Archive for June 2010

When the status quo just won't do   2 comments

As I’m sitting here, listening to music and the much-awaited rain crashing against my windows, there is something really important on my mind. Sadly, blogging is the best way to get my thoughts heard, as I encounter few people IRL with whom I can discuss these things face-to-face. Better yet, there are few people I meet who want to discuss these things. This is something that is always on my mind; I use this forum as a way to clear my mind because holding these things in will not do me (or anyone else) any good. So here are the things that inspired my (internal) intellectual dialog for today:

1. I was reading through some of my friends’ FB status updates and my college roommate posted something about her HOA that was both sad and hilarious. In the covenants for the development, there was a statement that read: “None of the lots shall be conveyed, occupied, etc. to anyone other than of the Caucasian Race.” She said they drew a line though it, instead of completely deleting it. Let me clear, I thought it was funny in the sense that, in 2010, a professional agent would actually hand that document to someone, especially a Black someone, without deleting that statement. Even funnier is the fact that no one thought it was important to remove the statement, especially since we live in a ‘post-racial’ America (side eye). BTW, what exactly do they mean by ‘post-racial’ America? As long as we have brown and black skin tones that run the gamut, we will never be able to live in a world where no one ‘sees’ race. Knowing my roomie, she will definitely address that faux pas. But here’s a burning question I have: How many Black homeowners flock to developments with the word ‘plantation’ in the name? I once told a friend that I would never even look at houses in a development with that word in the name. Is this practice exclusive to Southern states? I don’t think I have ever seen the word ‘plantation’ on anything up North. Hmmm…

2. I stumbled onto the Blogging While Brown site today. I hate that I missed their annual conference (not that I would have been able to go any way), but I thought I was finally getting the hang of this whole blogging thing. Ugh! I will definitely add that event to my calendar for next year. Any way, I clicked through a bunch of the blogs listed (and followed a few on Twitter). I will admit that I was kind of disappointed by the lack of Education-related blogs. Of course I started asking myself a bunch of questions, including ‘Are there any people of color besides @FirstTeacher and @TheJLV blogging about Education? Considering the ramifications on NCLB, RttT, and whatever else the Obama administration thinks of, shouldn’t there be more people of color blogging about this issue? I understand the importance of teaching entrepreneurship, money management, etc., but those lessons are in vain if Lil Ray-Ray or Juan can’t read well enough to develop a business plan, let alone effectively execute one. Right? Or is it just me? If all the people of color who are keeping up with the Kardashians or concerned about what their favorite celebrity is wearing would invest half of that time, energy, and attention into demanding quality schools in their communities, the achievement gap would not exist. No, this issue is not exclusive to only those who have kids. If you work, pay taxes, and own a home or business, then you should be concerned by the manner in which your money is spent. You do have a voice.

The only way we can get the attention of those seeking to hold positions of leadership is by exercising our right to vote. We turned-out to vote in record numbers in 2008, but we can’t rest now. That was just the first step in returning some of the power to the people. Obama cannot fix everything; he is certainly too busy to understand what happens in Snellville, GA or Houston, TX. It’s up to us to hold elected officials accountable for their words, actions, and campaign promises. If not us, then who?

Remember: The Georgia Primary Election is July 20, 2010. This will determine the direction of our public education system. Either we stay at the bottom or we fight our way to the top; we don’t have the luxury of running a ‘race’ only to realize we have been running in circles.

When the status quo just won’t do   2 comments

As I’m sitting here, listening to music and the much-awaited rain crashing against my windows, there is something really important on my mind. Sadly, blogging is the best way to get my thoughts heard, as I encounter few people IRL with whom I can discuss these things face-to-face. Better yet, there are few people I meet who want to discuss these things. This is something that is always on my mind; I use this forum as a way to clear my mind because holding these things in will not do me (or anyone else) any good. So here are the things that inspired my (internal) intellectual dialog for today:

1. I was reading through some of my friends’ FB status updates and my college roommate posted something about her HOA that was both sad and hilarious. In the covenants for the development, there was a statement that read: “None of the lots shall be conveyed, occupied, etc. to anyone other than of the Caucasian Race.” She said they drew a line though it, instead of completely deleting it. Let me clear, I thought it was funny in the sense that, in 2010, a professional agent would actually hand that document to someone, especially a Black someone, without deleting that statement. Even funnier is the fact that no one thought it was important to remove the statement, especially since we live in a ‘post-racial’ America (side eye). BTW, what exactly do they mean by ‘post-racial’ America? As long as we have brown and black skin tones that run the gamut, we will never be able to live in a world where no one ‘sees’ race. Knowing my roomie, she will definitely address that faux pas. But here’s a burning question I have: How many Black homeowners flock to developments with the word ‘plantation’ in the name? I once told a friend that I would never even look at houses in a development with that word in the name. Is this practice exclusive to Southern states? I don’t think I have ever seen the word ‘plantation’ on anything up North. Hmmm…

