Archives for category: Education Reform

This past year, there were numerous reports of scandals, arrests, and convictions of charter operators in Ohio. There seemed to be real hope to enact legislation that would hold charter schools accountable and make their finances transparent. But that died in the closing hours of the legislative session.


Charter operators wrote the charter law. They give millions of dollars in campaign contributions to key legislators. The Speaker of the House took a free trip to Turkey, thanks to the Turkish Gulen charter chain.

Charters don’t want to be regulated. They don’t want to be accountable or transparent. The leading charter operators receive hundreds of millions from taxpayers each year, even though most of their schools are rated as low-performing by the state.

In this post, Denis Smith explains the inner workings of the charter industry, which he calls “the dark side.” Smith worked in the State Department of Education, in the office intended to oversee charter schools.

He writes:

“At a national charter school conference in Indianapolis several years ago, two attendees saw my registration badge at a reception and approached me. “Ohio, huh? So you’re from the Wild, Wild West!”

“They, of course, were talking about a state that allows two charter school operators to direct several million dollars in GOP campaign donations during the last decade in return for favorable treatment (read: weak oversight) and the receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars from state funds. Finance types and Wharton School profs would marvel about such a robust return on investment.

“They were also talking about a state that does not require charter school board members to be American citizens and doesn’t have a problem with non-citizens serving on charter boards, and where one of the members of the House Education Committee advocates burdensome Voter ID requirements for citizens trying to vote.”

Ohio has an excellent website called “KnowYourCharter.” It was not created by the State Education Department, but by independent groups using official data. The charter sector has some of the state’s lowest performing schools and is far behind the state’s public schools. But don’t expect Givernor Kasich and the current legislature to hold them accountable.

Accountability is only for public schools.

Dear Campbell,


I read in the Wall Street Journal that you have formed a new organization called “The Seventy Four,” meaning the 74 million children who attend school in America. I noted that you want to advocate on behalf of the children so they get a better education. You and I have that in common. We both advocate on behalf of our nation’s children.


As you begin your new advocacy, there are a few things you need to know. Some of them you can find in my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”


For example:


*Test scores are not declining or flat. In fact, they are the highest they have ever been since the federal government started measuring scores in the early 1970s. They are the highest ever for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students.

*Graduation rates are at their highest point in history, for all of these groups.

*Dropout rates are at their lowest point in history, for all those groups.


The schools and students that really need help are those who live in very poor communities. Kids who live in poverty often don’t have adequate health care, nutrition, decent housing, and economic security. Why don’t we work together to advocate for better living conditions for these children, their families, and their communities. Standardized test scores are a mirror of family income. Some poor kids beat the odds, but there is a tight correlation between test scores and family income.


Now, I realize that you are very concerned about the fact that 50% of our students are “below grade level.” I want to make sure you understand that “grade level” means “the median.” It is the midpoint, and it doesn’t have a set meaning. There will always be 50% above grade level, and 50% below grade level. That is the definition of “grade level.”


I don’t think you should be so fast to dismiss the intellectual calibre of American students. I strongly recommend that you obtain a copy of a sample eighth grade math test from the New York State Education Department. Make sure it is Common Core-aligned. Take the test. Please let me know how it goes and how many questions you got right.


Good luck with that! I am available to talk if you have any questions. Feel free to call or drop a line.


Diane Ravitch





Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed legislation requiring the state education commissioner to have educational experience and qualifications.


He said it encroached on the governor’s authority to name anyone he wanted, regardless of qualifications.


Mayor Bloomberg took that path when he appointed publisher Cathie Black as schools chancellor. She lasted three months.


Will Governor Malloy be comfortable if the pilot of his next flight has no experience? Will he go to a hospital where his surgeons are fresh from college with no training or experience?

