Before we can achieve our vision of establishing a world-class education system, we must first understand the conditions of the two school districts and develop the capacity to remove any inconsistencies that exist between the current conditions and our overall goal.
As chair of the assessment committee, the group responsible for providing support and information to the other seven subcommittees to enable them to make data-driven decisions as they draft plans for the merged district, I understand many individuals in the community have a wide variety of perceptions of each district, what is working and what is not.
However, moving beyond perceptions into reality, using real data is a critical aspect of our work.
As a result of the work of this committee, we know what currently exists, what needs to be changed and what needs to be added. It is clear that excellent programs exist in both districts.
For example, Advanced Placement classes, honor classes, special education classes and vocational classes are programs and services with a special designation that function successfully in both school systems.
However, just as there are successes, there are also challenges. From mobility and college readiness to preschool education and grade-level interventions, there are some weaknesses that must be addressed in order to move closer to the vision.
Below are summary findings that show strengths and weaknesses that exist in both districts:
Fourteen percent of our students have special needs and 7 percent are English language learners. We have also identified students with other academic deficiencies. Therefore, a major focus of our programming will center on intervention strategies that directly address the needs of these students.
Across Memphis’ four regions and borders of the municipalities, the student population and demographics vary. There are high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students in all quadrants of the city, and in some areas of the county. Overall, the proportion of students who are economically disadvantaged has remained stable. Program designers must give major consideration to these demographics.
Mobility, attendance and graduation rates vary widely across schools. Our committee has identified where all students are located, assessed their educational needs and identified services that they will need in order to thrive in a merged district.
A significant number of lower-income children – approximately 2,500 to 3,000 per year – are not participating in Pre-K programs. Along those lines, college readiness is highly disparate by income: only 10 percent of economically disadvantaged students meet the college-ready standard, while 43 percent of other students do. The Assessment committee is looking for innovative methods to reverse these statistics.
A significant gap exists in proficiency between higher-income and low-income students. For example, in third grade reading and fourth grade math, schools exhibit a wide range of performance. The value-added growth measure shows that the merged district made strong progress in math across grade levels in 2010-2011, and was close to average for the majority of other grades/subjects.
This is important to consider given its ability to measure improvement and change over time, as opposed to a snapshot of proficiency.
Our vision is that all students within the district have equal access to knowledge, exposure to culturally relevant programs and resources that enhance their academic success.
There are obvious and not-so-obvious challenges across the entire merged district. With a clearer picture of them, we can forge the best of both systems into a world-class district that affords every student a path to achieving his or her full potential.
Green is a member of the 21-member Transition Planning Commission and professor of educational leadership at the University of Memphis.