Updated at 4:02 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, 2018 to state that The Howard Group is based in Los Angeles and is focused on teacher training, not socio-economic desegregation. The NAACP chapter prepared the fact sheet cited.
If local philanthropic foundations and others in a coalition of the willing finance a one-year, $290,000 contract to The Howard Group to — in the group's words — help the Hamilton County school district look "for new ways and ideas around teaching and learning that best support an authentic school experience and provide increased academic opportunities for all students, but particularly for African-American and Latina/o students," we hope they get their money's worth.
In recent years, nearly $11 million in federal and state money — above what was already allocated — has been poured into Hamilton County's most struggling public schools with little result.
The Hamilton County Board of Education voted 8-1 on Thursday night to hire the Los Angeles, California, firm.
Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson said he hopes outside organizations will fund the work so taxpayers don't have to. Indeed, taxpayers should not be dunned for this cost. They're already paying more on their property taxes, which were raised by county commissioners at the start of the 2017-2018 school year in part to assist county schools.
But, more than that, we don't believe the premise contained in a fact sheet developed by the Hamilton County chapter of the NAACP and submitted in support of the proposal is correct.
The fact sheet posits that "the county intentionally operates a dual school system, one for the clearly inferior segregated schools and one for the rest of the district," and "that the educational opportunity provided by the county in the segregated schools in unequal to that provided in the rest of the schools."
The nearly $11 million spent in recent years puts a lie to that, but so does county spending on the "segregated" schools, on its efforts to improve teachers and principals, and on its inability to choose where families live.
Consider the case of Woodmore Elementary School, which 50 years ago was an all-white school in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood and was judged one of the best elementary schools in the city. Today, it is still in the same middle-class, suburban neighborhood — albeit with a physically updated campus — but has a student population that is 91.8 percent black and is one of the district's most struggling schools.
The federal government, more than 45 years ago, sought to change the racial mixture of the elementary school by employing busing, and did just that, along with the racial mixtures of feeder schools Dalewood Middle and Brainerd High, both now among the county's most struggling schools.
In other words, the federal government achieved the racial change it sought, but now it is county government's fault — according to the "fact sheet" — because the changes made decades ago didn't result in the academic progress that was expected to occur.
The scenario is the same for many of the schools that are termed "segregated" today by The Howard Group.
We have said repeatedly that we believe the superintendent's planned Future Ready Institutes, more open-enrollment schools and more magnet schools operated with the curriculum of Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts would allow more opportunities for students in the so-called "segregated" schools. But those opportunities come with pricey transportation costs and required parent buy-in.
Yet, we believe the above would achieve more than Howard Group team members simply instructing school personnel on "Race & Culture in the Classroom," "Creating Trauma Sensitive Classrooms," "Examining Implicit Bias," "Culturally & Linguistically Responsive Pedagogy," "Culturally Relevant Pedagogy" and "Learning, Leadership & Equity," as is planned in year one.
Certainly, professional development on race, culture and equity can be helpful, but it won't solve systemic poverty, it won't alter living patterns and it won't remove the desire of parents for their child to attend a successful school.
Knowing that, the fact sheet suggests among other things, the county may have to re-draw attendance zones, and/or pair zones, and/or allow school choice (including providing transportation), and/or consolidate and build schools that allow access from diverse neighborhoods to "remedy the effects of its unequal schools."
But for year one, $290,000 will buy 50 professional development sessions, 10 site visits, two parent/community workshops and three textbooks for faculty and administration.
It's not clear how many years The Howard Group expects its plan will take or what future years will cost willing philanthropic organizations or taxpayers, but we're afraid if plans to achieve the socioeconomic desegregation of a group of schools is as "successful" as the mode of racial desegregation (busing) was nearly 50 years ago, that the 22 percent of county students in private schools — according to the "fact sheet" — could grow quickly.