This story is behind a paywall, although some readers found a way around the paywall. It was written by staff writer Fred LeBrun. It accurately describes the revulsion that parents and educators feel toward Governor Cuomo’s mean-spirited plan to tie everyone to a stake made of standardized test scores. LeBrun also points out that the State Assembly, which appoints new Regents, might well flip the majority next spring by appointing two new Regents to join the board. Chancellor Merryl Tisch has been a steadfast ally of Governor Cuomo and his plan (which is based on a letter she wrote one of his aides last December, outlining the changes she supported, without consulting the other members of the board of Regents.) If the opt out movement continues to grow–and there is every reason to believe that it will–the Assembly may not re-appoint Tisch to the board, where she has been a member since 1996.



In the linked article, LeBrun writes that it could have been much worse. Cuomo’s “education tax credits” to cut the taxes of billionaires while creating back-door vouchers did not pass.



What the Legislature and governor did agree to during the Legislative session’s final days was to direct the State Education Department to assure that the deeply controversial standardized growth tests and individual questions in Cuomo’s plan are at least age and grade appropriate and more useful as teaching tools. Also, that teachers are no longer gagged from discussing the test questions once they’re made public, and that a teacher’s student growth score, critical to whether that teacher stays employed according to the Cuomo plan, must also consider a number of student characteristics such as special needs, English as a second language, and most importantly, poverty.


Common sense tweaks, but far too few to make much of a difference. The core remains rotten. The Cuomo plan needs to be scrapped for something that actually works and that’s fair to all.


That is not so farfetched as it might seem.


As the Cuomo plan reveals itself as unworkable, unuseful and publicly about as popular as a dead whale in the living room, increasingly the Legislature and governor are shunting off the overly complicated implementation — and blame — on the state Education Department and the state Board of Regents, the body that by law is supposed to set and govern state public education policy. Unequivocally, Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island last week told reporter Susan Arbetter that the Legislature and the governor have all along been stepping on the Regents’ toes over formulating teacher evaluations, and not a single one of the 17 Regents is in favor of the present student and plan so favored by the governor.


After recent personnel changes, the Regents are very quickly becoming radicalized over the evaluation plan, and the so-called ”reform” agenda that embraces it.


The balance of those stridently opposed to the governor’s plan is at present a strong minority, and by March, when the terms of Chancellor Tisch and another Regent are up, that could well become a majority.


Already the Board of Regents is beginning to show new energy. Last week, while reluctantly accepting the education department’s draft teacher evaluation regulations as mandated by the Cuomo plan, the Regents found wiggle room that clearly signals they want to turn this garbage scow around.


The Regents voted for granting four-month hardship waivers without aid penalties to school districts that feel they will not be ready with a teacher evaluation plan by the required Nov. 15 of this year. That takes it to March of next year, which realistically means not before the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. They also decided that yet-to-be created and approved alternative local tests will be acceptable instead of the state standardized tests to meet the Cuomo student growth requirement, and they voted to create their own study group to evaluate and assess the entirety of the current evaluation plan with an eye to changes.


What that study group comes up with will make a dandy justification for an Assembly package of bills to give us a reasonable evaluation plan.


Meanwhile, other major factors speak to dramatic change. Next week, MaryEllen Elias becomes our new state education commissioner. She fills the vacancy left by the largely useless John King. He and Tisch were the main architects and promoters of Cuomo’s draconian version of a Common Core based plan. Elias is a veteran educator who is certainly familiar with the issues facing New York. Let’s see what she can do….



Cuomo can thumb his nose at the Legislature and the education establishment with seemingly little consequence.


It’s another matter when he tries to jam his malarkey down the throats of livid parents and their anxious youngsters, also known as the electorate. Last year, 60,000 Opted Out. This year 200,000. On Long Island alone, 40 percent of the students who could take those tests didn’t. Opt Out is a political force with quickly developing muscle, reflecting deep public dissatisfaction.


No single issue has contributed more to the rapid and still sinking decline of Cuomo’s popularity than his boneheaded war with students, teachers and public schools generally, and there’s no end in sight. Legislature take note.

