Chattanooga elites stuck on factory school paradigm despite warnings

This graphic appears in a 41-page paper proposing more public schooling for Hamilton County. (Image Chattanooga 2.0)

This graphic appears in a 41-page paper proposing more public schooling for Hamilton County. (Image Chattanooga 2.0)

By David Tulis

The meeting downtown of city officials and commercial and industrial bigwigs considered the results of cartel economics in educational services without addressing the fundamental problem.

Mayor Andy Berke and Hamilton County mayor Jim Coppinger called on ways students can do more to get out of classrooms and into the world of work, industry and commerce. They pumped a nonprofit program, Step-Up, that connects children of poor families with employers to help solve what one report calls a “crisis of disconnection.”

The condition of public schooling in Hamilton County is equated as the state of education in general. The state school encompasses, in the minds of the city’s elite, the whole of the educational marketplace without a distinction between that which is state controlled and that which is free market and private.

A state’s sector is misshapen, heavily padded with commercial and nonprofit hangers-on, a county government-funded cartel. This business is the source of the problem of unready, half-literate and unmotivated students whose parents are accustomed to dumping education duties onto the to-do lists of others. The lists are kept by teaching trades, protected by the Tennessee Education Association and secure in their incomes under the unsteady protection of a constitutional article creating free public schools (Tennessee constitution, Article 11, section 12).‡

“I am grateful and appreciative of all the businesses and industries represented here today,” Mayor Coppinger told the Trade Center crowd. “Of course then, I’m going to call on you for a favor.”

Warnings, warnings

“Chattanooga/Hamilton County is falling behind other Metro areas in the state on a number of educational outcomes,” a December 2015 paper called Chattanooga 2.0 says. In the county “just 43 percent of 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in early childhood learning programs.” The woe for the city is that this is seen as a tiny fraction and that nearly all children should be in institutions apart from their families at that age (p. 13).

Such comparisons tend to create an envy factor to help one make one’s argument.

The report was written by defenders of the status quo: Benwood Foundation, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the Hamilton County department of education and the Public Education Foundation.

“Chattanooga is on a risky trajectory,” they warn. “If we do not act now to promote new approaches and make smart investments [tax spending] to improve educational outcomes for students, the majority of our residents will not be able to benefit from the recent influx of jobs that has been the result of years of hard work and investment,” the paper says (Page 3). The paper says there is “no silver bullet” or “clear path” to “transforming education.” This statement is true if the paradigm remains that of the state school centralized under state authority.

2 Chattanoogas

The report looks at schooling not as education, but as a means of building a work force, of creating employment (vs. ownership and entrepreneurship) and of economic development. These goals overlook the notion that educating a child is a spiritual and religious enterprise that draws out the genius, gifts and intelligence individually of each boy or girl put by his parents into that marketplace. Education is a form of capital creation stirred and nourished within each soul one person at a time. It is not human and resource management at industrial scale. Schooling may be about creating a complaint, serviceable working class and body of shoppers and consumers. But a classically liberal education and, more importantly, a Christian demands far more.

The lack of a free market and the suppression of natural self-interest among parents consigns black children to the world of schools, the report indicates. A black boy or girl is 33 percent more likely than a white student to attend a school in the bottom 5 percent of the state. Segregation within districts makes it seven times more likely a black child will attend a poor school than “one of the highest performing schools in the state” (Page 22).

Officials and Chattanooga 2.0 suggest a crisis is afoot if city residents and its elites do not circle the wagons around the schooling establishment and the TEA.

“Either we face this challenge or Hamilton County runs the risk of permanently creating two Chattanoogas — one for the prosperous and one for those being left significantly behind.” This dreadful prospect has been a reality since perhaps the 1940s when the full effects of the war on reading began to be seen in the general population.

Extend 12-year sentence

A key solution is “a new focus on teacher talent and school leadership.” This emphasis is seen as “retaining, supporting and empowering talented teachers” (Page 29). It is argued that the city will be better off if county government “[increases] educational attainment through postsecondary completion.”

In other words, college is essential either via a two-year or four-year degree. Let’s start schooling early and make it end later. Let’s get 75 percent of young residents to earn degrees by 2025.

Extend high school two or four years is a short way of making the argument. More time. The system needs more time to make students valuable to employers.

But the political establishment offers little of substance by way of reform.

‡ The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The General Assembly may establish and support such  post-secondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.


“Chattanooga 2.0,” Dec. 13, 2015,

David Cobb, “Education key to Chattanooga business growth, mayors say,” Jan. 14, 2016, Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Kendi Anderson, “As Chattanooga grows, businesses struggle to find qualified local applicants,” Dec. 13, 2015, Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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