2. I stumbled onto the Blogging While Brown site today. I hate that I missed their annual conference (not that I would have been able to go any way), but I thought I was finally getting the hang of this whole blogging thing. Ugh! I will definitely add that event to my calendar for next year. Any way, I clicked through a bunch of the blogs listed (and followed a few on Twitter). I will admit that I was kind of disappointed by the lack of Education-related blogs. Of course I started asking myself a bunch of questions, including ‘Are there any people of color besides @FirstTeacher and @TheJLV blogging about Education? Considering the ramifications on NCLB, RttT, and whatever else the Obama administration thinks of, shouldn’t there be more people of color blogging about this issue? I understand the importance of teaching entrepreneurship, money management, etc., but those lessons are in vain if Lil Ray-Ray or Juan can’t read well enough to develop a business plan, let alone effectively execute one. Right? Or is it just me? If all the people of color who are keeping up with the Kardashians or concerned about what their favorite celebrity is wearing would invest half of that time, energy, and attention into demanding quality schools in their communities, the achievement gap would not exist. No, this issue is not exclusive to only those who have kids. If you work, pay taxes, and own a home or business, then you should be concerned by the manner in which your money is spent. You do have a voice.

The only way we can get the attention of those seeking to hold positions of leadership is by exercising our right to vote. We turned-out to vote in record numbers in 2008, but we can’t rest now. That was just the first step in returning some of the power to the people. Obama cannot fix everything; he is certainly too busy to understand what happens in Snellville, GA or Houston, TX. It’s up to us to hold elected officials accountable for their words, actions, and campaign promises. If not us, then who?

Remember: The Georgia Primary Election is July 20, 2010. This will determine the direction of our public education system. Either we stay at the bottom or we fight our way to the top; we don’t have the luxury of running a ‘race’ only to realize we have been running in circles.

Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere….   1 comment

A few months ago I made a commitment to do better at writing blogs. After all, if I am trying to engage people on education topics and flex my writing skills in preparation for the forthcoming books (yes, that’s plural), then I sure as heck should have something to say! Not only that, I need to make sure that I am not merely ‘saying’ something, but saying something of importance. I want people to think about what I share, both while they are reading and after they’ve finished. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Another reason why I have not written a blog post in over a week is because I have a lot of projects on my plate right now. Every once in a while, I get these creativity rushes and I get bombarded with several ideas at one time. Naturally, I get a little overwhelmed and have to force myself to unplug for a day or two. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing. Last night I finished a post that I pray will get published on the ‘Race-talk‘ blog, sponsored by the Kirwan Institute. As if that weren’t enough to keep me busy, I have also started my own summer reading which includes re-reading The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson, father of Black History Month; I am also making a commitment to finish reading Frederick Hess’ Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling. After reading only a few pages I honestly lost interest because this book, much like other media, only examines the ‘surface’ success of programs like Teach for America (TFA), Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), and the unique leadership style of Michelle Rhee. Anyone who has followed my blog or Twitter conversations with @IraSocol already knows how I feel about these programs. If my submission does not get picked-up by ‘Race-talk’ I will definitely post it here!

Oh,  I almost forgot! I am also working on a book/movement titled ‘Wake the Artist, Change the World!’ and I have already lined-up some very special people to interview. Wow! Now I see why I get overwhelmed! It’s all good though because I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even though I had to turn myself around and start over a few times.

So, until later, later!

Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere….   1 comment

A few months ago I made a commitment to do better at writing blogs. After all, if I am trying to engage people on education topics and flex my writing skills in preparation for the forthcoming books (yes, that’s plural), then I sure as heck should have something to say! Not only that, I need to make sure that I am not merely ‘saying’ something, but saying something of importance. I want people to think about what I share, both while they are reading and after they’ve finished. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Another reason why I have not written a blog post in over a week is because I have a lot of projects on my plate right now. Every once in a while, I get these creativity rushes and I get bombarded with several ideas at one time. Naturally, I get a little overwhelmed and have to force myself to unplug for a day or two. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing. Last night I finished a post that I pray will get published on the ‘Race-talk‘ blog, sponsored by the Kirwan Institute. As if that weren’t enough to keep me busy, I have also started my own summer reading which includes re-reading The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson, father of Black History Month; I am also making a commitment to finish reading Frederick Hess’ Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling. After reading only a few pages I honestly lost interest because this book, much like other media, only examines the ‘surface’ success of programs like Teach for America (TFA), Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), and the unique leadership style of Michelle Rhee. Anyone who has followed my blog or Twitter conversations with @IraSocol already knows how I feel about these programs. If my submission does not get picked-up by ‘Race-talk’ I will definitely post it here!

