published Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Worthwhile but costly student transfers put Hamilton County Schools in bind

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith is trying to make the best of a bad situation: the question of students being allowed to transfer out of low-performing public schools and attend better ones.

He is stuck between high costs for the transfers on one hand and the prospect of students having to remain involuntarily in poorly performing schools on the other.

Until now, the federal No Child Left Behind law has permitted students in many cases to leave weaker public schools and attend better ones. While it has taken awhile for such transfers to catch on locally, it appears they are growing rapidly, as parents seek a better education for their children.

For example, this year, the school system is busing well over 400 students to schools other than the ones they are zoned for, as part of the transfer option. That is more than twice as many students as took advantage of the transfers just last year.

Only a few students choose to transfer from some schools, but in other cases, scores of students make the move. Almost 80 students who would ordinarily attend Orchard Knob Middle are instead going to Hunter Middle or Ooltewah Middle this year. And 130 students from Brainerd High have chosen to attend Ooltewah High or Sale Creek High this year instead, according to the Hamilton County Department of Education.

Those numbers are significant and indicate a perfectly understandable student and parental desire for better educational opportunities. Moreover, these are students who are attending different schools by their own and their parents' free choice, not by compulsion, so they are more likely to avail themselves of the opportunities at the higher-performing schools.

But as with any benefit, there are costs. This year alone, Hamilton County Schools is spending $830,000 to bus the hundreds of transferring students to other parts of the county. And no one pretends that schools have hundreds of thousands of spare dollars these days.

So, Smith has proposed ending the student transfer option starting as early as next year. The school system can do that because Tennessee and nine other states recently got waivers from requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

Stopping the transfers will come as a disappointment to some parents who may have been counting on being able to send their children to a better school than the one for which the children are zoned.

If there is any silver lining, it is that Smith does not propose that the school board halt the program immediately. Instead, students who have already begun attending a different school from the one they would normally attend would be permitted to complete their time at their preferred school before reverting back to their zone. For instance, a student who is already attending a different elementary school would be able to finish out his elementary school years there before going to his zoned middle school. That would provide a measure of stability.

Still, it is a matter of great concern that a substantial number of parents in Hamilton County apparently do not feel they can get a solid education for their children at the schools for which the children are zoned. If costs are too steep to allow the transfers to other schools to continue, then we should all ask what must be done to ensure that our public schools are places of such excellence that there should be neither need nor desire for students to seek an "escape hatch."

And while federal dictation of educational standards is much to be avoided, the recently granted waivers from the achievement rules of the No Child Left Behind law should certainly not become a reason for reduced accountability in our schools.

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aae1049 said...

It is a fact that the majority of children perform to the highest bar of a school culture. If the bar is rock bottom, we lose children. Why should a child from poverty be forced to attend a failing or dangerous school? What incentives does HCDE have to address failing schools without being forced to provide equal access to quality education. Promise, HCDE only responds to lawsuits.

Abolishing school choice is a viscous act against children in poverty in my humble opinion. The whole notion that being poor means children must attend failing schools instead of a top rated HCDE school is pure ......HCDE needs to be sued for disparity in access to quality public education.

Of course, this is the TFP Editors raindrops on roses style of editorial journalism. Here, let's sing along together, the TFP's theme and journalistic style.

February 25, 2012 at 11:12 a.m.
rolando said...

Idiot. Don't stop the transfers...instead, stop the $830,000 cost of busing. If they want better schools [and who can blame them] let them get there on their own. Parents can form neighborhood carpools, etc. They can manage without their cellphone for a while to pay for it.

There must be other expenses involved that can be cut. Close down and consolidate the reduced-need the old schools. Stop thinking inside the "entitlement" box.

Parents -- Man up. Be glad your kids are allowed to change schools; if you really care, work to help make it continue.

February 25, 2012 at 12:09 p.m.
rolando said...

Suing the schools is not the answer. Lack of money is their problem now...why make it worse? All it does is make the lawyers richer.

February 25, 2012 at 12:13 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Rolando, here is the problem. The HCDE matches Howard with Sale Creek, traffic peak and distance is 1.5 hours on a bus each way. Orchard Knob is paired with Ooletwah. HCDE has made access very difficult for the working poor. Here are the matched schools.

I am not thinking in the "entitlement" box, I have worked with these children, and they do NOT have a chance in the failing schools. I am a Republican that loves children more than a political party. So, don't even try that Rolando. The HCDE needs to be sued, because there is blatant disparity in public education and doing the right thing by children does not have a political party. I am a former member of East TN TCCY, and these issues are important to me. The NAACP needs to get off their rear ends and do something for a change, instead of ride on the coat tails of former actions.

Your thoughts please,

February 25, 2012 at 12:32 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Yep, HCDE must be challenged on making public education less accessible for specific demographics.

February 25, 2012 at 12:53 p.m.
ShaneTalley said...

