Apr 19 2007
01:12 pm

One comment in a recent post about the school rezonings certainly demonstrated an underlying attitude of racism that appears to be shared by many of the parents decrying rezonings to schools like Central and Austin East.

The poster stated, "far too much $$$ has been thrown at A-E with too little attention given to whether that $$$ produced academic results, or even adequate enrollment numbers." "Far too much money?" Who says? Is this poster, like our illustrious President, the Decider?

And does the Poster/Decider have at her fingertips complete and accurate information about the results of that "too much $$$$"?


How much is too much money to spend on a high school that was, until a little over ten years ago, routinely and systematically robbed of any semblance of equity with other schools in our system? Think about it - Austin East was given the leftover scrapings at the bottom of the barrel, when the barrel itself is barely adequate. Austin East was the dumping ground; when another school got new textbooks, furniture, supplies and resources, Austin East got what was being replaced. Given how long it takes to get anything replaced, how much use do you think was left for the Austin East students?

The students and community of Austin East were, for generations, treated with a level of blatant disregard, discrimination and distaste that few white parents in any Knox County school or neighborhood can even begin to imagine...should they choose to try.

And, when the Office of Civil Rights found that the conditions there didn't complying with the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 40 years earlier, our School Board spent money to bring Austin East conditions up to par with other schools. To simplify, we spent money to make Austin East on equal footing to other (barely adequate) schools because the courts said we had to.

And that is "throwing money"??? Please.

As to the Poster's opinion that too little attention has been paid to academic results, she would do well to remember that generations of oppression are not likely to be undone in one decade.

Our community is a long, long way from having spent too much money at Austin East, and a long, long way from admitting to the poison of racism that is so close to the surface.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Friendly debate

Anne, I can offer many examples of how KCS has spent with more largess at A-E than at any other high school.

In the most obvious example, the A-E building, at 274,114 square feet, is larger than any HS in the county, and *double* the size of some. Their music, dance, and fine arts facilities also outshine those of any other HS in the county, including those of Webb School, both of which I've toured. Many supplemental programs exist at A-E that are not available at other county high schools, including A-E's most recent offering of an Academy of Finance.

I suggest that this is "far too much $$$" on facilities and programs in terms of what is spent on other county HS populations of comparable size, as A-E is also the smallest HS in the county. The per-student spending level, then, is what I'm looking at.

I realize that other localities and other states spend more on education than does Knox, and I think you know that I would like to see more $$$ for education in Knox, too. My observation about spending at A-E, though, is offered relative only to what is spent at other county high schools here.

Meanwhile, this level of spending, and in this manner, at A-E has not corrected over the last 15 years their second-highest drop-out rate among our high schools, 38% (Fulton is actually a bit higher, at 45%), nor has it corrected their status as students generating the lowest ACT scores in the county, 17.5, or their lowest Gateway exam scores. Actually, I *do* have quite a bit of "complete and accurate information at (my) fingertips," as this situation concerns me a great deal.

As a longtime Knoxville resident, I understand and agree with your assertion that inequities of the sort suffered by this community's students cause outcomes to change more slowly, and with more difficulty. (In fact, I had the same observation about recent Families First legislation, which I thought imposed unreasonable two-year timeframes on recipients.)

However, it appears that the school board has also made a determination that its approach at A-E, and at magnet schools generally, needs to change, specifically because the current approach hasn't produced the desired results within the expected timeframe. Personally, I'll be very interested in the Magnet School Task Force's recommendations in this regard.

I regret that I might not have made clear enough, then, that my comment was one condemning an approach that hasn't worked, not one suggesting that we needn't devise any new approach.

In support of what I write here, I ask that you note a post I made just this morning on the subject of how important are the Magnet School Task Force recommendations to the rezoning planning now underway. I made that post on the "School rezoning IS going to happen" thread, under the caption "Slow down," at 11:40 this morning, about a half hour before your comments here.

Also, I hope you'll agree that we are all pretty much "Deciders" here on the Knoxviews editorial page! You needn't refer to me as "the poster" after our 15 year relationship, either, as we can surely survive a bit of debate, from time to time! Thanks.

rigtu's picture

Austin East, Et Al

As far as Austin East and others getting the "leftover scrapings at the bottom of the barrel," how much of that was due the inept handling of the school system by the city? If I remember correctly, when the city decided to dump the school system, almost every facility was substandard and lacked basic supplies and materials. The city administration (school board) mismanaged the whole system and with a few strokes of the pen walked away from their responsibility and dumped it on the county system. The county has been struggling for years to overcome the mess they inherited.

As for the schools not bringing up scores, a school must overcome a lack of community and parental involvement in order to do that. The process is slow and agonizing.

Look at the "good" schools and you'll find one gigantic common factor.....parents who are involved with their kids and their schools and do not expect the school to raise their children. Parents are the first and foremost important teachers in a child's life.

edens's picture

>Look at the "good" schools

>Look at the "good" schools and you'll find one gigantic >common factor...

Yep, don't know about the high school level, but for elementary schools the state's "Report Card" rating tracks surprisingly well with the percentage of students classified "economically disadvantaged (in other words, qualifying for free/reduced lunch).

Bearden Elementary, if I recall, was a rare exception. But I suspect its "spread" of income demographics are wider than most.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Income and race

I've noted that pattern, too, Matt, and it was also the determination of the school system's recent School Discipline study that poverty, not race, was the common denominator in student suspensions and expulsions.

