Tennessee’s Promise: Holding Public Schools Accountable

By Steve Hunley

Senator Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga has introduced a remarkable bill in the Tennessee General Assembly.  The Gardenhire bill refers to Governor Haslam’s promise to pay for two years of college; Gardenhire proposes that those students who have to take remedial courses, the school system graduating the remedial student has to pay the cost of the college courses. The Gardenhire bill will do one thing for certain: it will hold school systems accountable.

Superintendent of Schools Jim McIntyre loves data; here’s some interesting data: seventy percent (70%) of all Tennessee high school students going on to college require some remedial courses.  According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tennessee’s two-year colleges spent $18.45 million on remedial classes in math, writing and reading so students could go on to do college level course work.

Do you know of any business in the world that would stay in business turning out that kind of product?  Do you know of any business in the world that could attract new investors to give them more money to spend?  How long do you suppose General Motors car manufacturers would remain in business if 70% of the cars needed repairs immediately after being sold?

School systems love to brag about just how high the graduation rate is every year, but just how many of those graduating students are really prepared to take college courses?  With Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” that becomes a very relevant question.

The education bureaucrats will all be against the Gardenhire bill.  The kind of data gathering they like requires expanding the bureaucracy and makes them look good, such as inflating the graduation rate.  The truth is unless they are inflating the graduation rates and graduating students who are unprepared to take college level courses, the Gardenhire bill won’t cost the school systems a single penny.

The State of Tennessee estimates 70% of all graduating high school students need remedial courses.  There’s some data you’ll never hear from McIntyre’s publicity machine and the rest of the local press likely don’t even know a thing in the world about it, much less report it.

We keep hearing about “higher standards” for our school children, rigorous testing, and McIntyre can’t even open his mouth without carrying on about the “extraordinary learning” going on in the schools.  Senator Gardenhire was quoted by the Chattanooga News Free Press as saying, “I have no problem with higher standards for our kids.  If the child comes out of our high school and they have to have remedial courses, the local (school districts) have to pick up the tab for that remedial course.”

Gardenhire made yet another excellent point.

“There are several ways to approach it.  You can set higher standards – – – call it what you want – – – or you can force the LEAS (local school districts) to complete the child’s education.”

That is exactly right.

Education bureaucrats are ready with their excuses, telling us Senator Gardenhire’s bill is “punitive” and doesn’t take the individual student into account.  It’s SEVENTY percent, people!  That’s one hell of a lot of individuals.

If you wait for the education bureaucrats to fix this problem, America will be covered in moss with tumbleweeds blowing down every Main Street in the country.  We will be utterly bankrupt with nothing to show for it, except for a lot of wealthy retired education bureaucrats.

It takes a lot of guts to sponsor such a bill and those legislators too cowardly to back the Gardenhire Bill ought to be sent home.  At some point, legislators ought to be representing the PEOPLE, not a system.

With the arrival of Governor Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise,” that promise ought to actually mean something; it ought to be more than sending our kids to the thirteenth grade.  A person’s first year of college isn’t supposed to be one’s fifth year of high school.  Frankly, considering that seventy percent of high school graduates in Tennessee have to take remedial classes, we probably ought to pay for their thirteenth and fourteenth grades.

Finding out just how many of our high school graduates aren’t prepared to take college courses is appalling and distressing.  Senator Gardenhire is right; high schools need to complete the educations of students.  Otherwise Governor Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” is squandered on an extension of high school.

For seventy percent of our kids, high school is a five or six year program.

The “Tennessee Promise” isn’t the promise we thought it was, but it can be if enough legislators have the guts to support people over systems who are supposed to be educating our children.

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