Oh,  I almost forgot! I am also working on a book/movement titled ‘Wake the Artist, Change the World!’ and I have already lined-up some very special people to interview. Wow! Now I see why I get overwhelmed! It’s all good though because I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even though I had to turn myself around and start over a few times.

So, until later, later!

Another example of mass firings gone wrong   1 comment

In a previous post, I offered my opinion (as I always do) on the latest education-craze: Firing entire school staffs and requiring interested teachers to re-apply. Despite praise from the Obama administration, I still believe this is the wrong way to fix what ails public education. Sure, some teachers (and administrators) may experience burn-out and may be in need of culturally relevant and research-based professional development, but replacing staff members with new staff members will require more time and money for training.

A few weeks before the school year ended, the Cobb County School System delivered grim news to 700 teachers: You do not have a job for the upcoming school year. These layoffs were due to projected budget shortfalls for the district, not low-performing schools. Cobb students showed their support by staging walk-outs and rallies outside of their schools, as did the students in Newark, New Jersey a few months ago. I commend students in Cobb as I did those in Newark. Their actions displayed their courage to voice their concerns over the potential impact board decisions would have on education. Well, due to some oversight miracle the district is ready to hire/rehire 500 teachers-just a few weeks later. According to the AJC, the district has rehired 130 Special Education teachers and plans to rehire an additional 370 full-time teachers.

Now, I consider myself to be fairly proficient at Math, but this makes absolutely no sense to me. At. All. Maureen Downey of the AJC agrees, stating that this debacle (my word) has caused “…unnecessary angst, pain, and paperwork.” What’s even more strange is that (1) the district’s financial ‘expert’ played a role in projecting said shortfall; and (2) the board members agreed to the cuts. Just so I am clear: Are we still calling teachers ineffective and under qualified? Perhaps this is the wake-up call that parents and teachers need to motivate them to become more invested in school board elections. While I am not claiming that people can’t and don’t make mistakes, we should be able to expect better decision-making from 6-figure employees and school board members. If the layoffs had affected, say, 100 people and the district recalled 50 or 60, I could live with that. But mistakes of ginormous proportion have no room in our struggling school systems.

Edreform epiphany: Charters on crack   Leave a comment

(If you are reading this, my sensationalized headline served its purpose!) By now I know better than to draw conclusions based on a sensationalized headline, so I took the time to read through the recent @AJCGetSchooled blog post by Maureen Downey. Actually, it was a  letter written by University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky who suggests that we can fix education by making every school a charter school.

According to Smagorinsky, “Charter schools have been offered as one way of invigorating public education by excusing them from many of the rules that bind ordinary public schools. In exchange, they provide charters that outline their mission and means of accountability.” He’s kinda right and kinda wrong. Just like a lot of other people who have not actively engaged (Read: Devoted 2 or more years to developing a charter application) in the charter ‘business.’ Yes, petitioners (those who write and submit charter applications) can opt to seek waivers for some of the state regulations; however, some regulations must be followed, e.g., attendance rules, accountability measures, etc. Be leary of anyone who says that charter schools have different or fewer accountability measures. Any charter school operating in the state of Georgia is required to administer the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), End-of-Course Test (EOCT) and/or the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT). Why? Because that is how Georgia’s Department of Education determines whether a school/district meets Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). No publicly funded school can opt-out of those tests. Not one. Ultimately, the decision to grant any waivers lies with the State Board of Education. We have to stop alluding to the fact that charter schools can pick and choose the laws/rules to which they will adhere.

Here is where my frustration lies (ok, at least one of them): I have yet to hear or read anything about the role lack-luster leadership has played in the demise of public education. Ineffective teachers – check. Bad-arse students – check. Apathetic parents – check. Irresponsible single parents – check. Poor kids – check. When will leaders own-up to their failures as leaders? You know, wasting money to fill unnecessary central office positions. Or wasting money on textbooks not supported by classroom teachers. Changing instructional models/methods every 2-3 years without giving the previous one enough time for implementation and tracked results, or with every new superintendent. Does anyone reading this have any links to any stories covering screw-ups of overpaid central office administration, aside from the indictment of a metro-Atlanta superintendent? I’m still looking…

So here’s what we need to realize: Whether districts opt for charter schools, turnaround schools, firing every staff member, etc., none of these methods will deliver the results they seek. Why? Because some people (leadership) fail to accept that they may be a key contributing factor to the problem. From what I’ve learned, a true leader knows when it is his/her time to move-on to something else. The problem with education is that many decision-makers have been in authoritative roles for 20+ years and still think that solutions of the 90s are applicable to the problems of 2010.

