Meritocracy in Memphis Schools

Posted on September 30, 2014

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By Breanna Sommers

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Meritocracy as: a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.

In existence for most of modern Western society, Meritocracy did not originate in schools and is certainly not unique to Memphis. However, it’s profound impact on the Memphis City and Shelby County Schools perpetuates a social stigma and class war in the hopes of best educating some the Bluff City’s school children.

In a meeting last fall with leaders from the newly unified Shelby County School District, education leaders provided an organized slideshow presentation that highlighted the significant difference between student test scores from Memphis City and Shelby County schools in third grade reading and math. You can likely guess how this story ends. The Memphis City school children that joined the county school district would bring down the scores of affluent, suburban and adequately served Shelby County students. The presenters were dismayed at the students’ lack of excellence, but displayed a glimmer of hope. However, our story fast-forwards to today where Germantown, Arlington, Cordova and the other suburbs that once made up Shelby County have now begun opening their own school districts in their respective cities.

A whole host of drawbacks come with accepting a lower “caliber” of students. From a loss of federal education money and test score driven ideologues, to the Shelby County students not being challenged enough if the classroom is “held back” with students who cannot read at grade level. However, one must ask what the cost will be if the achievement gap continues to exist. It means what it always has: A large portion of the populace will likely depend economically on those who were provided with adequate or even excellent academic experience.

Meritocracy has its place in almost every sphere of life, but it should not when it comes to providing a great education to those who desperately need it. Our society needs to educate all people. Severe inequalities and a lack of social mobility can only keep us trailing behind in a competitive worldwide economy.

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Posted in: Education