published Sunday, May 27th, 2012

De facto segregation a threat

  • photo
    Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith is seen in this file photo.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

County schools Superintendent Rick Smith's decision -- and the school board's quick approval -- to quit a critical No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, which let minority students in predominately black schools transfer to majority white schools, is deeply discouraging. It reflects a huge mistake in judgment and a callous backward shift toward de facto segregation. It also denies a safety valve for students who want out of so-called "failing" majority-black schools.

Yet the decision to abandon the program went down 10 days ago over the criticism of board's helpless minority members, and without a ripple of noticeable public controversy.

Contrast that with the attention given the case of five Signal Mountain High teachers suspended for having quiet drinks away from the students whom they were chaperoning on a graduation cruise in the Caribbean. Smith's subsequent vengeful suspension of the school's retiring principal, Tom McCullough, apparently to settle old scores, stirred even more controversy -- more than even Smith's overhaul of principals' positions.

An inherently racist drift

By comparison, the Signal Mountain issues are overblown. It is Smith's drift toward neglect of de facto segregation that needs serious long-term scrutiny.

Smith's decision to terminate the minority transfer program comes on the heels of his recent failure to submit a timely and well-considered proposal for a state Innovation Zone grant that was expected to provide around $8 million or more to help the school system improve performance at seven failing schools, all of which have largely black student populations.

(We use the state's term "failing schools" guardedly. In all too many cases, schools are labeled as "failing" when too many students do poorly not because of failing teachers and curriculum, but because of students' lack of early education in impoverished homes before kindergarten and later, and inadequate resources for teachers.)

Nashville's school system, now headed by former Hamilton County schools superintendent Jesse Register, won an Innovation Zone grant of $12.5 million. Memphis, also the beneficiary in 2009 of a $90 million Gates Foundation award for education reform, received more than $14 million under the Innovation Zone grant. Smith, by comparison, got a $600,000 grant intended to help him and his administration develop a meritorious Innovation Zone proposal in the hope of a future grant.

Hamilton County's mostly black schools, however, need as much help as those in Memphis and Nashville, and they need it now to avoid a state takeover of failing schools. Had he cared more, Smith would have made the Innovation Zone grant application an urgent priority: He would have hammered out a good grant proposal, and he would have gotten it to the state before the deadline.

And he certainly would not have moved so quickly to take advantage of the state's recently awarded NCLB waiver to phase out the minority-to-majority transfers. That he did prompts worry that Smith not only wants to save the transportation costs attached to transfer program. There's also talk that he may cut the special-instruction and after-school programs in mainly minority schools in order to divert those programs' federal funds, which is coveted by the school board's current regressive majority, to the suburban white schools those members favor.

That sentiment reflects the resurgent division of board members and school administrators who have long resented the merger 15 years ago of the city's urban school system into the then-mostly white suburban county school system.

Hamilton County is not unique in this regard. A drift back to de facto segregation has grown in many school systems since the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled five years ago that school systems, having moved past the era of busing to achieve integration, did not have to give parents of minority students a choice on the schools they attend.

That decision has not only fueled re-segregation. It also has generated the revival of the segregationists' mindset that "separate but equal" -- under the banner of "neighborhood schools" -- is both feasible and OK, and that teachers' skills alone in mainly black schools can offset the cultural value, to both minority and majority white students, of integration.

Research has long disproved that subterfuge of racism. Broad studies of this nation's history of segregation, integration and educational disparities show that students of both races in integrated schools are typically higher achievers in school and in their subsequent careers than those educated in segregated schools.

'Separate' is never equal

In addition, it shows that "separate" is never equal, especially in communities -- like ours -- where minorities are traditionally poorer, and their schools have fewer resources because students' parents don't have the money, the political influence, the resources and the educational background found in more affluent and largely white communities. So their segregated schools simply cannot keep pace with the mainly white schools in more affluent areas. One need only look at the disparities between the ample financial support of white schools and their communities on Signal and Lookout Mountains and in East Brainerd, versus schools in Alton Park, Avondale, Eastdale and Eastside, to see the disparities.

