HomeOpinionOPINION: Why is the Jackson-Madison School Board denying families more educational options?

OPINION: Why is the Jackson-Madison School Board denying families more educational options?

By Trey Cleek

Guest columnist

It is a basic lesson of life: Doubling down on a bad strategy will not produce good results. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education apparently still needs to learn, as shown by its repeated rejection of a charter school’s application.

It is high time that our school district embraced charter schools as a viable option for improving our schools. Our children can’t wait. The school board should take active steps to support charter schools here, and it can begin by stopping its gleeful rejection of a charter school that seeks to offer our children a different choice for education.

The reality is that the educational results in our school district, and across West Tennessee communities, are dismal. Start toward the beginning of a child’s education: Fewer than one out of five third-graders are reading at or above grade level, according to Tennessee’s standardized test. Our children are not building the strong foundation they need for the rest of their education—and their lives.

The results at the end of their time in our school district are just as discouraging. The average ACT score in Madison County is 16.5, which means that half of students are scoring at or below that level. The national average is 20.3. Scores like that don’t just indicate diminished opportunities for our children coming out of high school. They show that our school district is poorly preparing our children for the world after high school.

Of course, these numbers aren’t all there is to say. Madison Academic High School and Community Montessori are bright spots in an otherwise dreary scene. But the seats in these schools are limited, and they attract students who are already gifted. Success may not be guaranteed for these institutions, but it is harder for them to fail.

This much is certain: A couple magnet or lottery schools do not a comprehensive strategy make, especially for the majority of children who are left out.

But there is another way, even if our school board has demonstrated its unwillingness to pursue or even seriously consider it. Public charter schools provide a way for our children to receive the best kind of education for them.

Charter schools are state-funded schools that are free from many of the constraints of traditional public schools. They are free to take different kinds of approaches—pursuing a classical model of education, for example. They still must meet certain requirements, but here’s the real benefit: They must succeed, or they shut down. Parents opt-in, which means they can opt-out, and if student performance doesn’t measure up, the state can shut it down.

In other words, charter schools are a way for the school district to introduce some competition into the educational environment. Competition doesn’t just mean more choices for children, but it also means more competition for teachers—which ultimately should drive up pay, especially when there is a teacher shortage.

With charter schools, children win, and teachers win. The only potential losers are those who want to hold onto their administrative power.

So why is the Jackson-Madison County School Board so outwardly hostile to a new charter school in the district? American Classical Academy has applied twice for authorization to open a classical charter school, and the board has twice rejected them. Many of the stated reasons are vague, but the combination of the all-too-happily long list of problems, the complaints about the cost of a charter school, and the almost-celebratory headlines marking the vote demonstrate that the district wasn’t seriously interested in pursuing charter schools as a way to improve children’s education here.

The district also cited a poll purportedly indicating that 66% of “parents, educators, and community members” do not support this charter school. But what about the third who do? Nothing prevents children from remaining in a traditional public school if they like. But the data indicates that our traditional public schools are failing far too many of our children.

The preferences of the majority shouldn’t dictate how every child is educated, because every child is different. Charter schools like American Classical Academy offer a chance for our children to find the educational model that works best for them.

The Jackson-Madison School Board should give parents the option of where to send their children, starting with working with American Classical Academy to open a charter school here. That is a new strategy that could work.

Trey Cleek is the Grassroots Engagement Director covering West Tennessee for Americans for Prosperity.



  1. The author is incorrect when he states that “half of students are scoring at or below that level” when he referred to an average ACT score. The term “average” does not indicate the mid-point of a data set. The correct term for that instance would be “median”. But then, what do I know? I am just a product of the horrible Madison County public school system rather than a standards-averse money-hungry academy that he is selling.
    BTW, our area already has ample, superb private alternatives to the public system for those who desire that avenue.

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