By Sally Absher

Randy Turner, a former English Teacher, writes in the online edition of the Huffington Post that there are better ways than test scores to tell if your child is in a “failing school district.” We at The Focus decry the term “failing school” – KCS has many great schools and excellent teachers – but Turner’s analysis should give those of us paying attention to KCS some cause for concern.

Turner writes, “In these days of Common Core State Standards and continuing attacks on public education by billionaires and their bought-and-paid-for legislators, parents need a few guidelines on how to tell if their child is in a failing school district. It has nothing to do with low scores on state-mandated standardized tests and more to do with the culture in the school district.”

Find the entire column here: We provide a summary below (with commentary, naturally) of the 10 signs that your child is in a failing school district. See how many sound familiar:



The large majority of your teachers have less than five years of experience. Successful schools need a healthy mix of veteran teachers and those beginning their teaching career. Turner says, “When you run off your veteran teachers, you not only do not have teachers who can mentor the younger staff members and help them reach their full potential, but you also are increasing the odds that you are going to hire some less gifted teachers just to fill the vacancies.” Check out your school’s website to see how long your child’s teachers have been with KCS.



Teachers are overwhelmed with requests for data. Teachers today spend more and more time providing data for the sole purpose of rating schools and teachers, via standardized tests.  Many districts have mandated “costly practice tests given multiple times during the year.”  Turner laments, “These (tests) not only take away from instructional time, but they also strip the children of any love of learning and they provide overly generous fees to the testing companies.”



Teachers receive no support from administrators on discipline issues. School safety today is measured by the number of “incidents, referrals, and suspensions.” In a new twist on “don’t ask don’t tell,” teachers in some schools are encouraged to “handle every kind of situation in their classrooms and not involve the principal’s office.” This only increases classroom distractions and loss of learning time for students and teachers alike.



Professional development is limited to indoctrination and data. There has been a “transition of professional development from learning techniques that will help the teacher to improve teaching and classroom management techniques to attempts to forcefully install a culture that would seem more desirable in a business than in an institution of learning.” Turner adds, “Much of this has come from the proliferation of consultants and motivational speakers” – like the Parthenon Group, for example.



The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism. There has been a shift from educators who worked their way over many years into administration, to administrators with little or no classroom experience. Knox County’s own Superintendent spent a mere nine months teaching in an “alternative school.” This has led to a culture shift with an overemphasis on public relations. “When administrators surround themselves with yes-men and strictly control the message, it makes it much more likely that mistakes are going to be made, at a cost to the children and to the taxpayers,” says Turner.



School Board members serve as rubber stamps. Turner writes, “When the board of education places blind trust in anyone it increases the odds that something disastrous will happen. One of the major criticisms lodged against board members is that they “have an agenda,” as if that is something bad. If the agenda is to stop out-of-control spending, or place more emphasis on education, what is wrong with that? When boards serve as rubber stamps for any administrator, they are effectively taking away local control of our school districts.” (Thanks to our BOE members who don’t just rubber stamp – Terry Hill, Patti Bounds, Amber Rountree and Mike McMillan.)



The community is not involved in its schools. “In many school districts…the community involvement is restricted to a carefully selected group of business and civic leaders …” (like, say, the Chamber of Commerce?) And, as we saw with the 2020 Strategic Plan and the recent Year Round School debacle – “In some school districts, the community is asked for its input and then guided to give the input the administrators are seeking so they can say whatever initiative they have has the support of the community. That is not community involvement; that is pure spin.” Agreed.



The district is top heavy with administrators. “Administration tends to grow far more than is necessary, using funds that could be spent much better in the classroom. Rule of thumb, the more executive directors of anything that you have, the more problems your school district is going to have.” We can’t even get accurate reporting on how many administrators are in KCS, not to mention illegally hired Broad Fellows, retired principals and administrators working part time, etc.



An overemphasis has been placed on technology. Turner has a valid point here, one we wish BOE member Doug Harris would take to heart – “While it is vital that students are able to handle technology, it is just as important that they are able to participate in discussions, listen to lectures… and take notes. If your school district is pushing the idea that everything can be learned by consulting Google then your child is being shortchanged.” Or maybe that was Karen Carson who made the comment about Google.



Not enough emphasis is being placed on civics and citizenship. “In the push to make sure everyone is “college and career ready,” many schools are depriving children of some of the most important knowledge they should receive… While it is important that students be ready to work, the idea that they should be doing so during their high school years at the expense of learning about government, history, and the things they need to know to be a full participant in our society is ludicrous.” We would add it is equally ludicrous to forgo related arts (band, chorus, art, PE, etc.) for “college and career ready” instruction at any grade level.

Turner concludes, “This list leaves off other important factors- poverty, crime, and how many billionaires you have who are trying to force privatization of education down your throat, but for those who want to make a difference at a local level, these are the danger signs that your district is failing.” Indeed. We hope the Board of Education will take these factors into consideration when they conduct Dr. McIntyre’s next evaluation.