Thursday, August 02, 2007

County Schools Get "F" In Federal Court Test About Its Fairness

U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald was wrong in her ruling about Shelby County Schools.

She criticized the county school district for not taking race into consideration when it created its school attendance zones.

The truth is: That’s exactly what Shelby County Schools did, and that’s why, on balance, her ruling last week was the right one.


Judge Donald, meting out the judicial equivalent of “half a loaf is better than none,” refused to dissolve the 44-year-old desegregation order for Shelby County Schools but approved this year’s attendance zones.

Typically, the county schools board members, particularly the master of the disingenuous justification, Chairman David Pickler, now seem as willing to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions as Paris Hilton.

In the face of a noticeably stern judicial rebuff, county school officials trotted out their favorite, old rhetorical warhorses. Achieving racial balance would mean busing students, breaking up neighborhood schools and costing the district extra money, they warned.

Heckuva Job, Brownie

Superintendent Bobby Webb, who essentially acts as lackey to the board’s micro-management, said: “It’s a heck of a dilemma for me.”

Well, too bad. If you don’t want someone to shoot you, you really shouldn’t hand him a loaded pistol.

The loaded pistol for the county schools – and poster child for its racially-conscious decisions – ended up being Southwind High School. That’s why if county school officials want to see who’s responsible for this dilemma, they need only to look in the mirror. All it really would have taken to avoid the current dilemma was to make smarter decisions about the location of new county schools.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

In the wake of the ruling, the county system also mounted one of its favorites – a disinformation campaign. Mr. Webb said that 95 percent of the people in the southeast area are African-Americans, suggesting that because of that fact the Southwind High School would of course be predominantly black.

To suggest that southeast Shelby County is 95 percent African-American is spin at best and a lie at worst. That’s because Mr. Webb’s statement is based conveniently on the county district’s own opinion of what constitutes southeast Shelby County.

In the world of county schools, southeast Shelby County mysteriously stops when it reached Hacks Cross Road, which forms the easternmost border for the attendance zone for Southwind High Schools. What the superintendent really is saying is: “When we count the African-American students, we’re only counting kids south of Lowrance and west of Hacks Cross. My gosh, it’s 95 percent African-American.”


What he doesn’t say is that if you take off your blinders and ignore race, the Shelby County School Board could have located the new high school a couple of miles to the east, and voila, southeast Shelby County isn’t 95 percent any more. In fact, the new county high school would probably be racially balanced enough to impress a federal judge.

But there was no way that the county district was going to move the school east of Hacks Cross Road. If they had done that, they could move some white kids attending school in Collierville to the new high school. And in spite of what some county school officials say, that more eastward location would still be in the Memphis annexation reserve area and therefore, it would meet the criteria of being a school developed jointly by Memphis and Shelby County school systems.

Incredibly enough, the news media continue to accept the county schools’ justifications with an undiscerning eye. As The Commercial Appeal reported without attribution yesterday: “With less than two weeks till the first day of school, some feared the district would have to go back to last year’s grossly overcrowded high schools, leaving the new Southwind High School unused.”

Journalism 101

Apparently, our daily paper relied on the county schools’ version of what’s “grossly overcrowded,” because on balance, the county system doesn’t really have a crisis of overcrowding. As we’ve said before, the county district uses a different formula for determining school capacity, and because of it, its capacity ratings tend to overstate crowding. If Memphis City Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson used the same method of calculating capacities, no school in the city would have been recommended for closure last year.

But misleading calculations aside, the county system sidesteps the question of why they are willing to crowd all of these African-American students into Southwind High School and allow capacities of Germantown schools to drop to levels that suggest that parts of Germantown High School should be shut down.

While it might seem that Judge Donald’s ruling will accelerate the out-migration into neighboring counties, if the county district actually did what she suggests, there would be no schools that are “racially identifiable” as African-American schools (if that’s the sort of thing that motivates you to pack your moving crates in the first place).

