Education is a Civil Rights issue

Posted by Eric Bleier on April 27, 2010

Barbara Hyde speaks on education reform efforts at The Leadership Academy's recent "Celebrate What's Right" lunch sponsored by First Tennessee Foundation

I attended the latest of The Leadership Academy’s “Celebrate What’s Right” luncheons this past Thursday. The speaker who drew my interest was Barbara Hyde from the Hyde Family Foundations speaking on the topic of reforms in education that she, the Hyde Family Foundations and many other actors she recognized have pushed, prodded and made a reality over the past decade.

She also told the crowd that we can no longer look to students’ good performance on lax educational assessments and tell ourselves that the students are competitive with students nationally.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Hyde Family Foundation is represented on the Grizzlies Foundation’s Board of Directors in part because Barbara Hyde is one of the Memphis Grizzlies limited partners, but also because the Grizzlies Foundation and Hyde Family Foundation’s goals overlap as they relate to education in Memphis.

Hyde characterized education as a civil rights issue. In other words, that access to the opportunity to get a quality education is a basic right afforded to each child in Memphis or Tennessee or the United States. Due to conditions that led her to believe this opportunity was not available, she and others began to lobby, organize, and argue for reforms, money and people to correct the situation.

She pointed out many fruits of these efforts that she and others have brought to Memphis including but not limited to: Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, the New Teacher Project, and charter school legislation that loosened restrictions on opening charter schools resulting in 22 of the 30 total charter schools in Tennessee being located in Memphis.

Hyde pointed to recent successes such as the $90 million Gates Foundation grant that Memphis City Schools won and the $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” funds which Tennessee was one of two states to win. Of this $500 million, it appears that Memphis will receive about $68 million.

Naturally there is still work ahead and Hyde was quick to point out that the money is only a tool to leverage change. She encouraged everyone in the audience of several hundred to be a storyteller, to be an advocate and be an “evangelist” when it comes to describing the state of education in Memphis and the need for all of us to volunteer our time, donate money and/or lobby for education reform.

So what is education reform? One step that Hyde and others have already enacted is the raising of educational standards and testing assessments to more accurately reflect the true performance of Tennessee’s students as compared to students nationally.

Said Hyde, Tennessee’s educational standards and the tests used to assess student learning have been more lenient. To that point, according to recent TCAP tests 87% of TN students are proficient in the subjects tested by these tests, but only 20% would be proficient if held up to national standards.

That is a sobering shift in my perception of the proficiency of Tennessee’s students. I am extremely concerned for the future of these students as well as for the city and state if only 1 in 5 students could pass a national test in basic subject matter.

But as she said, we can all do our part whatever that may be. Be it retelling the story over and over to our circle of friends and colleagues, donating money to support the challenge included in obtaining the money from the Gates Foundation or volunteering time to mentor a young person.

You can learn more about the latter by contacting the Grizzlies Foundation to see how being a mentor can fit into anyone’s schedule.



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