Friday, February 4, 2011

The Memphis Education Debate in The New York Times

It all began as a matter of finances and tax break downs but has evolved into a deeper problem beyond monetary distribution. Whether the Memphis City Schools (MCS) should be consolidating with the Shelby County School ( SCS) is headline news not only making history in Memphis but also nationally. In the article, ‘Memphis to Vote on Transferring School System to County’ in The New York Times, Campbell Robertson quotes Mike Carpenter, a Republican county commissioner saying , “It’s the city-county split that has to do with race and class.” This quote illustrates the overarching problems involved with the potential consolidation of the school systems. The school system debate is more than simply about whether SCS can become a “special school system” or if the tax distribution will be more efficient with this consolidation- the debate involves the history behind this SCS and MCS division.

I am a product of SCS schooling. In my senior year of high school , there were some slight changes in the organization of the district lines and new students were entering my high school that school year; many of these students happened to be African American. My high school administrators noticed some negative changes in the student body as a whole. The entrance of the new students was said to be the cause of this change. The students who were integrated were from the MCS system; thus, the concern as to whether SCS educational standards will be negatively affected by letting MCS students in is a pivotal issue that is seen in the current consolidation debate. I do not think that the integration of the new students the reason why my high school changed in the manner it did during my senior year; furthermore, I am for the consolidation to take place between SCS and MCS.

Here is my concern though, we are debating over a decision that will affect the students’ right to education. However, because most of the students are legally minors they do not get to vote in a decision that will affect their own education directly, negatively or positively. Diversifying SCS schools might be a good thing in the long run but in the short run it will be quite an adjustment that causes me to wonder how the current students in both SCS and MCS feel about the matter.

If you were still a high school student in your own hometown, what would your stance be on such a debate taking place in your city? I want to know how you think the students can be better incorporated into the decision that affects their own right to education? Additionally, do you think that the school systems could work around the borders of "race and class" if the consolidation were to occur; if so, how?

See the link below for the full article:


  1. Great post, Manali! Right now I don't have a strong stance on the debate because the possible effects of the merge are still largely unknown. Merging the districts could strengthen programming for schools currently zoned in the city, or it could lead to school closures and larger classroom sizes. SCS does not support charter schools, and from what I've heard on the news so far, there is no guarantee that the new school board would allow them to remain open (unless there was some way to effectively merge the MCS and SCS boards to ensure fair representation).

    My biggest concern as a student would be the effect on classroom size. As you said, most of the students are under the voting age. However, they can attend school board meetings. Whether or not the merge happens, I wonder if having students voice concerns at board meetings would be an effective means of safeguarding their interests. Has anyone ever been to a school board meeting? Am I just being idealistic that board members would actually listen to concerned students? Also, another possibility is that students could communicate with their parents and encourage them to take their thoughts into account when voting on the issue.

  2. My mom has been on the Bainbridge Island school board for about 5 or 6 years now so I know a little bit about school board meetings. That being said, I am sure that school boards in the North are very different than school boards in the South. My school district was predominantly white, and I think that my educational experience would have benefited from racial and socio-economic diversity. I have been to school board meetings and at least in my school district, board members take very seriously the concerns not only of students, but also concerns of community members. I think it means a lot to board members when they see students involved in directing their own education. All this being said, my perspective of school district policy comes from an upper-class, predominantly white community in Washington State, so I don’t know how pertinent my experience is to this situation.

  3. To me this is a debate focused on 3 major issues. First, is it alright to redistribute taxes from the suburbs to try to make Memphis city schools better and if that could be done. Second, what would be the effects of a county wide district, in terms of costs and logistics. Third, will this only weaken public schools, as the schools integrate teachers, students and curriculum will it push parents to want more private and charter school choices.
    First I think in the long term if Memphis is ever going to develop as a community, the people from even the suburbs have to understand the interconnection of their taxes on the city, so spending some money helping the schools get better will work out for everyone. But it is not a simple, switch revenue sources, fixing MCS will take a lot, better supported teachers, more willing students, parents promoting learning from a young age, and government incentives to go to school.
    On the second point, by consolidating the district, it would increasing the teaching resources for both districts, eliminate overlap and help cut costs, but potentially the bureaucracy increases to a point where it is less receptive to some parties of the county.
    Lastly, because we live in a racist and selfish society, this consolidation could push for more non-public school options.
    To more fully understand this issue, we need only to look at Memphis's past dealings with the integration of the school district.
    In this article, much is reveal, about how basically Memphis did adhere to the law of Brown v. Board, but most of the white students eventually shifted out of the public schools as busing become the defacto plan. Check out this JSTOR article about that:


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