When we hear Chairman Pickler say that “my personal opinion is that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would create grave damage to the community,” we’re tempted to say that in the interest of accuracy, The Commercial Appeal should print it like this: “create grave damage to the (white) community.” It’s another craven attempt by the county district to enflame the passions of white parents, and there certainly is nothing in the history of the district to suggest that the black community’s needs and interests ever factor into decisions like attendance zones.

Mapping It Out

You don’t need to be a federal judge to see it. All you need is a map and a magnifying glass. The Southwind High School attendance zone goes directly down Hacks Cross Road, walling off the largely African-American area west of the road. Meanwhile, the Germantown High School attendance zone meanders around like a drunk on Beale Street, seemingly picking up specific subdivisions and houses inhabited largely by white residents.

Looking at the attendance zones, it’s hard to imagine how Shelby County Schools officials can defend them with a straight face. They clearly are set up to keep black kids out of Germantown High School and to make sure white kids do.

As Judge Donald wisely concluded, the burden of proof is on the county district, and it simply failed. While her 62-page opinion sifted through her thinking, all that’s really needed is to consider the arrogance reflected on the attendance zone map.

Five More Years

As we have warned for more than a year, the county board’s decisions on Southwind High School were racially motivated from the beginning. While school officials can beat the drum and chant racial code words like busing and neighborhood schools, this time it will largely fall on deaf ears.

This time around, they’re not trying to intimidate county politicians into silence. They’re trying to pressure a federal judge, and in the end, it’s senseless, self-defeating behavior.

But then again, it’s that kind of behavior that got the board in this position in the first place. Rather than complain about Judge Donald’s decision, the board should take out a map of the district that shows where the students live and without regard to race, draw the attendance zone boundaries.

When you don’t pay attention to race, it’s pretty easy to come up with attendance zones that are more logical, and along the way, they’d be amazed at what they could come up – a district whose schools pass muster in a federal court. As a result of its recent decisions, the district now has five more years to prove that it can manage a district that treats all children fairly and equally.

This could have all been so much simpler.


Anonymous said...

It's just about time to move completely out of this schizoprhenic Memphis metro area to a more sane part of the country. Frankly.
I suggest you read John Branston's commentary. While I agree the SCS behavior has been crass, and letting developers site schools is ridiculous, ultimately people are going to live where they want and send their kids to school where they want. This idea that a court or the government can force whites and blacks to go to school together has produced a 90+ percent black Memphis City School system. Now THAT'S segregation.

A. said...

"This idea that a court or the government can force whites and blacks to go to school together has produced a 90+ percent black Memphis City School system. Now THAT'S segregation."

The reason many whites, and blacks, within the city send their children to private schools has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the preception of substandard instruction and violent schools. (not that some whites love their spacious east Memphis or midtown with hard wood floors and 10 foot ceiling, but loathe the idea of JeMarkUs sitting next to their precious Amelia, that's true. But not exclusively the reasoning of whites.)

Yes, 17 schools in Memphis are failing, that's 10% of the total. But that means 90% are not. Sure, there's violence in the schools, and gangs, but there are in the county schools as well.

One reason I refuse to sendmy children to SCS and drive into the city everyday and pay tuition to do so is the passive racism and bigotry inherent in SCS as demonstrated by this ascinine zoning. Speaking of - I live 1.5 blocks from a a brand new SC elementary school. We are zoned for a school 2-3 miles away. Neighborhood schools my foot. That school is lily white as it was designed to be because Bartlett's demographics are tilting a little too close to tan for some people'e liking. They've moved east, closer to Arlington and Lakeland and want a new "clean" school for their sweet little Nikki and Ashten.

BAH! The systems should consolidate and then we'd really see how it shakes out.

Anonymous said...

