Archive for the ‘charter schools’ Category

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?

Teacher Unions: Two sides to every story   2 comments

Going through my Twitter stream, I see this article: Black parents vs. the Teachers’ Union. First thought: What the (bleep)? Are they serious? Have we come to using the union as the Boogeyman to scare parents into leaving public schools and adding their child’s name to a long-arse waiting list at a *charter school? Seriously? Quite frankly, the union and teacher-bashing is tired and played-out because it solves no-thing…absolutely no-thing! For those of us who keep-up with the monumental changes in education, we know what’s happening: Right before our eyes, public education is rapidly becoming privatized by people with the big checkbooks. Sure, education needs serious reform but money is not the primary (or even secondary) solution to what ails our system. Top-down reform is needed now. What’s even scarier: Our president appointed a man with no classroom experience to make these monumental decisions. For those who insist that one need not have classroom experience to lead our country’s education system, please refer to all of the research on the debacle ‘miracle’ in Chicago. And then get back to me.

As someone who has worked in a state without a teachers’ union, I can attest to the horrible and toxic working conditions (not referring to kids) in some of Georgia’s schools. I have seen teachers get cursed out by administrators, in front of students. And we wonder why kids think that type of behavior is acceptable. I have witnessed teachers get harassed by principals and other teachers for no other reason than the simple fact they were excellent teachers. You know when you come into an organization that accepts mediocrity as the standard, you are asking for trouble when you raise the bar for your students and colleagues. No, I am not making-up these stories; my left-brain is an underachiever. I couldn’t make-up this stuff even if I tried. Or wanted to. Ask any teacher working in a non-union state if they’d prefer to have some form of organized and committed representation. I am sure they’d say ‘Yes.’ But then again, that’s just me basing my assumption on what I have seen and experienced. I have yet to come across any horror stories about unions from teachers. If anyone reading this knows of any, I would certainly appreciate links. If that’s not argument enough, look at the most recent NAEP data. Which states performed in the top and bottom ten? Union or non-union states? I already know the answer.

So we can’t get the support we need by pitting teachers against (Black) parents, teachers against teachers, and labeling overworked and inadequately supported teachers as ineffective, so we start using scare tactics to convince Black parents that unions and public schools will be the downfall of education. (NOTE: Education failed Black and Brown kids years ago.) Where were these arguments 9-10 years ago before NCLB? How about 10-15 years before that? It’s ironic how, now that billions of additional dollars are at play, institutions that have been around to protect the rights of workers (that is the purpose of a union) are now being used as a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with public education? When will school, district, and state administrators be forced to own-up to their roles in under-staffed schools, inadequate instructional resources, and piss-poor professional development? There’s enough blame to go around in this crisis. Let’s share the wealth. Besides, the last time I checked, teachers and unions do not vote on curriculum, education policy, budgets, etc. Those decisions are made by local and state boards of education. I guess I am the only one who sees that. Perhaps I need my eyes checked. On second thought, nah. I know there are teachers who would be saying the same things if they didn’t fear losing their jobs. Alas, they don’t have the 1st Amendment protection like teachers who belong to a union. Sucks to be them.

As we (true educators) say: Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, go to the central office.

*I am not anti-charter. I support charter schools that stick to the original intent of the idea, not those that choose to only open in districts where at least 70% of students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch, or those that lock groups into 99-year lease agreements making it nearly impossible to end the ‘business’ relationship.

Big dreams require big faith & friends with big hearts   6 comments

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is about my desire to fulfill my purpose by helping the kids of my community. If you do not believe in faith or big dreams, please stop reading. From this point forward, only positive thoughts are allowed. Thank you!

Have you ever wanted something so bad, that the thought of never getting or achieving it caused you to lose sleep at night? Have you discovered your true passion but are at a loss for ways to make it happen? Have you ever had a dream that you were afraid to share with people because they would probably have something negative to say, like ‘That will never happen,’ or ‘You’re dreaming too big.’ How did that make you feel? I know when the Georgia’s charter schools division told MSA that we had 30 days to raise $1 million dollars, I was devastated. And quite frankly, a little pissed. But that is not why I am writing this blog-appeal to you. When I finally accepted that God wanted me to keep hold of my purpose, but use different means to achieve it, I felt as though I had achieved victory. No, the school did not open and we did not raise those funds, but I found another way to do what so desperately needs to be done: Provide quality arts programs for kids in my community, for free. More specifically, I want to provide free arts programs to kids who may not otherwise have access, either because their parent(s) do not have discretionary funds or the arts are not easily accessible, meaning the programs ARE NOT being offered in the schools or the community as a whole.

