Thursday, February 28, 2013

Resegregating Memphis City Schools

Today in my Urban Policy class we watched a documentary entitled The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting For Superman. Within the movie there was a clip of a New York man discussing the ways that Charter schools are effectively creating modern day re-segregation of schools. His argument was that Charter schools only accept certain students (those who perform well and will drive up their test scores) and so in a world that is so centralized around the use of charter schools to save America, the minority kids are always losing. In the education world, minorities and those in poverty are often tracked from an early age, put on lower tracks just because of their race, and so they end up at a disadvantage over their rich, white peers. Because charter schools only accept students who will perform well (in the long term-they may accept “problem” students at first but will kick them out of their school if they don't perform well enough), the public schools hold the poor and the minorities and the charter schools contain the white, privileged students and the few minority students who were lucky enough to break out of the system.
               His words reminded me of a similar struggle for equality that is currently taking place in Memphis and Shelby County schools. State Senator Mark Norris has proposed a bill that would make it no longer illegal to create new special school systems. The passing of this bill would allow all of the suburbs of Shelby County, the ones that are so against the merging of Memphis City schools with the Shelby County Schools, to create their own school districts for their students that live in their designated suburb area. If this bill passes it will, effectively, segregate Shelby County schools. The bill will not require new special school systems to pay taxes to Memphis City Schools, thus furthering the issues that exist in these MC schools-the very reason they want to create these special school districts in the first place.
               Statistically the residents of the suburbs surrounding Memphis have a higher tendency to be white and affluent, and the residents of the city (especially those attending Memphis public schools) are more likely to minorities and are more likely to be living below the poverty line. By creating this divide between the inner city schools and the suburbs the state of Tennessee is effectively, legalizing racial segregation in its school systems.

You can read more about the upcoming bill, which would be passed July 1st, here:


  1. Having been to three different boarding schools I can understand the acceptance of certain students over others. I can attest that most of the people that where in attendance of the schools I had been to where white and coming from affluent family’s. The very few black students I knew where there to play sports and did not come from wealthy families. Through this I have come to the conclusion to get accepted to these schools you have to either be White and wealthy or Black and athletic. Its not like these schools won’t accept black students it’s more of a mentality of what there is to offer and for the most part it comes down to money. These schools are not about to give vast amounts of financial aid to people. In regards of the suburbs vs the city you will tend to find the same everywhere that the outlining suburbs have residents that are much more wealthy then that of the city so of course the people in the suburbs will be going to private schools.

    Yet again all the schools I went to where in the north and segregation is not as big as it is in the south. I could see that some of the schools in the south segregating students just based on race.

  2. As a product of the Memphis City School system, I find it interesting the whole debate over the merging of the two school systems. I have always felt that the two systems were somewhat segregated. Of course I noticed that it appeared segregated on means of not just race but also socioeconomic status. However, what I have noticed in Memphis is that the two can sometimes appear to be related to one another. I always that merging the two school systems was a great opportunity for the entire city of Memphis and Shelby County to come together as one cohesive group to better educate students of all races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. I truly believed that the merger will provide an equal footing for all students to receive a quality education that is rightly deserved.

    Charter schools served their purpose to an extent to provide quality education for students that are accepted, no matter what ethnic background, so as long as the students meet certain requirements. I am fine with this conception; however my question is why can this same process of quality education be provided to public schools? Does a building and a name make a difference? Why not put the quality teachers that you send to charter schools into the public school system? Is there a fear factor going on? I believe that there is an underlying reasoning for the charter schools, segregation may be it or other factors.

    People calling for special school districts after the merger are essentially calling for segregation in my opinion. Residents of the city of Memphis and Shelby County have grown accustomed to separate districts and the thought of mixing students of below poverty black students and affluent white students must be absurd, especially when considering the negative notion and attitude towards Blacks in Memphis, in this case black students. It's time for the citizens of Shelby County and Memphis to wake up and look at the bigger picture. Get passed these negative notions and see that its a move for quality education for all young people of the city and county.

  3. I agree that this is a very alarming issue. After tutoring the past two years at local Memphis City Schools, I can understand a need for change, but I do not think that segregation is the answer. Instead of funding new schools for predominately white upperclass children, I think the money should be used to improve existing Memphis City Schools. If these current schools had improved funding, they may appear more desirable for those who currently are wishing for special school districts. However, I know this is not easy nor very time efficient because noticeable change obviously takes time. I just hope this bill does not pass because it would essentially be making Memphis take a step backwards in civil rights because black students in the current Memphis City Schools probably will not benefit educationally like the students in the special school districts would.

  4. I also agree that this bill, if passed, would result in a monumental step back for both the city of Memphis and its school systems. The intent behind these proposed special school districts in 2013 can be directly compared to that of the state-sponsored segregation of schools in the 1950s surrounding the Brown decision, and I think we can all agree that these modern separate schools will be anything but equal. The already disadvantaged Memphis City Schools will be cheated out of increased tax funding, which translates to fewer resources for students and teachers. Why the state would effectively encourage the abandonment of the worst-performing district in the state is beyond me. I sincerely hope this bill does not pass, and that Nashville will soon come to the understanding that any similar future legislation directly affects the futures of thousands of Tennessee's children.

  5. I agree with Courtney and Mackenzie that the passage of this bill would be a large step back for the education system in Memphis. This would allow for a large part of the funding and resources to be allocated to individual, and largely wealthy, school systems. Memphis is notorious for its failing school system not only in Tennesse but also in the United States as a whole. Memphis has one of the lowest achieving public school systems in the nation. We already have a broken system. This should serve as motivation for Memphians to consolidate resources to improve the system if not for the mere fact of educating our children, to also ensure a prosperous future for the city of Memphis. A well educated population directly contributes to the economy of the city. This should be taken into consideration in this debate as well.

  6. As a product of the Memphis City Schools District, I can attest that the school districts are already segregated. Based on testimonials of close friends who attended Shelby County School District and family who taught in the school district, students of Shelby County School District are predominantly white. Allowing new school districts to be formed will be a mockery to the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans worked hard to have schools integrated. More than likely, these new school districts will be predominantly white students. Instead of working to segregate the school systems, it would be more effective if the schools hired teachers willing to help those minority students to get a better education in order to have a better life.