17 is the number of schools which have been on the high priority list for six years. There are another 20 or so which have been on the high priority list for shorter periods. Still represent about 10% of the schools. However, keep in mind that it is easier to stay off the state high priority list in Tennessee than almost any other state. Texas may be the only state with more lax standards.

Anonymous said...

Oops! That would suggest that closer to 19% are on the list.

city watch said...

It is interesting that Nick Clark was intimately involved in the sale of the Southwind site to the County, a site that is too large and at a problem road intersection, and that his new best friend, Richard Fields attorney for the plaintiffs, recommended to the federal court that the desegregation law suit be dismissed. These twins of justice must be this week's "worst persons in the world"

hkay said...

I feel that you are mistaking how much East Memphis/Midtown whites truly detest African Americans. I grew up in East Memphis and I think that whites hate the idea of a racially integrated school much more than the idea of substandard education. White Station is the exception. People will send their kids to school where they want them to. If race took the backseat to education standards, then poorer(educationally speaking) private schools wouldn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I thought Charles Askew owned the site of Southwind HS...

Anonymous said...

Private versus public. Two studies completed in the last year for the National Center for Education Statistics come to the conclusion that public schools do a better job of teaching than do private schools once we control for poverty.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 8:50: No one, including the federal courts, is telling anyone where to live. And I always read John Branston's columns. This isn't about the court forcing blacks and whites to go to school together. This is about the county school board situating schools at locations where that would happen naturally. And unless racism driving the person's decisions, the vast majority of these kids should be class unidentifiable, coming from middle class and upper middle class families. Today, county schools could solve this issue. It wouldn't be cheap, because it would require them building their schools where they should have been located in the first place.

Smart City Consulting said...

A: You are right. When asked the single most important decision that started the improvement of the schools in Chattanooga, the answer is regularly consolidation. As you point out, that's what's really missing here.

Smart City Consulting said...

By the way, great discussion. Thanks for the insight.

A. said...

Hkay - having lived in the county and Midtown and knowing tons of people all over the map (literally) in Memphis, I have to say whites in the county have a greater tendency to make racist comments about MCS and society in general. I'm sure there are racist whites in Midtown, I just have yet to meet them. My greater point was that race is not the sole, or even a determining factor in school choice for the vast majority of people of any racial background. It's about quality of instruction and safety.

The perception perpetuated by the media and the SCSB is that MCS are inferior and inherently violent. When we moved back to the area, real estate agents pushed the SCS and made really snide remarks about MCS. We inisted we wanted a house in Midtown ("Ooooh but you have school age children. Which private school would you be interested in? You have to factor tuition in to the equation if you live in the city.") We opted for Bartlett for several reasons, schools being one. We were snowed. Oak was a terrible experience; the administration of the school and SCSB staff were unprofessional, irresponsible and unresponsive. My child regressed in the semester he was at Oak. We got an optional transfer, pay tuition to attend MCS and LOVE it. The cirriculum is not only superior to that of SCS, but the atmosphere and attitude of the teachers and administrators is vastly more conducive to not only learning, but parental involvement.

I believe, from experience, that the SCS strive for mediocrity by teaching to the test. They value test scores over education. This is a quote from the principal of Oak Elementary when asked if they taught to the test: "Oh absolutely!" As a parent and an 4th genreation educator, that was appalling. There is no place for exceptional students, on either end of the spectrum, in the SCS. When I asked about gifted or enhanced cirriculums on the elementary level, I got this gem: "You shouldn't encourage your child to think he can ever be anything than what he is - average."

No child is average. Every child has strengths and talents, as well as weaknesses. It is the teachers' job to recognize those and proceed accordingly. MCS teachers, in my experience, do their best to make that happen. That is why there was a line out the door of the MCSB office today as parents made tuition payments.

I realize not all schools are optional and there are trouble spots, but I have found on the whole MCS is the superior product with the inferior public relations department; it is also faced with a general public that has been trained to, and now expects, the worst.

p.s. If the systems consolidated, I would hope that the MCS optional cirriculum would be retained. I'd really like to see all MCS students under the optional cirricuuim, frankly. But that's another rant. ;-)

hkay said...