Those of you who have been following either my blog or tweets for any amount of time already know that I hold no punches when it comes to discussing criticizing public education, especially here in Georgia and Gwinnett County. I participate in both #BlackEd and #ArtsEd chats on Twitter to discuss what’s wrong. More importantly, I offer my opinions on how I think things could and should be, not because I am an expert but because I have common sense. I have been in both traditional and alternative schools. Kids talked to me. About everything. Many of the things they shared were not coerced from me; they obviously felt that I was trustworthy enough to have the intimate details of their lives. That meant (and still means) something to me. I made the right decision when I decided to become a teacher and I miss working with kids. Everyday. But thankfully my passion for the classroom and kids didn’t leave when I chose to advocate for my own child instead of remaining in a job/school where I was neither respected nor valued.

As I mentioned earlier, we did not raise the $1 million dollars in 30 days. More importantly, I didn’t lose sight of my vision and passion although I came pretty close on numerous occasions. When everything seemed to work against me, I kept going. I didn’t have friends with large sums of money, but I kept going. I didn’t have personal relationships with politicians or board members, but I kept going. I guess there’s something to be said about the benefits of having my back against a wall – my creativity is at its best during those times! So, all of the ‘no’s’ have led me to re-conceptualize how I will change education in my community. Here’s my ‘big’ dream: I want to start a Summer & Saturday Arts Academy for kids in Snellville, but here’s the catch: I want to offer these programs for free to kids who may attend a Title I school, as well as ELL students and those who may have a disability. Yes, I said FREE! We are going to submit a $250,000 proposal for the Pepsi Refresh Grant competition to start our program, will serve at least 150 kids during the summer and possibly 250-300 during the Saturday program. Yes, that’s a big goal because I have never been encouraged to think or dream small. It’s going to take a lot of money to do this, but with support and commitment from those who believe in the arts, their value (both alone and their impact on education), and those who know there are disparities in programs and resources in some public schools, this CAN and WILL happen! So what do I need from you? No, I am not asking you to whip-out your credit cards or checkbooks (of course if you want to, you can). I am asking for a few simple favors:

  1. After you have carefully read this post, please Retweet it if you believe in and support what I am trying to accomplish;
  2. Once I tweet that our submission has been accepted for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, encourage all of your friends and Followers to vote for us;
  3. Repeat Step 2 for 15 consecutive days.

See how easy it can be to make a difference! I am believing that this program will happen because it needs to happen. I will submit the proposal to Pepsi at 12:01 a.m. on June 1st and will receive notice about Pepsi’s acceptance a few days later. As soon as I receive the acceptance via email, I will begin tweeting to solicit votes. Please join me in the campaign to ‘Wake the artists, change the world.’

Thank you!

Women have no place in education….   2 comments

DISCLAIMER: The thoughts contained in this blog post are those of the writer and the writer only. I don’t really care if you agree with me or not, but this needs to be said; I have never been able willing to ignore the elephant in the room. If the millions of people ‘concerned’ about the state of education were genuinely concerned, then this post would not be necessary.

Ok, now to explain the title: Women really do have a place in education, but I can’t help but wonder if working as a classroom teacher in some ways limits our opportunities to assume leadership roles, e.g., administration, superintendency, charter school developer, etc. Now I know there are some very dedicated, qualified, and damned good classroom teachers who have absolutely no desire to transition into a leadership role. I can and do respect that. But what about those who do? At what cost? What must she/they exchange in order to exercise their dynamic and visionary leadership skills and leading their staff in transforming a school that ensures the success of every child?

In previous blog posts I have given ‘shout-outs’ to Principal El, Dr. Steve Perry, and Principal Kafele for their tireless efforts in ensuring that minority kids and those from low-income families receive the best quality education, thereby increasing their post-secondary options. I applaud these men for their work, but where are the women? I kinda feel an Alex Kotlowitz-esque book entitled, ‘There are no women here: Exposing the glass-ceiling in public education,” coming on…I bet it would sell but I digress.

How many women leaders can you name? I am sure we can all name Marva Collins, whom I respect and admire, but is she the only one? Seriously? Where are we? I need to hear from you! I am really wondering if a penis is a prerequisite for getting professional respect and an equal opportunity at making a difference. I shudder at the thought….

I’m out!

