With the division on the Knox County Board of Education widening, fingers are being pointed at Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas for an email to members about the resolution sponsored by Amber Rountree. Rountree’s resolution seeks a waiver from the State of Tennessee to keep standardized testing from counting in teacher evaluations and student grades. Thomas cautioned board members about the resolution, making the supposed mistake of honestly saying the “politics” of the resolution was wrong. If people are rational, much less honest, it is easy to understand that every budgetary process is political in nature. It is inherent in the process and Thomas was right to point out the resolution isn’t needed or timely, as well as the fact the board seems bent on antagonizing the very people who hold the purse strings and control appropriations for schools. Thomas’s gentle critique of Rountree’s resolution was fair and necessary. The outrage, what little there has been, has come from teachers; most specifically from teacher union activists. Patti Lou Bounds, the newly elected Chair of the Board of Education huffed that Thomas set those aligned with “pro achievement folks” against “pro teacher folks.” Frankly, folks ought to be concerned there aren’t more board members who are pro student and pro taxpayer.
While former superintendent Jim McIntyre was perceived to be a pro achievement person, his style and manner of management made him anathema to most everyone over time. It seems as if our board of education is a microcosm of the national political debate with two extremes battling one another. My own opinion is the truth, as well as the best course, usually can be found in the middle. The pendulum in Knox County has swung from those pro achievement folks who took things too far. The result was too much testing, unfair evaluations for many teachers and too little progress for students and excessive demands on the taxpayers. The sad truth is there are teachers who don’t believe they should be evaluated at all. Some will deny it, but I cannot recall any effort to measure performance that has been supported by teachers’ unions. The teachers’ union invariably attempts to cloak themselves with the students, intimating their wants coincide with those of the children. The truth is the unions do not differentiate between good teachers and bad teachers. The union does its utmost to protect the jobs of both the good and the bad and even the down right terrible teachers. The fact is there’s not a teacher on the planet who cares as much about your child as you do.
That is not to say there aren’t some wonderful teachers. Just about any person can recall one or more teachers who made an impact his or her life. There are more than a few teachers who oppose Rountree’s resolution and believe success can and should be measured. All sorts of things are measured; portions, clothing, distance, temperature, weight and volume can be measured. The Focus consistently spoke out against what I believed were unfair evaluation processes; The Focus spoke out against excessive testing of students. I don’t regret those actions and you can be sure The Focus will continue to call out those practices, but there is no doubt Buzz Thomas is right.
Buzz Thomas is a remedy for precisely what has been wrong with the Knox County school system for the eight long years of Jim McIntyre’s reign. Thomas doesn’t lean too far to any particular side and understands those valid concerns that some teachers have. Thomas is equally concerned with student progress as he is with the morale of teachers. Unfortunately, that might be precisely the problem for the teacher-dominated Board of Education currently; it may well be they want a superintendent who is more interested in teachers than anything else.
Sadly, there is a case to be made for no achievement. The Focus has railed against the appalling preparation rates in Knox County; preparation rates are those students who are prepared to go on and further their educations at colleges and universities or get a job. Those rates remain absolutely abysmal. We’ve even failed to do a good job in preparing students for taking the ACT test and I can guarantee you no resolution by the Knox County Board of Education is going to stop the ACT. Yet I doubt many of you realize how few Knox County students are prepared to take the ACT test. Farragut High School has the best average in the area and still 51% of students are not ready for the ACT; Oak Ridge High School has 58% of its students who are not ready to take the ACT. Maryville High School has 61% of its students unready to take the ACT test. The figures grow even more shocking and frightening. 82% of students at Karns High School at not ready to take the ACT test; 86% of Central High School students are unprepared; 87% of students at South-Doyle High School are not ready; 89% of students at Gibbs High School are not ready and 90% of students at Carter High School are not ready. The worst figures fall to Fulton High School and Austin-East High School. 95% of students at Fulton are unprepared for the ACT while 100% at Austin-East are not ready for the ACT test.
Knox County claims to have a 90% graduation rate and much of the local media is guilty of trumpeting it as a real achievement, yet just what have we achieved in graduating students unprepared for the ACT test, much less college or life? Is it any wonder that there is an epidemic of young people unable to find jobs and moving in with their parents in record numbers?
The figures cited in this column are from the Tennessee State Report Card. As you can see those are depressing figures and let’s not forget, schools have an obligation not only to the taxpayers, the students, and parents, but to society as well. What happens to society if these youngsters don’t become productive, taxpaying citizens?
For those who don’t believe success or progress can be measured for students as well as teachers, one can only assume those folks are satisfied with no achievement.