Great point. But I think you are wrong in saying that race is not the determining factor in school decisions for whites. Since I am from rich, old money, white East Memphis and I know tons of them as well, I am trying to say that race is not the sole factor, but it is certainely the determining one. Standards matter, but simply put, white East Memphis parents generally don't want their children in schools with black children. Other than that, I agree with everything you said.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned Chattanooga. Believe me, many of their school decisions are based on race also; take a look at the decision to build a new high school on Signal Mountain there; it's nothing more than an attempt to please their developers there and get Signal Mtn parents their own 99% white new high school so they won't have to send their kids to Red Bank or their little trio of elite private schools.
Since we're putting all this on the table, I would say that most east memphis white people don't have a problem sending their kids to school with black kids, but it's the percentages that scare them off. They don't want to send their kids to a school that's 90% black. Neither do I, so I guess I'm a racist. Of course, like someone said, I could move to suburban Nashville or Charlotte or wherever and then I wouldn't have to deal with this issue at all. Memphis has to deal with race in a way that very few other cities have to. Makes things much more problematic here, because we're competing against cities where these questions never even get asked.

Anonymous said...

To suggest tat other large cities do not face this issue is not really the case. below are the 66 school districts which are part of the Council of Great City Schools. The % African American is large in quite a few. Some of them have similar concerns over the % hispanic. What is really driving the problem though is poverty. The correlation between % of studetns on free and reduced lunch and the graduation rate in Memphis High Schools is .793.

Sorry for the length of the list below:
Schools % African American
Albuquerque Public Schools (Albuquerque, NM) 3.8
Anchorage School District (Anchorage, AK) 8.9
Atlanta Public Schools (Atlanta, GA) 88.6
Austin Independent School District (Austin, TX) 14.4
Baltimore City Public Schools (Baltimore, MD) 88.3
Birmingham City Schools (Birmingham, AL) 96.4
Boston Public Schools (Boston, MA) 47.2
Broward County Public Schools (Fort Lauderdale, FL) 36.5
Buffalo City School District (Buffalo, NY) 58.3
Caddo Parish School District (Shreveport, LA) 62.9
Charleston County Public Schools (Charleston, SC) 56.5
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (Charlotte, NC) 44.0
Chicago Public Schools (Chicago, IL) 50.7
Christina School District (Wilmington, DE) 37.3
Cincinnati Public Schools (Cincinnati, OH) 67.7
Clark County School District (Las Vegas, NV) 14.0
Cleveland Municipal School District (Cleveland, OH) 71.2
Columbus Public Schools (Columbus, OH) 61.6
Dallas Independent School District (Dallas, TX) 32.9
Dayton Public Schools (Dayton, OH) 70.8
Denver Public Schools (Denver, CO) 19.1
Des Moines Indep. Community School District (Des Moines, IA) 15.3
Detroit Public Schools (Detroit, MI) 90.6
District of Columbia Public Schools (D.C.) 84.0
Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, FL) 43.7
Fort Worth Independent School District (For Worth, TX) 29.0
Fresno Unified School District (Fresno, CA) 11.6
Guilford County Schools (Greensboro, NC) 43.5
Hillsborough County School District (Tampa, FL) 23.8
Houston Independent School District (Houston, TX) 30.5
Indianapolis Public Schools (Indianapolis, IN) 59.6
Jackson Public School District (Jackson, MS) 95.8
Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville, KY) 34.9
Kansas City School District (Kansas City, KS) 72.0
Long Beach Unified School District (Long Beach, CA) 18.8
Los Angeles Unified School District (Los Angeles, CA) 12.1
Memphis City Public Schools (Memphis, TN) 87.0
Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Miami, FL) 29.5
Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, WI) 59.7
Minneapolis Public Schools (Minneapolis, MN) 42.9
Nashville-Davidson Metropolitan Public Schools (Nashville, TN) 46.7
New Orleans Public Schools (New Orleans, LA) 93.4
New York City Department of Education (New York City, NY) 34.0
Newark Public Schools (Newark, NJ) 59.1
Norfolk Public Schools (Norfolk, VA) 67.8
Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA) 43.7
Oklahoma City Public Schools (Oklahoma, OK) 34.9
Omaha Public Schools (Omaha, NE) 31.2
Orange County Public Schools (Orlando, FL) 28.5
Palm Beach County Public Schools (Palm Beach and Boca Raton, FL) 29.7
Philadelphia Public Schools (Philadelphia, PA) 65.3
Pittsburgh Public Schools (Pittsburgh, PA) 58.2
Portland Public Schools (Protland, OR) 16.7
Providence Public Schools (Providence, RI) 22.4
Richmond Public Schools (Richmond, VA) 90.3
Rochester City School District (Rochester, NY) 63.9
Sacramento City Unified School District (Sacramento, CA) 22.4
Salt Lake City School District (Salt Lake City, UT) 4.0
San Diego Unified School District (San Diego, CA) 15.0
San Francisco Unified School District 15.0
Seattle Public Schools (Seattle, WA) 23.0
St. Louis Public Schools (St. Louis, MO) 81.7
St. Paul Public Schools (St. Paul, MN) 26.6
Toledo Public Schools (Toledo, OH) 47.6
Tucson Unified School District (Tuscon, AZ) 6.5