Here it is….   8 comments

After a much-needed and long overdue (quasi) social media hiatus, I am back. And I can honestly say that I nearly lost my damn mind…more than once during the past 3 years. I have been working on developing a Visual & Performing Arts Charter School for my community since 2007. Despite obstacles, mostly political and financial, I kept going. Why? Because I consider myself to be a keen observer. I pay attention to what happens around me, especially the things that other people do not notice, e.g., home value determines both the type and number of innovative programs offered at neighborhood schools. I moved to Snellville (Gwinnett County) 5 years ago when I purchased my first home. I knew that the school district had a reputation for being one of the best in the state (not that that statement says a lot considering the national rankings, but that’s another topic altogether).

As I worked on developing this school, I began to notice a lot of subtle ‘isms’ within this county, especially as it relates to the school district, program offerings, etc. Snellville has become a majority-minority community (mostly African American) during the past 5-7 years. Most, if not all, of the schools are close to 50% African American and roughly 10-11% Hispanic/Latino. I do not have a problem with living in a majority-minority community, but I would prefer that my kids have the opportunity to experience some diversity while they attend school because, well, the real-world is not comprised of all one race. But no matter our educational attainment levels, income bracket, or automobile of choice, one thing has not changed: When we move in, they move out. Yep, White-flight is alive and well in 2010. And yes, that bothers me. Why? Because despite rhetoric and tomfoolery from the ‘experts,’ I know that African Americans do value education. I can say that the few White people I have met through the charter school efforts have remained committed to staying in their neighborhoods and changing the schools, not the demographics. Unfortunately, those people are truly in the minority. No pun intended.

So fast forward to 2010, after being told by Andrew Broy that our organizationm had to raise $1 million dollars in 30 days to ensure approval and several tersely written letters to Georgia State Boad of Education members (no responses), elected officials (no responses), Cathy Cox (no responses), Georgia Charter School Commission (no responses), and Arne Duncan (half-assed response), I am tired. Not tired of trying to improve education, but tired of trying work within (or against) a broken system filled with people who lack the knowledge and ethics to make sound decisions about the kids in my community who look like me. Yes, I said it. Too many people making decisions for kids with whom they have no commonalities. Does that mean they can’t make any decisions? Absolutely not. But representatives for all groups should have a seat at the table and not just for show. They should be invited based upon their experience, education, and potential to make substantive changes to the manner in which Georgia educates children. That is not happening. I think it will be a very long time before we see this level of change here in Georgia, even when we get a new Superintendent of Schools and Governor later this year.

I took the past 2 weeks off to decide on whether or not to continue efforts to open the charter school. Of course this project is my baby so I was torn. I have invested a significant amount of time and effort into researching, writing, etc. I have learned a lot about myself during the past 2.5 years, most importantly that no one expects me to be a superwoman; that was a self-imposed sentence. I now know my limits. I can only deal with so much foolishness, blatant racism, sexism, and classism. I need a break. I want my life back. I am not giving up this dream. It will not be deferred, just reconfigured.

Is 'educational change' on the horizon for Georgia?   Leave a comment

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are those solely of the author (that’s me) and are not shared by any parties listed below (at least I don’t think they do).

Those you who have been following my blogs have probably guessed that I am very passionate about education. Specifically, quality public education for all kids, regardless of their zip code, parents’ social/political affiliations, race, etc. Likewise, I believe that quality education should be provided, ‘By any means necessary.’ Whether it’s high-performing, neighborhood charter schools (not those magnet schools, located in affluent neighborhoods inaccessible to low-income students, disguised as charter schools) or a complete investigation and overhaul of the desegregation orders in some states, namely Georgia, to balance access to high-performing, 21st century schools. Sounds overwhelming, but I honestly believe that it will take something this radical to start on the road to repairing our public education system.

Enter politics. I have never been one to mince words, although I have been criticized for my directness-only since moving south though. I am fully aware that politics are necessary to get things done. I also know that sometimes, politicians can cause more harm than good when their personal agendas overshadow the issues at hand. Well, I got a little re-inspiration about the possibility of politics doing something good last night. I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Westlake, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools. The position is currently held by Cathy Cox, who is also running for re-election. I will admit that I didn’t expect to hear from Brian after I sent a rather lengthy and detailed email a few days ago (you all know how I do). Shame on me because he responded and invited me to call him so we could speak on the phone or meet in person. I sent Brian my phone number and he actually called me last night. I certainly did not expect to speak with him for over an hour! Not that the length of the conversation bothered me, it was just not what I expected based on my past interactions (or lack thereof) with politicians and other high-ranking officials. So far, Brian is 2-for-2. That’s pretty good considering the person he has to convince (me).

