Reverend John Butler

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — Educational inequity versus educational inequality. These two completely different terms hold so much confusion for members of the Knox County School board that several members suggested they don’t know the difference and several expressed the desire to go back to policy review to get a better understanding.

In spite of the evidence and a study conducted, even after suggestions brought before the board by one of their own board members and several points brought up before the board during public forum; like a scene from  the great movie, Gone With The Wind, like Scarlett Ohara, the board chose to say, “I’ll think about it tomorrow”. shelving the inequity issue for another day. The voices of the public were ignored and the response from board member McMillan about the different needs of students, the poor, the immigrant, people of color, the disadvantaged, even those being raised by aging grandparents, across Knox County which represent over 109 languages was, “…students opinions are important but this nine member board runs the school system, we can’t satisfy all students”.

Now there is a change in the wind. Beginning in 2022, school board elections are now going to be partisan and there is now a new school board superintendent taking the helm in June. The conversation may have been tabled between the board members but the community has chosen to keep it on the front burner. All those running for the school board positions were invited to share their views on this subject. The following are the responses of those who accepted the invitation from the Tribune. The question put forth was as follows:

The definition from the Center For Public Education on Equality v Equity is as follows: Equality in education is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources. Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they can graduate prepared for success after high school. How would you achieve equity?

Charles Frazier

Rev. Dr. John Butler believes achievement and discipline through policies and practices that produce quality and accessible education for all students is the way. Butler believes in a 21st century approach that prepares students to be college and career ready using innovative and different learning practices. Another need is to provide a diverse and excellent administration that is well compensated, supported and equipped with state of the art facilities regardless of zip code; with safe and secure learning environments, tech driven and providing a variety of resources for all students.  Charles Frazier a long time community advocate who participated in a lawsuit against the school system in 1989 with the Office of Civil Rights about inequalities said to address the inequities that are currently existing he would would like to study and compare the results of the inner city school and suburban schools, which he believes would only take 6 to 8 weeks. Frazier feels the board has a responsibility to ensure equity in the budget in areas like teachers, principals, materials, and allocations of funds across the school system.

Dominique Oakley

Dominque Oakley comes from a long line of teachers in her family and defines inequity as the failure of education to provide equal access to quality learning opportunities. She gives an example of giving 30 children the same text book but explains just giving them the book does not take into account the underlying barriers to learning such as cultural differences, food insecurity, disabilities, discrimination, economic disadvantages and learning deficits. Her suggestion for a first step is to do an audit of current policies to remove any that are discriminatory. Annabel Wood Henley feels Knox County has a long way to go to address the educational disparities and feels the board must affirm the policy drafted by the Equity Committee back in 2014. Henley feels until the board acknowledges the severity of the equity issues in Knox County, progress will not be made. She also feels the equity imbalance between students of color and minority teachers is a top issue that is long overdue for correction.

Annabel Wood Henley

While one voice speaking at the public forum painted word pictures of inequity of children watching other children advance as watching from the side lines…a message of hope came from Janice Berkley, an older member of the community who painted a picture of equity as being willing to compromise and cooperate so that the unique needs of each individual can be met. She feels there  must be a transition from all barriers and removal of resistance from selfish thoughts of exclusion, judgement and the resistance to new ways, saying, “I’ll move, you deserve a chance too.” 

Janice Berkley

The question: When will the Knox County Board of Education decide all students deserve a chance and decide to move?