Roy Exum: Educational Agony –

This is the fourth year that Tiffany France has sent her son – let’s call him Joe – to Augusta Fells High School in urban Baltimore, where Joe ranks in the top half of the senior class. He’s No. 52 in a class of 120. So, imagine Tiffany’s horror when she learned that, no, he will not be graduating this spring. Nor in any spring in the foreseeable future. In a scene being played out in public schools all over the nation, just now Tiffany has been told Joe has failed 22 of 25 classes and has a 0.13 grade-point average. Oh, and he has either been tardy or missed 272 school days.

“Project Baltimore” has discovered hundreds upon hundreds of children are failing in public schools, but Tiffany has a different view.

“He didn’t fail, the school failed him. They failed at their job. They failed, that’s the problem here. He didn’t deserve this!”

Tiffany says he was never notified by the school he was failing. There was never a teacher-parent conference. Joe failed algebra I but was advanced to Algebra II with no chance to pass. He failed Spanish I but was advanced to Spanish II. He also failed English II but was advanced to English III, according to Fox 45 News where its reporters reviewed his transcripts.

Now the school district is saying Joe, after four years of educational agony, must start over in the ninth grade. Fat chance of that happening, but in the soon-to-arrive COVID stimulus package, there is another $40 billion (with a ‘b’) to aid our colleges and universities yet as “All Children Are Being Left Behind,” the fraud and failures in Public Education have never been greater.

You see, behind the COVID curtain you can hide anything except the fact most of the children in the Chattanooga community are most definitely not ready for college and very few can afford it. Fewer still will ever graduate from college – UT-Chattanooga has less than a 50% success rate.

Not long ago I predicted that soon the parents of children will show up on college campuses because the present-day “assembly line,” going all the way back to the first grade, has ill-equipped their child with little more than a cut dog’s chance. It was wisely once said that “money is the root of all evil” and, boy, this is a road map to a disaster. Here’s how my education mentor explains it:

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I do not believe that parents are going to show up at colleges and universities wielding pitchforks.  If past actions prove anything, they will show up with their checkbooks in hand, ready and willing to write the check for tuition, room, board, etc. so their little darling can have the “college experience.” 

They don’t seem to be aware of the fact — nor do they seem to care — that college tuition has risen far faster than the normal rate of inflation. Nor do they seem to be aware of the fact that their student may not be prepared and may not graduate!

“The average cost of attending a four-year college or university in the United States rose by 497% between the 1985-86 and 2017-18 academic years, more than twice the rate of inflation. The cost of attending a traditional four-year university has been rising more than twice as fast as inflation, and two-year community colleges a third faster.

Bachelor’s degrees cost an average of $5,504 per year (or, $22,016 for four years) to pursue in 1985, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a subagency of the U.S. Department of Education. In 2017 it was $27,357.” (Forbes) That’s $109,428 for four years.

Many are aware that undergraduate federal student loans are capped.  What they often do not realize is that parents – under the Parent Plus Loan Program – can borrow as much as they want to finance their student’s education.  According to one source, “…3.2 million parents owed a total of $65.1 billion in student loans for their children in 2014.”

Five years later, the total amount of debt had risen by nearly a third, to $96 billion owed by 3.6 million parents.” At this point, it is not clear whether the Biden Administration’s proposed student loan forgiveness will extend to parents.  Some middle-class parents are in debt for as much as $100,000 and this debt is having a dramatic impact on their ability to save for retirement.

One of the primary reasons college costs have been rising is the simple fact that the universities know that students and parents will continue to go into debt chasing the elusive dream of a college education.

Why are students and parents going into debt for a degree that may or may not result in a real career? 

A huge part of the problem is the “college ready” narrative pitched by many public high schools and parroted by the colleges and universities.  If a student comes from a home where at least one parent has a college degree and that student attends a public school in a higher socio-economic area, that student might have a reasonable chance of attending a college or university and graduating on time with a useful degree. 

A student attending a low performing school with limited opportunities for ACT prep classes, lacking a rigorous curriculum, no academic enrichment or a home life that does not emphasize the value of education will, in all likelihood, be exposed to the same “college ready” narrative. However, the outcome will be very different.

