Pondering the problems of Memphis City Schools
By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
Often as my wife and I are on the road, we muse about life’s mysteries. We call these philosophical ramblings car ponderings.
Seeing how we are both educators, the topic frequently turns to the current state of our school systems and their management. Between us, we have been in the education profession for nearly 50 years and have seen many an amazing thing. The following are a few of the more nagging questions that have perplexed us of late.
It is my contention that a certain madness has taken hold of politicians whereby they believe
they have become oracles who have seen a vision and are using their newfound insight and
power to totally screw up our school systems. For example, thanks to new legislation all teachers
are being observed and evaluated four to six times every year. What efficient organization does a
review of all its personnel four to six times a year?
Most companies have something called an annual review where employees are evaluated on their strengths and weaknesses where kudos or suggestions for improvements are made. Even one of the few corporations that toyed with quarterly reviews, FedEx, recently acknowledged that these were not feasible and moved to bi-annual reviews. Needless to say, teachers and principals are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time preparing and conducting evaluations rather than teaching children. Chalk one up for the politicians!
Here’s one neither my wife nor myself can figure out. As it now stands, any child attending Memphis City Schools in kindergarten through third grade will not fail. They can never turn in homework, rarely attend school and consciously refuse to learn for a whole year, and they will still be passed on to the next grade. That’s right, you heard me! There is virtually no such thing as failing or repeating a grade for children in kindergarten through third grade under Superintendent Cash’s administration. No spending an extra year getting the remedial instruction in order that the child can gain the knowledge to master the required skills needed to understand future instruction. Rather, the child will be progressed to the next grade, ready or not. Now that is setting high standards, eh?
Speaking of standards, Superintendent Cash’s gang has implemented something called Standards Based Grading. A to F grades are passé. Students in kindergarten to third grade now earn ES (Exceeding Standards), MS (Meets Standards), and NMS (Not Meeting Standards).
Generally, parents do not understand this model, it is basically meaningless to students, and it does a disservice to students by taking away the competitive notion of knowing where you stand in comparison to your peers. Unfortunately, word on the street is that this form of reporting will be
extended to more grades. Perhaps with the merger, a return to a more traditional form of grade
reporting will occur.
What’s new in the cafeteria? Superintendent Cash is piloting a program that brings breakfast
out of the cafeteria and puts it in the classroom. As it plays out, many MCS schools are now
serving every child breakfast as they enter their room whether they want it or not. The end result I
found from polling teachers is that in addition to being time consuming, there is an incredible
amount of waste. On any given morning, depending on what is served, you can count on at least
a third of the food being discarded and on some days more than 75 percent. If skim milk is delivered,
teachers I interviewed said that 90 percent is trashed. Beyond this, sanitary concerns have set in as per
spilled food and beverages, crumbs, bacterial presence, and the likelihood of insect and rodent
The final kick is morning work, which students arriving early used to complete, is now a thing of the past as their teacher runs around being a waiter or waitress. Moreover, what does this say about how Superintendent Cash’s administration values teachers — teacher = waitress?
These are a few of the car ponderings we have recently discussed. I am sure there are reasons for these administrative policies but in our jobs as teachers, we are not privy to the
thinking of the decision makers. If you have any educational ponderings of your own, feel free to
contact to me.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher, freelance writer and educational
consultant. If you have any questions or comments, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.