Times Free Press on Aug. 31 celebrated the test improvements of our students. The article also quoted our new school superintendent with a celebratory note and wanting even more improvement. Let me though give the reader a glimpse at test scores and improvement from one year to the next and suggest that the recently announced tax hike for the county schools that school officials could use some suggestions for some how to's.
The paper reports that English 1 -- 26.2 percent mastered. Algebra 1 -- 18.7 percent mastery. What the paper does not explain is the larger percentage of those that did not master those two subjects. A Times Free Press article on the school's testing show that reading scores for 2011, 12 and 13 are 44.6, 45.7, 46.9 percent mastery. Some 50 percent plus did not achieve reading mastery.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked Tennessee in the bottom 10 of 50 states. The new tax measure approved is scheduled to be used for infrastructure needs and for instructional improvements. The test scores in the school system whether the old TCAP or the new testing format show deficits and serious questions should be raised why and what can be done.
Obviously money or in this case, more money is not going to solve the problem. Further testing results show a pattern of failure compiled by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.. From 1992-2013 children in Tennessee averaged mastery in reading 41 percent. Tennessee students who scored in the proficient/advanced averaged 20 percent.
Several questions for the reader. One is are 40 percent plus of our students in the state not able to master reading or is there something else that keeps these scores from improving? The other question is the instructional model for the teaching of reading is one teacher one class of students. Is that the best of use of personnel for this critical subject? Tennessee ranks near the bottom in education as do many states in the South, but and the emphasis is on this fact. Money spent for education is not the solution because test scores show a consistency of reading failure in the nation, not just our state.
What can be done and what should be done are two questions that school officials oft times wrestle with but conclude the model used is the model used. Making a faulty assumption sometimes results in a poor conclusion. Let me cite an example. Schools make this assumption when it comes to educating children. They are all size six. I wear a size 10 shoe. Not everyone wears a size 10 shoe. We educate children as if they are all the same. Two of my three children had learning issues. Neither of them received adequate educational support. My youngest, gifted, never recognized as a bright kid. Something is horribly wrong with how we educate and the money spent, lots of it, may need a pause.
Children enter school at age five and if the school has a pre-k program the child can enter at age four. A child's development occurs rapidly in the first few years after birth. I think some efforts are made to address that in this city via the Baby University begun by Mayor Berke. It is doubtful, however, that the real educational issues are addressed in this program. An article in the TFP a few years ago cited the thousands of children suspended from preschool. I had to read the article twice - suspended from preschool? Again, mostly black children and further harm, suspended over and over again. Does this school system have an outreach program to help parents learn how to be the child's first teacher? The answer is no, they do not but should I say they should. Arne Duncan, former head of the Department of Education said this, "It is entirely that the U.S. has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed."
My original title for this article was to call it simply the onion. As I began putting words in sentences and idea that education is not an onion at all but a shoe store that sells only size 10 shoes. This community, any community, needs what I will call a community of learners and in that community is the school. The school is central, purposeful, and uniquely purposed to serve the community both the children, the parent, and the extended family of the student. The community of learners provides help to the parent that is struggling; to the parent that needs help being a parent. The child that enters school needs to feel welcome, accomplished and wanting to be in school. That last point wanting to be in school means that the school's one size fits all needs to be repurposed.
There has been considerable talk regarding the IQ of the black child. Some profess it is lower and many believe it so even those that educate children. The fact is that factors, not the child, are the reason for the IQ differences. One is malnutrition. Sounds overly simplistic? Some children in the inner city eat a balanced meal twice, both at school. There is another reason for the lower IQ among black children and it is the schools. Remember that title of this piece. Size 10 deprives that black child just as malnutrition, isolated communities and many factors. The school system, this one, has a gift, yes a gift and that is to be different, act different and create a school environment for those five targeted schools that could be the envy of the community, the state and the nation. Chattanooga and Hamilton County Schools could create Normal Park schools in all five. It cost $124,000 to incarcerate a youngster. Think about that number and how many children could be served at Orchard Knob Elementary and Woodmore if we just thought differently about educating the total child and include mom, extended family and community. It can be done and further does not have to cost a lot of taxpayer money. That alternative costs society more.