Archive for the ‘education reform’ Category

“I’d rather be smart than pretty any day” and Other Tidbits of Wisdom from My Granny   1 comment

As kids, we often heard little sayings from older people, like ‘A hard head makes a soft a$$’ or ‘I can show you better than I can tell you’ or ‘You don’t believe fat meat’s greasy!’ More often than not, we didn’t even understand them but we knew that we had done something wrong and were on the verge of getting in trouble. I remember a lot of things Granny said to us as kids and now that I am an adult and parent, most of them make perfectly good sense. I often think about the wisdom she imparted to me, in particular, because I am sharing a lot of those lessons with my own kids.

Today was a fairly quiet day at work, as we are into the third week of the semester.  That means: no registration (late or otherwise), no explaining financial aid intricacies (even though we clearly are not the financial aid office), and very little advising. None of the drama I wrote about a few weeks ago. But something happened today that got my dander up (yet another one of those sayings). A student came into the office because she needed to complete an assignment for the college’s new College Skills class, akin to the Freshman Seminar or Intro to College course offered on other campuses. The mere fact that she needed help is not what bothered me, but rather the fact that I helped her with the EXACT SAME ISSUE last week! GUess what she needed help with??? Microsoft Word! No  need to adjust your screen or grab your reading glasses (for my over 30 crowd)…you read that correctly. And she is younger than I am. I can’t blame Smartphones, cell phones, the boogeyman, or Mr. Charlie. She is responsible for this deficiency. I have an almost-8 year old who has been a master at PAINT since she was about 4. I can’t even use that damn program. I can’t blame lack of access to computers either because they are available in the public libraries. And the reality is that she is not the only student who lacks basic computer skills.

But here’s the real reason(s) I am pissed:

1. She’s a young, Black woman

2. She has a child

3. She has a cell phone (much nicer than my pay-as-you-go)

4. She has hair the color of Wendy from Wendy’s

5. I ALREADY HELPED HER WITH THAT LAST WEEK!

Somewhere along the way she, and many other young women, have been complimented on their beauty, booty, or a combination of the two. And somewhere along the way she, and those countless others, came to the realization that they didn’t need to be ‘smart’ (or have common sense for that matter) because they were cute. Sure enough, as I am sitting there steaming and biting the hell out of my tongue, my late grandmother’s voice resonated in my head: “I’d rather be smart than pretty any day.” As a little girl I didn’t understand why she said this, but it always stuck with me. Brains last forever but beauty fades…I get it, I get it. She pretty much ‘programmed’ me to excel academically because she knew that it would take brains to succeed in this world. No, I did not know that as a kid but hearing her say that repeatedly, had an impact. So I struggled to remain professional while working with this young lady even though something or someone inside of me was yearning to take her and shake the hell out of her. Yes, that’s the level of irritation/ire I felt. But I have no desire to go to jail so I opted to sit and think about how I could express my feelings in this post.

I started doubting whether I could actually do anything for some of the students. Am I too hard on them? Is expecting them to come to school, i.e. a college campus, with their pants pulled-up, breasts covered, sans midriff tops or anything exposing their chest tattoos and stomachs too much to ask? Am I expecting to much for them to understand what it means to be a college student? Or that people died fighting for their right to be able to step foot on any college campus? When a student comes to me and says that s/he doesn’t know why an instructor dropped him/her from a class do I really have to ask if they have been to every class? Are or should the expectations at a technical college be lower than a 2-year or 4-year college or university? Here lately I kinda feel like I went into this thing blind. I mean, I expected to ‘advise’ these students on being successful in college but I often feel as though everyone around me has been bitten by the ‘This is how it’s been because people don’t like change and all you can do is advise them to the best of your ability’ bug. Some days I feel like I am still in K-12, or working for people from the same family. Apathy is both contagious and potentially deadly, depending upon the situation/environment.

I don’t know…maybe my boss was right: Maybe I do take things too seriously. After all, we can’t all be on time for work, care about the quality of service we provide to students, or advise them correctly right? Or maybe I am in this environment to learn a lesson (or two). I do know this: I am beyond making excuses for people. I, too, was a first generation college student. With regard to getting ‘homework help’ in high school, I was pretty much on my own, as I am sure a lot of people were. I am not knocking my family in any way but rather demonstrating that, at some point, we have to take ownership for our learning. Stop the excuses. Stop the ignorance. Stop the finger-pointing. Or at the least, pray that someone will intervene on our behalf and either show us the way, give us a stern talking-to or shake the hell out of us.

