The Bigger Picture

For those of you that have been following the MCS situation, you may be wondering about the impact of upcoming election on the students. There are a lot of variables, and the answer to this question is not immediately clear.

One thing we do know is the current situation is dire, and the conditions that led to this situation are complex. Indeed, just about everything concerning education in Shelby County is complex… including public perception and harsh realities.

The Tennessee Department of Education recently released their report card on public schools. In that report card, both Memphis and Shelby County schools are doing poorly, with Shelby County Schools performing between 6 and 15 points higher than MCS comparing grade to grade, but still, overall, falling below the state mean score.

It’s interesting that public perception is so skewed to the idea that all Shelby County schools are just plain better than Memphis Schools when the reality is, neither are performing very well overall. Truth is, there are a lot of factors involved, many that most people wouldn’t associate with education directly.

To that end, I’m linking to an article from May 2009 that a new blog, Memphis School Referendum referenced yesterday.

In the article, Rhodes College Political Science Professor Marcus Pohlmann talks about the educational and economic conditions in Memphis, and how they interact and impact educational outcomes. Here’s a quick taste.

Over the past few decades, when major industries moved out of many U.S. cities they left behind not only workers, but also millions of school-age children. For this article, Education Update spoke with Rhodes College political science professor Marcus Pohlmann about his new book, Opportunities Lost: Race and Poverty in the Memphis City Schools, which gives a socioeconomic history of Memphis, Tenn., and sheds light on the factors that have caused students in the district to struggle academically. Pohlmann also explains that the problems Memphis City Schools educators face resonate with teachers in other urban districts across the nation.
Q: Why are Memphis City Schools a good case study for the challenges facing urban America?
A: If you look toward the end of the book at the comparison of Memphis to many of the other city school systems in the larger cities in the country, you see a lot of comparable data. Inner city schools are facing pretty much the same problems throughout the country. They’re serving high concentrations of low income, often primarily African American and Hispanic populations that, because of their income situation, bring to the classroom many additional teaching challenges. In inner cities, too, there’s usually, as there was in Memphis, an out-migration of middle-income African Americans to [nearby counties], further isolating the most poor students in the city schools. Considering these common trends, I think Memphis is a pretty good bellwether of urban education challenges across the country.

Go check out the whole thing.

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