That is the problem here, and it's always been this community's problem. Now that the county school board has finally gotten a majority of members, and a superintendent, who seem to think separate schools and de facto segregation are OK, the county school system needs more alert scrutiny than ever to assure that equal access to excellent education is a reality, not a hoax.

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Student performance is most closely correlated with poverty, not race.

May 27, 2012 at 12:25 a.m.
DOCJGH said...

Note that in most communities race is closely correlated with poverty and where one lives and hence, race impacts student performance. Research has long shown the htterogenous classrooms (i.e., classrooms with equal numbers of students by race, income, performance, etc.) result in the highest achievements for all students. Resegregation and neighborhood schools perpetuate and magnify the impact of poverty and neighborhood segregation.

May 27, 2012 at 10:10 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The primary issue here is that a child living in an impoverished neighborhood and zoned for a failing school, no longer has an option to attend a higher preforming school. Now, being poor means a lower quality education, with no options. So being poor means the education opportunities are indeed NOT EQUAL. I cannot believe there are not grounds to file a lawsuit against the HCDE for what is an act of discrimination based upon socioeconomic status. Where are the young and energetic lawyers willing to take this case on? Sickening.

May 28, 2012 at 12:50 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

AAE if more of the students and especially parents at such schools would take education seriously the schools would perform at a higher level. There is nothing stopping any student at a "failing" school from achieving at a high rate no matter how well or poorly the student in the desk next to him or her may be doing. It's an insult to any graduate of Howard or Brainerd attending college to state their school can't perform. Those students have and will. In the opinion piece, "parent" was used only once, when describing their lack of wealth, and "racism" was the main theme. Now you follow that with "lawsuit", another dead end route. Why not focus your energy on parental encouragement. In addition, it's not just transportation issues. Mass transfers also result in overcrowded schools and in some instances, underused schools. Finally it's been proven in systems like Washington DC, simply throwing money will not solve the problem. Raising expectations and stopping excuses would be good places to start.

May 28, 2012 at 1:28 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

We ought to bus them all by lottery. Randomize the entire school system's population into units of equal size by grade level. We have enough hours in the day to spend an additional hour transporting them each way. We need to do something to put an end to this disgusting racism once and for all.

May 28, 2012 at 8:34 a.m.
conservative said...


Your comments are awesome.

The left always shuns parental and individual responsibility and cries for other people's money as a replacement.

May 28, 2012 at 9:37 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Comical, calling me left. No Child Left Behind was enacted by Republicans, silly. Bush signed the bill. If you have students that wish to learn, a failing school is the last place they belong. It is immoral to take school choice away from students that wish to lift themselves out of poverty.

The HCDE only responds to lawsuits, I know.

May 28, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.
Welcome_2 said...

Strnger. Some individuals posting here claiming to be so concerned about failing students are the same ones who once argued against them being bussed to those better schools. They lashed out, making derogatory and demeaning statements against theirs, their neighbors and friends children having to attend school alongside those inner city %$#@! They weren't shy with their derogatory use of words either. No one should be at all convinced these individuals suddenly grew compassionate for inner city children.

May 28, 2012 at 1:16 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

AAE, be specific, what stops any individual student from doing well at one of the schools being mentioned?

Welcome, typical, when you have no argument throw out racism as the response and see if it sticks. It doesn't. I hope all students can do well as over time it would reduce the need for government assistance and also reduce crime and other such issues.

May 28, 2012 at 2 p.m.

LaughingBoy...except not having proper nutrition, lacking access to learning resources and the luxury of spending time doing it. Poverty does deny opportunities to excel.

But actually, do you know where the most money has been thrown in the education system of late?

Testing. And more testing, that multi-billion dollar industry has leeched money away from actual education and into systems that offer no valid measurements of performance. Especially when people like Michelle Rhee fudge the results.

DC doesn't get to run its schools, Congress does. But Congress sends its children to other schools. So they have no incentive to fix anything.