I will end this rant-gone-awry with this message, from one glasses wearing, book-reading, violin-toting, late bloomer to all the kids experiencing the same thing: It gets better. You’ll get smarter. You’ll outgrow your awkwardness. Even if you don’t, remember what my Granny said: “I’d rather be smart than pretty any day.”

Don’t Make Me Angry…..You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry   1 comment

Yes, I am channeling my inner 80s child..but I am oh-so serious right about now. Let’s just be honest: I am a lot pissed right now. That is part of the reason why I haven’t written since my last blog about why I do what I do as a mamma. Sometimes it may seem that most 99.9% of my writing comes from a place of anger, but it really doesn’t. Ok, maybe a little bit. But there are three things of mine that I caution people NOT to mess with: 1. My kids. 2. My family. and 3. My money. And yes, I am serious. So as I logged in to write this post, I noticed that I haven’t written anything on more than 2 weeks. Yikes! That’s a long time considering how much I used to write, but then I have to remember that I am actually employed now but still…..I don’t know. Anyway, the reason why I decided to write….

I have spent almost 3 weeks going back-and-forth with the school and district about his damn credit recovery class my son had to take because he failed Integrated Geometry the first semester. I had finally decided to let them (educrats) sweat bullets for a while and I left the issue alone..that is, until two more things happened. Yesterday I had to take Boy Wonder to B.F.E. to take his ‘performance final’ for the credit recovery class. (BTW: WTH is a ‘performance final’ any damn way?) So we get to the testing location early, which for me means 15-20 before any scheduled event. Not only was it hot as hell in the building, but there were a lot of people there and the educrats weren’t even ready. They didn’t start checking-in kids until 10-15 minutes before the tests began. ‘Why is that a big deal?’ you might ask. Well, the final was scheduled for 4 PM. Like I said, I. DON’T. DO. LATE. Since I knew a lot of running around and being given the runaround would be involved (otherwise it wouldn’t be the Gwinnett County Public Schools), I decided to spare myself a little grief by not working yesterday. (Nope, I won’t get paid either) I picked-up Boy wonder at 1:00, after driving around Alcatraz the school to get to the Attendance Office. Yes, you have to go outside the main building and drive around, past the football field and across from the scoreboard to get to the Attendance Office. After we left his school, we headed over to the elementary school to pick-up two little old ladies. Yep, I had to check them out of school early because: (1) I do not have family here to babysit; (2) I only work part-time and cannot afford after-school programs; and (3) the largest school district in the state, which also won $1 million from the Broad Foundation, does not offer any after-school programs. Not even at the Title I schools. Did I mention that the testing site is about 40 minutes from my house? Almost forgot that point.

As we were standing in line (and sweating), I noticed that there were a large number of kids taking credit recovery classes. And not just black and brown kids either. There were a lot of white kids, with money, there too. Yeah, I knew they had money because they drove more expensive (and newer) cars than me. SMDH. And guess what? A lot of the kids with resources were also taking credit recovery for Integrated Geometry. Interesting. But here is the reason why I have been steaming for the past week: Not only did I have to drop $100 for this credit recovery class, for a subject in which a lot of kids are failing and blowing their chances of getting the HOPE Scholarship, but I found out that the Georgia Department of Education provides an entire credit recovery curriculum to all districts for FREE. I don’t think I need to let that marinate with you all…free is free. After speaking with a knowledgeable little birdie, we came to the conclusion that Gwinnett likely contracted with an outside software/curriculum company to get curriculum for their credit recovery program. Basically, they are passing the cost of that program on to students. Black, White, Brown. Rich, poor, etc. I am not ashamed to say that $100 is a lot of money to me; it can go a long way if you are careful about how you spend it. I have come to the conclusion (and I keep re-visiting it) that Gwinnett County can pretty much do whatever the hell it wants to do and no one is willing to call them on their SHAT. Well, like the saying goes: All crooked good things must come to an end. And who better to put an end to this crap than me?

