Archives for category: Georgia

This is a lovely story about the graduation ceremonies at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia.

The story describes the school as probably the most diverse school in north Georgia. Look at the photo. This is American public education. This is what it should be. No one was excluded because of their disability or their lack of English skills. This is a community public schools, built by the community, for the community, of the community.

If the governor and the legislature have their way, charters will open, and students will be lured away, most to racially separate schools.

Can we afford to lose Clarke Central High School? I don’t think so.

Peter Smagorinsky of the University of Georgia has been writing a series of articles about Great Georgia Teachers. They are posted in Maureen Downey’s blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This article celebrates Cameron Brooks, a third grade teacher at the Chase Street Elementary School in Athen, Georgia.

It is hard to believe that a teacher like Mr. Brooks still exists in this era of data-driven, test-based, lockstep compliance.

He has been teaching for eight years. His classroom is devoted to activities that are inspiring and joyful. Professor Smagorinsky asked a parent to describe what he does:

Another Chase Street parent wrote when I asked her about Cameron:

*He plays on the playground with his third grade students every day. One day recently, he was sighted swinging with a couple of girls and simultaneously playing ball with another group of students! He PLAYS with them and I have seen no other teacher do that.
*I know that in the mornings after the announcements, Cameron and his students do Qigong.
*His classroom is calm, safe, and obviously a community of caring individuals.
*He dedicates a lot of time and thought to his preparation — long after the expected school hours.
*He makes the day fun, productive and meaningful for all of his students.
Cameron’s colleague Krista Dean reinforces this perspective, saying, “One of the many awesome things about Mr. Brooks is that he plays with his students every day at recess. He teaches them skills and new games, enjoys their games, and models cooperative play. He can often be found on the soccer field with students after school on Fridays. He serves as a positive role model all throughout the day — practicing character qualities that we want in our students….

Cameron stresses the value of kindness to his students, a concept that seems out of place in schools that focus on competition between teachers and students for the highest individual scores. He models for his students his belief in committing “acts of kindness, exploration, inquiry, engagement,” each difficult to strive toward when learning is competitive….

As he tells his kids, “Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes. Helping a turtle across a busy street, sharing a simple ‘Hello,’ or giving directions to a new student makes life a little better.” He then builds this value into his instruction: “I challenge the class to 100 acts of kindness. When you do something kind, compose a personal narrative, then place it in the Box of Kindness. Once revised and edited, post it here for the world to see.” Kindness then is not simply a virtue, but a means through which his students generate materials for narrative writing.

Cameron’s teaching emphasizes education’s affective dimension. He has written, “The start of the school year is the ideal time to proactively bring attention to, and nurture qualities that promote a classroom culture of respect, openness, introspection, and empathy.” These human values are often lost in the current policy world in which 8-year-olds are measured according to their test score productivity and told they must compete with others and win at all costs.

There are still teachers like Cameron Brooks. They teach what matters most. They will always be remembered by the students lucky enough to have been in their classroom.

Kudos to Peter Smagorinsky for paying attention to the Great Teachers of Georgia. Great teachers can be found in every state and in every community. They don’t shine because of bonuses and merit pay. They shine because they love children and they love to teach. They make a difference.

Jim Arnold, former superintendent of schools in Pelham, Georgia, explains why he encouraged his grandsons and their parents to opt out.

He writes:

“Just imagine the millions of dollars spent on standardized test development, scoring, actual testing, test training and test security that could be spent to hire new teachers, lower class sizes, restore art and music and elective classes, buy new school technology, books, materials, end furlough days or – gasp – give teachers a raise.

“Imagine an end to the silly insistence that standardized testing is the only way to hold teachers and schools accountable.

“Imagine the return of the authority of the classroom teacher to actually teach their students rather than follow a scripted test-centric routine designed not to improve teaching and learning but to improve test scores.

“Just imagine schools focused on taking students where they are educationally and socially and concentrating on teaching and learning rather than on how they test.

“Just imagine students being judged by the classroom work they do rather than by a score on a standardized test.

“Just imagine your kid’s school being judged by the parents, teachers and community members on their effectiveness rather than some made-up metric based on the junk science of standardized testing.

“Just imagine teachers being judged by their administrators and mentored by other teachers to help them learn how to be more effective in what they do rather than being evaluated by student test scores — often of students they don’t even teach by a method condemned by the American Statistical Association?

“Just imagine. That’s why we’re opting our boys out.”

I saw a tweet with a petition to the judge in the Atlanta cheating case. After reading it, I signed it.

The punishment should fit the crime. No bankers or mortgage lenders were sent to jail for the crimes that nearly destroyed our economy and caused many people to lose their homes and savings.