May 28, 2012 at 6:18 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Welcome_2 you hide behind a fabricated User Name and dare to call those posting here not genuine. My name is April Eidson, what is yours? The fact is there is uniform concern for children or this debate would not exist. The debate seems to be that poverty does not warrant accommodation to access to the best education available in Hamilton County, and the decision not to grant access to school choice out of a failing school is not about race. A child zoned for Howard, a chronically failing school does indeed have a right to equal access in public education. If one child is zoned for a failing school, and another is zoned for a high performing school, then access to a free and appropriate public education is NOT EQUAL, let me repeat NOT EQUAL. Interestingly enough, minority and poverty zones are predominately failing schools. That is a fact, Jack.

May 28, 2012 at 8:10 p.m.

Actually, I think this debate exists because there is not uniform concern for children.

And that's not even saying that some of the concern isn't genuine, just pointing out that the concerns are not identical.

But I think you may not be taking Welcome_2's words as they were intended, which was not opposed to busing per se, but explaining the opposition.

And not in a positive way.

May 28, 2012 at 8:39 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Bulbs, the students have access to breakfast and lunch at no cost to their parents if they qualify. No it's not the best usually at schools but it can at least fill their stomachs. If they get a good night sleep prior (parent responsibility) and get to school on time, eat breakfast they will have a good head start on the school day. If their out of school nutrition is so poor it affects school performance at Howard or Brainerd, it will at Ooltewah or Signal Mountain. All schools have libraries and all of the information that should be covered on routine tests can either be found in their textbooks or in lectures. If DC isn't a valid example, look at any major city where money spent per student easily averages five digits.

May 28, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.

Yes, the school doesn't trump lack of nutrition, but you asked for what can stop any individual student, and I gave you examples. Your response is to flippantly declare there are meal programs...but isn't that acknowledging the point? Even if it's ignoring the rest of the year, or even gestational nutrition. And who wants to shut down those programs? Not me. But somebody does.

But no, not all schools have libraries, they especially don't all have equal ones, and not all of them are accessible either. You seem to be hand-waving problems, without realizing the details. You even seem to think the tests are valid on the face of it. They aren't.

Just try the recent test that asked fourth-graders to write a story about riding a camel. As an adult, I know enough to say to anybody asking me that that it would be an invalid test of any abilities I have, but children that young probably won't be that assertive.

As for budgets, stop looking at the overall statistic, and look where the money is going, it's not going into the classrooms or being spent on students. It's being given to powerful interests such as in the testing industry that don't benefit students. Or even just local overhead. Or being spent on disabled and other special needs students. You're being fooled by the lure of statistics.

May 28, 2012 at 10:49 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

That sounds like a test that would help determine creative writing ability, spelling and basic grammar. Really I can't comment on it because I don't know about it specifically. You seem to be missing my point. The desks, bricks, programs and especially the teachers at "failing schools" won't affect the student's performance as much as the students' own resolve and that of the parents. That part of the equation will not change no matter the school. And if numerous parents do care enough, though maybe misguided, to send student elsewhere thinking the education will be better it will leave the scraps (for lack of a better term) to perform even more poorly. What if 100 percent of the students and parents at a Howard want to transfer. By the reasoning in some of these opinions, it could-and should-happen. Test scores would drop in other schools around the county but who cares, we'd be showing sensitivity and fairness.

May 28, 2012 at 11:14 p.m.
PinkSalmon said...

Miss? Mrs. Eidson? Weren't you were one of the primary individuals originally against busing inner city students to those better schools. Did you suddenly find religion or something? Grow a heart?

May 28, 2012 at 11:23 p.m.

You seem to be missing my points. It's a terrible test question because it makes extensive assumptions about one's frame of reference. You may think a good student would be able to just proved, but the reality is that most would have no idea what to say. Because they don't know much of anything about it. It's not something to which they would have much exposure. Ignorance would determine the result, not capacity. That's just one recent example if how bad such tests can be as a gauge of performance.

And actually, quality teachers do have a huge impact. Any number of studies show that. Though merit pay does not, FWIW. But the big problem is you think the money is going to those things. It's not going to teachers, desks, bricks or anything that benefits students in tangible ways. Where is it going? It's going to the overhead of test programs, on-line learning gimmicks and other stuff that is nowhere near the student.

