Five hours east of Asheville on I-40 is the world’s largest concentration of employees of IBM — no longer the archetypal New York company. Five hours west on I-40 is Nashville, soon-to-be home of AllianceBernstein — a 1,000-strong New York asset manager. As this knowledge-based, high-paying corridor takes shape, where is Asheville?
Nowhere. Whatever policies are tried, our city faces a huge barrier to escaping the low-paying “tourist destination” role and joining the technology based economy.
To do so, our kids need to compete successfully (on a global scale) in — at the very least — numeracy and literacy. At the recent joint city/school board session, we learned two things — there are large achievement gaps within grades in our schools, and overall, most of the kids do not make the grade in math (three in four eighth graders in the middle school in 2018, for example).
Commissioner [Al] Whitesides’ response was to suggest that more resources are needed, but with our high expenses per pupil, there’s not going to be much more money available from malevolent neighbors and a malicious state. Talking to the kids themselves, it’s clear that, in many cases, one problem is that when they ask for help at home, they only get an embarrassed giggle and a shrug — and the older generation’s “I was never any good at math” gets passed on.
Maybe what’s needed is a “School Maths for Grownups” program — at the very least to show how school maths have changed over the last few years. We’ll be working up such an effort over the summer, so look for announcements in the fall.
— Geoff Kemmish