I will spare you all the details of the gazillion emails I exchanged with the talking-head principal, Math Curriculum Coordinator (or whatever the heck his official title is), and some other unqualified, overpaid, and apathetic district official. Long story short: I started asking questions about money, specifically Title I money, and I may have mentioned something about contacting the U.S. Department of Education. Suddenly I get a response from the above-referenced underqualified, overpaid person about a refund. I never asked for a refund, but instead, I want someone to explain to me why I had to pay for the class in the first place when they knew my financial situation. I guess I need to wait two more weeks for a response to that question. In their defense though, they are dealing with these allegations of shady land deals. My little $100 contribution is of little significance right now. And besides, I think I included enough links to make a point without risking the eye safety of my legion of five blog readers. Besides, I’m sleepy.

Over and Out. *Cues ‘Incredible Hulk’ theme.

Momma first, everything else second: Why I Do What I Do   Leave a comment

I was just reading through my Gmail inbox (trying not to let things pile-up again) and I opened this message from Rosetta Thurman (who I also follow on Twitter) about Blogging for Branding. Honestly, I am in one of those moods where I don’t want to do anything because I don’t know what to do. It’s quiet in the office because the quarter just started at the college, so there is very little traffic the first 2 weeks of the term. Sometimes I get restless during quiet times…I don’t have enough to keep me (and my mind) busy so I start thinking about what I should be doing and where I am supposed to be. Much like I did in this previous post. Well, I recently started an online certificate program, where I will learn how to develop and teach online classes. I thought that would be enough to keep me going for a while, but you know how it goes when life happens, right? I admit that my writing (frequency) has been lackluster recently and I really don’t know what to write about on most days because I feel like I am saying the same things over and over again….kinda like deja vu a la Groundhog Day. Once I read Rosetta’s suggestions on blog topics about PASSION (no, not that kind of passion), the lightbulb started flickering…

As you all may/may not know, I homeschooled Boy Wonder for a couple of years because of bullying and threats; the folks who oversee run Gwinnett County Schools failed to abide by their own code of conduct. It all became too much for both of us so I decided to try the homeschool option. It worked well for us: No stress of elbowing finding his way to class, trying to concentrate while other kids disrupt class, or dealing with the threats/taunting/bullying. And it worked for 3 years. But then I decided it was time for him to go back to school and be around other kids and I wanted to start looking for work again. So off to school he goes….

Things were moving along pretty well initially, then someone (not me) dropped the ball. The first snafu happened when they forgot to include my son on the list of students taking the PSAT, even after I initiated the conversation (in writing). I was assured that as long as he was present that day, he would take the test. He didn’t. Well we are in the second semester and he is still struggling with Georgia’s prized ‘new’ Math curriculum. As a 10th grader he is taking Integrated Geometry. He has stayed after school a few times for additional help, but the help didn’t really help. O.k., it helped temporarily, but he still failed the first semester and is in danger of failing the second semester. Oh yeah, almost forgot: He is taking a CRedit Recovery class in hopes of ‘recovering’ that credit from the first semester. BONUS: I had to pay $100 for it. And I really didn’t have it to spend. And no, I cannot afford a private tutor. And yes, I can help him with (some of) the Geometry, but I will proudly admit: Some of that crap is foreign to me! I took Geometry in high school, you know, the old school kind with Pythagoras, Euclid, planes, angles, degrees, and such. I still do not UNDERSTAND why they are calling it Integrated Geometry so my confusion regarding the content is justified (in my eyes). Oh yeah, the school does not offer any regularly scheduled tutoring services even though 57% of the students are Black and 57% of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL), including my own. Hmmmm. I am not too adept at the ‘new’ Math but I know that something does not add up here. If those numbers are not compelling enough, how about these: For the 2009-2010 school year, 79% of students FAILED the Algebra End-of-Course Test (EOCT); 70% of students FAILED the Geometry EOCT; 41% and 40% of students FAILED the Mathematics I and II EOCTs, respectively. I won’t bore you all with a breakdown of the failure rates by AYP subgroup, but I am sure you can guess which group (s) performed the worst, right?

To avoid the risk of having this post turn into a rant, I will end by saying that I was very proactive and vocal regarding my concerns over this ‘new’ Math. I emailed the State Superintendent (even though I knew someone else would read and respond to me) and I forwarded the response to the school. The principal admitted that he had not heard of any decision by the local board to implement to alternative Math curriculum, which the State Board of Education approved. I informed him that I would contact the district office because, despite what they think/don’t think about my son, he is going to college. Of course now with the ‘F’ on his transcript, his options will be greatly limited. Limited as in he may be stuck here for college. At least there is still the HOPE scholarship. Oh wait, he has to have a 3.0 GPA in core subjects to be eligible for that. Nevermind….I will continue to do what I do because I am a momma first and everything else second.