But you don't care about that. You'd rather just say if the student was really dedicated, they would still learn. That's actually misguided. Sure, there are individual students with that capacity. But they are exceptions, most people are nowhere near that. Most people need instruction. You shouldn't be so flippant in your attitude towards people just because they won't all learn like your idolized version of a student.

In any case, if you'll notice, I haven't said anything about transfers. The only thing I've said that touches on that is mentioning how Congress puts their children in private schools so has no incentive to do things right. If anything, I would be doing things the opposite way. That way there would be less scape-goating and hand-wringing.

Not through vouchers, that leads to profiteering and doesn't work out well.

May 28, 2012 at 11:40 p.m.
Lr103 said...

I've too always gotten the impression some of these now concerned at the plight of inner city school children were former haters who didn't want themselves or their children attending school alongside these children. I guess people can change, possibly. However, that's a rarity when they openly had such intense opposition to busing when Dr. Scales was superintendant. My! My! Something up behind the scenes.

May 29, 2012 at 8:32 a.m.

Most inner city schools are failing because of the culture of failure in the inner cities. Welfare has ruined these people to the point where they don't care to become educated and work to get things for themselves because they know everything will be supplied by pandering politicians who want their votes. Alot of the parents in these neighborhoods see school as a baby sitting service and pay attention only when their child is in danger of being expelled for bad behaviour. These children are being brought up in a culture of failure designed by entitlements. They are slaves to the welfare state and will continue to be part of that system unless their parents wake up and start working with their children to make their lives and futures better. Throwing money at the problem and putting them on busses to go to "better" schools isn't going to help the majority of these children. Their parents and culture are the problem.

May 29, 2012 at 9:49 a.m.
conservative said...


Got your flak jacket and hardhat on?

You are sure to smoke out some Lieberals, I just hope they are new ones.

May 29, 2012 at 9:59 a.m.

Actually, FPSE, if you meet some of those people, you'd find they want the school to work, but it doesn't since the local school board has no incentive to make it so, and they know they can't fix it, because when they try, all that happens is vague assurances and broken promises that change and improvements will occur.

And no, they don't have the resources to implement the changes on their own.

But you'd rather just blame the parents and culture. But you don't know them. You just want us to believe you do. My experience with knowing them is completely different from yours.

May 29, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.
PolicyGuy said...

The number one determinant in the success or failure of student achievement is the presence of a highly qualified teacher in the classroom. Multiple studies have demonstrated this time and time again. Studies have also demonstrated that student exposure to just one poor teacher in the early grades (esp through grade 3)will have a profound negative impact on reading skills and significantly increases the likelihood of future poor student performance and early dropout.

Unfortunately, however, high performing teachers are rewarded not by providing a higher challenge by placement in impoverished neighborhood schools, but rather by placement in just the opposite affluent suburban schools. It is perverse by its very structure so the students stuck in low socioeconomic schools simply do not have the same exposure to high quality teaching and learning environments, contrary to the comments above about any child can learn anywhere. This is simply not true. A teacher must be involved, particularly at young ages. This is the case in most parts of the country.

Regarding testing, the average cost of administering a standardized test is well under fifty dollars per student and usually under ten dollars per student. So the assertion that testing is a bad thing and that testing companies are making out like bandits is simply not true, based on facts. Also keep in mind that the average per pupil expenditure in this country is over $12,000 per year. Even on the high end, fifty dollars represents less than one half of one percent of educational cost per student.

May 29, 2012 at 12:10 p.m.
PolicyGuy said...

I would also like to know where there is any supporting evidence that vouchers lead to profiteering as was commented above. School choice, and in some cases the use of vouchers, is the only answer to providing competitive pressure on the systems to force improvement.

May 29, 2012 at 12:15 p.m.
Welcome_2 said...

My name is Jason April. Not that it matters. Why don't you reveal your true self? I don't mean just by name either. I know you from your comments on other forums. I've never known you to have any real like or love for minorities, and especially not for African-American minority people and their children. In fact, I recall just the opposite on past occasions where you posted on other discussion forums.

May 29, 2012 at 1:21 p.m.
Welcome_2 said...

