While we’re spotlighting some special comments by our readers, we don’t want to overlook the following which was posted by our fellow blogger fieldguidetomemphis in response to our post about the search for a superintendent of Memphis City Schools:

The future superintendent will have his/her hands full in dealing with the myriad interconnected problems facing children in Memphis who attend public schools. And it is so incredibly important that s/he understand that all of the problems hold hands – schools are microcosms of the community.

There seem to be three interrelated key issues that keep surfacing: test scores, dropout rates and the effects of poverty. Kids in poverty tend to have lower test scores and be at risk for dropping out, and they cost more to educate.

We might consider the idea that test scores in Memphis are actually higher because 1 in 3 students does not graduate from high school. If we were to retain these students who are likely behind their peers in reading, math and science, the test scores that – while on par with the state – are somewhat discouraging might be even more so if the dropouts contributed to the achievement tests.

This is a tremendous quandary. What do we do? If we kept more kids in school, our test scores could drop, jeopardizing AYP and succeeding under NCLB. But what is the alternative? Are we supposed to let kids drop out in droves to be scooped up by the prison system? To be scooped up by social services? To end up with dead-end low-paying jobs with no career ladders? Are we supposed to lower the bar so it’s easier to pass the tests, to make the grade and to graduate?

Or do we hold on to higher standards and make everyone accountable and make the processes of determining achievement more transparent and less labyrinth-like? (This gets my vote.)

We all have to acknowledge that every child is worth saving. Every child is worth our investment. The future of children in economically and racially segregated schools is intimately tied to the future of our community. This “underclass” so named by William Julius Wilson does not have to exist in perpetuity. It is possible to envision and create another future where kids thrive, and where opportunities are not a zero-sum game. Some don’t have to win, succeed and thrive at the expense of many.

We must have a comprehensive educational plan that starts in the prekindergarten classrooms and extends through early adulthood so we can recapture the dropouts and give them the skills and training (through GED or vocational or on-the-job) to create a successful life that breaks the cycle of poverty.

This is the key: a comprehensive strategy that begins in early childhood and extends to early adulthood, acknowledging the interrelatedness of all the issues facing students and schools.

“Every Day, Every Child, College Bound” is a fantastic slogan that should and can be true, but it’s presently unrealistic given the massive middle-class opt out from public schools in our community and the public/private chasm that continues to widen. Susan Mayer’s work (“How Economic Segregation Affects Children’s Educational Attainment,” Social Forces; September 2002) should be mandatory reading for our new superintendent.