In rotten schools, soaring absenteeism is sign of hope

This state graphic shows extravagant public disaffection with so-called public schools.

This graphic shows extravagant public disaffection with so-called public schools.

The resignation of Supt. Rick Smith from his job under the Hamilton County school board was prompted by news reports about a negative analysis of five “priority” schools out of Nashville.

The report about the so-called troubled schools is fulled of bureaucratic jargon that makes it doubtful whether ratings have any meaning — whether negatives  (“The lack of cohesiveness *** points to an unfocused approach,” P. 16) or positives (“These improved [Dalewood] numbers suggest *** behavioral interventions [are] having a meaningful impact on school climate and culture,” P. 14).

By David Tulis

Dr. Smith resigned the day after the Times Free Press pinned across the top of Page 1 in a Sunday edition its account of the county iZone schools, a report upon which Dr. Smith sat for two months without sharing with his overseers. An earlier vote by the board had rejected a costly buyout proposal to get rid of the longtime local schools boss.

Good news — soaring absenteeism

Perhaps the best news is that students and their parents are enjoying high rates of “absenteeism” and disregard for local schools. Families involved in Brainerd lead the city in absenteeism — a term that implies students necessarily belong in the school classrooms and are wrong not to be there.

Nearly 59 percent of students at Brainerd are absent 10 percent or more in the school year, according to a graphic. Elsewhere in the document, the tally hits 63 percent.

The presupposition that allows readers to see good news in high absenteeism at Brainerd and also at Orchard Knob Middle School (36 percent) is that life outside of bureaucratic behavioral management institutions is better for the soul and intellect than being a compliant inmate within.

State law calls the independence and callous disregard for free schooling the act of truancy, an actionable offense. An “unruly child” is one who needs “treatment and rehabilitation” because he is “habitually and without justification *** truant from school while subject to compulsory school attendance” under Tennessee Code Annotated 49-6-3007.

The working group that writes the report proposes intensified efforts to corral children back into the system. One “area of challenge” is for state employees to “examine root causes” for students’ preference to be elsewhere. Part of that program is to “involve staff including teachers, counselors, school social workers, behavior specialists, and family partnership specialists to develop a school-wide plan to address attendance issues” (P. 8).

At Brainerd high, “it is apparent that students are not attending school; consequently, they cannot be taught. Brainerd should take a comprehensive approach to climate and create a student attendance system that is not so punitive.”
It is supposed that life lessons, private pursuits, lounging noncompliance with rules, wool-gathering, employment, gang-related gigs, self-help, private study, computer gaming and other wide-ranging pursuits outside the school day are altogether worthless.

Students who remain in the factory system are so hopeless, frustrated, angry, put upon and bitchy that a key area of challenge remains “student discipline issues.” In the 2014-15 school year, students were suspended for fighting and misdeeds 328 times, including 12 times in “serious incidents.”

Rushing to spend loot

Taxpayers are putting a pretty penny into these schools. The state in 2013 gave Hamilton County F$10.57 million in grants, 75 percent of which “went directly to schools.” Brainerd High got F$2.18 million over three years (P. 7). It’s so much money district officials are having trouble spending it all. The district in Year 2 carried over a balance of F$1.07 million, with the money piling up in the third year totaling F$4.83 million “to be obligated by Sept. 30 *** and liquidated by Dec. 30.” Use it or lose it, in other words. Progressivism at its very best.

The report talks cheerfully about for-profit contractors who crowd together at the public trough. “The iZone now seems more intentional in its partner selection process to ensure that those selected have the appropriate credentials and expertise for school turnaround work” (P. 8).

Lack of centralization called problem

The Nashville overseers eyeing Hamilton County’s problems see decentralization as a problem, blaming local on-the-spot solutions and attempts at off-plantation solutions. The report calls this perceived problem one of schools’ “working in silos as opposed to working toward a clear vision in coordination with other schools in the iZone.” It goes on to say a “cohesive approach is essential to the success of these schools.” The Nashville minders have “questions about the structure and capacity” of on-site employees.

The report names no individual either for praise or castigation.

‘Achievement gains’

The state’s focus to raise the level of its bottom 5 percent of schools is self-defeating. For if the five on Chattanooga’s list rise higher, other state schools will filter down to the bottom, like cinders at the bottom of a pool of brackish water. In 2014 the state had 83 “priority” schools in big city districts, including Hamilton County (P. 2).
The report offers three tips, none of which acknowledge the insurmountable problem of a state-run bureaucracy and its incapacity to deal with individual human beings and individual families.

One is “greater support for principals” and another pushes a better use of test/surveillance numbers and a use of dollars better aligned with “what the data show about the needs of the school” (P. 18).

— David Tulis hosts a show 9 to 11 a.m.weekdays at AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond. He is editor of

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.