The Atlanta educators cheated. They lost their professional licenses, five years of compensation, their pensions, and their reputation. Some are facing 20 years in prison. This is wrong.

If you agree, sign the petition. If you don’t,don’t sign it. Think about it.

Susan Barber, chair of the English department at Northgate High School in Coweta County, Georgia, wrote a letterd to State Superintendent Richard Woods.

 

Her message: “Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students…..”

 

“I love students, and I love teaching. I want to be a teacher who is “part of the solution and not part of the problem,” which is harder and harder to do in education today. While I have little control over decisions on a large-scale, my mind is continually thinking on and dreaming of ways to make my classroom, and our system, better.

 

“I believe the greatest and most under tapped resource in Georgia’s education system today is Georgia teachers, but the good teachers are starting to leave….

 

“If I am going to be measured on how well my students read and write, I need more time to teach them to read and write. Some days I feel I spend more time getting my plans properly formatted, administering standardized tests, and going to professional development meetings on the state evaluation system or Georgia Milestone than I do teaching. These things are needed and necessary, but when they interfere with my ability and time to teach, there is a serious problem.

 

“Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students.

 

“My students need me to teach them. Please protect our administrators’ time by allowing them to be about the business of curriculum planning, strategic and long-term goal setting, and spending quality time with teachers and students.

 

“In addition to instructional time being used for testing, the amount of money devoted to testing is mind-boggling. Almost $108 million has been designated for the Georgia Milestone assessment. As department chair at my high school, every year I have to tell my team that we will once again not get new textbooks. We have been through three adoption cycles now without new books. I beg that state money will be funneled to where it is most needed – students.

 

“Students do not directly benefit from testing, yet that is where the money goes. I understand this is a complex issue with federal and state requirements to be fulfilled, but our students are suffering while political gains are being made. We must put a stop to this.

 

“Testing does offer some advantages. I am not a proponent of throwing out tests all together. Schools should be held accountable on student learning as well as teacher instruction, but we have swung so far to one side that there is no longer balance in the system.

 

“Testing does not measure a student’s growth in his or her love for learning or the development of grit. Testing does not measure a student’s thought process or style of writing. Testing does not measure the ability to apply knowledge or creative problem solving. I would like to think that these are some of the most important skills students learn in school today, yet they count for nothing in regard to my evaluation or my school’s performance.

 

“The system today is defined by terms such as CCSS, TKES, LKES, CCRPI, GHSGT, GAPS, SACS, CRCT, GMAS, SGAs, SLOs, yet all I want to do is teach SCHOOL. Give me and my colleagues the freedom to do what we are trained to do and what we love doing.”

Mercedes Schneider, Louisiana high school teacher with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics, has a dogged dedication to setting the record straight. She knows that New Orleans is not a miracle district. She has pointed this out time after time, yet the media continue to spout the same claims from the advocates of privatization: wipe out public education, fire all the teachers, welcome privately managed charters, staff the schools with Teach for America, and–Voila!–everyone succeeds, no child left behind, an excellent education for all children! The actions are true: the public schools were closed, the teachers were fired, the charters sprouted in every part of New Orleans. But the results didn’t happen. New Orleans is today one of the lowest performing districts in the state. We leave it to students of mass psychology and the media to explain why the national media falls for the narrative repeatedly. Maybe because it is a good story, even if it is not true. Maybe they want to believe in miracles.

 

When Mercedes Schneider read that Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia, was coming to New Orleans to see the miracle with his own eyes, she wrote this post. Very likely, he and his delegation will be taken to the schools with selective admissions. They are the Potemkin villages of New Orleans. It is always best to verify before you trust (Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify”). In this post, Schneider shows that most of the graduates of the New Orleans’ Recovery School District have scores so low on the ACT that they are ineligible to receive state scholarships for two-year community colleges. This is sad. The suppression of the facts is also sad. Spreading a failed model is sadder still. The most successful nations in the world have strong public school systems, not vouchers or charters.

For a decade now, we have been told again and again by the national media that New Orleans is a “miracle” district. City after city, state after state, wants to be like New Orleans. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder created the Educational Achievement Authority, which has been plagued with mismanagement and has shown no progress for the students in Detroit. Governor Snyder appointed an emergency manager for financially strapped, low-performing Muskegon Heights, and the emergency manager turned the students and schools over to a for-profit charter chain; after two years, the chain decamped when it was clear there would be no profit. Tennessee created the Achievement School District, where the state’s low-performing public schools were gathered, turned over to charter operators, and are supposed to be in the state’s top 20% by performance within five years; the clock is ticking, and there is no reason to believe that the five-year deadline will be met. The public schools of York City, Pennsylvania, have been promised to a for-profit charter chain.