Paul Thomas, professor at Furman University, taught in South Carolina for 18 years. He is an eloquent and informed critic of social and education policy.


In this post, he poses five questions that every Presidential candidate should be asked (again and again).


I paraphrase his words and questions so you will read his post. They boil down to these principles:


Test-based accountability does not change the underlying social and economic conditions that cause disparate test results.


Test-based accountability has stripped teachers of their professional autonomy. As a result, fewer people choose teaching as a career.


Due to underlying economic inequality, children of color are more likely to be poor, to be segregated, to get fewer educational opportunities, to be suspended or expelled, and to have less opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. Tests don’t reduce income inequality or wealth inequality.


What, sir or madam, will you do to reduce these economic gaps instead of spending billions to measure them?

For at least 15 years, federal efforts at “school reform” have focused on “fixing” the schools; now it is focused (fruitlessly) on teacher evaluation. One thing that is obvious: schools can’t be “reformed” by federal legislation. They can surely use federal money to reduce class size and to reduce spending gaps between districts and schools. But federal policies and laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have generated more disruption than school improvement.

Aurora Moore received her doctorate from Stanford, where she studied school improvement strategies. She concluded that the school is the wrong unit of analysis. A school is a building, a “pile of bricks.” In this post on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, she argues that federal policy has missed the most important variables in successful school improvement. While writing about “the myth of school improvement,” she does not say that it can’t be done and never happens, but that the federal government and “reformers” (privatizers) have rejected meaningful strategies and chosen to deploy failed strategies.

What matters most for genuine school improvement is what she calls “context stability” and autonomy. The irony is that federal policy and mandates actively weaken and destroy what matters most.

She writes:

“Variable 1: Context stability

The first variable is something that I call context stability. Context stability is a combination of low teacher turnover, stable leadership, and a demographically consistent student population. Context stability is also about having continuity in curriculum and materials, programs and program staff from year to year –or something that researchers studying Chicago schools called, “coherence.” If you dig deep into the research on effective and improving schools you find out that all of them had continuity in staff, leadership and student demographics during the period studied. Staff and leadership stability was a condition of effectiveness.

“Anyone who works in schools today can tell you that context stability is very uncommon, especially in schools deemed “in need of improvement.” Teacher turnover is an ongoing problem, particularly in schools serving large percentages of students living in poverty where the average teacher stays less than five years. And ironically, the federal School Improvement grants have convinced many district administrators that it’s a good idea to move school principals around. And in many locales, particularly urban ones with open enrollment policies and large immigrant populations, student demographics can change dramatically from year to year.

“And the real rub is that context stability itself doesn’t last forever. Most research about effective or improving schools is done in a 1-5 year period. Give me an effective school or improving school and wait three years. The effective principal or effective program will have gone, and it’ll be back to square one.

“Variable 2: Autonomy

“The other important variable we failed to consider is autonomy. During the previous eras of school reform people working in schools had much more control over their curricula, their technology and their programs than they did today. The research on Chicago’s improving schools was conducted during the 1990s during an unprecedented experiment in local school control. Nowadays districts and states often dictate what materials teachers can use, what programs they can implement, and even what page to be on in a pacing guide. Some researchers say that schools should be responsible for “crafting coherence” but in my experience, that’s more pie in the sky idealism than reality, particularly when district-school administrator power dynamics are involved.

“If you really think about it, schools are just buildings that have a constant and complicated flow of policies, programs and people moving in and out. School administrators and teachers have very little control of that flow of information, people and practices—they can only manage those things within the confines of district, state and federal policies.”

Jeannie Kaplan discovers that Denver ranks #1 on a scorecard compiled by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, an outpost of corporate reform.


Denver has faithfully complied with most elements of the reformster agenda, but what has its compliance done for Denver students, she asks.


And she answers: nothing.

