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?
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 | email@example.com
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 [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Carstarphen, Meria
Subject: Seeking Transparency and Accountability
FREDERICK DOUGLASS HIGH SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION
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.