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VOL. 11 | NO. 2 | Saturday, January 13, 2018

Editorial: Grade-Changing Scandal at Trezevant Shows Culture Matters

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Culture matters in education. When that culture is about the pursuit of a goal and how to get there instead of making sure no one on the payroll gets jostled too much, it can move mountains. In this case, it can move one of the city’s most intractable problems.

The challenge is access to a quality education that doesn’t know the meaning of giving up on any child, especially those already in the pipeline who have fallen far behind, just as other generations before them had.

The way parents approach that expectation should not depend on their ZIP code, like too many other things in this city do. The hard-to-impossible task should be trying to justify keeping conditions in place that, whether we know it or not, hold us back as a city.

The grade-changing scandal Shelby County Schools is working its way through imperils every bit of the hard-fought gains SCS has made in improving student achievement and the quality of teachers in recent years.

The seeds of this scandal call into question other academic practices, including the use of grade floors. Here, there are some valid points in favor of the practice – as long as the floor isn’t a passing grade. Giving failing students a chance to improve within some specific parameters is different than giving them a pass.

Grade floors should remain a teacher’s call and a school’s recommendation, with the school system providing more consistent guidelines about their use.

Public education should be – and in many places is – about immediate intervention to bring struggling students up to speed and prevent them from falling further behind.

But there are places in our school system consigned to a permanent twilight where nothing new has penetrated the culture that protects the adults in the building at the expense of the students they’re supposed to be educating.

Trezevant High School football coach Teli White, the figure at the center of the grade-changing scandal so far, outlined the simple premise when he talked with investigators.

“I don’t mean to fail no kid,” he said, according to a transcript. “If they show up and halfway participate, they will pass.”

The scandal at Trezevant – an Innovation Zone school that has had three principals in four years – is the second cheating situation in less than a decade to highlight the battle underway within SCS. The first involved a teacher certification exam and resulted in 40 individuals being charged with federal crimes for hiring others to take the exam on their behalf.

As in that case, the school system should piece together a timeline of teachers and administrators coming and going at Trezevant. Identify everyone involved in the widespread grade changing there to stop an ongoing betrayal of one of the most intimate public trusts that exists – the trust a parent places in their child’s school.

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