She writes:

“Way back in 1972 there was a committee whose acronym was CRP. CRP stood for Committee to Re-elect the President, who at the time was Richard M. Nixon. Because CRP became integrally involved in some creepy activities including Watergate, its acronym morphed into CREEP. A creepy committee funding some CREEPy goings on. (On a personal note, I worked at CBS News in Washington, D.C. during this time. While I thought some of the activities were CREEPy, I loved the political intrigue).

“Fast forward to 2015 and my continuing involvement with Denver Public Schools. Another creepy organization has touched my life: Center on Reinventing Public Education or (another) CRPE, a University of Washington research center funded in part by Bill and Melinda Gates. It turns out this creepy organization has provided the blueprint for all that is happening and has happened in DPS over the last ten years.

“This creepy CRPE has tried to lead us to believe that a business portfolio strategy can somehow be successful in the public education world. Strategies and phrases such as “risk management,” “assets,” “portfolio rebalancing and managing,” “ridding yourself of portfolio low performers,” “monoploy” dominate the conversations with these folks. And because DPS has been so successful and diligent in adopting these elements it has finally, finally, reached the top of a reformy chart. The problem with this achievement is that it only represents success as it relates to implementation of some convoluted business strategy.

“Remember, a portfolio strategy requires constant churn, for the investor is always ridding his portfolio of low-performing stocks while looking for higher performing ones. This may be a good strategy for business, but schools, children, families and teachers are not stocks and bonds. They should not be treated as such.

“And so far implementation of this strategy has had virtually no impact on improving educational opportunities or outcomes for Denver’s children. So after being national exemplars for choice (or as I like to call it chaos), funding, talent (see here and here for Chalkbeat’s take) and accountability, Denver Public Schools still shows no growth in 2014 standardized tests. Proficiencies across the district slog along at 57% for reading, 47% for math, and 44% for writing with achievement gaps increasing in each subject. Even with a slight increase ACT scores are still only 18.4 (a 26 is needed to enter the University of Colorado) and the overall graduation rate is still at only 62.8%. Sadly, even after ten years, DPS has failed to transfer implementation into outcomes.”

Newsday, the major newspaper for Long Island, New York, had the ingenious idea to ask high school valedictorians what they thought of the Common Core standards. Understand that Long Island has some of the best high schools in the state and in the nation. These students have their pick of elite colleges and universities; they are super-smart and super-accomplished. Here are their reactions.




“Simply, I think the Common Core is absolutely terrible,” Harshil Garg, Bethpage High School’s 2015 valedictorian, said. “It suppresses freedom and boxes children into a systematic way of thinking.”


Garg said he was concerned that the standards actually stifle innovation and discourage exploration.


“Kids are special, because they color outside the lines, and think outside the box, no matter how preposterous their ideas may seem,” he said. “To restrain that inventiveness at such an early age destroys the spark to explore.”


Some of the valedictorians drew from their experiences with younger students who have been more directly impacted by the implementation of Common Core.


“I tutor a few elementary and middle school aged students and the transition has been pretty hard on them,” said Emily Linko, valedictorian of Hauppauge High School’s Class of 2015. “All the effects I’ve seen have been negative.”


Another tutor, Rebecca Cheng, Smithtown High School West’s valedictorian, said she does see the purpose and potential benefit of Common Core, but is still against it.


“It closes your mind and forces kids to think in one particular way,” said Cheng, who tutors third and fifth graders. “There isn’t just one way to solve a problem, and it almost hinders the ability to solve a problem on your own.”


Kacie Candela, a private math tutor and valedictorian of H. Frank Carey High School, said the curriculum itself is good, but the roll out was botched.


“You can’t build a building without a solid foundation, and students just don’t have the knowledge base to do well,” Candela said. “Schools should have adopted it gradually.”


Watching his 6-year-old brother embrace the new standards, Vincent Coghill, Massapequa High School’s valedictorian, said he, too, can see a positive side to the Common Core’s approach to learning.


“I’ve seen him solve math problems in so many different ways, but it seems as though he has a better understanding of what is being taught,” he said.