But that’s just me: A crazy mom and former Special Education teacher. What do I know?

Arts-education in urban schools: What are districts really afraid of?   2 comments

Bryan Keith, one of my new Facebook friends, posted a link a few days ago about the Betty Shabazz International Charter School. The school was founded in 1998 by Dr. Carol Lee, her husband Haki Madhubuti, and several other prominent community leaders.  I was fascinated to learn about this school because I had never heard of it. (I guess if it was started and managed by a big-box chain, we would have seen it on the news or in the Washington Post by now.) The idea of providing a curriculum that encourages Black students to learn about their own history, as a way of promoting an interest in the broader curriculum, has been mentioned during several of the #BlackEd chats on Twitter (Thursdays, 9 PM EST). More importantly, the school adopts an interdisciplinary approach to instruction, allowing students to draw on their strengths in the arts, writing, oral tradition, and the humanities. Sounds very familiar to what I wanted to do in Gwinnett County.

Despite my awe and inspiration from reading about the school, I couldn’t help but ask: Why can’t we have something like this in our community? I really try to avoid painting all people (of any group) with a broad stroke, but sometimes the answers are just too obvious. But I can’t help but wonder: What are they really afraid of? If we create a school that supports and encourages active participation in the arts, why would the district tell us that it is not possible to develop a schedule to accommodate such classes? There are schools that have been offering such programs for decades, all the while producing some of the top scholars within the state. Check out DeKalb School of the Arts. DSA is a magnet school but draws students from all parts of DeKalb County, thereby creating a diverse student body, both culturally and economically. Although DAS is not a Title I school, 32% of its students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL). That figure is small when compared to others in the district and is likely a direct result of no district-sponsored transportation. Despite that obstacle, DAS still enrolls a majority-minority student population, with 64% African Americans and 2% Hispanic/Latino; 26% of the student population is White. So how have the students* at DAS performed on state-mandated tests (not that testing is the ultimate measure-just for the sake of the educrats)?

  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (AFAM): 15% PASS/85% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (AFAM): 41% PASS/59% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (FARL): 15% PASS/85% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (FARL): 54% PASS/46% PASS PLUS

Let’s look at the demographics of the district: DeKalb is a Title I district, with 66% of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Lunch; 74% African American students (compared to 38% for the state) and 9% Hispanic/Latino (compared to 10% for the state).  Here are system-wide performance stats on the same aforementioned test:

  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (AFAM): 12% FAIL/46% PASS/42% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (AFAM): 9% FAIL/60% PASS/30% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test ELA (FARL): 15% FAIL/49% PASS/37% PASS PLUS
  • 2008-09 GA Grad Test Math (FARL): 10% FAIL/ 61% PASS/28% PASS PLUS

There is a noticeable difference in the average performance of DAS students and those enrolled in other DeKalb schools. Now I know that I am not the only one who can view the data and arrive at some basic conclusions, one of them being that kids at the arts school do perform better than kids at traditional schools. Districts have unlimited financial and human resources at their disposal, so why don’t they start looking at the things that have worked and start replicating? Believe it or not, it is much easier for school districts to replicate and/or start charters and magnets than it is for a grassroots group to do the same. But here’s the catch: These schools need to be located in the communities where they are needed the most: Urban communities, which also happen to be predominantly African American and Hispanic/Latino. By doing so, lack of transportation will not serve as a barrier to deserving kids like it is for Gwinnett’s Math, Science, and Technology Charter School. Food for thought: Edreform initiatives that won’t cost much because the buildings are already standing, the teaching staff is at the ready, and students are clamoring for something new. Would I be too cynical if I claimed that some districts really do not want to see black, brown, and poor kids succeed because that success, in essence, would then dry-up the additional federal funds? Imagine what would happen if fewer minority and low-income kids were referred to and serviced by Special Education? You do know that districts get funds for students in multiple categories, right? If little Johnny receives free lunch and is labeled as EBD, the district receives funds for both categories. Now imagine the money the district would receive for Miguelito, who is also an English Language Learner (ELL). You get my drift. There is no excuse for students to not receive the level of services they need.

Then again, who am I? I’m not an expert, just a lady with a little common sense, which obviously makes me over-qualified for anything education-related.

*The number of Hispanic/Latino students tested was too small so the school was not required to report those results.*