 

And now Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal has an idea. He wants Georgia to have a Recovery School District, just like New Orleans. Here is the formula: wipe out public education and replace it with privately managed charters; eliminate any teachers’ unions; fire veteran teachers and replace them with Teach for America. What could go wrong? Note in the linked article that the enrollment in New Orleans public schools fell from 65,000 before Hurricane Katrina to 25,000 or so today. This makes comparisons pre- and post- tricky to say the least.

 

No matter. The boosters are still claiming dramatic success.

 

But along comes Mercedes Schneider, who managed to get the full set of ACT scores for the state of Louisiana. For some reason, the State Department of Education was not eager to release those scores. You will see why.

 

Mercedes wrote more than one post. They are collected here. The details are in the individual posts.

 

She begins the second post like this:

 

 

It is February, and at my high school, that means scheduling students for the next school year. During two of my classes today, our counselors were in my room explaining to students the Louisiana Board of Regents minimum requirements for first-time college freshmen who wish to attend a four-year college or university in Louisiana. These requirement are the result of legislation passed in 2010 and phased in over four years, the Grad Act.

 

One requirement is a minimum score of 18 on the ACT in English and a minimum score of 19 on the ACT in math.

 

Even though Regents also has an ACT composite requirement, one can readily substitute a high GPA in place of a lacking composite.

 

However, that 18 in English and 19 in math is virtually non-negotiable. An institution might be able to conditionally admit some students in the name of “research”; however, there is not too much of this allowed, for Regents states that the two ACT subscores are the most widely acceptable, readily available evidence that a student would not require remedial college coursework in English or math– a rule effective for all Louisiana four-year institutions of higher education effective Fall 2014.

 

Thus, the first graduating class affected by this Regents rule is the high school graduating class of 2014.

 

Remember those numbers: 18 in English and 19 in math.

 

Schneider continues:

 

Some highlights from this data:

 

Of the 16 active New Orleans RSD high schools, five graduated not one student meeting the Regents 18-English-19-math ACT requirement. That’s no qualifying students out of 215 test takers.

 

Another six RSD high schools each graduated less than one percent meeting the requirement, or 16 students out of 274 (5.8 percent).

 

Out of a total of 1151 RSD New Orleans class of 2014 ACT test takers, only 141 students (12.3 percent) met the Regents requirement. Eighty-nine of these 141 attended a single high school (OP Walker, ACT site code 192113).

 

By far, OP Walker had the highest number of Regents 18-English-19-math-ACT-subscore-qualifying class of 2014 test takers (89 out of 311, or 28.6 percent).

 

If the OP Walker were removed from RSD-NO, then RSD-NO would be left with 52 qualifying students out of 840, or 6.2 percent.

 

Sobering.

 

Notice also that the average ACT composite scores of those meeting the Regents 18-19 requirement (column G) are all above the 18 that LDOE focuses on as a minimum mark of success.

 

Clearly the theory of “raise the bar and achievement will rise” is not playing out in the New Orleans RSD when it comes to meeting the Regents minimum requirement of an 18 in English and 19 in math on the ACT.

 

No miracle here. Only more data that Louisiana Superintendent John White wishes he could hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Johnson is a deeply thoughtful man who is devotedto the systems thinking of W. Edwards Deming. Like Deming, Johnson believes that the path to improvement requires changing the system, not blaming teachers or dissolving the system. Thus, he says Governor Deal’s plan to turn Atlanta into a charter district and/or to create a statewide district akin to Louisiana’s Recovery School District or Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Johnson says such plans are an acknowledgement of local failure, an admission of defeat.

He wrote this today to every local and state official:

February 16, 2014

To date, I am unaware of any communications from the Office of Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools, informing the Atlanta taxpaying and public school communities of the superintendent’s position on Governor Nathan Deal’s designs to create, in Georgia, a New Orleans-styled recovery school district.

Surely, the communities need and deserve to know, given the extreme nature of Deal’s RSD designs that target 25 percent or so of APS schools for state takeover.

By his RSD designs, Deal obviously implies he believes APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen lacks the mettle to lead improving APS as a system.

But then, also by his RSD designs, Deal implies he, himself, lacks the mettle to provide for Carstarphen and other Georgia public school superintendents to learn to lead improving their district as a system.

On the other hand, just as Deal implicates himself, Atlanta school board members and superintendent implicated themselves as lacking the mettle to improve APS as a system of the common good when recently they decided to turn APS into a Charter System. Both they and Deal demonstrate the Systems Thinking concept “Shifting the Burden,” if not “Addiction,” in the sense of being overly dependent on trafficked symptomatic solutions and averse to engaging the usually hard work of drawing out local fundamental solutions.