Still, Coghill said he opposes the initiative, because he feels “uncomfortable” with federal government intervention into education, which he said should remain a “state priority.”


Hailey Wagner, Bellport High School’s valedictorian, agreed with Coghill, saying the federal government has no business dealing with a state matter like education.


And Alex Boss, valedictorian of Rockville Centre’s South Side High School, said politicians should stay out of the process altogether, stating: “Education should be left to teachers and parents, not legislators.”


Central Islip High School valedictorian Radiyyah Hussein finds herself somewhere in the middle of the debate.


“I like the fact that it is challenging and forces children in school to do more critical thinking,” she said. ” … However, I don’t like how much agonizing work has to go into solving simple problems or questions.”


She added, “If we want a more progressive world, we need ways for kids to figure things out in an easier and quicker fashion.”


Tyler Fenton, valedictorian of Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, had smiliar thoughts, acknowledging that students learn in their owns ways and also at their own pace.


Fenton said it’s “unrealistic” and “unfair” to hold everyone accountable to the same standards, and trying to causes “unnecessary stress and anxiety among kids.”


And Natalie Korba, valedictorian of Walter G. O’ Connell Copiague High School’s graduating class, said Common Core just puts too much emphasis on exams.


“Teachers are being unfairly judged on student performance and students are suffering as they are crushed under the pressure of standardized testing,” she said.


Korda added, “School should be about learning life skills and gaining knowledge, not about learning how to take a test.”

Last night, Jon Stewart decided that he couldn’t make jokes because of what had happened in Charleston. Then he spoke eloquently for five minutes about the murders of nine African-Americans attending a Bible study group in their church. He predicted that nothing would change as a result. He contrasted the typical resigned attitude towards the murder of Americans by Americans with our national response to foreign terrorism. We have been at war in the Middle East for more than a decade; we have spent trillions; we have sacrificed thousands of American lives (as well as even more lives of those in other lands): all to keep Americans safe. Why do we do so little to keep Americans safe at home.

Edward Johnson is a citizen of Atlanta who tries to get the school board and city leaders to think of improving the system and to stop looking for quick fixes. At the moment, the quick fix is charter schools, especially the New Orleans “miracle.” This too will pass and another generation will be lost.


Here he writes to the leaders of the city and the schools:



In his latest and recently published book, From School Delusion to Design: Mixed-Age Groups and Values-Led Transformation, and drawing on W. Edwards Deming, Peter Senge, Russell Ackoff, John Seddon (Sir Michael Barber’s antithesis), and such other Systems Thinkers, U.K. educator Peter Barnard begins his Chapter 3, “Complexity and Demand in Systems Thinking,” as follows:


“So in a public service-like school, what exactly is complexity in systems thinking terms? The answer is relatively simple. It is the huge variety of customer value demand on the school’s learning system. The value demand is all that customers need to be able to drawn down from the school to live worthwhile and useful lives. Value demand is defined by the customers and the greater ecological system to which we belong, not just by what the school and the bigger school system decides to offer. In essence, the value demand is all that allows a child to grow and develop into who he or she was meant to be.


“Parents tell us that what they want and value comprises a long list, the variety of value demand. Each is concerned with their unique child. ….


“Any failure to absorb and meet value immediately creates failure demand. Failure demand takes the form of complaints, reworking, dropouts, anti-social behavior, and (of course) a loss of trust and increases in both cost and bureaucracy. The list of failure demand is long and expensive, and weakens the school, causing it to require even more back office staff, more money, and external help. It also makes it more difficult to support new teachers and develop their expertise; the lists goes on and on. It creates a mess that can quickly become a crisis.


“In other words, if the school is unable to absorb the variety of value demand made on its system or simply assumes such demand is being met by the system it has, failure demand is an inevitable consequence. The school, being unable to absorb the complexity of the variety of value demand on its system, tries to control it through limitation and separation, but all that this does is increases complexity (management of failure demand) and make things far worse.”


