Roy Exum: The Cost Of No Discipline

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

At the start of the current school year, state education officials gathered at some “state testing task force” when disciplinary records from across Tennessee happened to be revealed. You probably are unaware of this, as it seems to have been kept on the “down low,” but statewide a full 20 percent of the black males in our public schools were suspended at least once during the 2014-2015 school year.

The day before yesterday we had three separate shootings in Chattanooga – surprised? -- So let’s get it all out on the table. This is really why Signal Mountain, Red Bank, East Ridge and other communities within Hamilton County are eager to start their own school districts. Race has nothing to do with it. Discipline has everything to do with it. And the Hamilton County Dept. of Education has failed miserably at it.

The Dept. of Education, very bluntly, has forced schools that are predominately white to accept inner-city kids who are almost exclusively black and Hispanic. Albeit a small percentage of these minority students, the non-zoned malcontents have created enough pandemonium to ruin it for everybody. Some schools in East Ridge and Red Bank are almost non-functional. So at a time when the “rural white man” has just elected the president of the United States, the same white areas in Hamilton County are raising up in a thinly-veiled rebellion.

It is not racist to point out half of the suspensions in 2014-2015 in the state of Tennessee were at just 8 percent of the schools. These schools have one thing in common – they are predominately black. Are you kidding me? At Grandview Heights Middle School in Memphis, two-thirds of the entire student body was suspended at least once. In Shelby County (Memphis) the public schools actually expelled .8 percent of its students.

The Memphis figures are hardly surprising, since the West Tennessee city is now ranked as one of the Top 10 cities for crime in the United States. What is surprising is that Hamilton County took second-place in the state with .6 percent. And there are those who walk among us screaming “Black Lives Matter” when the raw truth is rampant misbehavior. Please.

Orchard Knob Middle School – where 438 of our 6-8 graders attend -- expelled 6.8 percent of its students last year to lead the entire state. You can do all kinds of sociology charts and single-parent studies and child abuse reports and it will break your heart. But the only thing that trumps the children in our county is the children in our community.

Again to be blunt – parents of children at schools where inner-city children are bussed are greatly concerned that a small but potent percentage of these “outsiders” are disrupting the whole educational process of their children. Black parents of children zoned where the non-zoned are bussed are every bit as furious as the white parents, if not more so due to the reflection it makes on their well-behaved children.

HCDE officials know it but won’t admit it. Worse, they haven’t confronted it with a steel fist and now the price of such apathy is threatening the entire system. Of all the public schools in the entire state, three Chattanooga schools are among the Top Ten in the highest percentage of black students expelled: Orchard Knob Middle (9.1), The Howard School (7.1) and Brainerd High School (4.9). Think of what it would be if half of those zoned for Brainerd, for example, weren’t bussed elsewhere?

It’s no wonder all three predominately black schools are squarely in the crosshairs of the state-run Achievement School District, where the state haughtily dares to claim it can take a school in the lowest 5 percent to the top 25 percent in just 5 years. As a matter of fact, it now appears the ASD will probably take over Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Woodmore Elementary, and Clifton Hills as well.

When the ASD makes a grab, the HCDE loses all control. The HCDE staffs and teachers at each school are fired. The HSDE loses every penny that would go to the Dept. of Education. And, no, the Achievement School District doesn’t pay Hamilton County a thin dime for the building and grounds. Get you a big mouthful and chew on some of that.

The thinking is a for-profit education group from out-of-town – hired by the state – can show the local buffoons a thing or two. But the word out of Memphis, where the ASD has set up shop in more than 25 schools, is that the soon-to-be released test scores are “dismal.” Further, in the 2014-2015 discipline report, the top district in the state for students suspended – if you can imagine -- was the state-run Achievement School District with 21.4 percent.

In Memphis the buffoons now giggle. In Chattanooga the threat is only the buffoons will remain.

* * *

If you don’t think the lesser school can pull down the district, consider this mirror you can read in more detail on the Tennessee Dept. of Education website:

“In 2015-16, 228,287 high school students took at least one of the End of Course exams, which are the only tests for which there are results due to the suspension of testing in grades 3-8. Students took new TNReady assessments in three subjects: English language arts, math, and social studies.

“Generally, on the three English End of Course assessments, 8.3 percent of students are considered as having mastered their End of Course exam, 22 percent are on track, 42.4 percent are approaching, and 27.3 percent are below course expectations. (“on track”? “approaching”?) In high school math—which includes the traditional algebra I, algebra II, and geometry courses and the integrated math series—3.7 percent of students are considered mastered, 17.1 percent are on track, 26.2 percent are approaching, and 53 percent are below expectations.

“On the U.S. history End of Course test, 9.5 percent of students are considered mastered, 20.4 percent are on track, 34.6 percent are approaching, and 35.5 percent are below expectations. Gaps in student achievement widened among different student groups.

“In science, the two exams in biology and chemistry were similar to previous End of Course assessments but introduced a time limit. On those assessments, which use the old achievement levels, overall 15.8 percent of students are advanced, 33 percent of students are proficient, and 26.8 percent of students score as basic, and 24.4 percent of students are below basic.”

The question they are asking on Signal Mountain, in Red Bank and in East Ridge? Why does Tennessee government accept results like this because we most certainly will not?

* * *

The Town of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., just presented $480,065 to its Board of Education to supplement the operation of its elementary school, which is routinely ranked among the best in the state and the south. The town has been supplementing the school for decades with similar annual gifts. Quipped one private supporter, “Every year 100 percent of our graduates go to the sixth grade.”

* * *

Also from the Tennessee Dept. of Education website: “In 2016, 34 percent of Tennessee public school students met ACT’s college readiness benchmark in reading (while 66 percent of Tennessee’s students did not), and 27 percent of Tennessee students met that mark in math. Overall, 17 percent of students met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in 2016 (while 83 percent of Tennessee’ students did not).” Commissioner Candice McQueen’s comment: “Tennessee’s students are growing into problem solvers and critical thinkers, and they are rising to meet the higher standards that are based on what our colleges and employers expect. We expected scores to be lower in this first year of a more rigorous assessment, but we also expect that scores will rebound over time as all students grow to meet these higher expectations—just as we have seen in the past.”


* * *

The news that Signal Mountain and Red Bank are sharing information on independent school districts is heartening but the question that begs to be asked is why not throw in together? The two communities make up what we know as District 2 in the county. The County Commissioner is Jim Fields, the School Board Member is Kathy Lennon. Combine administrative costs on some percentage (Signal Mountain has three schools while there are five in the valley) give both communities autonomy, and make a buck go further. Red Bank could also dance with the northern neighbors, Soddy-Daisy and Sale Creek. The larger district makes sense -- strength in numbers, so to say.

* * *

“You can’t handle the truth!” – Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in the movie “A Few Good Men.” The movie line is now included among the top 100 of all time.

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