Back on topic: The success of any school has very little to do with poverty and minority students, and much to do with the relationship, positive or negative, the school has with the students, parents and community it serves. When the school environment is overall negative this is not a positive atmosphere conducive to learning. On the other hand when the school environment is a positive one, the children will learn. Not only will they learn, they will super succeed at learning.

Busing students to another school isn't going to help them learn any better. Especially so if the school environment is hostile towards them. Overtime, if the relationship between teacher, student and parent is a negative or hostile one, the learning process will begin to crumble too.

The only thing a successful school has that a failing school doesn't is that positive relationship between student, parents and teaching staff. That's because teachers who teach at those schools usually also live in the community as the students they teach. Their own children often attend the same school and are friends with the students they teach. A teacher isn't going to be quick to fail a student who lives right next door or is a friend of their own child. Nor are they likely to call police on that student when he or she cuts up and get into other kinds of mischief.

May 29, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.
2far4me said...

Clarification: The big bucks in the testing field right now is TEST PREP, not the costs of the test itself. Another point important to acknowledge is that struggling schools with troubled and troubling students are most often the schools that teach to the test. It's no wonder they can't sit still in class; they see no significance in their eduction, no relation to what teachers present and the world they inhabit. Can you imagine students at our prestigious private schools studying grammar in isolation, parts of speech (year after year), or math facts? No. These students are grappling with big ideas that connect their education to the issues that matter to society, not bubbling in answers on answer sheets with little contact with what makes education important - the same big ideas that engage and motivate learners.

May 29, 2012 at 2:48 p.m.

PolicyGuy, How do you square your evidence against the success of home-schooled children? I'm not refuting the studies, I am just curious how they apply the "great teacher" standard to regular parents.

HWNB, Please be a little more vague next time. My kids attended Barger Elementary. Tell me how I don't know what I am talking about. It was especially bad after the school absorbed students from 21st century. You don't know jack.

May 29, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.

As long as we keep paying poor people to breed then corral them into projects to be prayed upon by other groups of poor people I don't think the test scores will be comming up anytime soon. Follow me for a moment. Your a school age child surronded by all the bad influences from drug dealers trying to recruit you to no parents even caring about your education. You get on a bus and leave the blight that surronds you and ride past all the Mcmansions to your better school. When you arrive you are blamed for every bad issue that arises at that school simply because you are different. You have never been exposed to a responsible environment and there is a learning curve that you were not afforded. Now parent groups are forming to tackle the gang problem that has been bussed in. Then you return home to hear how your becomming like whitey by even trying to learn. Then on the news you see concerned parents trying to keep thier children from having to sit next to you by changing the zone, yes I'm calling you out EAST HAMILTON, NORMAL PARK, and SIGNAL MOUNTAIN. So no vouchers for you and now no bus rides to mayberry, just be happy with the school you have. And when you finnaly realize there is no way out have a child and let the taxpayers pay for your house,food internet cell phone and heathcare. I mean what other choice do you have.

May 29, 2012 at 4:56 p.m.
Lr103 said...

DJHBRAINERD, it's talk like yours that perpetuate those negative stereotypes others have of inner city kids and their communities. I've lived in some of the finer communities all throughout America. From west coast to east and nort to south; and also in a few other countries too. Children are the same no matter where you find them or their social or economic standing. The same goes for the parents, regardless of how nice their home is or the size of their bank account or level of education. I can assure, there's nothing going on in poor communities than isn't going on in some of your finer and richer communities throughout America. It's downright laughable to hear people talk about there's no drugs on Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain and no parents who negelect their children. We refer to our gangs as brawlers. Brawlers conjures up a less negative image than gang and the stigma isn't permanent. We don't want to destroy our future generation with stigmas that will follow them for the rest of their lives. I wish the African-American community would learn to do the same. Why do they place so many negative labels on their youth? WTH is an AT RISK child? Setting their children, their communities and themselves up for a downfall.

Those parents aren't forming groups to tacle the gang problem. They're forming those groups to keep students from the inner city OUT whether they'r ein a gang or not.

Hopefully, you're just frustrated and being sarcastic. It would be dreadful if you actually take yourself seriously.

May 29, 2012 at 6:07 p.m.