Today, more than ever, Atlanta Public Schools is being managed and controlled as a “turnaround” opportunity. Unfortunately, no evidence specific to APS exists to support any assumptions the district, any district schools, or anything else about the district requires a turnaround solution. Improvement? Certainly. But turnaround? Don’t be silly. APS is a wondrously complex, multi-directional social system, where any number of matters go on in any number of directions, all at once, all the time. APS is not merely a simplistic un-directional train or automobile going in one direction – the supposed “wrong” direction, so it must be “turned around.” Simplistic solutions applied to complex, dynamic systems invariably generate “failure demand.” (Look at any corporation’s Call Center and you will see failure demand institutionalized.)


Even so, Atlanta school board members and superintendent cling to school reform ideology’s simplistic “turnaround” delusion. They do this because they think only to try to manage and control and ultimately standardize the “huge variety of value demand” that shows up at school every school day, mostly in the form of children. They know not to think to learn to absorb the value demand the children bring with them to school. After all, the children are the students, not them. Their delusive decision to turn APS into a Charter System exemplifies the genesis of the kind of failure demand they generate and then try to manage and control through standardized teaching and learning and performance.


But, of course, the school board’s and superintendent’s decision to turn APS into a Charter System demonstrates they do not know they generate failure demand. Otherwise, they would be providing the district the leadership – servant leadership, in fact – to continually learn to develop the capability to absorb value demand rather than always trying to manage and control it, as by standardizing teaching and learning. Continual learning also requires the ability to unlearn, and unlearning is something they simply will not, and perhaps cannot, do. No matter the evidence, they simply will not or cannot unlearn that all charter schools and such generate failure demand to far greater extents than do any public schools on the commons. “Knowledge has temporal spread,” as one may learn from Deming.


By always trying to manage and control value demand, Atlanta school board members and superintendent constantly rob themselves of learning to provide for principals, teachers, and even children to get knowledge to improve teaching and learning in ways that absorb value demand. And because standardization is their paradigm, and because they have not the capability to do or even think otherwise because “I have been trained to do this work” (Carstarphen) of turning schools around, they have given Governor Nathan Deal great, well, “opportunity” to legislate state takeover of so-called “failing schools” to be handed over to public school privatization interests to operate.


There is a reason Governor Deal calls his New Orleans-style plan “Opportunity School District” (OSD). And it is reasonable to suppose the reason has more to do with Deal providing himself “opportunity” than any children. Governor Deal pretty much proved his OSD plan is a self-serving opportunity when he gave no mind to having been informed there are better ways than state takeover of public schools (see here and here). So let it never be said the Governor had no options.


Actually, it may be a bit too kind to say Atlanta school board members and superintendent are always trying to manage and control value demand. More accurately, it is clear, or it should be clear, that Atlanta school board members and superintendent operate as pass-through agents primarily in service to the interests of philanthropic oligarchs, plutocrats, and corporatists (including, but limited to, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, and Pearson). And nothing more recently demonstrates the fighting they do than Superintendent Carstarphen’s response to Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association’s (FDHSAA) wanting to know the real deal behind the superintendent’s decision to dismiss Douglass High School’s principal. See, copied and inserted below, both FDHSAA’s letter to Carstarphen and Carstarphen’s response.


Note that Carstarphen’s response to the FDHSAA is, in essence, just this (bold emphasis mine):


“I have no idea why people decide to do what they do but this job is for a seasoned ‘turnaround’ principal – no one forced anyone to apply for these SIG [School Improvement Grant] schools. … I can’t discuss the evaluation but I am certain we are making the right decision.”


Well, firstly, in their letter, the FDHSAA does not ask Carstarphen to discuss the principal’s evaluation (and neither do I; see here). Then, secondly, the paper “School Improvement Grants: Ransoming Title I Schools in Distress” makes clear Carstarphen is making the wrong decision, yet a decision Broad, Gates, Obama, and Duncan would likely approve, as would public school privatization interests.