Deal’s RSD designs should come as no surprise, for they are but the state’s “Charter System” and “IE2” on a wider and more depraved scale. Just as the depravity of Deal’s RSD designs encompass APS as a Charter System, the depravity of President Obama’s Race to the Top Competition encompasses Deal’s RSD designs.

Deal has targeted schools for state takeover based on nothing more than district-level College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores below 60 on a 100-point scale, it has been reported. But, arguably, CCRPI scores offer no learning value or usefulness beyond merely ranking schools and districts for today’s political purposes.

And, of course, a systemic disruption of APS by Deal’s RSD designs will rob Carstarphen of ever being able to claim, in a rational way, that any manner of increased APS performance resulted from her leadership.

Consequently, one might think an essential question Carstarphen has already asked and can readily respond to, with respect to CCRPI scores, is: Will eventual state takeover of 27 or so APS schools fundamentally relieve needing to improve APS as a system?

Since one might reasonably surmise no, it will not, it is incumbent upon Carstarphen to state, and stake, her position on Deal’s RSD designs with supporting data, and inform the public, accordingly.

After all, data-driven decision making is what APS does these days, isn’t it?

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

“There is no difference in culture between the things that actually count.”
–W. Edwards Deming

Cc: Atlanta Superintendent and School Board Members
Cc: Nathan Deal, Governor, State of Georgia (via Domestic Contact Form)
Cc: Senate Education Committee Members, State of Georgia
Cc: House Education Committee Members, State of Georgia
Cc: City Council Members and Mayor, City of Atlanta, Georgia
Cc: Atlanta community organizations
Cc: Atlanta Journal Constitution and other media

Anthony Cody will speak on February 4 at 5:15 pm at the University of Georgia Chapel.

Cody is an experienced educator, a fearless blogger, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and author of the recently published “The Educator and the Oligarch,” about his public debate with the Gates Foundation.

Georgia’s recently elected State Superintendent Richard Woods wrote a terrific letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, explaining patiently why federal testing mandates are defective. The letter was printed in Maureen Downey’s blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

Superintendent Woods sounds like a veteran educator, which he is. He pulls no punches. This is what he wrote:

 

Dear Secretary Duncan,

 

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) comes an opportunity to address the valid concerns of students, parents, teachers, and communities regarding the quantity and quality of federally mandated standardized tests.

 

As Georgia’s School Superintendent, I have a constitutional duty to convey those concerns and provide ideas on how to move my state and our nation forward. Georgia recently entered into a $108 million contract to deliver federally mandated standardized tests to our students. That figure does not include the millions of dollars spent to develop and validate test questions and inform the public about the new tests.

 

This adds to the need for an audit to provide information on the number of tests and loss of instructional time our children endure, as well as a cost/benefit analysis on our current national testing model. As a nation, we have surrendered time, talent, and resources to an emphasis on autopsy-styled assessments, rather than physical-styled assessments. With the reauthorization of ESEA comes an opportunity for a real paradigm shift in the area of assessment.

 

Instead of a “measure, pressure, and punish” model that sets our students, teachers, and schools up for failure, we need a diagnostic, remediate/accelerate model that personalizes instruction, empowers students, involves parents, and provides real feedback to our teachers.

 

We need greater emphasis for a federally supported but state-driven formative assessment model that identifies the strengths and weakness of students, coupled with a less intrusive, student-sampled or grade-staggered summative assessment model for the purposes of state-tostate comparisons and world rankings.

 

Our broken model of assessment is too focused on labeling our schools and teachers, and not focused enough on supporting our students. Our current status quo model is forcing our teachers to teach to the test. We need an innovative approach that uses tests to guide instruction, just as scans and tests guide medical professionals. Oftentimes, we hear teachers called professionals because they have the knowledge and skill set to reach the needs of their individual students, yet in our accountability measures we have not supported or given value to diagnostic tools and tests that teachers need to fully utilize that knowledge or those skills. We must find a balance between accountability and responsibility.

 

We must give our teachers the tools and trust to be successful or our current path to hyper-accountability will continue to set our students and teachers up for failure. Teachers should not view tests as tools that tie their hands as professionals, but as tools that help them grow in their profession. Students should not view tests as tools that can strengthen barriers to be promoted or to graduate, but as tools that help them overcome those barriers. Schools should not view tests as tools that can doom them to failure, but as tools that serve as a compass pointing them down the path of success.

 

Testing must be a tool in our toolbox, but we need more rulers and fewer hammers. As Georgia’s School Superintendent, but more importantly as someone with 22 years of Pre-K through twelfth grade experience in education, I strongly urge you to take this moment in history to listen to the concerns of your constituents – parents, teachers, and community members – and reform the federal standardized testing requirements for the betterment of our children. I look forward to working with you to move education forward.

 

 

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