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Educational Malpractice, Pt 2: Failure of identity politics on display

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“What a snake pit.” Those were the words of one teacher, commenting on Twitter in response to my February 6th article (detailing the malfeasance uncovered after a local principle blew the whistle in a fiery letter released to the public), to describe the Shelby County Schools system (SCS).

Another person commented, “I would wager there are more instances of this sort of behavior going on across the country in similarly-positioned school systems.”

Neither comment brought me any joy, but I suspect both are correct.

For this, I continue in my examination into my local school system, an examination of issues which are often diluted in reports published by our compliant, local press. Perhaps removing the veil can bring positive change to other school systems.

What hasn’t been said in the press, I intend to say.

The Death of a Successful School System

Shelby County Schools, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, has not always been embroiled in scandal and failure. In fact, Shelby County Schools has a record of proven success, earning high ratings year after year.

That all ended, just 5 years ago, with the largest school system consolidation in American history: the Memphis City Schools (MCS) system was completely dissolved and then merged with the Shelby County Schools (SCS) system.

Historical Corruption and White Flight

In Memphis, history repeats itself: politicians who have been convicted of criminal corruption are routinely re-elected.

Take Rickey Peete, for example. Beginning in the 1980’s, Rickey Peete served on the Memphis City Schools Board, and was then elected to the Memphis City Council.

  • In 1989, Peete was convicted of taking bribes and extortion, and served a 2 ½ year prison sentence.
  • In 1995, Rickey Peete was again elected to the Memphis City Council, and was later re-elected 2 more times!
  • In 2007, Peete was, once again, convicted for extortion and accepting bribes, earning himself a 4-year prison sentence. “He and fellow council member Edmund Ford were charged in late 2006 with taking bribes from former County Commissioner Joe Cooper, who was recording their conversations for the FBI,” (Memphis Flyer).

Then there are the Fords; a family of politicians that could be described as a criminal enterprise. And, lest we forget, the FBI’s Operation Tennessee Waltz offers a sobering reminder of the corruption that has haunted the area.

Thus, plagued by decades of political woes and poor policies, more and more people moved out of Memphis – often incurring debt in order to do so – and into the surrounding cities hoping to escape the rising crime rates and the downward decent in quality and safety of the city’s troubled schools.

Although the areas of Shelby County which are outside of the City of Memphis are just slightly over 50% white, the departure of city residents away from Memphis is pejoratively called “white flight.”

The Funding Structure  –

All county residents’ county-wide property taxes were divided between the Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County Schools based on the number of students. This structure allocated more funds to the City of Memphis since the city’s schools had a higher number of students than the county’s school system.

The Memphis City Schools operated as a special school district. Residents of Memphis paid additional property taxes that were allocated to the city’s schools. As such, Memphis City Schools operated with a larger budget; funded by county and city residents, allowing for significantly higher per-student spending than that of Shelby County Schools.

In addition to various special programs, Memphis City Schools students’ athletics were publicly funded, while Shelby County students’ athletics were funded entirely by their parents.

Yet, Memphis City Schools were constantly facing funding difficulties, and threatening to dissolve the school system entirely became a norm.

In an act of desperation, hoping to keep the crooked fingers of Memphis corruption from taking over the county’s high-functioning, successful school district, the Shelby County Schools board began exploring legal ways of obtaining special district status for the county system, the same special district status that Memphis City Schools enjoyed.

A Hostile Takeover

By 2010, due to mismanagement and corruption, the City of Memphis had defaulted on tens of millions of dollars designated for the city’s schools. In a rushed vote brought on by funding woes and by the efforts of SCS to obtain special district status, the MCS school board hastily threw in the towel, voting to dissolve the charter of Memphis City Schools altogether.

A referendum vote was then scheduled for Memphis residents to approve the council’s choice for system dissolution. County residents did not have any voice in what was to happen to their school system should MCS merge into it.

If the referendum passed, Memphis representatives, based on population, would then secure the majority of SCS school board seats.

It passed, and the Memphis City Schools system officially ceased to exist.

Those Rich, Racist Bastards!

Leading up to the referendum vote, “journalists” and education “advocates” and politicians repeatedly put forth the premise that education in Shelby County was unequal, despite the higher public spending per pupil and the public funding of various support programs in Memphis City schools which would disappear should the city schools be dissolved.

The residents of the suburbs and of unincorporated Shelby County were labeled racists and their genuine concern for their children was painted as an attempt to maintain boundaries of segregation. County residents were framed as rich white people who hate black people and who are inexcusably greedy, selfishly hoarding their riches in hopes of keeping black children in poverty.

In the county schools, technology such as Promethean Boards and learning programs such as Accelerated reader were entirely funded by parents. This technology was absent from Memphis City Schools. The stark contrast in parental involvement the positive effects of high levels of parental involvement on student achievement was brushed aside, as if invalid.

With complete disregard for the studies highlighting the negative effects of system mergers on students, especially low-income minority students, the “advocates” persisted.

The gross failures of the Memphis City Schools system which had persisted because of systemic corruption, a climate of mediocrity, and vast ineptitude was simply re-framed as “separate and unequal education.” 

City residents swallowed this racist, classist, shamefully dishonest ploy hook, line, and sinker.

Memphis City Schools system officially merged into Shelby County Schools in 2013; representatives from Memphis secured majority rule of the SCS board, effecting every single public school-attending child in the county.

Shelby County Schools became the largest school system in the country.

Curiously, and reeking of Memphis politics, the attorney representing the Memphis City Schools during the years-long merger process then became the superintendent for the new, unified Shelby County Schools system.

The Results

Predictably, the endemic dysfunction that characterized Memphis City Schools now characterizes the Shelby County Schools system. The same failing schools are still failing. The same inept leadership keeps on leading.

Even rumors of school board corruption still persist.

The worst result, which was completely predictable I must add, was the phenomenon of once high-performing schools across the county subsequently dropping precipitously in quality.

For example, what was once a top-performing elementary school around the corner from my house is now a level 1 school (at the bottom of the rankings).

The problems that plagued Memphis City Schools were never addressed.

 It was far easier to feign virtuous, employing the abhorrent politics of identity, than it was to seek genuine solutions. So, it should be absolutely no surprise that the results have been, in a nutshell, the spread of failure.

Thankfully, for at least some of Shelby County’s children, the story doesn’t end here. There was a great divorce that took place, benefitting thousands of students.

Yet, it is because of this “divorce” that the residents of Shelby County are once again being plastered as racists and classists, rich whites, on a national scale; and residents have become the target of well-funded, Marxist proponents of the “sustainability” movement.

This, I will discuss in Part 3 (the final part).

Paige Rogers is a Christian artist and author, and a former professional practitioner in the field of Early Childhood Development. She is the creator of ThePaintingPastor.org, a blog offering Christian reflection, exhortation and discernment alongside various artistic techniques visually documented through Paige's unique artistic endeavors. A lover of learning, Paige is an avid enthusiast of history, civics, political geography and human nature, physical geography and the sciences. She is an incurably inquisitive and chronically creative “egghead.” Paige is a strong supporter of America's service members and veterans.

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