Williamson County and Knox County Schools have been making headlines with their white privilege and “cultural competency” training for teachers, but so far there is no sign that trend has spread to Hamilton County Schools – yet.
Williamson County has forced teachers to learn about “white privilege” in required in-service training days, The Tennessee Star has reported in a series of stories. Knox County Schools are spending $170,000 out of their $928,677 in-service budget on cultural competency training for teachers.
Hamilton County Board of Education has been working with diversity consultants for the past couple of years to desegregate schools through means that would include busing. They formed committees and workshops to label the district as inequitable for minority students. One diversity group attacked two school board members last year for opposing their plans.
Dr. Marsha Drake, the district’s chief equity officer, launched an Equity Task Force in 2018.
The Hamilton County Board of Education in May 2018 voted to begin seeking funding to pay for the Howard Group, a consultant agency, to identify “the larger factors that put some students on unequal footing,” the Chattanooga Times Free Press said. The board asked the Howard Group to work with the Equity Task Force, which has over 24 community members and educators who aim to address inequity in schools.
Tyrone C. Howard of The Howard Group once told teachers at the Monroe County Community School Corporation, Bloomington, Indiana, that white people are mistaken when they say racism does not exist, according to the “School Matters K-12 education in Indiana” blog. The blog post is available here.
“I’m always interested when white people say racism doesn’t exist,” he said, “because, how would you know? When we have students of color who say they experience schools differently, we should not tell them, ‘No you don’t.’”
Howard told the Indiana teachers that having sympathy for minority students who are poor can make them settle for less, while having empathy means listening to students and understanding their culture.
Howard also is a professor of education at the University of California at Los Angeles and specializes in multicultural education, social and political context of schools, and other topics. He advocates for cultural competency.
Michael Alves, educational planner and President of the Alves Educational Consultants Group, Ltd., also has worked with Hamilton County Schools on diversity, the Times Free Press said.
One Hamilton County education advocacy group, UnifiEd, is hosting a series of community workshops, the Action Plan for Educational eXcellence (APEX Project) whose goals include cultural competency training.
One UnifiEd team aims to “increase community awareness of the impacts of school segregation. This team is developing a program that combines cultural competency training with a storytelling campaign. Several community members will receive training in anti-racism, history, and current statistics around local desegregation and equity issues before creating a curriculum for workshops they will take into the community.”
Hamilton County school board members Joe Smith and Rhonda Thurman accused UnifiEd of politicizing the desegregation debate by attacking them in a press release sent by the group’s political action committee, according to a May 11, 2018 Times Free Press story. The spat began with the board members speaking out against UnifiEd’s APEX Project.
Thurman told The Star that she is not aware of white privilege in-service training taking place in Hamilton County, but added that the expensive consultants who do the training couch their work in euphemisms that “sound good” such as increasing grades.
Cultural competency has been another catchphrase for such training.
“I hope we don’t do this,” Thurman said. “This does not have any place in the school house. We don’t need to be teaching anything that divides us,” and called it “social engineering.”
She said she would not be surprised if the diversity groups have the goal of setting up white privilege training. However, UnifiEd has not held any meetings in several months, and Thurman said perhaps they are staying quiet after receiving “bad press” when they attacked her and Smith.
Regarding white privilege training, Thurman also said, “I don’t know what that has to do with educating students.”
She pointed out challenges the schools are having with third-grade reading scores and math scores.
A report from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) presented to the Legislature last month made educators try to explain how, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending over the past eight years, Tennessee schools are not adequately preparing college-bound students, The Star reported.
New state data reveals about half of Tennessee students enrolled in higher education during the 2016-2017 school year needed remedial classes in math or reading, or both, during their first year of college. According to the THEC report, 46 percent of Tennessee high school graduates enrolled in state colleges or community colleges needed math remediation; 30 percent of enrollees needed reading remediation during their first year of college.
Hamilton County Schools’ state report card is available here.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill said he agreed with Thurman.
“Based upon the poor performance of Chattanooga schools, as reflected in the recent THEC Report and their TVASS scores, Chattanooga taxpayers are being grossly misrepresented by a school board that seems more focused on producing social justice warriors than students who can achieve high levels of competence in reading, writing, science and math,” Gill said of the board members who support the diversity solutions.
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