Summary of recent Tennessee newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

August 2

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on TCAP scores:

Recently released district-level TCAP scores give us reason to cheer and reason to worry.

Students in Shelby County Schools made gains in nearly every subject this spring, with the highest jumps occurring in the high schools, particularly in algebra and English, where the average gain was 6 points.

Elementary- and middle-school students logged gains of 1 percent to 3 percent in key subjects, but lost ground in math.

In a school system that has scores of failing schools, the results of scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests are heartening. They show, however, there still is much work to be done to make sure most children are mastering core subjects at grade level.

The gains are an indication that reform efforts aimed at getting more effective teachers into classrooms, along with other education reform efforts under way here, are paying dividends.

That point also can be seen in TCAP results in schools under the state Achievement School District, where children in grades 3-8 made a 3.4 percent bump in reading and a 2.2 percent gain in the number of students proficient in math.

Yet proficiency levels overall in the ASD schools are still less than 25 percent in all subjects except social studies, where 51 percent of students were proficient.

The downside of those numbers is that 46.1 percent and 65.6 percent, respectively, of students are not proficient in Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. It is a pattern that can be seen throughout the TCAP results.

SCS Supt. Dorsey Hopson was on point in his reaction to the SCS gains, saying he is pleased the scores are trending in the right direction, but the gains need to occur at a more rapid pace.

Amen to that.



August 4

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on despotic rule:

Totalitarian rule in Iraq will not long endure. Despotic regimes that defy civil liberties never do.

But for the moment, part of that nation exists under a reign of terror reminiscent of George Orwell's novel, 1984.

Christians and other minorities are told to convert to Islam or face execution, USA Today reports

The homes of anyone other than Sunni Muslims are claimed to be state territory. Women are forbidden from wearing bright color or prints. Anyone who even utters the name of the former national government receives a mandatory 70 lashes.

Sound trucks travel the streets of Mosul, Tikrit and other cities to inform residents of the new rules.

Clothing merchants are given 20 days to sell what they have, and then the only clothing allowed will be the jubba, the flowing one-piece robe common across the Middle East.

A common response from people who suffer from these bans is flight.

"I told my husband, 'We have to leave,'" one Christian school teacher said. "I told him they might kill us and kill our sons in front of us. . We took our money and my jewelry and a bag of clothes and left."

But they were caught. The jewelry and money were confiscated, and the family was told, "That's punishment for your refusal to be Muslim."

The new Islamic State has fired non-Sunni municipal employees, and those who remained — their wages cut in half — are responsible for trying to restore services heavily damaged by retreating government forces.

Already, Iraqis are beginning to rebel under these strictures. Their anger is fueled by the fact that many of the fighters for the Islamic State are foreigners.

It is an unhappy time for one of the world's most ancient cultures. It cannot last.


August 5

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on coal-ash spill:

The announcement last week that the Tennessee Valley Authority would pay $27.8 million in damages to people harmed by the Kingston coal ash spill closes another chapter in the 5½-year-old environmental saga.

The joint motion for entry of judgment was filed Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, ending a legal battle between the federal utility and more than 850 plaintiffs in 63 lawsuits. Technically, the plaintiffs' claims will be dismissed in exchange for the payments, provided Chief U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan approves.

The spill occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2008, when a dike collapsed at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant, sending 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge into the Emory River and surrounding countryside.

No one was killed or seriously injured, but the spill damaged several houses beyond repair, plugged the channel of the Emory River and sent ash downstream into the Clinch and Tennessee rivers. It was the largest ash spill in American history.

The cleanup, which is being conducted under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and likely will cost in excess of $1 billion, is winding down. In a sense, TVA has conducted two cleanup efforts — one of the spill site and the other of its reputation. The federal utility has spent $32 million for projects in Roane County and its municipalities, and for public relations efforts to improve the area's image.

TVA reached settlements with many area residents shortly after the spill, but hundreds opted to gain satisfaction through the courts. They claimed the spill and cleanup diminished property values and caused aggravation and inconvenience.

After a trial lasting nearly seven weeks, Varlan found in August 2012 that TVA was negligent and liable for the failure of the coal-ash retention pond. Varlan, in a 130-page ruling, rejected TVA's claim that it was immune from liability as a government entity.

With liability established, Varlan ordered the parties into mediation to determine damages. Attorneys Rodney Max and Pamela Reeves — who is now a federal judge — acted as mediators in a process that took nearly two years.

The mediated damages will be split among the plaintiffs, who lived near or downstream from the coal-fired power plant. The specific amounts awarded to individual plaintiffs remain confidential, but attorneys involved in litigation said those living closest to the spill area would receive higher amounts. A few plaintiffs rejected the mediated settlement, and $2.3 million will be set aside in case they obtain judgments on their own.

While the mediated settlements signal an end to the legal fight and the cleanup is close to conclusion, loose ends will remain. TVA will monitor air and water samples at the site for three decades. And TVA's ratepayers will spend a little extra — an average of 69 cents each month until 2024 — to pay for the cleanup.

TVA wisely has put in place measures to prevent a similar spill from happening in the future. The price of the Kingston spill has been dear.


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