However, I *do* think it's important to answer the next question those findings raise, namely why does this apparent higher incidence of poverty among black students exist (because black students *are* suspended and expelled at significantly higher rates)?

If we can conclude that the majority of teachers and administrators don't act in a discriminatory manner, fine, but *something,* possibly discrimination in the workplace or in housing, is fueling the disparity in incomes--and that *something* is clearly more prevalent in Knox County and in Tennessee than it is nationally.

bill young's picture

"Benign Neglect"

May 11,1964
"Knoxville City School Board filed a plan purported to
provide a plan for the complete desegregation of the schools.
The Board said"effective with the begining of the school year in Spt.,'64,all racially discriminatory practices in all grades,programs & facilities ...shall be eliminated."All students were to be assigned to the school for their attendence zones without reference to race."
Dr. Paul Kelley wrote in Heart of the Valley.

This put Knoxville ahead of the curve as compared to most southern cities.As I've said before,where I went to school, in Ga.,riots broke out & in the spring of 1970 there were troops in the halls & surrounding the school.

Benign Neglect

This what Daniel Patrick Moynihan said,in '70.
"The time may have come when the issue of race could benifit from a period of benign neglect.
We may need a period in which Negro progress continues & racial rhetoric fades."

Moynihan,who was working for Nixon,wanted to ignore the heated racial rhetoric & continue "Negro" progress.

However,many took the phrase,benign neglect,to mean ignore the black neighborhoods & the schools.

So,after being so far ahead of the curve,with respect to desegregation in the '60's.
We fell behind & A-E was in the grip of benign neglect.

Thats when the courts stepped in &
Ms.Woodle stood up.

When Ms.Woodle speaks on school issues & race.
I listen.

knoxnative's picture

Fundamentally Wrong

After attending two separate forums with Holston Hills and Chilhowee parents, I can tell you the primary concern among black and white parents alike was that they didn't want their children going to A-E because they would be moving their child from a mid-performing school (Carter or Gibbs) to a very poorly performing school (A-E).

This, of course, is in addition to having the same upsets and concerns as everyone else in Knox County (except for South Knoxville, who isn't affected) who doesn't want to change school zones because of breaking up their community, kids in different high schools, transportation and safety issues, tradition, choice, friends, etc., etc., etc.

Some West Knox parents are upset about moving their kids from high-performing schools (Farragut, Bearden, Karns) to a brand-new $50 million school with all the bells and whistles that is likely to turn out to also be a high-performing school (Hardin Valley).

East Knox parents are being asked to move their kids from mid-performing schools to the lowest performing school in the whole system and then expected to be happy about it? They don't have a plan to fix the poor performance at A-E but they want to send more kids there?

And just look at the drivers behind the rezoning according to the handout we were given tonight from the school board:

- crowding and projected growth at Farragut and Karns
- facility utilization and scheduling challenges at Central, Bearden, West and Powell High Schools
- create a viable student population at Hardin Valley
- maintain a viable student population at Austin-East
- set the stage for middle school rezoning
- clean up transportation problems created by road infrastructure changes
- the most accessible available seats are in the northwest part of the county

Would you be willing to send your child to a poorly performing school because of these drivers?

There is something fundamentally wrong with our school system and this rezoning effort is just the latest band-aid.

lovable liberal's picture

Important distinctions

Is Austin-East a poor performing school? Are its students poor performers? Or both? These are different questions with different possible remedies.

About 70% of testing performance (yes, only a rough measure of real performance) correlates with parental income. High socio-economic status (SES) schools inevitably have better average test scores than low SES schools. This isn't because the school is poor; it's because the students are poor.

To judge a school, you need to know what the typical expectation would be for a school of its demographics. Since A-E is unique in Knox Co. in terms of race and SES, that's hard to do locally, and you'll have to measure it against similar schools in other Tennessee cities (Tennessee only because that makes the testing consistent). Does A-E score better, worse, or about the same as similar schools?

If A-E is significantly worse than expectation, school reform can help. By that, I would suggest new leadership, teacher improvement (by training, by hiring, and by firing if necessary).

The fastest way to make A-E appear better is to bring in students from more affluent families. But that only solves the PR problem for the Knox Co. Schools, not the real problem. On the other hand, rezoned Carter and Gibbs parents shouldn't take A-E's median test score as the inevitable result that their kids will now be lowered to. Their presumably higher SES demographics will still help them achieve better. (Yes, there are still legitimate concerns about educational environment and offerings.)

The real problem is a fundamental problem for American public education: How can we raise the achievement of the poor, the black, and those who don't speak English as their first languages?

To judge a student, you need to measure him or her against demographically matched peers, and you need to do so over time to see if the student is making progress against the median or not.

Students who are failing need a lot of attention. Holding them back a grade has been emphatically proven not to work.

Research shows that low SES and especially black kids lose more over the summer; put them in a pilot program to reduce that loss. If it works, make it broader. The point is to try things until something works.

Some of these things cost money. You don't really expect to get something for nothing, do you? (And please spare me all the usual BS about how there's too much management and inefficiency in public schools. Just imagine a private company of any size where 80% of its expenses pay its individual contributors! There's no such beast.)

You also need to measure the median achievement of low SES demographic segments against higher SES segments. The ultimate goal is to lower the variance that correlates with SES but you have to do this without reducing or stagnating the achievement of the high SES demographics. Otherwise, you're just levelling to the lowest common denominator, and that doesn't help anyone.

Liberty and justice for all.

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