published Saturday, November 24th, 2012

The roots of 'failing' schools

When the county school system applied for a state "innovation-zone" grant in the previous school year to boost lagging student achievement scores in impoverished urban schools, it failed. With better proposals, Nashville and Memphis received about $27 million from the state's Race to the Top federal award to improve urban student achievement. By contrast, Hamilton County's school district was given $600,000 to help it devise a more worthy "I-Zone" plan. School officials here now say they're ready to try again next month for an I-Zone grant. Here's hoping for a successful application.

Report card data recently released by the county school system, described elsewhere in the Times Free Press today by education reporter Kevin Hardy, underscores why the five designated I-Zone schools here need serious help.

Scores in other county schools, and across the state as well, generally improved. But in the county's five I-Zone schools -- Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, and Orchard Knob and Woodmore elementaries -- scores remained largely subpar.

Over three-quarters of Brainerd High School students scored below the basic category for math; just 8 percent were proficient or advanced and only 18.5 percent met or exceeded standard scores in English. Declining scores at Dalewood Middle showed less than 10 percent reading at grade level, and not quite 14 percent meeting or exceeding in math standards. Scores were somewhat better in the other schools, but still they were nowhere near normative educational standards.

This isn't surprising -- and that's the larger problem. It is dismal scores like these that put these schools in the state's bottom 5 percent in achievement scores, and thus on the state's takeover list if the county's school district continues to fail to elevate their scores above their current "failing school" rating. Yet the "failing" here is generally not the teachers' fault, or the fault of the individual schools. These specific schools, and the teachers themselves, have been doing the best they can with the resources they have been given.

The failure at issue is, and long has been, the dearth of attention, commitment and resources by the school system and its funding agencies -- state and local government. In all of these schools, as in other urban, largely minority schools in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville, denial about the scope of the poverty-related problems and the requirements to fix them has ruled. In fact, most all of the students in these schools come from impoverished circumstances and neighborhoods. They lack early learning and educational support, regular meals and safe and constructive environments -- these are the roots of so-called "failing schools."

Grant money from the state for I-Zone schools is designed, at last, to strengthen the resources the schools need to address the learning deficiencies of students raised in such socio-economic circumstances. State grants for I-Zone schools in Memphis and Nashville last year are being used to provide smaller classes and more teachers in primary grades, teacher mentoring, "interventionists" to work with struggling students, new technology, after-school programs and longer and more numerous school days.

These extra resources have long been needed to deal with the effects of poverty on learning and success in school. The irony is that urban schools with high levels of students in poverty have been blamed and declared as "failing schools" so long, when all they needed is more help.

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fairmon said...

Where is the school board, the city council and county mayor and commissioners. No grant should be necessary, the money should be provided locally. No more blue rhinos and other discretionary spending until these schools are performing equal to all others. Parental involvement and support at most schools is lacking and even more so at these schools. More money and more teachers won't help without proper training for all teachers in dealing with this difficult challenge.

November 24, 2012 at 1:49 a.m.
conservative said...

"State grants for I-Zone schools in Memphis and Nashville last year are being used to provide smaller classes and more teachers in primary grades, teacher mentoring, "interventionists" to work with struggling students, new technology, after-school programs and longer and more numerous school days."

Pay attention. If we would just spend more money the problem would be solved. It is always the money. Not enough money is spent and that is the primary cause of the failure of schools. If we would only spend more money on teachers and resources. Why can't you people get it? Spend, spend, spend and then spend some more. It is so simple, repeat after me, we must tax and spend and then do it again!

November 24, 2012 at 9:51 a.m.
nowfedup said...

Two things to fix issues of eduction, First it to force parents to ve involved,odds are most know more about celebs, pro sports and sales then their kids teachers, subject, grades. Time after time proven if parents concerned, involved, kids get educated.

Second and most radical of all, shut down school sports until ALL schools are above average. Way to much emphasis on football etc by schools, media (making money off it) then the sport contribute to education. Chances of this reality, zero, but it is a thought. USA falling behind world in education, real world class competitive education, as seems to specialize in some sort of "Basket weaving 101" while world educated for future hi tech jobs. Time to choose, education and future or "state champs". Media needs to get involved with good grades at 1/10th level of sports, things would change.

November 24, 2012 at 10:29 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Why do we need buzz words for failing schools? Call it what it is poverty and education blight. To me, there is a common thread in these schools, a culture of failure that is enabled by a system.

