MSCS leader calls district ‘strongest it’s ever been’ as state numbers show 11% success rate

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The district’s top educator painted a rosy picture of the state of education in Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) Wednesday.

“The state of Memphis-Shelby County Schools is strong. The strongest it’s ever been,” Supt. Dr. Joris Ray told the crowd of educators and local leaders at his annual State of the District presentation.

The crowd gave a standing ovation, but data from the State of Tennessee shows a different perspective.

The state report card for MSCS said students have an 11 percent success rate. That means only about one out of every ten students in the district is considered “on track” or has “mastered” what they’re supposed to learn.

The statewide rate is 28 percent.

Those and other trends were not part of Ray’s hour-long presentation.

The numbers at the Memphis-Shelby County School District show a major dip in achievement during the pandemic, continuing trends of students missing too much school and not being ready for the future when they graduate.

In his third State of the District address, Superintendent Ray said the district is doing all it can.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” said Ray inside the Hilton Memphis conference room, jam-packed with MSCS supporters.

Ray pointed to successes the district made in his three years leading the schools. This includes programs like the district’s New Teacher Academy that helps young educators find their way and a tutoring program that consists of 900 instructors ready to come to the aid of about 9,000 students.

However, that number is only about 8% of the students in a district where state data shows nearly 90% are behind the curve.

“Last year, our students spent more than a year doing virtual learning,” said Ray. “You’ve heard me say virtual learning’s not ideal, but it’s not broken, but our children really struggled on those platforms,” he said.

The data shows the pandemic has only made things worse than they already were. In 2018, the district’s success rate was less than 21%. It grew to nearly 23% in 2019.

“It’s going to take everybody under the sound of my voice -- even the media -- to help us get the word out and to help us help our parents really understand the importance of a college education,” said Ray.

In his presentation, Ray outlined new initiatives like an internship program for high school students. Meanwhile, the state report shows that while the district’s graduation rate has neared 80%, only about 1-in-5 district students graduated ready for college or a career each of the past three years.

Ray also touched on rebranding the district and instilling pride and the value of education for students and families. This is an issue that’s especially important considering nearly 1 out of every five students misses at least 10% of the school year, even before the pandemic.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Ray said. “That’s why we’ve invested money in our student empowerment groups to really get students engaged.”

When FOX13 pushed Dr. Ray on these issues, we wanted to know when you can expect to see things turn around. Ray said, give it three years as the district rolls out new initiatives and continues its process to reimagine what education in Memphis looks like.