A. said...

I would say that most east Memphis white people don't have a problem sending their kids to school with black kids, but it's the percentages that scare them off. They don't want to send their kids to a school that's 90% black.

But if their whole neighborhood would send their kids to the darn schools, then the %s would change. That's circular logic. I think my kids' school % is 80-20, but I may be wrong. I personally have no problem with it, but I have to say if they were the only white kids, I probably would hesitate, just as those brave black parents hesitated to make their kids the sacrficial lambs in the 50s.

But on the other hand, I want my children to know, in a visercal way, that race is meaningless and that the vast majority of the world's population are not blond-haired, blue-eyed, sun kissed upper-middle class white brainiacs. It's a life lesson. It's working, BTW. ;-)

And you are so right these questions are not even raised in too many systems. Or if they are, it's Asian or Hispanic instead of black or white. If someone knows offhand, what are the %s for Hispanic and Asian (including Indian) in the MCS? I think the growing Hispanic community is an issue that MCS will have to deal with. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

MOst of those school systems are of cities which have relatively small cores, like Atlanta, St. Louis, etc., surrounded by huge suburban metro areas made up of multiple independent municipalities and other counties which have separate school systems. I can assure you, where most of Atlanta's upper and middle class whites with children of school age live ISN'T in the city of Atlanta.

Anonymous said...

Student Population Number of students in MCS 117,740

African American 106,406 (85%)
Caucasian 12,113 (10%)
Hispanic 5,073 (4%)
Other 1,708 (1%)
Limited English proficient 3,990 (4%)
Students with disabilities 15,990 (14%)
Economically disadvantaged 90,701 (64%)

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 4:13
The same is to be said of Memphis White's. The city has a higher % than the national average in private schools. There are three school districts in Shelby county. MCS, SCS, and the private system. No one knows for sure how many are in the private system, including the number of homeschoolers, I have heard some who would have an inkling suggest 20 to 30 thousand. Could be that high.

The private system grew in Memphis with the 1973 bussing. In the last few years the movement has been from the privates to teh publics nationwide and even in Mmeephis. The public schools have more and better programs, especially in the optional schools.

SCS parent said...

It' actually very dangerous how much truth you have mixed in with the fiction in your commentary. Yes, Pickler runs the board, is the board. Yes, the high school attendance zones crafted in the spring are gerrymandered.

