If you haven’t heard already, the Gwinnett County Public School System was awarded the big kitty in the Broad Prize for Urban Education competition yesterday, or the day before-I forget. Anywho, I have blogged about this same district a number of times, including this post on encouraging parental disengagement and this one on how kids get lost in monolithic schools-or how personnel drop the ball, or even this one highlighting the obvious lack of accessible school choice options. Now don’t get me wrong: $1 million dollars is a whole lotta money. The kids who will benefit from the scholarships are definitely deserving of those funds, but we cannot let the cash flow distract us from the other ‘stuff’ that is happening in this, and other ‘urban’ districts across the country. (Since I am generally always long-winded in my posts, I will opt to use bulleted lists this time. You’re welcome!)
Consider these facts about the Gwinnett County Public School System:
- For approximately the past 7-10 years, the racial/ethnic demographics have changed significantly, yet school personnel (excluding custodians, cooks, & bus drivers) have failed to reflect those changes. For the 2008-09 school year, Gwinnett had a student enrollment of 156,484. Of that number: 28% were Black, 22% Latino, 11% were Special Needs (SWD), 15% were ELL, and 46% were eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL). When we consider the ‘diversity’ of the teaching and administrative staff, the picture changes significantly. With regard to teachers, 14.7% and 2.3% respectively, were Black and Latino. The only reflection we see of ‘urbanism’ within this district is the student enrollment, I guess.
- During that same year, the district’s Special Education population was 21,202. Of that number 33.7% were Black and 20.2% were Latino. Basically, more than half of the Special Education population was comprised of students from minority groups. Their combined representation in this group exceeded their combined representation in the total student population. Hmmmm.I still don’t know how that’s possible, considering the fact that those two groups comprised exactly 50% of the student population. I may need a mathematician to explain that one to me.
- Based on those numbers we know that Black and Latino kids aren’t in the Gifted Education program. How do I know this? Well, of the 22,138 students enrolled in the Gifted Education program, 12.9% were Black and 6.5% were Latino. I don’t know about you, but that makes one heck of a statement (to me). It says that Black and Latino kids are more suited for Special Education than Gifted Education programs. If the district wanted to project a different message, then it would use some/one of the alternate assessments recommended by the Georgia Department of Education. There are several available that were developed to account for the cultural and linguistic differences of Black and Latino children. But that’s just my .02 cents. What do I know anyway?
- 3rd grade students identified as belonging to one of the AYP subgroups (Black/Latino/ELL/SWD/FARL) lagged behind White and Asian students on the state’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). For example, on the Reading test, the Failure Rates were 7-23% higher for those in the AYP subgroups. Students with Disabilities fared the worst on all sections of the test. Remember, the majority of the district’s Students with Disabilities were (and still are) Blacks and Latinos.
Here are some things that the foundation’s judges should have given at least a little consideration:
- The district was the first to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s Charter School Commission, citing that the state did not have the authority to divert funds from local districts to charter schools (which would have been a part of the district if the old-heads knew the first thing about charter schools). How can you credit a district with doing a superb job at closing the opportunity gap, while they essentially eliminate accessible school choice options for the families that cannot afford to live in $300K+ homes? It’s a sad state of affairs when your zip code determines the quality of your school, within the same district. The differences are not quite as drastic as those highlighted in Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, but they do exist. I would love for my kids to have access to a robotics program and curriculum, but I cannot afford to purchase a home in the community where the school is located.
- Some of the current board members have been serving for almost as long as I have breathed air into my lungs…that’s a long time. They hardly ever go out into their communities. They are not current on best practices or real school reform initiatives. Yes, school boards are important because they make decisions that affect our kids and our schools. They have been instrumental at blocking efforts to offer school choice in communities where families do not have the means to afford private school tuition or to drive 30+ minutes out of their way for one of the more affluent schools offering permissive transfers. Is that how the Broad Foundation envisions change and improvement?
- The district’s superintendent has not minced words about his feelings on the Special Education population, referring to the department as the ‘albatross around the neck of public education.’ After that debacle one would think that the district’s spokesperson would get a better handle on the superintendent’s public statements, but nooooooooo. Back in 2008 this fool leader had the audacity to ask, in an open school board meeting, ‘Do they even have Blacks in Idaho?’ He made that comment in context of conversation regarding handling disciplinary issues involving Black and Latino students. There were (and still are) repeated allegations that the district unfairly punishes Black and Latino students. I would like to invoke the sentiments of Jay-Z here: ‘Men lie. Women Lie. Numbers don’t lie.’ (O.K. so it’s probably not his quote but he is the person I heard use it.) Well, the local NAACP investigated and sure enough, they found that Black and Latino students, namely males, were (are) more likely to be suspended or expelled, even when White students commit the same offenses. Hmmmmm. Regardless of the point the superintendent tried to make, what old, grown arse person, especially one who leads the largest school district in the state, would utter those words? What you do on your own time, down at the ‘lodge’ with your buddies is your business; however, in your capacity as a public school official you should know better. But I have to keep in mind the location and thought-processes (or lack thereof) of some of these folks…
- The system is still very much segregated. The district has no measures in place to address that issue and most of the schools in low-to moderate income communities are overcrowded, with no relief plans in place.
- There was no input from parents. That sounds an awful lot like the recent one-sided conversations held on education reform. No one wants to hear what the parents think. As I meet more and more people (from all races and parts of the community), I am learning that there are a lot of unhappy people here. Sadly, the majority of us are stuck due to the horrible housing market or by the fact that our kids are nearing the end of their high school careers.
Oh well, we have yet another example of why test scores should not be use as the only measurement of achievement/closing of the opportunity gap. I guess looking at the real issues makes the Broad Foundation more uncomfortable than it does Guggenheim. But what do I know?