Also note that Carstarphen begins her response to the FDHSAA by expressing being “saddened” by FDHSAA’s letter and characterizing FDHSAA’s concerns as “meanness.” Yet, it is not at all apparent that Carstarphen entertained in the least the thought that perhaps the FDHSAA bothered to write her because of their(!) sense of sadness brought on by Carstarphen’s cruel and mean treatment of their school’s principal and disregard of community.


So, please, let us hear no more disingenuous rhetoric from the Atlanta Board of Education and especially their Superintendent, Meria J. Carstarphen, Ed.D., about “fighting for the children,” when they make it abundantly clear they fight for and with forces out to destroy public education as a common good, with the consequence of dumping onto the public ever more failure demand.


Clearly, firing Frederick Douglass High School’s principal is just the latest failure demand created by Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Carstarphen. Otherwise, Carstarphen likely would not have received from the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association a letter that “saddened” her and she perceived to be “meanness.”


By the way, Peter Barnard once offered to travel from the U.K. to visit with our Atlanta Board of Education and Superintendent, all on his own dime. Want to put a wager on your guess of response that came from APS at the Top?


Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 |



Cc: Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association and Members
Cc: Atlanta Board of Education Members and Superintendent
Cc: Atlanta public community organizations and members
Cc: Atlanta City Council Members and Mayor
Cc: Nathan Deal, Governor, State of Georgia (via contact form)



Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association writes:


From: Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association []
To: Carstarphen, Meria


Subject: Seeking Transparency and Accountability





Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent
Atlanta Public Schools
130 Trinity Avenue, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303


May 15, 2015


Dear Superintendent Carstarphen,


Seeking transparency and accountability, we, The Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association, retired administrator, retired faculty, teachers, parents, and stakeholders, met with you and your selected staff on Tuesday, May 13, 2015, at 9:15 a.m. We were shocked and dismayed that you reported to us that Frederick Douglass High School, under the leadership of Dr. Tony L. Burks, II, had made …”no progress”. This is quite different from our own research and observations. We have read the Douglass January 2015 summary report, excellent commendations, and comments from the State, and we are confused as to why Dr. Burks was not allowed to complete the 2015-2016 suggestions in the Transformation Model. We noticed on the web that the recruitment for a new principal is listed as a Turnaround Model instead of the Transformation Model that Dr. Burks was implementing under his administration. The State summary reveals that Douglass is on a trajectory for success. We came as supporters of Dr. Burks and, more importantly, the children who need a stable learning environment.


The mentoring piece supposedly done by Dr. Timothy Gadson, III was lacking to say the least. Dr. Gadson stated first he met monthly with Dr. Burks. Additional questions led Dr. Gadson to the modification that he texted and e-mailed the principal daily. Surely, being a qualified professional administrator, Dr. Gadson recognizes that mentoring involves more than a text or an email. The mentoring by him was not a collaborative effort as he suggested. He later stated he came out after the end of the first semester (February). If he had read the State January 2015 commendation documents, he could have provided support and recommended to you that Dr. Burks be allowed to continue the implementation of the Transformation Model instead of immediately placing him on a PDP in March, especially since leadership was one of the commendations listed by the State. We now know that it is within the Superintendent’s power to allow Douglass to continue under the Transformation Model given the upward trajectory indicated in the State summary document.


We provided some data to you and your staff of the proud history of our school. We shared our concerns with you. You stated that you would get in touch with the State and provide clarifications in regards to Governor Nathan Deal’s letter of leadership commendation to Dr. Burks and the SIG grant. We were to work on a Plan of Action.


As of today, we have not gotten any feedback on the clarifications you volunteered to get. There was no plan of action. In fact, the only thing we did was to establish a follow-up June 3, 2015, meeting at 9:00 a.m., which comes directly after the June Board Meeting. To be transparent and honest, we feel our meeting with you on Tuesday was simply to neutralize us, while you went ahead with your plans.


