I have been watching what has become an annual event in Chattanooga, which is the hand wringing and blame game associated with low test scores in our schools. I keep waiting for someone to bring up what should be obvious unless they either don't want to talk about it or think they shouldn't because it might not be politically correct.
1) The highest school test scores will be in areas of highest socio-economic status, show me an area with high per capita income and I'll show you high test scores. Simply put, the higher income level of the parents generates parental involvement such as helping their children with homework and reinforcing the importance of a good education. This makes the work of teachers easier and provides a higher quality and more teachable group of students. Take the teachers from the highest performing schools and put them in the inner city dealing with uneducated parents who don't help or can't because they speak little English and see how high the scores rise. Also, the better the quality of students the less likely parents are to choose private education.
2) Hamilton County has one of the highest percentages anywhere of students in private or home schools. This happens because they don't feel public schools will provide a quality education or they want a Christian based education, or both. These students would typically be higher performing because of the importance placed on their educations. Even though there are many intelligent and high performing students in public schools there have to be more in order to offset lower performing ones. If you remove a high percentage of top performers the average will go down, it's basic math.
3) Every single study on the subject shows early school start times negatively impact learning, especially among teenagers. This is not a theory or guess, it is a fact. In spite of this Hamilton County insists on starting times that are too early and hurt learning. Private schools don't start at 7 or 7:15 and many other school districts in Tennessee don't either. So it seems our leaders refuse to do the one thing that is proven to help learning and wouldn't cost a thing but can't seem to give a good reason why. The often used definition of insanity is to repeat the same practices and expect a different outcome.
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Mr. Hickey, you hit a grand slam, figuratively speaking. After 30 years in public education and 10 more in private, I can tell you that you are right.
Back in the late 90s we had a superintendent boasting about how he had moved teachers from high performing suburban schools into the inner city and vice versa. Fifteen years later do we see high performance in those schools?
Also around that time our state department made ominous noises about "taking over failing schools," much like receivers take over failing financial institutions. Fifteen years later has that experiment brought about anything but minimal results?
Initiatives and consultants make their way in and out of Hamilton County annually, but the schools that show marked results are the ones where parents and students place great value in an education and where teachers and students are working hard every day.
Without hard work and desire all the money and initiatives will not change anything and we will keep having these conversations as Mr. Hickey pointed out.
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Mr. Jerry Hickey, Ralph Miller and others, my applause, but what is the point of talking about the showing of the schools and the failure of and continuation of issues relating to education of our children? Nothing is done.
Over the past now three years I have talked to, pleaded with and often argued with dozens of people in this town about the state of the state of education in Hamilton County. Let me suggest that our school system differs little from nearly any school in the country. We fail a very large percentage of kids every year; every town and city in the nation, and we do it knowing we are doing it..
What could possibly be wrong with failing our youth? Let me give you just a few for starters. If a student can't read the future is pretty bleak. If the student lives in the inner city and goes to an all black or nearly black school, his future is more then bleak. Read about the gangs, the drugs, the murders, the cost to society? Cause and effect suggest very strongly that the school's mission is to educate and further to provide a community resource for all citizenry. The schools are closed at night and on Saturday. The schools do little out reach to the parent community and help parents to be teachers.
Instead the school system pays some in central office over $100k a year. Teachers work hard and work at very difficult odds of success. One teacher plus 25 or more children; 2-4 reading groups every day and responsible for the educating of the student. Want to hear the chances of her/success with those numbers and that challenge...zero.
Now, the child with mom and dad and support system in place. I don't want to talk about him or her. I want to be a member of a group that demands the schools use available resources and the college community to design a learning experience for the learner that is going from cradle to jail.
There are readers on this resource that would love to see something done.
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Mr. Hickey makes some valid points in his opinion regarding test scores. I would like to address his third point regarding early starting times for schools.
He is correct in siting studies that show later starting times are better for students, especially teenagers. There is really just one reason that Hamilton County has its current starting schedule. It's the transportation system. The current budget structure only allows enough buses to get students to school in at least two shifts. To have later starting times where elementary students begin at 8 a.m. and middle and high students start at 9 a.m. would require a substantial increase in the transportation budget to provide more buses and drivers. It probably would require somewhere between $5,000,000 and $9,000,000 to accomplish this goal.
