Published at the Tennessean:
After reading the Tennessean article “Large numbers of Tennessee students not ready for college, new state data show,” I was scratching my head and wondering why alarm bells are going off now about high numbers of high school graduates needing college remediation. Especially so as we find out near the end of the article that college remediation rates have actually improved by 20 percentage points in the past five years.
Furthermore, why would the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Mike Krause, be bad-mouthing teachers and the education colleges that prepare them, in light of these improvements in college readiness? Why wouldn’t a 20-percent improvement at least warrant a nod of approval for heading in the right direction?
I am not suggesting that we ignore the fact that some schools across the state still have very high percentages of graduates needing college remediation in both reading and math. And we know those schools are in both rural and urban areas that are economically distressed. Whether Hardeman County in West Tennessee or Austin-East High School in Knoxville, we know that high remediation rates go hand in hand with high poverty rates.
It is unfortunate that Krause and his chief ally in the state Senate, Republican Jon Lundberg, ignore the economic and educational disparities that are at the source of the remediation problem. Instead, they continue to blame the problem on educators and teacher educators whose life work is to help those struggling students whose disenfranchisement remains a principal predictor for their adult life outcomes.
Sadly, Krause’s former boss, former Gov. Bill Haslam, spent the waning days of his governorship trying unsuccessfully to kill the most recent manifestation of school funding lawsuits that have been ongoing in one form or another since 1987. If Krause and members of the General Assembly want to do something about high remediation rates and other educational effects of child poverty, they could support full funding of Tennessee’s Basic Education Program, BEP, which would put the State in line with its constitutional responsibility to provide the children of the state with a “free, adequate, and equitable education.”
With teachers across the nation now finding public support for demanding the resources required to do their jobs professionally and to raise their families adequately, Krause’s blame game seems particularly out of step with the times. We will have to see if Tennesseans are as easily manipulated now as they have been in the past by efforts to deflect attention from generations of inadequate and inequitable education funding, while leaders seek to avoid political accountability for a never-ending array of failed education reform efforts that benefit big business interests over the needs of children.
In the meantime, it would be a greater public service If the media were to give credit where credit is due, rather than ignoring the larger story in order to benefit the political motives of state officials. A more appropriate headline on the Tennessean article might have read, “Five-year college remediation rate down by 20 percent among state high school grads.”
Jim Horn, Ph.D., is professor of educational leadership at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts . . . . His most recent book is "Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through ‘No Excuses’ Teaching."