No, Southwind was not sited where it is to "warehouse" black students. The new Southwind High is 6 miles from the closest SCS high school and is situated in the middle of the densest concentration of publid high school students in the district. A color blind map would have situated that school exactly where it is.

The gerrymandering done was to protect Houston High school, not GHS. GHS is and will remain a very diverse school with nearly equal numbers of black and white students this year. As the zones mature, GHS is expected to be 35% black, equal to the county average.

You point to Southwind High School as the postive proof that SCS school sitings are racially motivated. What about the feeder schools? When Highland Oaks elementary opened in 1993, it was 65% white; today it is 90% black. When Southwind Middle opened in 1995, it was 63% white. Today it is 90% black. These transitions are a result of shifting demographics.

When I first moved to Shelby County, I lived in the Highland Oaks zone. I have personally witnessed that part of the county transition from 90% white to 90% black. Are you really suggesting that the school system should fight (and lose) against the tide of homeowner decisions?

Neighborhood schools are proven to be the best solution for students and communities. There are numerous SCS communities that have prospered as highly diverse schools (Woodstock Middle has operated as a 50/50 school for over 15 years). Flight, white or black, is avoided by having stable, neighborhood school boundaries.

A. said...

I have personally witnessed that part of the county transition from 90% white to 90% black. Are you really suggesting that the school system should fight (and lose) against the tide of homeowner decisions?

If you don't mind my asking, in what time frame did this shift occur?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:19 There were several landowners, including Terry Dan an alternate, but very regular member of the Land Use Control Board at the time. He has since been booted, but not for the land sale.

Riddle me this...why did SCS pay $84,000 an acre for a site in the wrong place fronting on one most hazardous intersections in the County (and they knew that at the time) which they stripped naked and MCS is now preparing to purchase acreage for an elementary school at less than $20,000 in the heart of Cordova. A school site which is walkable and will leave several acres in woods and open space for the enjoyment and use of the entire neighborhood?

Division of Planning and Development, a joint agency, proved the site was ill-suited and the need for a high school was over stated and the building premature by SCS. Ask for the report.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, the answer to the riddle has something to do with the continuous movement for resegregation of schools in the area?

Anonymous said...

No 5:39 it has to do with deals that the ounty School Board has made with developers for the last 15 or 20 years. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

scs parent said...

to a. The subdivision I lived in was Lake Point, corner of Germantown Extd and Holmes. In 1995, it was 90% white. By 2001, it was 90% black.

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bobert said...

I doubt I've ever seen a more hateful, racist piece of writing. Ok, so that's probably an exaggeration, but not by as much as it should be. The fact that anyone in an official position is openly considering race as an issue is just plain ridiculous. I wondered why in the world such a "desegregation order" would even exist these days, but by the time I finished reading this tripe, I realized it was because of people like you who have nothing better to do with their lives than stir up racial hate.

"She criticized the county school district for not taking race into consideration when it created its school attendance zones." WHAT???? They didn't take race into consideration, and that makes them racist? I bet you're also mad that college scholarships in TN can no longer be awarded on the basis of race.

As has been pointed out in the comments, the new school has been zoned for the most densely-populated area of high school students in the county. If you'd put down your race card for a minute and look through a colorblind lens, you'd see that this is true.

As an ex-MCS and SCS student (graduated within the past 10 years), I can tell you that it's not the lack of a PR department that has earned MCS its reputation. It sucks. Plain and simple. There is absolutely no comparison between MCS and SCS. Give the choice, I'd choose SCS every time. And not for reasons of race. The teachers are better, the programs are better, everything is just plain better. As far as the gifted programs go, I don't know which state the commenter above was talking about, but for the Shelby county in TN, SCS blows MCS away. The MCS program is pretty much non-existent, while the SCS is really just amazing. Once again, I've been in both.

So feel free to sit here and write away, stirring up hatred and causing problems for people all over the county. For those of us who actually know, all you do is make yourself look even dumber.