During the course of the hour, we discussed our backgrounds: Both of us have undergrad degrees in something other than Education and experienced some of the same ‘issues’ during our first years of teaching. We shared a lot of laughs last night. What is most impressive about Brian is that, despite opposition-both then and now, he is committed to making some changes in education within the state. He admits that the level of change necessary will not happen over night or even in the course of 1-2 years. The important thing to remember is that change is necessary and someone has to be the first one to take the steps in that direction, even at the cost of making some powerful and connected people uncomfortable. I haven’t been this excited about a politician since…well, President Obama. Honest. I had really lost faith in local politics, especially school boards and state education positions because frankly, they have been traditionally held by people who neither look like me, know or care about my concerns. Sure, Brian is not African American but he is young, has recent experience working with African American students, parents, and teachers. He now works at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, probably the most diverse school in terms of populations of international students.

There is a saying that alludes to the obvious: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten (or something like that). While millions of people turned out for the last presidential election, many of us (myself included) have forgotten about exacting ‘change’ on a local level. I am committing to change that this year. I have already told Brian that I plan to share his information and platform with the parent network I have established here in Gwinnett County for our Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I also have a large number of friends who are still teaching and still dealing with the same issues. If we are adamant about change, we must be as adamant about making it happen.

Let’s educate ourselves on those people who want to represent us and make a commitment to making our collective voices heard. The primary election is in July; the general election is in November. I will continue to share information on this race through Twitter and this blog. A change will come to Georgia’s education system. Will you be a do-er or an onlooker?

Is ‘educational change’ on the horizon for Georgia?   Leave a comment

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are those solely of the author (that’s me) and are not shared by any parties listed below (at least I don’t think they do).

Those you who have been following my blogs have probably guessed that I am very passionate about education. Specifically, quality public education for all kids, regardless of their zip code, parents’ social/political affiliations, race, etc. Likewise, I believe that quality education should be provided, ‘By any means necessary.’ Whether it’s high-performing, neighborhood charter schools (not those magnet schools, located in affluent neighborhoods inaccessible to low-income students, disguised as charter schools) or a complete investigation and overhaul of the desegregation orders in some states, namely Georgia, to balance access to high-performing, 21st century schools. Sounds overwhelming, but I honestly believe that it will take something this radical to start on the road to repairing our public education system.

Enter politics. I have never been one to mince words, although I have been criticized for my directness-only since moving south though. I am fully aware that politics are necessary to get things done. I also know that sometimes, politicians can cause more harm than good when their personal agendas overshadow the issues at hand. Well, I got a little re-inspiration about the possibility of politics doing something good last night. I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Westlake, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools. The position is currently held by Cathy Cox, who is also running for re-election. I will admit that I didn’t expect to hear from Brian after I sent a rather lengthy and detailed email a few days ago (you all know how I do). Shame on me because he responded and invited me to call him so we could speak on the phone or meet in person. I sent Brian my phone number and he actually called me last night. I certainly did not expect to speak with him for over an hour! Not that the length of the conversation bothered me, it was just not what I expected based on my past interactions (or lack thereof) with politicians and other high-ranking officials. So far, Brian is 2-for-2. That’s pretty good considering the person he has to convince (me).

During the course of the hour, we discussed our backgrounds: Both of us have undergrad degrees in something other than Education and experienced some of the same ‘issues’ during our first years of teaching. We shared a lot of laughs last night. What is most impressive about Brian is that, despite opposition-both then and now, he is committed to making some changes in education within the state. He admits that the level of change necessary will not happen over night or even in the course of 1-2 years. The important thing to remember is that change is necessary and someone has to be the first one to take the steps in that direction, even at the cost of making some powerful and connected people uncomfortable. I haven’t been this excited about a politician since…well, President Obama. Honest. I had really lost faith in local politics, especially school boards and state education positions because frankly, they have been traditionally held by people who neither look like me, know or care about my concerns. Sure, Brian is not African American but he is young, has recent experience working with African American students, parents, and teachers. He now works at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, probably the most diverse school in terms of populations of international students.

There is a saying that alludes to the obvious: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten (or something like that). While millions of people turned out for the last presidential election, many of us (myself included) have forgotten about exacting ‘change’ on a local level. I am committing to change that this year. I have already told Brian that I plan to share his information and platform with the parent network I have established here in Gwinnett County for our Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I also have a large number of friends who are still teaching and still dealing with the same issues. If we are adamant about change, we must be as adamant about making it happen.

Let’s educate ourselves on those people who want to represent us and make a commitment to making our collective voices heard. The primary election is in July; the general election is in November. I will continue to share information on this race through Twitter and this blog. A change will come to Georgia’s education system. Will you be a do-er or an onlooker?