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Honor or expectation?

School DeskHaving just read a Leaf Chronicle story on the recent accreditation of the Clarksville Montgomery School System by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, apparently the second such district to be so “honored,” I am appalled that until now the system has apparently not met the most basic academic standards for accreditation. I am equally appalled that, according to this story, most of the state’s other school districts are seemingly too inadequate, too substandard, to be accredited.

Where does that leave Tennessee’s children? With less than adequate skills to enter the workforce? With inadequate critical thinking and writing skills to pursue college or technical education at higher levels?

I am a New Englander, coming from a state where accreditation is considered so vital that school administrators and superintendents tremble at the prospect, even the whisper, of LOSING accreditation. Accreditation is expected. If a school system is threatened with loss of accreditation it becomes headline news in print and on television for days, weeks, months, even the year or two or three it takes the challenged district to regroup and raise itself back to the needed standard of accreditation. If a school system can’t make the grade within a very specific period of time, the state steps in and takes over the system. Accreditation. It’s that important.

At varying times in my life I have been in the position of potential employer, reading dozens of forms, resumes or even sample stories, often filled out incorrectly, littered with grammar and spelling errors, written in lopsided printing or unreadable cursive writing. The next challenge I’ve encountered from that position relates to critical thinking: the ability to read or see something, to form an idea, assess it, understand it, and respond to it in speech or in the written word. These are basic skills; without them the chances of higher education or living wage employment are significantly lower.

Several years ago, a high school principal, angrily facing the prospect of a downgraded standardized test scoring system, said to me: “We should not lower the standards to change the percentage of `successful’ students, thus lowering our expectations; we need to raise standards for teachers and students, and back that up by providing those teachers and students the tools to meet those higher expectations. Students will rise to meet higher standards if you give them the tools to work with.”

High school exchange students who come to American schools from countries like Japan, Germany and England are generally far ahead of American students in math and science. A large group of Russian students entering a Massachusetts school system were surprised that they did not have to go to school on Saturdays, and that the American school day was so short. Their parents opted for the learning of English by immersion rather than the longer process of traditional bi-lingual education, and in following that story for a year, I found that all the Russian students were fluent in English within one year. Different standards? Different expectations? Perhaps.

I offer kudo’s for the system’s new success, but when I see Montgomery County Schools joining another system in attaining the “honor” of accreditation, it scares me, since meeting the academic standards for accreditation should have been the norm for every system in the state all along. Now what about the rest of Tennessee’s school districts?


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