Photo credit: Max Fisher
Tennessee is a beautiful and unique state. From the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains where you can drive for miles between places to cities like Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis with world-class entertainment, universities, and medical facilities. Tennessee is a great place to live. It is also a wonderful place to complete your higher education and begin your career. But there is one area in the educational system that is lacking.
In 2017 (before COVID-19) Tennessee ranked number 38 in the United States for education. Since then, Tennessee has climbed to number 35. However, 35 out of 50 for childhood education is sadly low. While the curriculum designed for the Tennessee Education System is of the highest quality, social issues continually obstruct the path youngsters must take to succeed.
Social issues that influence early education
When a child is very young their minds are like sponges. They are curious by nature. They want to see, touch, and taste everything they can. This is why Pre-K is so important. Before the child goes to school they have an opportunity to learn. They learn how to behave in a classroom environment. They learn how to listen to the teacher and the correct way to ask questions. They learn how to respect their classmates. They enjoy participating in their age-appropriate lessons. When they go on to kindergarten they are ready for school. However, in Tennessee, 60% of children 3-4 years old do not have access to Pre-K. The 40% of children lucky enough to have the Pre-K experience often have inconsistent quality.
Tennessee, like other states, has families that suffer from poverty. Even with public assistance they struggle to keep food on the table, the electric bill paid, and a roof over their heads. 23% of Tennessee students live in poverty. A simple thing like buying (and washing) their required school uniform is a problem. Sometimes the free meals they get at school are the only meals they get. This is a heavy load for a child to carry and it affects their ability to learn.
It is true that drug addiction seems to go hand in hand with poverty. One reason for this is the drug user has no money for rehab. They realize they need help and they do not know where to turn. Their child watches as they take the television and anything else that can get them a few dollars to the pawnshop. The pull of the drug is too strong. A child 3-years old cannot make his way to the Pre-K by himself.
Many children are born to drug-addicted mothers. They usually have Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. This leads to a host of problems. The baby will go through withdrawal, shaking, sensitivity to touch, seizures, and many other symptoms. This will likely cause a delay in the child’s ability to learn. Many times the parents will abandon the drug-addicted baby at the hospital.
The Call To Change
Tennesseans are strong and focus driven people. All of the points above are valid and all should be addressed, but the education of the children is the top priority. The children are the future of the nation. This is why Tennessee for Quality Early Education (TQEE) was created.
TQEE has been working for the past decade to raise the bar of education in Tennessee. Extensive studies have shown that by the third grade, students in Tennessee have already fallen behind in reading and math. This means they were not taught properly before they reached the third grade. Why is this so important? Because students that fall behind that early in their education tend to stay behind throughout their education. Also, kids that are not proficient in math and reading by the third grade have a greater chance of dropping out of high school. That is unacceptable. That is why TQEE has a concentrated program for grades Pre-K through 3rd. It has been 10 years, and the numbers have climbed. But, it is not nearly enough.
On the website, you can view the studies and get information on all the problems they address such as quality daycare and health.
Who is the coalition?
The coalition is 28,047 people not unlike you or me. They are teachers, professors, policemen, nurses, business people, and people of faith. The coalition is a group of people who care about the kids, the state, and the United States of America. It is interesting to note that after the adult participation in the schools that had the most illegal (or attention-grabbing) activity, the grades improved. If the behavior warranted calling the police, they were called. But, in most cases, the child was given community service for his trouble and they got to stay in school.
Keeping Tennessee’s education going in the right direction is going to take a team effort. It will take money and members. If the next decade is anything like the last, they are well on their way.