By Dr. Harold A. Black


The fact that there is only one charter school in Knox County is not surprising because the system is set up to minimize the number of charters. The applications must be voted on by the local board of education which is akin to asking them to acknowledge their own failure in providing for a quality education. The new charter is patterned after Chattanooga Prep, a successful all-boys school. What is interesting about the vote of the Knox County Board of Education is that all four representatives of the inner city districts voted against the charter while representatives of the five districts outside the city core voted for the charter. Given that the poorest performing schools are within the city’s core, one would have thought that those representatives would have been the most keen on providing promising kids a chance to escape being trapped in terrible schools. Such was not the case.

When the application for the new charter was filed, the local NAACP and black state representative came out against the new school. Their letters were embarrassing and indicated that they had not sat down with the applicants and discussed the school. Virtually every point made in opposition to the school was addressed in the rejoinder by the applicants. Apparently, those in opposition would have opposed the application regardless. Because it has been shown that parents in poorly performing school districts favor educational choice, charter schools and/or vouchers, I would hope that those who live in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4 will elect representatives that have their children’s best education at heart rather than the status quo, It is time for a change,

I have personally tutored reading to students at one of the poorer performing schools in an afterschool program. We tried unsuccessfully to convince the school system to adopt a reading program called Funnix and demonstrated that kids thought to be poor learners could read if only the method of instruction were changed. By the end of the school year, all our children could read. As a result, the superintendent did not invite us back nor did he change how the students were being taught not to read. I met with several prominent members of the black community and with three different representatives from District 1 where some of the most embarrassingly bad schools reside. None were particularly interested in “rocking the boat” seemingly content to let the status quo continue. It’s truly sad. There is no reason why any child should not be a proficient reader by third grade unless severely impaired. Even in the “best” performing elementary school in Knox County, there are around 20% who do not read at grade level. But at the four poorest performing schools less than 10% are proficient at the third-grade level. Why does the board of “education” allow this travesty to continue? In the county with the state’s premier public university, Knox County schools should be models of excellence. Instead, they are a pitiful excuse mimicking education. The school board, if it were truly interested in education, would demand from the superintendent that every school should have a proficiency of at least 50% or else there will be consequences such as no pay increases and subsequent firing. Only if the administrators have skin in the game will proficiency levels improve. Until then the board of education is simply bored of education.

The old line black establishment has come out against charter schools and choice in education even though their constituents favor charter schools. There are 1 million kids on waiting lists for charters nationwide. Many parents want better education for their kids and with the overall performance of charters contrasting with that of the public schools, it’s no wonder. However, the establishment favors throwing money at the failed schools affirming the old definition of insanity. Perhaps this is because one of the primary funders of the NAACP is the teachers’ union which vehemently opposes charters. Ironically, the teachers’ union in New York has its own charter with the president of the American Federation of Teachers sitting on its board! Simply amazing. I guess the education establishment which includes the Knox County Board of Education is more interested in not educating children than in teaching kids to read.