Archive for November 2009

When it comes to Education, everyone's an expert   1 comment

I keep flipping through my calendar but I can’t find it: national ‘Education has suddenly become a mess’ day. Is it on your calendars? Apparently, it’s a holiday that only politicians, talking heads, and anyone who has never been involved in Education celebrate. Since the Obama Administration announced the Race to the Top competitive funding initiative, everyone has chimed-in on what’s wrong with Education and what needs to be done. This latest Wall Street Journal op-ed piece got my dander up today, simply because we have reached the point of politico-overload. Do these nuevo-Education experts know that No Child Left Behind was authorized in 2001 to address the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students, as well as the gap between minority and non-minority students? Probably not. Do they realize that we are asking for trouble if the government signs over million dollar checks to states that have repeatedly failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress without the midnight-hour ‘safe harbor’ crutches? Probably not. Do they realize that in order to even begin to touch the surface of the Education crisis, we need to have a major change in leadership? Probably not. But I digress. If you can close the achievement gap with RttT funds dangling in front of you, why can’t you do the same without it?

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When it comes to Education, everyone’s an expert   1 comment

I keep flipping through my calendar but I can’t find it: national ‘Education has suddenly become a mess’ day. Is it on your calendars? Apparently, it’s a holiday that only politicians, talking heads, and anyone who has never been involved in Education celebrate. Since the Obama Administration announced the Race to the Top competitive funding initiative, everyone has chimed-in on what’s wrong with Education and what needs to be done. This latest Wall Street Journal op-ed piece got my dander up today, simply because we have reached the point of politico-overload. Do these nuevo-Education experts know that No Child Left Behind was authorized in 2001 to address the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students, as well as the gap between minority and non-minority students? Probably not. Do they realize that we are asking for trouble if the government signs over million dollar checks to states that have repeatedly failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress without the midnight-hour ‘safe harbor’ crutches? Probably not. Do they realize that in order to even begin to touch the surface of the Education crisis, we need to have a major change in leadership? Probably not. But I digress. If you can close the achievement gap with RttT funds dangling in front of you, why can’t you do the same without it?

Teachers and parents unite: Imagine the possibilities   Leave a comment

This blog will not be like the others, where I include links to web sites and articles. Instead, I am shooting straight from-the-hip, so to speak. After a healthy ‘debate’ with a friend of mine on Facebook, I am still thinking about something I read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding the ‘assumed’ effect of teacher absences on student achievement. Our beloved and revered Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is at it again: Blaming teachers for 90% of what ails America’s public education system. (NOTE: In case you didn’t know, I am very sarcastic). One week, he claims that ineffective teachers are what’s wrong with Education. The next week, it’s the Teacher Education programs across the country that are ill-preparing teachers to get our students where they need to be. Well, week three and he has yet another epiphany: Teacher absences are to blame for low student achievement.

As I shared with my friend, who shall remain nameless, we teachers take what are called ‘mental health days’ from time to time, to regroup and refocus so that we can give 100% to our students. There may be some teachers in this world who have never taken such as day; there may be some who have but will never admit it. Whatever the case may be, teachers are human and need to, from time to time, recharge their batteries. Believe it or not, the need to recharge does not often stem from working with kids. Just the opposite: Working with adults who either do not act like adults themselves, or do not treat their colleagues with respect. During our conversation, I mentioned that sometimes teachers have the misfortune of working for an administrator who possesses both o the afore-mentioned qualities. It’s a reality in Education. Yes, there are many more people who do not fall into that category but we need to be concerned about the ones who do, because they may be few, but their impact could be widespread!

