Thursday, January 20, 2011

What About "Fraser" High?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Dr. Janet Taylor
  • Dr. Janet Taylor
Dr. Janet Taylor should thank Congressman Steve Cohen for taking some of the heat off her.

Jay Leno should do a "Jay Walking" segment featuring New York psychiatrists and "Today Show" experts and hosts who did not challenge Taylor's "no OBGYNs" comment.

Everyone in Memphis gets to fire off their best Jeff Foxworthy joke — and several have been excellent.

But when the laughter and outrage and national publicity dies down, poor "Fraser" High School will still be poor Frayser High School, and those however-many pregnant girls will still be there, and Memphis will have to make this into a teachable moment as we prepare for the real possibility of merging two big school systems.

What would you do about Frayser High, which aside from being a magnet school for pregnant girls and young mothers is not all that unlike the majority of Memphis high schools?

According to the Tennessee Report Card, Frayser HS has around 800 students and is 98 percent black and 92 percent "economically disadvantaged." The ACT scores are in the 14-15 range, well below the state average of 20-21. It is not the biggest city high school (that would be Cordova, Whitehaven, and White Station, each with more than 1,900 students) or the smallest (nine high schools have fewer than 600 students). It is not the oldest (Central) or the newest (Douglas).

In Memphis, the chances are better than 90 percent that a black or Hispanic student attends a high school that is 99% or 100% minority and more than 90 percent economically disadvantaged. Only two high schools — White Station and Cordova — come close to matching the demographics of the city as a whole. By Memphis standards, Central High School (1697 students, 67% economically disadvantaged) and Ridgeway High School (1285 students, 73% economically disadvantaged) are diverse even though each of them is 86 percent black.

In the Shelby County system, only two high schools — Millington and Southwind — look like Memphis high schools. The majority of high schools have student bodies that are mostly white and 10-30% economically disadvantaged.

These are the systems we are proposing to merge into one district. One idea being tossed around is five sub-districts. Easy to say, hard to do. Other than those pregnant girls, nobody is likely to line up to go to Frayser High School, or those nine high schools with fewer than 600 students, or the city elementary schools with fewer than 400 students. Which subdistrict gets Frayser? Which principal gets assigned there? Which idealistic young teachers want to take a shot at it, when charter schools and optional schools and suburban schools beckon?

We can enjoy the light moment and distraction provided by Dr. Janet's slip-up, but the hard stuff and the serious side of her remarks is ahead of us.

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