This ain’t your granddaddy’s technical education   1 comment

‘I am done with school….I don’t need to learn anything else!’ That is what I have said time-and-time again when asked ‘What do you plan to do next? Ph.D.?’ I can’t even lie: I love learning. My problem is that opportunities to utilize (most of) the things I have learned are scarce, unless of course I belong to the ‘right’ sorority, church, etc. So whenever I have conversations with people about what I know about education, leadership, curriculum, etc. they look amazed and ask, ‘Why aren’t you in a classroom?’ Rather than give them the entire story about the drama with that school system, I just say: ‘I got tired of the politics.’

Lately I’ve gotten a bit nostalgic about the time I spent in the classroom. Yes, even the memories of the ‘problem’ students can still make me smile or literally laugh-out-loud on most days. But even more than that, I am thinking about going back to school to sort of re-invent myself. Actually, I will be going back to school next week. Not another grad program, but instead I will be enrolled in the E-Learning Design & Development Specialist certificate program at one of Georgia’s technical colleges. And I am really excited! I get to learn something new (for free) and I am not required to sit in a class and listen to someone lecture (zzzzzzzzzz). BONUS: Did I mention it was free? Yep, thanks to the Georgia HOPE Grant (and people like myself who buy lottery tickets hoping to win $300 million dollars) I get to take two of the classes for free. Had it not been for Governor Nathan Deal’s new legislation, I would get to complete the entire program for free but I can’t complain…

The enthusiasm I have for working with first-generation college students, helping them choose a career path, encouraging them to think beyond the certificate/diploma/degree and most importantly, stressing that learning should never stop, has motivated me to add another dimension to my professional repertoire. I will admit that I knew very little about technical education before I started working as an Academic Advisor. My definition of technical education was limited to references about cars, heating, air conditioning, and computer stuff; however, the past 4 months on the job have completely broadened my definition and given me a new-found respect for technical colleges and the programs they offer. More importantly, I know that students really do learn in technical colleges and the instructors really teach. Students must work to earn their certificates, diplomas, and/or degrees. In fact, our college provides a guarantee to prospective employers that offers free (my most favoritest word) training to any graduate of our college who may lack all the required skills. Wow. How many 4-year colleges and universities do that? I can sure think of some folks who need to go back for basic training in the areas of speaking and writing, but that’s a different post altogether.

As April 5th nears, my excitement builds and I have yet another example to share with students why learning must never stop.

Don’t Let The System Put You In A Box   4 comments

Yesterday was a pretty busy day at work. We are nearing the end of Winter Quarter and a lot of people are applying and registering to start school in the Spring. I know I advised almost thirty students in the 6 hours that I worked, and that’s not including those I helped with course registration. During the lulls I checked email, input some notes into our advising software system, and checked-in on Twitter to see what everyone else was doing. As I worked away at the computer (y’all know that’s a lie, right?) a male student entered the office.

Me: Hi, how are you today?

Him: I’m good.

Me: Could you sign-in please? (He signs in and I continue talking to him, even though I am across the room.) Are you a new student?

Him: Yes ma’am.

Me: Ok. Just have a seat and I will be right with you.

He never sits down, not even when I started filling out his advisement sheet. His standing didn’t bother me because I am used to working with students who actually work better when they are allowed to move around. But I knew there was something more to his story. I asked him to come and have a seat next to me so that we could discuss his (very, very high) test scores and the program of study he chose (Automotive). Although he is pursuing the Diploma, I told him he should consider pursuing the Associates Degree because he performed so well on the skills tests. (NOTE: The whole time I that I talked with him, he was moving around, seemingly nervously. Again, it didn’t bother me but I knew there was something to it.)

After I explained the courses that were available and the times, we moved to a computer so that I could show him how to register for his classes. We’re searching the system and when he notices the class times, he tells me:

Him: I may not be able to do this one because I am taking another class at that time.

Me: Oh! When does your class end?

Him: Whenever they say I am finished.

Me: (A little confused) Oh not the time, the date? The Spring Quarter doesn’t start until April 2nd.

Him: No see, I am in  like a half-way house type of program. I have to take drug counseling classes. I can talk to my counselor and see if she will let me change my schedule around.

