What is the state of public K-12 education in Chattanooga? It depends on your address. In schools with low levels of economic disadvantage, pupils perform relatively well on standardized tests and they are unlikely to be suspended from school. In schools with high levels of economic disadvantage, elementary, middle and high schools perform poorly on standardized tests and the relative number of student disciplinary problems is high.
Because African Americans are disproportionately lower income in Chattanooga, urban schools with high concentrations of poverty and African American students score particularly low on all measures of academic performance. The disparities are pronounced in elementary school and persist through high school completion.
The education data dovetail with other quality of life measures and reinforce the notion that Chattanooga is a divided city. One city is healthy and affluent where children attend private and public schools that prepare them for postsecondary opportunities. The other Chattanooga is poor and detached where children attend racially and socioeconomically isolated schools that typically fail to prepare students for future success.
As the report points out, the weak performance data in some of our schools is not exclusively the fault of the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE). Schools are not designed to solve long-standing racial and community development problems. However, innovative pedagogical approaches to the unique challenges of urban schools are needed. Community leaders need to engage urban residents in a dialogue to truly understand the needs and problems affecting impoverished neighborhoods.
The disparities highlighted in this report provide additional data on the challenges facing Chattanooga. The socioeconomic, health, crime and education disparities in Chattanooga are a call to action. The overwhelming majority of gang members interviewed in the Chattanooga Comprehensive Gang Assessment were high school dropouts. The delivery of high quality education is critical to solving complex community problems.