I have never met a young child that does not want to learn. In my opinion the culture of failure perpetuates itself.

If I were Rick Smith for a day, I would lift school zoning and stop concentrating poverty and the culture of failure in one school building, issue school vouchers to children in poverty only so they have a choice to save themselves from low education attainment, and so they are not forced to attend failing schools. I would enact after-school programs in all of the schools listed for homework because it is likely that their parents cannot do a fractions due to low education attainment, I have been a math tutor. Break up the culture of failure in the school by relocating teachers and administration.

The most adverse action taken by our school system was to end transfers out of failing schools. The HCDE did by ending opt out transfers for children in poverty. The idea of being forced to attend a failing school is just wrong.

November 24, 2012 at 11:48 a.m.
shen said...

nowfedup said... Two things to fix issues of eduction, First it to force parents to ve involved,odds are most know more about celebs, pro sports and sales then their kids teachers, subject, grades

  1. On parental involvement, the schools basically had heavy parental involvement on up to at least the early 1980s. Then they systematically began to run the parents off and bar the doors. They virtually told the parents we don't need you anymore. You're interferring and hampering our teaching methods. Don't attempt to help your child at home. Your methods aren't like ours and you only confuse them.*

  2. Some teachers know more about the celebs than their teaching materials too.

November 24, 2012 at 12:47 p.m.

I have seen a number of parents whose idea of teaching is...less than desirable.

November 24, 2012 at 6:23 p.m.
shen said...

That wasn't the reason, happy. Parents began to noticed patterns of abuse and decided to speak out about it. That's why they were no longer welcome.

November 24, 2012 at 9:57 p.m.
tipper said...

With Tennessee 47th in the nation in public education success and Hamilton County with the lowest expenditure per student compared to Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville, it is very clear why some of our schools suffer. Add to that some of the racist throwbacks who sit on the County Commission and school board (and don't exhibit your foolishness by trying to tell me they don't exist), and the public school system here can't help but fail. Certainly more money isn't the whole answer. There are many facits that play into the problems he have, and a broader approach is needed. Privatizing schools systems, as the conservative mantra erroneously professes, is a non-starter. The thought that nothing gets done until someone makes a buck, particularly off the backs of public school systems, teachers, parents, and children, is laughable when you look at healthcare, transportation, future energy solutions, etc. I recently learned of an educational system in high school where students earn points for good performance throughout their high school years. Those points determine whhat fields you can study in collge once you graduate. The more points, the more open fields available. If you do not have the required points, then some fields of study are barred from you. You want to succeed in life, you study to the best of your ability. Goof around, and your options are limited. That scenario comes from Ireland. It's a socialist concept, but it works. Scares the bejesus out of some of you, doesn't it? But perhaps by adapting some of the principles into our system, it may improve education in the U.S. Education is then the responsibility of the student, not of a group of elected prima donnas or good ole' boys, and not by business people who work solely from profit and the bottom line. So, conservative and JonRoss, if you don't like the educational system in Tennessee, stop being poster boys for it and come up with solutions rather than spouting the same old garbage.

November 25, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.
tipper said...

What reality do you refer, Jon Ross, yours? My reality is different, and as is everybodys, I am entitled to and prefer to adhere to mine. Don't be so arrogantly foolish. As to Ireland's school system, I was there and discussed it at length. What your doubts are about it and your alluding Communism are simply...wrong. I don't know whether you get it or not, but what appears to be your view of America has and is changing. Being a country in a global society does not mean that we have carte blanche to only make money by sending jobs overseas, paying labor pennies to make second-rate goods, and selling them here at exhorbitant prices. Nor does it mean finding countries for our corporations to avoid taxes. That Capitalistic view is wearing very thin. European countries are now weighing the advantages against the disadvantages, and you will see U.S. companies' free lunch will end and come with costs. Whether you like it or not, America will have to adjust to the rest of the world. Our self-image of being the ever-dominant country with total exceptionalism is on its way out. We will need to look at other systems--education for example--that we can adjust and incorporate into our society to remain competitive. You can wave the flag all you want, but believe me, other nations don't care. They do like our money, but they will pass on our political and social structures. Perhaps yu need to get out in the world sometime. If you could possibly open your mind, you may be surprised at what you will find.

November 26, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.
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