I am responsible for my own children since I had them. So it is my responsibility as well to see them educated to my standard or expectations. That means paying their way and getting them to the school I choose to send them too. (NOT SOMEONE ELSES RESPONSIBILITY) or putting them at risk by bussing them across town everyday. "Children dont ask to be born" and if your income cant support a child, then dont have one and if you have more children than your anuual income can pay for then it should be a felony offense for stealing from others or from people who dont have or want children. HOWEVER, I am punished by having to pay for other children who came as a tax break or entitlment to some dumb$%% who wants to ride the system. Not to mention my child is paced in the classroom to the slowest learning curve. Now my child is being punished for other children with these dumb$$$ parents who dont assist their children at night with their studies. As for me home schooling, I still have to pay school taxes even when child dont goto a public school. Double Taxation at its best. SO Roland is dead on spot. Take care of your own so I can take better care and provide more opportunity for mine. If you cant afford your kids, maybe some Repubic or Libtard should help with getting these children adopted out to parents that will stand up and support them as they should be with a better chance at a better future.

As I stated before, spend the money on connecting schools with a computer because the staff and faculty are all connected. Shopping, union chit chat, self development personl gains Many teachers get their education this way so why cant the children.

This is just my opinion.

February 25, 2012 at 2:13 p.m.
rick1 said...

Politicians, teachers unions and the NAACP do not want to improve the education of the students attenting the low performing schools. The less educated the students are the greater chance they will be even more dependent on govt. entitlement programs.

February 25, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.
jjmez said...

There's nothing wrong with inner city schools that can't be fixed by just bringing the right people onboard to do the fixin'. I can't imagine a parent busing their kids way across town to attend school in a hostile environment that doesn't want them there. Where they're likely to be mistreated and abused. Where their learning experience is likely to be sabotaged.

Such a school as Howard is state of the art. Was state of the art when it was first opened over sixty years ago. The school had a swimming pool and other state of the art facilities. The school was actually once considered a mini college campus where vocational studies were being taught alongside academics. Chattanooga State College, only a few short years ago, tried to set up vocational and other classes at Howard, but was turned down. I'm not sure why except as rick1 stated, mainly politicians and even some educators, I don't think NAACP has anything to do with it, wants to keep a segment of its population dumb and performing below learning levels.

Remember also, many of these inner city schools often became a safe haven for under performing teachers the system couldn't get rid of due to tenure. Here we are years later having to deal with after effects decades later of what started out decades ago.

February 25, 2012 at 4:47 p.m.
rick1 said...

jjmez, when schools in DC had the voucher program it was very successful and yet when Obama discontinued the program there was not one word from the NAACP. If black children receive a good education and become successful they will not need govt entitlements. If this happens, the NAACP, Rev. Jackson, Rev Sharpton would not exist. Would be hard for them to play the race card all the time when blacks are successful and not dependent on the govt.

You are spot on with tenure. You will never hear a politician address the issues of eliminating tenure.

February 25, 2012 at 5:39 p.m.
jjmez said...

rick1, that's because the so-called voucher program was a farce to begin with. A waste. The problems have nothing to do with the building to area a school is, but what is actually going on inside the building. Pretending to fix the problem by scattering the students doesn't fix the problem, it just scatters the problem. Many of these students have already been dumbed down during the first 3 to 5 years they're in school. Therefore, as they enter the higher grades going into middle school and above they will always be lagging behind.

Solution: Go back and make schools like Howard the state of the art learning facility they were meant to be. That would include all the vocational and academic learning, along with sports such as swimming, tennis, martial arts, creative arts along with the arts, foreign language skills, technology and whatever else it takes. These inner city schools could become the envy rather than the disdain they're presently held. The could become the model of what works. Howard once held grades kindergarten through twelve. Each grade provided a smoothe transition into the next.

February 25, 2012 at 8:07 p.m.
rolando said...

Yeah, right jj. Waste more money on soon-to-be-graffiti-covered, gang-ridden urban schools.

The current voucher-like program is the way to go...those who want an education will find a way; those who don't will stay at home and learn gun-handling techniques.

Get the idea of busing students everywhere off the table. Lay the taxi burden where it belongs -- on those who birthed the child.

February 25, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.
jjmez said...

rolando said... Yeah, right jj. Waste more money on soon-to-be-graffiti-covered, gang-ridden urban schools

And you don't have "gangs" in those suburban schools? You're not talking to someone who doesn't know the truth about those pristine suburban schools. Graffiti? That's a new one. Unless you and your gang are going out with your spray cans you're the only one who claims to have witnessed any graffiti @ urban schools. Maybe you're confusing all that art on Main Street?

February 25, 2012 at 8:37 p.m.
rolando said...

Miss aae -- My first comment was directed toward the editorial writer, not you. Nor is this one...but why make the taxpayers [who have little to no say in the school fund issues] pay lawsuit damages? Do you think that will stop the waste?

There is lots of room for waste-reduction.

Outlawing teacher and other on-grounds unions would be a good first step, followed immediately thereafter with raises for exceptional teachers regardless of their position.

End tenure or make it for one or two years at a time and based on more lifelong, laid-back teaching methods.

Cut the admin staff in half, right across the board -- non-performers go first.

February 25, 2012 at 8:40 p.m.
rolando said...

ART!! Good Lord, thanks for the laugh, jj. Yeah, right...graffiti is Art. That's rich.

February 25, 2012 at 8:46 p.m.
jjmez said...

In Germany there are colleges that actually hold graffitti art classes, as do many other European countries. America needs to stop living in the stone age and get with the 21ST century along with the rest of the world.

While America punishes such raw, creative and natural talents other countries actually embrace and celebrate such God given talents.

February 25, 2012 at 11:15 p.m.
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