I am by no means claiming that every administrator is unprofessional or unethical. Furthermore, there are some ineffective teachers in the classrooms. What we, as a community (parents, students, teachers, etc) need to do is ask one simple question: How does a teacher become ineffective? Why does a teacher need to take days off? If you ask those questions, I guarantee the blame will rest on teachers or Teacher Education programs. We must not stop there because every state has some form of Teacher Evaluation program in place, where they are formally evaluated at least 2-3 times each year. Given that, how does an administrator evaluate a teacher every year and fail to note, discuss, and remediate deficiencies? No excuses. Teachers do it on a weekly basis for 25+ kids;  more so for middle and high school teachers. I believe I covered the ‘why’ of teacher absences earlier, but if that explanation did not satisfy you, how about this one: Teachers get sick too. Teachers have families who get sick too. If you are allowed ‘sick days’ at your job, then teachers should be allowed those same liberties, especially if you send your sick child to school knowing that it is highly possible for others (including the teacher) to contract your child’s illness.

I say all of this to say, there have been problems with Education for a long time. Just as their have been with the economy, healthcare, etc. I agree that there is an urgent need to change the way we educate our kids (all kids, regardless of zip code, hues, etc). We are an industrialized nation when it comes to technology, but below third-world when it comes to quality Education. If your child’s teacher is balancing being the best and most effective teacher, whilst dealing with some trifling folks (yeah, I went a little ‘ethnic’) and needs a day off to rest and get his or her mind right, then so be it! The alternatives: (1) A completely new teacher before the end of the semester; (2) Two new teachers before the end of the school year; (3) a long-term sub for the remainder of the school year; or (4) the adult-drama spilling over into instructional time. Which one would you choose?

Lastly, whether you have time to volunteer in the classroom or are involved in the PTA, please take the time to thank a teacher. A simple email will do..just because. We entrust our kids with a stranger for 180 days a year, we can do more than b*^&% and moan 175 of those days.

You still my girl Nicole! (hee hee)

Have Charter Management Organizations run amok?   3 comments

More than a decade after the first charter school was created to foster an environment of teacher autonomy and school choice, ‘charter school’ has become a household phrase. Even television sitcoms such as ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ have given shout-outs to charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have more flexibility with regard to educational model, school calendar, uniforms, and requiring parental involvement through mandatory volunteer hours. The Obama Administration’s push to improve public education by supporting charter schools through replication and conversion of failing public schools has catapulted the free school choice option to the forefront of the Race to the Top competition.

Some entrepreneurs have discovered that providing free school choice is a lucrative business. Charter Management Organizations (CMO) such as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Imagine have demonstrated that students from low-income backgrounds, typically minority, can succeed if given the proper learning environment. While I do not discount the accomplishments of such organizations, I do question the method used to select where the charter schools will be located. For example, some companies only open schools in districts where 70% or more of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Meal Programs. Does that mean students in districts where only 50-60% of the students qualify for those meals are less worthy of a research-based school choice option?

Upon reviewing the list of charter petitions awaiting approval by Georgia’s Charter Commission, many red flags went up. Charter Schools Administration Services (CSAS) has two petitions under review: one for Academy of Fulton County and another for Academy of Lithonia. CSAS presented budgets for both schools with management fees of $609,000 per year, per school. An additional $300K and $400K were added for the leasing of the facilities, respectively. Each school would also pay $56,000 in interest on funds loaned through CSAS. These figures are especially troubling when one considers the fact that only 500 students are or will be enrolled; the average per pupil revenues in the metro-Atlanta area are roughly $8,000. Regardless of additional, unforeseen expenses, the charter schools would have to pay CSAS first. It has been reported that CSAS and other CMO’s are currently under investigation by the IRS, as they operate as non-profit organizations; however, their profit margins say otherwise.

If school districts are genuinely concerned about ‘losing’ students to charter schools (Read: Losing the money), common sense should prevail: Create charters and convert some of the existing schools to charters, thereby providing parents, regardless of income or zip code, equal access to school choice options. Instead, some districts make it impossible for grassroots groups to create charter schools by denying all applications and challenging the state’s ability to authorize additional schools.