Me: Ok. We can still register you today, then you can take her a copy of your schedule so she can see it. If you aren’t able to work around it just come back and we will find you some classes in the evening.

As we continued the registration process, we engaged in more not-so-small talk. I asked him where he graduated from high school because he told me he once taught in the G.E.D. program. He told me that he dropped-out of high school and received his G.E.D. from a different technical college. So this whole time we’re chatting, I’m thinking: This kid (younger than 20) doesn’t even know me, yet he felt compelled to tell me all of his business. Hmmm. Now I wonder what it is about him that made him feel he needed to share all of that? I wonder what it is about me that made him feel had to tell me all of that?

I asked myself these same questions last week when another male student came in for advisement. This particular young man made sure I knew he was a convicted felon. Not sure why, but he did. I guess since he doesn’t really know me, he doesn’t know that I taught my students ‘Labels don’t matter.’ Upon leaving prison, do they tell inmates: ‘From now on, when you introduce yourselves to people, make sure you tell them you are a convicted felon?’ By no means am I saying that anyone should be embarrased by or ashamed of their past, but it is called a ‘past’ for a reason. In other words: DO NOT bring it into your future unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps I should start grabbing those young men, both Black and White, and saying to them:

‘You walked in that door because you have a hunger for something. Once you cross the threshold, nothing else matters to me. It certainly should not matter to you or anyone else. You <fill-in-the-blank> but that is something you did, not who you are. The system had you in a stifling classroom, then a jail cell. Don’t let them put you in (another) box now that you are on the outside.’

Or, the easier thing would be to tell them about all the illegal s*&% my family members have done (mostly before I was born). They probably wouldn’t believe me. Hell, I still giggle when I think about it. But I always made sure my students knew that I was human, and therefore, susceptible to some of the same familial dysfunction, temptation, etc. as themselves. I think that’s where many of us (parents, teachers, etc.) fall short: We forget that we are human and have made mistakes instead of using our mistakes to help and guide those who are lost.

I know one thing for sure: I am learning more from these students than they are learning from me. But they probably wouldn’t believe that either.

Losing My Edu-ligion   3 comments

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

‘Losing My Religion’ – R.E.M.

I can’t explain what’s been going on with me lately. I haven’t written as much as I did in the past or as much as I promised I would shit in weeks or months. I don’t know; I haven’t bothered to check the date on the last entry. It’s not that I don’t have anything on my mind. In fact, the contrary is true: I have a lot on my mind because there is a lot going on. I even started writing blog titles and notes in my little composition book. Yeah, that’s the teacher-in-me. But the passion/spark/fire is gone. Or as B.B. King would say: ‘The thrill is gone baby/It’s gone away from me.’ I guess I am just tired because I feel as though I am saying the same things over and over again. And no one is listening, or they just don’t give a damn. Maybe it’s the fact that I am one of millions of parents who feels both voiceless and powerless in this freakshow they call education reform. And by they, I clearly mean the people who don’t know shit about what it takes to teach a class of 15-30 students, where they all have different learning needs/styles and come from different backgrounds (READ: They got stuff going on to which educrats will never be able to relate). Add to that the fact that teachers are no longer teaching for the love of the profession, but because they are scared shitless of some bureaucrat taking away their collective bargaining rights (if they had them to begin with) or harrassing the hell out of them for no other reason than, well, they don’t have shit else to do (because they can’t effectively do anything else). Let’s also throw in the fact that teachers, the people who spend years in training, are being scape-goated for everything that is wrong with education even though they DO NOT make any decisions regarding curriculum, school day/calendar, etc. That’s akin to blaming a patient who dies on the operating table for a mistake made during surgery. That makes sense. I won’t even start on the perceived powerlessness of parents. I will save that for another day because while we are all enthralled by the revolutions in other countries, we are not yet ready to start our own.

Yeah. Like Kelly Price, ‘I’m Tried.’ And I have lost the respect I once had for some of those on the front lines of education. If it takes bashing single parents, kids, and dedicated teachers to sell books, make movies, and get a segment on CNN, then I guess I will continue to get my black ass out of bed every morning and be like the rest of the working stiffs. At least I will be able to look at myself in the mirror everyday and actually like what I see.

In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions on how to best recharge my mojo, I am open for suggestions.

