“I don’t have an answer for this”, said Dr. John Dimmock of the NAACP, about the 40 point achievement gap between white and black students in Huntsville City Schools.
Dimmock should have stopped right there. Even though Dimmock says he doesn’t have an answer, he recommends “busing” as THE solution. Dimmock offered no other solutions in his presentation.
This was the second public meeting covered by The Huntsville Times where forced busing was discussed – and not reported by The Times. Ignoring the issue will not make it go away – the NAACP seems determined to bus kids from ‘white’ schools into ‘black’ schools and vice versa. I don’t know of a school system that has significantly improved the academic performance of students because of busing.
Brian, Dale “The Kingmaker” Jackson of WVNN, and I attended the NAACP Town Hall Meeting last night at Rolling Hills Elementary School. Elected officals attending included State Board of Education member Mary Scott Hunter (R), State Senator Paul Sanford (R), State Representative Laura Hall (D), County Commissioner Bob Harrison (D), Mayor Tommy Battle, City Councilmen Richard Showers and John Olshefski (who was out of town for the SHCA meeting), and City Board of Education member Laurie McCaulley.
The principal of RHE, Helen Scott, seems like a keeper. Scott introduced their Math teacher who described the First in Math online computer game (~$30 per year per individual license – the game is based on the card game “24″) saying “children in America aren’t getting enough practice” and “competition” improves their performance. The teacher said that Rolling Hills ranked #1 in Alabama in Math improvement (or something like that - I missed it). Of course, some people might note that “practice” and “competition” tend to improve skills in a wide variety of areas – somehow that has been forgotten, along with scoring T-ball games.
After a (very nice) prayer from Reverend G.W. Lindsey, Jr. and some introductory comments, HCS BOE member Laurie McCaulley spoke.
McCaulley said that some of the City capacity figures don’t reflect State figures. McCaulley told the audience that the City and Senator Sanford hired a demographer and said “if we are wise, we will follow what he says”. McCaulley said that rezoning “will be done fairly” and that “every community will have to sacrifice something”.
McCaulley spoke about the search for a new Superintendent: about 6-8 weeks for advertising / recruitment, then 4-5 weeks for BOE interviews, then bring in 3-5 candidates for “public interviews”.
McCaulley said that locally-funded teaching and support units will be reduced, then told a story about some kids who get to school late because their father beats their mother – he doesn’t beat her if they stay home until he leaves. McCaulley said ”we have to do more than we’re doing for the plight of the children”.
McCaulley provided more detailed information than I’ve seen elsewhere, saying that Middle Schools and High Schools are where we fund more local units, as well as special education programs. McCaulley said “the old days of being an employment agency are gone” and we “may have to eliminate programs”.
McCaulley noted that when she was elected in 2008 the budget had already been approved, and that in 2009 HCS Finance Director Herb Wheeler told the BOE about the looming debt crisis. McCaulley said “from the day I was elected… the finances were disgusting”.
Dr. John Dimmock spoke next, saying that the budget is “not the only problem the schools are facing”. Dimmock presented a chart based on the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) Report for the Schools Foundation. Here’s a summary of the chart (which also included income – for space I won’t include that here):
Huntsville = white scores 67.4 compared to black scores 26.8 (40 point gap)
Madison City = white 74.8 / black 41.2
Madison County = white 59 / black 39.3
Birmingham = white 43.2 / black 32.6
Montgomery = white 64.3 / black 32.3
Mobile = white 58.4 / black 34.6
Jefferson County = white 51 / black 31
Alabama = white 55.3 / black 30.1
Dimmock said “I don’t have an answer for this” and “we have an educational problem”. Dimmock then suggested “busing”, saying “we can do that here” and “it’s not going to hurt anybody”.
HCS Finance Director Herb Wheeler gave a financial overview, saying the crisis was “not a surprise to anyone” and “we will not solve this in one year”.
Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison gave a “History of the Huntsville City School System”, which was interesting. Harrison said, in sum, “racial inequity” – and took shots at Mary Jane Caylor and John Tyson during his speech.
Harrison said “we have nothing to lose by asking the State to take over the school system”. Harrison “hell no to dissolving the court order until all vestiges of segregation have been addressed”. As expected, Harrison managed to beclown himself, saying ”if we can’t resolve it with reasonable dialogue, then we will use unreasonable dialogue”.
My notes on the Q&A equal the notes about the speakers, so I’ll -really- summarize this part.
McCaulley said “every district will have to make compromises” and “just because a school is at 100% capacity doesn’t mean it won’t be closed” [Monte Sano].
Harrison said that rezoning “goes beyond population and capacity” and that “racial equity and racial balance are important”.
Harrison said there was a “misnomer about parent involvement” and that “different communities have different ideas about what parental involvement means”.
When asked about the new Lee High School, McCaulley said “that’s before I got elected” (and implied that she would not have voted for it); Harrison said that a City official “who is not with us anymore” wanted it built.
McCaulley said that people should “get upset” that special education children were moved from CDL (?) to mainstream and that there were 6′ tall grown kids who needed changing tables (for their diapers).
Crystal Bonvillian of The Huntsville Times wrote “Hundreds battle rain…”. Challen Stephens of The Times wrote “Large achievement gaps based on income and race persist in Huntsville schools”:
In Huntsville, white students and non-poverty students for the past four years have beat or kept pace with state averages in reading and math among their peers. But black students and poor students in Huntsville score well below the average for black or poor students in Alabama. As a result, the sheer size of the achievement gap in Huntsville was in a category by itself.
“What that says is, something we’re doing is not reaching those particular students,” said Jim Williams, who led the PARCA study.
In fact, the gap itself is moving. For the last two decades, there has been a north south divide. That still exists. A dozen Huntsville schools, 11 in north Huntsville and one to the southwest, were labeled persistently low-achieving this spring.
But as a rule, parents flee poorly performing schools. While some moved to the county, hundreds each year use federal transfers to send children on a bus to south or west Huntsville.
Transfers haven’t erased the deficits. What used to be a fault line between schools in different parts of the city is now found within individual schools.
Take Challenger Middle, where half the eighth-graders scored at the highest possible level in math, well above the state average. But when sorted by race, only 14 percent of black students or 14 percent of poor students at Challenger reached that mark last year.
Meanwhile, across the city at Westlawn Middle, more than half of the eighth-graders didn’t read on grade level, much less score at the highest level.
In 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that “there is little evidence that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools results in significant improvements in academic performance” and that “the academic literature really provides little or no support for the view that racial preferences in student assignment serve any compelling interest”.