Errors in communication were made when Dr. Gadson scheduled a community meeting on the same date and time as the seniors’ graduation Visions of the Future program. To schedule a community meeting on May 19, 2015, at 6:00 p.m. to tell the Douglass family of the removal of Dr. Burks as principal for 2015-2016 in the midst of their graduation is totally insensitive to the seniors with whom he has worked during this school year. Dr. Gadson had to hurriedly change the community meeting date to May 20, 2015, at 6:00 p. m., which is still in the midst of the students’ celebratory graduation activities with their families. Once again, this provides evidence that Dr. Gadson is unaware of what is going on in this school.


We are insulted with your disrespect in not being transparent. You did not make us aware of the community meetings, even though the APS Ombudsman collected our signatures and email addresses on Tuesday. In fact, being honest, you should have told us of your plans (meeting with faculty, letters given out to students, meeting with community), while we were at the Tuesday meeting. Our voice will be heard! We shall proceed with our project and pray that you and your administration will make decisions for the advancement of the children. The children, teachers and parents at Douglass need to hear from you. We encourage you, as the head of this administration, to be available to hear and respond to the concerns of the students, teachers, parents and community.


We have many alumni who live in cities across this nation and abroad. Because of this, we are requesting live streaming of this meeting on May 20, 2015, at 6:00 p. m. If this is impossible, please allow us to have a professional, independent person to videotape the meeting. Please let us know of your decision, so we will know how to plan accordingly.




Frederick Douglass Alumni Association


Hardy Blash, President
Judy Davis Carroll, Presenting Board Member




From: “Carstarphen, Meria”
Date: May 15, 2015 at 7:50:45 PM EDT
To: ‘Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association’


Subject: RE: Seeking Transparency and Accountability


Dear Mr. Blash,


I am so saddened by this letter. It is just mean. I did not create this Douglass situation and did not act in any way that was not transparent or disrespectful in our meeting. At the request of the alumni association I met with you as soon as I get it into my schedule without delay. How could I plan to “neutralize” people when I didn’t even know you and wasn’t the person who asked for the meeting. Given the tone of this letter, I suspect that if I had not had the meeting you would be criticizing me for not meeting with you. Goodness, no good deed…


As for the next date to meet, I wasn’t even in the room when you came up with it. My schedule is completely crazy this time of year. I thought we agreed we were going to work on understanding the history more and what you all could teach me so that we could rebuild it again. In that meeting I was clear: the current principal is not coming back next year but I did want to work with you all to plan for the future. I cannot wait on the interview process to ensure we have quality, viable candidates to consider. This is the time of year principals are looking and we don’t want to have to wait until the end of the summer like last year to rush and find candidates.


I have no idea why people decide to do what they do but this job is for a seasoned “turnaround” principal – no one forced anyone to apply for these SIG schools. It’s clear you have to be a turnaround principal and that’s why the State sits in the room. And, yes, while we mentor and support, all principals must still do their jobs and more so in these type roles. Blaming other people is not going to change our decision. I can’t discuss the evaluation but I am certain we are making the right decision.


I have no idea why you are saying I didn’t give you feedback on the state call. I told you in the meeting – you all were waiting for me to get off the phone so I could share. I then shared the feedback as soon as I walked back in the room. And, further, yes, I did find out about the letter from Governor Deal – it’s a form type letter that is written by the Office of Constituent Services for people who apparently ask for one. This one was requested by someone in Butler, GA…no idea the connection. Anyway, that’s what I learned.


The community was noticed by letter about the change in leadership. The meeting is about the first step in the principal selection process. The communication in the date was not messed up by our central office staff. The draft was shared with principal and he probably accidentally sent out the draft because the draft did not have a signature on it. It was corrected immediately.


As we originally agreed, yes, I would love to have your guidance on how we can help the school. It would be my hope that it could be done in a way that inspires us all.


I love this district, this city and these children. I will do whatever I have to do to ensure they get the quality education they deserve. I will never apologize for that.


Finally, I do appreciate your email and do still look forward to working with you.






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