What was most confusing about Register's announcement on September 9 was his branding it the "Third Way," harking back to former Governor Phil Bredesen's 2003 inaugural address calling for an end to partisan state politics. Co-opting Bredesen's language from 11 years ago seems like a head-scratcher, particularly for a plan that has pitted entire neighborhoods against each other in East Nashville. As it turns out, Register apparently has one of Bredesen's former staff members advising him.
Through an open-records request, East Nashville United (a group of parents and community leaders opposing Register's plan to destabilize public education in their neighborhoods) unearthed a series of emails about the so-called "Third Way" plan. One email in particular jumped out.
On August 28, some 11 days before the bombshell announcement, Register received an email from Nashville School Board member, Jill Speering, expressing concern about the apparent lack of turnaround strategy for the city's low-performing schools. About an hour later, Register forwarded Speering's email to Drew Kim, an education policy consultant, with the comment: "See below! Smile." An hour later, Kim responded by saying, "Great. The 9th will be your time!," obviously referring to the upcoming announcement on September 9.
So who is Drew Kim and why does this email exchange matter?
Kim is the founder of P3 Consulting, one the many shadowy consulting firms that popped up after Tennessee's 2010 Race to the Top win of millions of dollars. Kim (no relation to Nashville School Board member Kim) also happens to be the former policy advisor for Bredesen. Hence, the Third Way connection.
Kim's client's list, proudly displayed on the home page of his firm's web site (www.p3tennessee.com), reads like a "who's who" of organizations that want to dismantle public education:
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
- Teach for America (Kim is an alumnus),
- the Hyde Family Foundation (the Memphis arm of the charter school movement, and the lead proponent for the first charter laws in TN)
- and SAS (the company that maintains the TVAAS data in Tennessee's controversial teacher evaluation system using William "Bill" Sanders' secret mathematical formula for agriculture growth).
So let's get this straight...
Jesse Register, who for most of his career was a defender of public education, apparently, has caved under political pressure. He is now scheming with, and taking advice from, a former Bredesen aide and for-profit consultant who's loading him up with bad ideas on behalf of his anti-public education clients.
This, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with the radical reform movement and weak leaders like Register. If the Nashville School Board votes to dismantle East Nashville's public schools based on Register's and Kim's radical plan, then school board members across Tennessee should be on the lookout for "all choice" proposals to destabilize their schools, too.
Third Way? No way.