LR103, If you slow down and reread my post that is exacty my point. The parents of these finer schools are doing everything they can to keep these kids out of the schools that are worth going to. Look at the parents at E Hamilton. Don't want their kids to go to Ooltehwah. Just a few years ago it was the school everyone wanted into now to hear these parents tell it it isn't safe. Got some gang problems. And the hill city kids not getting to go to normal park, just watch em tie themselves in knots keeping those kids out of "thier" school. Please reread what I posted and you will see we are saying the same thing. First there is no vocational training offered in the inner city not since kirkman was razed, then all the jobs got shipped away from the city. Good jobs like wheland foundry or us steel. Now you have noone learning a trade just a bunch of college prep and no jobs accessable by foot or bike. Don't have credit to get a car and no job skills if you did. The game has been stacked against you from the start . That is what makes me mad. Not giving these children the chance to escape the bad things I mentioned. Then blaming them for failing.

May 29, 2012 at 7:32 p.m.
Lr103 said...

DJHBRAINERD, I apologize. But maybe somehow you need to make that distinction, because it certainly came off as if you were damning these students and their parents. I know first hand there are things that have gone on at some of these better schools with these better students involved that were hushed up. One such incident happened last year. I waited and waited to hear something about it in the news, but it never happened. Then I realized why. It was between two white students. If something even remotely similar had taken place involving a black student the local media would have been all over it like white on rice. This was a pretty serious situation too. But I still think the black community sometimes stay so overly focused on issues and problems of their community that they end up giving others all the ammunition they need to justify making their schools, communities and everything else exclusive. If a white kid screws up the white community sees it as a separate issues and problem. If a black child screws up everyone, even members in the black ocmmunity, see it as a group thing to round everyone up and deal with it in group fashion.

May 29, 2012 at 8:53 p.m.

lr103 No worries, the meaning of the written word can be difficult to articulate and I will try to be less alagorical(sic) in the future. And again I think we are in agreement. Suburban students get a couple free passes if needed because they are looked at as good kids who made a bad decision. When the urban kids are bussed across the river and get into trouble you get something like "well we knew this would happen, or It was just a matter of time" from the same people. Better invoke some zero tolorance and get em out of here before it gets worse. And then when the black kids sit together at one table to be with people they can relate to , people with the same life experiances, they are called gangs. And yes every fist fight makes the news because it reinforces a stereotype of violent black youths. We both know that people just want a fair chance in this world, even if it means going to a school where you are not welcome to get that chance.

May 29, 2012 at 9:53 p.m.

FlyingPurpleSheepleEater, you're assuming from experience with some, that you know all?

That's the problem. You're relying on your anecdotes, and assuming your impression of them is accurate.

Your judgment in regards postings on this site...doesn't give you much credit there. Not with me.

PolicyGuy, you can read some critiques by John Kozol if you like. Or try here:

Your statement that a single test is 50 bucks...hah. That's a useless stat, even if we take it as literally true. Which I don't, but consider how many students there are. 50 bucks times thousands, tens, millions of students add up. Then look at the real charges. Just one day out of education is far more than 50 bucks of costs. You say they'd pay it anyway? That's true, but it'd go to educational value instead of a useless test metric.

I'd explain why that "12,000" per student is a useless number too, but I doubt it'll be worth the bother.

May 30, 2012 at 12:46 a.m.
PolicyGuy said...

@FlyingPurpleSheepleEater I believe home schooling actually underscores the point. From my perspective, being a "teacher" does not necessarily require have a piece of paper declaring it so. A parent can absolutely be a highly qualified and effective teacher...and should be. @happywithnewbulbs there is nothing useless about that stat. It is a reality that you may choose to ignore but that doesn't change the facts. The cost of testing is way overblown by the institutionalists who fear true accountability. Fifty bucks is actually a very high number for testing. It is actually well below twenty dollars per pupil, per administration, and coming down in cost. Regarding test prep costs, that is a straw man argument and always has been. We test in math, reading and science, which we should be teaching anyway. Testing against that practice to gain some picture of success, which can be duplicated, or failing practices which should be altered or removed, is simply a way to drive information and accountability.

May 31, 2012 at 9:38 a.m.
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