waiver provision since its inception. Participants interviewed included the WCS superintendent, select members of his administration, board of education members, state legislators, and other integral individuals. Five major themes emerged including roles, politics, influence, ethics, and organizational frameworks.

Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education’s refusal to grant relief jeopardized the employees of Williamson County Schools and other similarly situated high performing school districts. However, with the realization that a remedy was necessary to protect the school district, the WCS superintendent and other leaders and key stakeholders utilized influence relationships to create an ethical, political solution. It was evident that conflict resolution through compromise could not have produced a lasting solution to this problem and required legislative intervention: the promulgation, passage, and practice of Tennessee’s High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act (2013).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2021.072

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