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What are the facts on school performance?

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Much has been said recently about the current state of education and the future state of economy and jobs in Roane County.
However, if we wish to make major improvements in these two closely connected areas, we simply must start with the facts.
After all, show me a self-satisfied and proud organization, and I’ll show you one which is unlikely to set the world afire!
Our current schools director, Dr. Toni McGriff, and the head of our Roane Alliance or Chamber of Commerce, Leslie Henderson, have just been quoted as telling us that we should be optimistic and proud of Roane County¹s position and performance in these areas. (And by the way, Ms. Henderson has been very effective in leading a positive campaign to attract new business to our county.)
But regarding education, even our Nashville leaders as well as the national Chamber of Commerce and most observers of education have now been pointing out (or confessed) that most states have been lying to their people and everyone else for years — and that one of the biggest liars if not the biggest liar has been our state of Tennessee!
So what seem to be the facts?
1. Virtually all national and international observers of education agree that the world leadership of the average U.S. students has been converted to an also run position among the developed nations.
Some of it seems to be due to our own relative decline, and some of it is due to the rising performance of many nations, which are, of course, competing with us. But either way, this should be, of course, the subject of our deep concern — if we are truly interested in our current education and our future economy and jobs.
2. Within the nation, the evidence has become quite clear that education in the Southern states tends to lag the national averages, such as in the basics of reading, critical reasoning, effective oral or written communicating — or even elementary math and money management.
3. The state of Tennessee is not at the very bottom of the heap, but it ranks certainly below the average of the nation.
4. Educational performance in Roane County seems to be somewhat above the average but not among the top performers of the state of Tennessee.
5. There are many sources of information for all of the above — but perhaps one of the most credible ones can be found in the reports of Tennessee’s SCORE organization founded by former Senate leader and surgeon, Dr. Bill Frist, and his partners, including the recent governors, legislators and many outstanding educational leaders of our state — like Jim McIntyre, director of schools of our neighboring Knox County, who was among the top candidates for the state job of commissioner of education.
6. Education consists of much more than just formal schooling. Among the biggest challenges in education of youngsters (and adults) are obviously the qualities of our homes and communities, as well as our schools. And these challenges cry out for help, starting at the youngster’s birth and not just in grades K or 1.
And the challenges also begin with the preparation of future teachers in our colleges of education. For example, when current elementary teachers are asked which subjects they feel least comfortable teaching, the answer is overwhelmingly math and science.
And yet, we have just started to address the challenges of improving the qualities and attitudes of our homes and communities or the qualities or attitudes of our colleges of education.
So let’s not get trapped into just focusing upon or blaming today’s            teachers and schools.
Although I have had a highly varied career as a technologist and manager, I have become a volunteer-teacher (of youngsters and adults) myself in my retirement, and I have been married to a licensed teacher for 64 years.
We have many teachers in our families, and I have been proud to be associated with many teachers and principals.
Our sincere thanks and support should go out to them.
In view of all of the above, and probably other factors as well, all of us should form and express our own opinions as to whether we would like McGriff to continue as our schools director.
And as involved citizens, but  especially if we are members of our Chamber of Commerce or Roane Alliance, we should form and share our own opinions on what our greatest needs and challenges in Roane County truly are, and how they might be tackled most effectively — and by whom.
The school board needs your interest and input.
Moreover, I hasten to add that virtually all of our fellow citizens and leaders are highly personable and sincerely interested in getting the right answers.
After all, all of us and our youngsters are Roane County, as well as Tennessee and America — today and tomorrow.
John Shacter
Kingston