August 1, 2009

This past week the Chattanooga Times-Free Press published a document called “ Regional School Achievement—By the Numbers”.    The study listed all of the schools; elementary, middle and high school that exist within the “tri-state” region for the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.   Chattanooga has a population of approximately 170,880 people as of July 2008.  This is a 9.90% increase from the 2000 census numbers.  We are a growing community and will grow even more when the VW facility begins production in 2011.  This will add approximately 2,000 direct production jobs to the area with, what is felt to be, a total of 10,000 jobs overall.  This accounts for new vendors, the need for housing, restaurants, drug stores, etc.  In other words, all of those good things required to support a quality life.  Our economic health seems to be on the mend, relative to our national economy, but our educational system is definitely dysfunctional and in a state of chaos relative to what is traditionally felt to be necessary for a “good sound education”.   I would like to give you data and ask for your response; comparing our educational “situation” with the one in your area.  Here we go.

  • The 2009-2010 Hamilton County Board of Education is staffed with nine (9) board members; one from each of the nine school districts.  There is one superintendent of schools that oversees the board and helps to fashion all school policy.  They frequently “make the news” and generally there is an “us-vs-them” mentality.  These positions are elected so the public does decide on who staffs the board.
  • Hamilton County is operating with a $20 million budget deficit (2009 figures).  This is the worst ever for our county and for east Tennessee as a whole. The 2008-2009 school year operated with a $12 million reduced budget.  This was accomplished by reducing educational programs, cancelling student trips, dropping various sports programs, eliminating summer educational programs, postponing maintenance on facilities, eliminating art and music from some schedules and, last but not least, removing teachers and teaching assistants from the school rolls. Also, the number of counseling teachers was drastically reduced.
  •  Two schools were merged.   These schools were only one mile apart and experienced dropping enrollments in both cases.  This was basically a “slam-dunk” and there was little controversy. 
  • One school was created; an all-girls charter school that offers science, mathematics, engineering and technical subjects for young ladies.  There was a great deal of discussion about the need for this type of program but it was felt that good things could come from this charter school.  (Being a mechanical engineer, I welcome any effort to broaden science, math and technical subjects into any course of study and to have those subjects presented to young ladies is just fine with me.  Please note that I did not get a vote, but in this case, the Hamilton County Board did the right thing. ) It was felt by the board  that an all-girls school would encourage needed development in the area of mathematics and technology for ladies who might otherwise be inclined to go into “traditional gender-specific subjects”.  I agree completely.
  • Since VW is entering our county, they have agreed to contribute $5 million to regional education and $800,000 to Hamilton County.  Please note that this includes funding for a regional two-year technical community college.
  • Our student-teacher ratio is 14.13.  ( This was a great surprise to me.  I thought it would be upwards to 25 or even 30, specifically with an increasing population. )
  • Average teacher salary: $44,820 per year.  I might mention that the turnover rate for Hamilton County is fairly high and teacher retention is a real problem.  Also, the number of teachers retiring is another problem the “Board” has to contend with.  There are not enough individuals entering the teaching profession to keep up with retirements.  It’s a real problem for Hamilton County.
  • Average spending per student: $8,344
  • Average ACT test score: 20.7 for Tennessee and 20.6 for north Georgia.  These scores are a bit lower than our national average.  As you know, a perfect ACT score is 36. (NOTE:  The SAT scores were not available.  This was very interesting to me. )
  • Average graduation rate: 82% for Tennessee and 78% for north Georgia
  •  In looking at the school principals for the elementary students, there are 44; eleven male and thirty-three female.  Middle school and high school data exhibits a similar profile.
  • The number of economically disadvantages students approaches 62% of the total student population.  An economically disadvantaged student is defined as “students whose families meet income criteria making them eligible to receive free or reduced meals at school, as determined by Federal guidelines”.  (This number was a big surprise to me. I had no idea the rate was as high as it apparently is. )
  • The success or failure of the “no child left behind” program was not addressed in this write-up so I really can’t comment on how the teachers feel about the benefits of the program.

I think we should all be very concerned with the condition of education in our country and I get the impression that other countries simply “do it better”.  We are living in an era where competition is not just from the next city, next county, next state, but from all over the world.  I definitely know the education process is very complicated in our country but we had better address our short-comings or we face real difficulties down the road.  Please let me have your thoughts.


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