Friday’s newspaper headline blared, “Hamilton County Schools see dramatic growth in student performance” and that, my friend, is “fake news” at its finest. A better try might be, “90 Percent of Kids In Chattanooga Can’t Do Math.” Let’s face it: We know that a full 70 percent of 43,000 students in our public school system are not on track, this based on state test scores, and -- with a record budget just opened in Hamilton County -- it is widely believed that once again we’ll not get the bang for our bucks.
The spin doctors will tell you that Hamilton County schools graded a ‘1’ in numeracy (this on a 1-to-5 scale) but the staggering truth is less than 10 percent (this on a 1-to-100 scale) of children in our public education system are adequate “in their numbers.” What kind of life sentence is that? And, how much longer are the taxpayers going to tolerate a stealthy form of child abuse?
I contend a huge part of the educational train wreck is that the state of Tennessee’s lawmakers and leaders may talk a good game but have not “walked the walk” in so long that now we all crawl from one end of the state to the other. This week the Knox County School Board sent a “no confidence” letter in the state Department Of Ed to Governor Bill Haslam. It arrived just several days after school leaders in Davidson County (Nashville) and Shelby County (Memphis) mailed the same. Indeed, what has taken place is a farce.
What was refreshing in the Knoxville version was that it pointedly accused the State Department of Education for dodging the blame in the tumultuous reign of Commissioner Candace McQueen. Her greatest notoriety has been state testing that has failed in each of the last three years. Now it’s our Hamilton County leaders who are doing the dodge – the truth is our middle and high schools are worse than they were just five years ago. Believe me, as the state’s education efforts continue to crumble, Hamilton County’s infamous last decade has been even worse.
Tennessee – as a state – is in the bottom 20 percent of the United States when it comes to allocating money to educate our young. That’s why many believe the first steps a new governor must take is righting a crazy system that has gone askew, one that has poured millions of earmarked education dollars into our troubled schools while ignoring broader overall steps that most assuredly would benefit the whole.
In Hamilton County it is the same way. Over half of our students qualify for free, or assisted, lunches and the greatest step in the climb out of poverty is an education. At the school board meeting this week everybody applauded the fact Hamilton County is now level 3 instead of level 2 (on a 1-to-5 scale) but the stark fact is that “average” is absolutely unacceptable with business and industry clamoring for entry-level workers and, I am telling you, these jobs are available right now!
Plainly, we cannot meet the need and, when we find ourselves in the single digits on a 1-to-100 scale in “numeracy” (a phony word that means ‘math’), it is so disheartening that the belief is our children will need crayons instead of pencils in forthcoming text books. That’s right, HCDE is a record-low ‘9’ in its race to the top.
Instead of accepting accountability and harshly confronting it, Hamilton County educators are using gimmicks like “career paths” and various “future-ready institutes” rather than sticking to the timeless fundamentals of “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” As a result of such far-fetched education models, a full 25 percent of school-age children in Hamilton County are filling over 30-and-growing private schools and home schooling is growing.
The Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences, the STEM School, and others like the Girls Leadership Academy are proof public education works, but in a school district that today celebrates being “average,” the most fertile area of improvement would seemingly be to focus on the “average schools” within the system where the quickest gains could be made.
As it is today, the HCDE can no longer “idle,” which has attributed to the entire state’s further slide in education. The poverty schools beg for a 12-month curriculum, replete with counselors and social workers, and – perish the thought – active programs like the Boy Schools and youth intramural teams. “Outside of the box” is the only place change can occur.
Oh, it’s not just in Hamilton County and Tennessee. Deep reforms are overdue and “equity and equality rhubarb” is no more than mindless jabber and subterfuge. For example, chew on this tasty crumb:
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“The Army says it wants to recruit 76,500 new soldiers in 2018. But it has signed up only 28,000 in the first six months of the year. The problem, it seems, is not that young people don't want to join the military. It's that they can't; too many of them fail to meet minimum standards.
“Here's the math: One in three potential recruits are disqualified because they're overweight, one in four cannot meet minimal educational standards, and one in 10 have a criminal history. The unabashed fact is that 71 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds -- the military's target pool of potential recruits -- are disqualified the minute they enter a recruiting station.”
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Is it unfathomable that only 30 percent of today’s 18-to-24 year-olds can qualify to serve their country? Sadly, there is not much we can do about that and don’t dare think the requirements are going to be lessened anytime soon. What we can do is demand that our under-achieving public schools perform far better than has been revealed.
And, for mercy sake, no true educator should ever set such an example that our children would believe that being mediocre or average is worth any type of a celebration.