published Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

The pay-me-now or pay-me-later quandary

TCAP tests are stacked on a teacher’s desk.
TCAP tests are stacked on a teacher’s desk.
Allison Kwesell

To borrow an idea from the United States Declaration of Independence: All students are created equal.

But their home lives and their schools are not, and that means the way they learn and how successfully they learn also are not equal.

Times Free Press staff writer Kevin Hardy, in two stories Wednesday and today, summed up a new report on Hamilton County's education gap: A child's shot at success in Hamilton County Schools is largely based on where he gets on the bus each morning.

Chattanooga has a stark line in academic proficiency -- read here, learning -- between white upper- and middle-class schools and black schools where most residents live in poverty. The new report, released last week by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, calls it "racial isolation."

But let's be clear: The chief driver is not race. It's economic. Children whose parents can't or don't read to them as toddlers start kindergarten and first grade behind. And children who are hungry can't focus on lessons as well as those who are full and healthy.

The gap also is economic from the standpoint of what we, both as parents and taxpayers, put into our children and into our schools. Likewise, it is economic in what we will get out of our dollars and concern -- or lack thereof -- in coming generations.

"Certain schools with high concentrations of poverty perpetuate under-performance, fueling inter-generational poverty and a seemingly permanent underclass," states the well-reasoned report.

This, of course, is no secret.

Some 60 percent of residents living in extreme poverty neighborhoods are black, and the Chattanooga area's ZIP code pockets of poverty and "underclass" roll with the city's geography. Generally, school scores and performance mirror the map.

The report does not blame schools or educators. Indeed, the problem is both simpler and more complex. The problem is poverty. The head-shaker is how to get our arms around working to fix it.

It's really a pay-me-now or pay-me-later proposition.

Unfortunately, we all still seem to be of a mind to just put it on tomorrow's bucket list. But tomorrow is fast becoming today.

• Head Start programs across the nation are under the gun of federal cuts, as are Title 1 funds that go to schools with higher numbers of children needing free or reduced-price lunches.

• Tennessee is ranked 49th in the nation in per-pupil funding.

• And in Hamilton County, school funding has actually gone down. Per-pupil spending in 2007 -- including federal and state money -- was $8,668. In 2012 it was $9,277, but once adjusted for inflation our schools actually lost $321 per pupil in education purchasing power.

"We, in fact, have gone backwards," said Superintendent Rick Smith.

That's no way to bridge any gap. Problem learners -- no matter what their trouble -- need more guidance counselors, more interventionists and tutors, more time, more everything

The Ochs report did point at least one finger -- if only obliquely -- at the county's most truculent penny-pincher.

"Local investments in education have stagnated and County Commissioner Fred Skillern publicly stated that the additional school revenues could 'come from their own budget,'" the Ochs report states. "The school system continues to draw money from its reserves to make up for the costs of inflation."

And the report pointedly said taking a head-in-the-sand approach to our education gap was false economy and a no-win for our communities.

"The social costs of low-performing schools are reflected in ... surrounding neighborhoods by high rates of violent crime, unemployment and disinvestment. This is both irresponsible and fiscally inefficient," the report states.

So, here's a choice: Is it better to spend $9,300 a year to educate a child or $25,000 a year to eventually incarcerate him or her?

That just may be the high cost of playing a see-no-need, hear-no-warning, bank-no-future game with education gaps.

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AndrewLohr said...

Two-parent families do better, so end the marriage penalty (@#$%& monogaphobe bigots!!!); indeed, tax such fornication as happens to be discovered.

Rewrite the laws so schools that pay students to leave can keep half the money they save. Say Hardy elementary, just down my street, pays a student $4500 to go into homeschooling or a private school. Then Hardy can keep the other $4500 for the students still there. Parental involvement! Accountability! Diversity!

Replace a President under whom the percentage of Americans working has fallen with a Tea Party/libertarian type. Estonia, after spending cuts, has a 7% growth rate. (There are actual spending cuts, not growth slowdowns or wish-list trims.)

June 2, 2013 at 2:16 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

All the money in the world thrown at these schools won't fix problems if parents don't cooperate. Look at DC and Detroit. Makes parents of excessively truant and tardy kids, kids who frequently don't complete homework assignments, perform public service work. Scrubbing restroom toilets would be a motivator to make the kids finish writing those definitions or multiplication tables.

June 3, 2013 at 12:58 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Scrubbing restroom toilets would be a motivator to make the kids finish writing those definitions or multiplication tables

And if and when they become sick or have a reaction to the commercial chemicals normally used to clean school bathrooms, the schools will be held liable and made the pay?

If a child didn't want to return home, the first thing anyone would think was there must be something unhealthy taking place inside that home. The same should be considered for students who skip school, are truant or drop out. Sometimes tardiness and missing school can be due more to sloppy record keeping that the student not showing. There have been times a student was actually in the classroom and was marked absent.

I like the approach this principal took. When schools are run like prisons instead of educational facilities, the students act like inmates and will do everything in their power to escape. Far too many public schools, especially minority ones, are being operated like prisons and jails. The results were prophetic.

Principal fires security guards, hires art teachers to save his school

"It's the inner-city public school that could.

Orchard Gardens K-8 pilot school in Roxbury, Mass., is earning accolades after its principal Andrew Bott fired the school's security officers and replaced them with art teachers. Many considered the move dangerous in a school where backpacks were banned for fear that they might be used to carry guns, but ultimately it yielded success"

June 3, 2013 at 11:40 p.m.
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