Do minority groups need their own thinktank?   Leave a comment

As I was reading the tweets of folks I follow in the Education field, I got to thinking: Some of Georgia’s education problems could be solved if we had some national attention, a la California, New Orleans, or D.C. Then I went a step further. Would a minority-developed and led thinktank make noticeable strides in educating parents, increasing advocacy, and actually closing the achievement gap? I know that some people are going to misinterpret my line of thinking, so let me clarify. I am not promoting segregating students, schools, etc. In reality, many of our country’s public schools have done an outstanding job of re-segregating any way (Yes, that was sarcasm). What I propose is creating a thinktank with some of the minority pioneers, movers and shakers, and decision-makers within the field of Education. No, I do not mean President Obama either. While I appreciate his desire to improve Education and close the achievement gap, I DO NOT agree with his decision to promote a non-educator to the rank of Secretary of Education. But that’s another blog post entirely.

Back to the issue at hand. There are many education thinktanks in existence; they receive major contributions from organizations such as The Broad Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Eli Lily Foundation, and countless others. But something is amiss: Many of the high-ranking decision makers in those organizations are non-minority. If we are to have honest and candid dialogue about students from low-income families, minority backgrounds, and all the other ‘at-risk’ groups (again, sarcasm), then members of those groups who have succeeded in spite of and because of those labels need to have a seat at the table. I get especially frustrated when ‘experts’ start spewing statistics about kids born to single-parent households with regard to graduating, going to college, etc. According to the ‘experts’, I should have never graduated from high school without at least one child and I certainly should have never graduated from the University of Notre Dame. Going by data alone, I should not be near the completion of a Doctorate in Education either. But that’s the problem: We are treating kids and their families like statistics-inanimae objects, when they are so much more than that. If those ‘experts’ insist on looking at the numbers, let’s start looking at the number of kids oorn to two-parent families who get pregnant in high school and never step foot on a college campus. When  dialogue becomes two-sided, maybe then I will give consideration to its validity.

Let’s face it: Asking a group of non-educators or non-minorities to address a problem to which they have no first-hand knowledge is akin to asking a group of podiatrists and dentists to conduct open-heart surgery. It just don’t make sense! (Sorry Grammar and English teachers!)

Is he serious? I don't know what to believe anymore   Leave a comment

J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO of the Gwinnett County School System, states that the district is “…interested in developing more charter schools to provide learning opportunities for students and their particular talents and interests.” That’s ironic, considering that Gwinnett is the largest district in the state and only has three charter schools; one of which, Ivy Prep Academy, is not even controlled by the district. The other two charter schools, New Life Academy of Excellence and Gwinnett School of Math, Science, and Technology, do not provide transportation, therefore creating a barrier to access for students from low-income families, where one or both parents have to work and cannot transport outside of their assigned cluster.

Gwinnett County enrolls approximately 160,000 students, yet less than 1% of its students attend one of the three charter schools. If the district is serious about creating more charter schools, then it needs to translate the speech delivered to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce into action. The district has the fiscal and human resources to transform itself into a true ‘world-class’ district, but appears content with making excuses about funding shortfalls.

Is he serious? I don’t know what to believe anymore   Leave a comment

J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO of the Gwinnett County School System, states that the district is “…interested in developing more charter schools to provide learning opportunities for students and their particular talents and interests.” That’s ironic, considering that Gwinnett is the largest district in the state and only has three charter schools; one of which, Ivy Prep Academy, is not even controlled by the district. The other two charter schools, New Life Academy of Excellence and Gwinnett School of Math, Science, and Technology, do not provide transportation, therefore creating a barrier to access for students from low-income families, where one or both parents have to work and cannot transport outside of their assigned cluster.

Gwinnett County enrolls approximately 160,000 students, yet less than 1% of its students attend one of the three charter schools. If the district is serious about creating more charter schools, then it needs to translate the speech delivered to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce into action. The district has the fiscal and human resources to transform itself into a true ‘world-class’ district, but appears content with making excuses about funding shortfalls.