In the 1960's, the state of Tennessee supplied 88 percent of the cost of transportation for the Hamilton County Department of Education. The last time I saw these numbers the state had reduced its contribution to just 12 percent of the total transportation costs. By default, funding has become a local issue. So the question is, do the citizens of Hamilton County really want to see starting times changed for the betterment of student learning, and will they will they pay for that change?
By the way, other school systems in Tennessee do have early starting times, especially the larger ones. The reason for this is the same as Hamilton County. They don't have enough buses to get students to school in just one trip.
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The first letter here originally puzzled me, because the writer says under point 1, "higher income level of the parents generates parental involvement such as helping their children with homework and reinforcing the importance of a good education." I guess someone forgot to tell Dr. Ben Carson's mother about that, huh? And several generations of parents before her.
That is followed with, "the better the quality of students the less likely parents are to choose private education." Then under point 2, he immediately contradicts himself by saying of private school students, "These students would typically be higher performing because of the importance placed on their educations."
But that's irrelevant at the moment; my comments are directed to the writer's point 3: "Every single study on the subject shows early school start times negatively impact learning, especially among teenagers. This is not a theory or guess, it is a fact."
I grew up in a small town north of Indianapolis. I wasn't a farm kid, but was surrounded by small farms, and most of the students in our township schools lived on farms. The school year invariably started for us on the Tuesday after Labor Day, and invariably ended just before Memorial Day--which was, all those decades ago, May 30. Period. And school started for us at 8 a.m. every day. Period.
But now some bleeding hearts seem to think that even 8 a.m. is simply too early for poor teenagers to have to go to school.
Have you ever lived and worked on a small farm with livestock? Have you ever spent a winter north of the Mason-Dixon Line? Although I moved to Chattanooga 48 years ago this week, whenever I think of winter in Indiana, everything is just gray and dark and ice cold. There is no sunshine, no blue sky, and no heat, not in my memory, anyway. And farm animals stink.
Imagine having to roll out of bed, in a house that is itself none too warm, at 5:30 or so on a Hoosier February morning, on every Hoosier February morning, when the temperature is 20 degrees below zero, and heading out to an unheated barn to help milk and tend to 40 or 50 cows. A cow barn doesn't smell very good, not after the cows have spent the frigid night in there--believe it or not, cows aren't housebroken. And not only do they have to be milked, they also have to be fed and cleaned up after. And the milk has to be strained, poured into a cooler or cans, etc. Elsewhere in the barn there may be dozens of pigs needing to be fed and cleaned up after. And pigs make cows seem to smell good.
After that my classmates would get to eat their own breakfast, clean up themselves and change from barn clothes to school clothes, and catch the cold school bus for the long, cold, dark ride to school. And it would still be barely daylight by 8 a.m.
When school let out at about 3:30 p.m., many of my classmates routinely stayed for basketball practice--you know the film Hoosiers? (Hey, I recall listening to that original state championship game on the radio early in 1954.) Watch the film again to get the feel of an Indiana winter; some of the outdoor scenes were filmed within a few miles of my hometown, so I can affirm that it's legitimate. Oh, those little crackerbox gymnasiums usually didn't smell too good, either.
Then, after ball practice, as often as not those tired teenage farmer-student-athletes had the privilege of running home in the frigid and darkening air, five miles or more, just so they could help to milk, feed, and clean up after the cows again. And feed the hogs, too.
As far as I know, those farm kids I went to school with were pretty much ordinary teenagers, congenitally lazy, naturally undisciplined, generally self-centered, and always hungry and tired. Of course they complained--about school, about work, and about many other things. But school still started at 8 a.m. sharp five days a week, nine months a year, and the only legitimate excuse for being late was, perhaps, the school bus itself being late. And we got precious few 'snow days,' too--up there where three to five feet of snow is the annual average.
Wonder why city kids who've never even seen, let alone smelled a cow or pig, find it so hard to get themselves to school on time in the morning? Maybe they don't have a strong and no-nonsense dad who will take a belt or a rubber hose to their backside if they play lazy or play hooky. Maybe it just seemed easier and more pleasant for my friends and neighbors to go to school, than to stay at home on the farm all day?
I know, old guys always talk about young kids that way. One interesting detail about those farm kids of the 1950s--sure, some of the boys did literally smell like 'hayseeds' now and then, but the girls were always clean and neat by the time they got to school.
But that was then, and this is now, huh?