Beware of false prophets:Is GA capable of leading the nation?   Leave a comment

Although some people may beg to differ, I do not consider myself to be a pessimist. Simply stated: I am a realist because I have enough motivation and common sense to look at things as they actually are, how they could/should be, and then I compare the two. I believe that I am fair in my comparison of the two; perhaps even a little lenient at times, but fair nonetheless.

As I browsed Maureen Downey’s GetSchooled blog for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, I came across several quotes by State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox that caught my attention. Cox was speaking at the DeKalb Rotary Club and discussed how Georgia’s new Math Standards (based on Massachusetts’ 10 year old standards) will allow our state to surpass the model state. Hmmm. Let me make sure I understand this: Georgia has adopted standards 10 years after another state, and not only will we surpass that state, but we will also ‘lead the nation’ in academics? Pick-up any research book on educational change, and chances are you will read something to the effect of meaningful educational change only taking 3-5 years. We missed the bus 5 years ago.

Cox also alluded to Georgia’s performance on the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administration. According to Cox, Georgia is keeping up with or outpacing the nation in almost every demographic. Talk about double-talk” keeping up with or outpacing and almost. Those vague words and phrases should automatically make everyone (or maybe just me) run to the NAEP web site to see exactly how much ‘out pacing’ Georgia is actually doing. Since NCLB was supposed to address the opportunity gap for certain groups (Black, Latino/Hispanic/ELL/SWD/FARL), education policy experts and administrators focus on the scores of those groups first.

Let’s look at the NAEP Math performance of the  3rd grade Students with Disabilities. The national average score is 220. Here is the breakdown of performance by state:

  • 24 states performed above the national average, with Massachusetts having the highest average of 227;
  • 6 states performed at the national average of 220;
  • 21 states, including Georgia, performed below the national average, with D.C. having the lowest score of 193 and Alabama with a 194.

This is only one example of a state-by-state comparison. Anyone interested in looking at scores for other content area/grades can do so at the site. You can generate very specific reports for any subgroup.

It is great that our state’s education leader wants to emulate the success experienced in Massachusetts, but I believe that we waited too late to implement the necessary changes. I can’t help but wonder:

  • How my kids were retained during the 10 year ‘wait-and-see’ period?
  • How many of those retained kids could have been successful with the new curriculum?
  • How many kids dropped out because they felt hopeless?

No, Cox has not been in office for the last 10 years, but what Georgia needs to improve education now is a leader who is abreast of research, policy, and not afraid to make executive decisions. In my opinion, Cox does not possess any of those. She is better suited for a position at the local level. If Georgia plans to be a serious contender in education reform, we need someone who will roll-up their sleeves, hire people based on education, experience, and ability-not someone who is under pressure from his or her political party. A real leader knows that you can only mislead the public for so long with vague statements, such as ““No matter how you measure it, our graduation rate is improving,” (Cox, 2009). In reality, the graduation rate is only improving for certain groups, but when you use the average rate, it does imply that our graduation rate is steadily increasing. A leader who knows that only 44% of its SWD population graduates would not insult the constituents with false prophecies. Yes, Georgia is ready for change, but leading the nation will require considerable change within the infrastructure-from the top down.

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