Too many public school systems and high schools have bought into the idea of “college ready and college for all.”  The idea that the natural progression from K-12 to a college or university is pervasive.  Students who score a 14, 15, or 16 on the ACT (Those scores are far below the accepted ACT College Ready Benchmarks.) are convinced they are ready for college.

If you were to talk to students in the lowest performing schools in the area, many would tell you – and be completely sincere in their belief – that they are going to college. The public education system and our culture in general have sold these students on the idea that the freshman year in college is really “13th” grade and it’s the natural thing to do. 

It does not matter if the student cannot read at grade level.  It does not matter that the student’s ACT is far below the accepted readiness benchmarks. It does not matter that a student cannot write a complete sentence in grammatically correct English, and has never written anything remotely close to an essay.  It does not matter that a student will be required to take as many as three remedial classes.  The narrative is the same. Go to college!

Recently, a Hamilton County school had a “college registration day” event.  The expectation was that every senior was to fill out at least two college applications.  It apparently did not matter whether the student could spell “college.” The “college access counselors” were adamant that every senior fill out two applications.  What purpose this fulfilled… I am not certain, but it is indicative of the “college ready, college for all” mantra.

Many students – and their parents – automatically assume that a diploma from an area public high school has endowed their student with a “college ready” skill set. There are any number of books and journal articles that describe the attributes of a college ready student:  Time management, goal setting, prioritization, appropriate reading skills, study skills, note taking skills, test taking skills, critical thinking skills, clear oral and written communication, to name just a few. 

The real problem, and what I refer to as the “Big Lie,” is that too few public high school graduates possess this skill set.  The reason is simple.  These skills are not taught in a structured, progressive, and meaningful process.  Why?  They are not taught because they cannot be measured in a way that will produce “data.”

You cannot really accurately “measure” study skills or note taking skills.  The assumption is that the students have absorbed these skills by osmosis.  What too many of them have absorbed is that they can get away with mediocre work which is turned in late.  They have learned that “Credit Recovery” is available, so failure is not going to happen.  Everyone passes… everyone graduates… everyone is college ready.

No, parents probably will not show up with pitchforks.  Many of them will go with their student to freshman orientation and be taken in by the idea of “college!”  They will tour the campus and listen to inspiring speeches from some mid-level Vice Chancellor.  They will get out their checkbooks or login to the Sallie Mae website and borrow the money to make up the difference between what their student can borrow and the “estimated cost of attendance.” And they will not worry at all. 

Their student is “college ready.” The public education system told them so.

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* — There are 79,187 students, K-12

* — There are 40,682 children pre-K to grade 5.

* — There are 17,431 students in grades 6 to 8.

* — There are 21,074 in grades 9-12.

* — Of these groups 76.6 % are black. There are 13.5%. Hispanic and 7.6 percent white.

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There is a website called “” that was brought to my attention recently and there we find numbers that make us wince. Far be it for the School Board to inquire but some these numbers have plummeted since Superintendent Bryan Johnson positioned himself to be the highest paid employee in Hamilton County:

Again, this is out of 342 high schools in the state:

OOLTEWAH HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 106 out of 342 (1,704 students)

SALE CREEK MIDDLE/HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 157 of 342 (549 students)


IVY ACADEMY – (Charter) ranked 169 of 324 (306 students) 

HIXSON HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 192 of 342 (909 students)

OOLTEWAH HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 210 of 342 (1,550 students)

SEQUOYAH HIGH SCHOOL–ranked 235 of 422 (311 students)

RED BANK HIGH SCHOOL –ranked 255 of 342 (811 students)

CENTRAL HIGH – ranked 264 of 342 (875 students)

LOOKOUT VALLEY MIDDLE/HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 278 of 342 (332 students)

EAST RIDGE HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 283 of 342 (840 students)

TYNER ACADEMY – (Magnet) ranked 315 of 342 (520 students)

THE HOWARD SCHOOL – ranked 339 of 342 (1,003 students)

BRAINERD HIGH SCHOOL – ranked 340 of 342 (611 students)

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Who’s failing whom? This is inexcusable.



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