Just a Quick Note: The squeaky wheel DOES get the grease!   2 comments

Over the past few months, my two elementary-age daughters have brought home various fliers/permission slips for educational programs hosted by their school. It’s kind of ironic because last year they were not ‘invited’ to participate in anything (that I recall). So a few months ago (I think it was actually the beginning of the school year), I was at a school event and asked about enrichment or tutoring programs for the girls. The woman with whom I spoke is the Reading Specialist for the school. When I inquired about opportunities, she informed me that her program was only for kids who did not score well above ‘Meets Standards’ on the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) or those who were identified as students who may not pass the Reading and Math portions of the test. So I started asking a bunch of questions (y’all know how I do) about the programs available for Title I students, grants to offer programs, etc., etc. Her eyes started to glaze over because I was mentioning programs and grants she had never heard of (SMH). My point was this: If the district/school gets Title I funding for my girls, why are they not participating in any of the programs funded with those monies? I don’t think that my expectations are unreasonable, even though they do not need remediation or supports, they should still benefit from those funds since the school does.

Not that I am awaiting confirmation/approval from anyone on this, but just thought it was kinda funny that once I started asking school and district officials about Title I money/programs, my kids start receiving all of these forms for various programs.

Rogue leadership: Why we need to hold our school board representatives to higher ethical standards   1 comment

I have never minced words about the current attack on the public education system’s stakeholders, e.g., teachers, students, parents. Nor have I gone easy on educational ‘leaders.’ You know, the ones who make the executive decisions as they relate to discipline, instruction, testing, etc. Far too often, the little people are blamed for everything that ails public education despite the fact that, individually, they hold very little influence in how the machine runs. Let’s face it: Teachers can only control what happens within their respective classrooms, and sometimes they have very little (creative) control over that domain as well. Given the nature and scope of their responsibilities, our education ‘leaders’ should abide by a certain set of standards. After all, they are setting policies that will affect our children, teachers, school systems, and overall communities. How can we hand over such responsibilities to people who openly lie, publicly threaten television reporters, and willfully shirk their financial responsibilities to their own children?

Honestly, I didn’t think the shenanigans in Gwinnett County would continue after a group of teachers filed a formal complaint against the CEO, J. Alvin Wilbanks. The teachers were non-renewed at the end of the 2009-10 school year, supposedly for budget cuts, at least that is what the CEO stated in letters sent to each of them. Unfortunately, the budget cut excuse was scrapped in exchange for about ‘performance issues.’ As a result, many of those teachers have been unable to secure teaching positions in neighboring counties. To put this in context: Georgia is a ‘Right to Work’ state, meaning an employer can fire you simply because they do not like you, your hair, your clothes, or even if they woke-up on the wrong side of the bed on any given morning. Sadly, employees in this state have NO rights as many have been brainwashed led to believe that unions are the equivalent of the anti-Christ.

Are your elected officials more suited for a jail cell?

Imagine my surprise when I read the article in the AJC about a Gwinnett County school board member who was arrested for failure to pay child support to his ex-wife, a crime that could result in a misdemeanor/felony charge, fine, driver’s and professional license revocation, and/or jail time. The board member in question posted a $7,000 bond in exchange for his release. I am assuming that the bond went towards his delinquent child support payments. But here’s the million dollar question: If he had the $7,000 to post bond, why didn’t he use it to pay his child support? To me, his actions demonstrate that he willfully ignored his financial obligation to his children, who are students in the Gwinnett County Public School System. I cannot begin to imagine the embarrassment this incident caused his children. On a positive note, I am sure his ex-wife will appreciate getting the financial support she rightly deserves.

 

Your denial of the importance of true diversity to maintain the status quo doesn’t fool me   3 comments

Part of my (late) morning (or even afternoon) ritual is to read the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC) for stories related to education. My first stop is usually the GetSchooled blog by Maureen Downey, then on to education articles by Aileen Dodd, as they often write on some interesting topics.  This morning there was an article written by Aileen that caught my eye: Broad Prize win makes diversity a focus in Gwinnett school board race.’   My interest is not solely motivated by the fact that it is election time (Subliminal Message: VOTE), but instead because I live in Gwinnett County and my kids attend school here. If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know I am not one to mince words when it comes to the school system. Yes, the district recently won the Broad Prize in Urban Education, but that does not exclude this district from having issues regarding race, disparities in the number and severity of disciplinary actions against minority students, or even the overrepresentation of minority students receiving services through Special Education. I have written about these issues time and time again. Sadly, it appears that only minorities (and a handful of White people) are genuinely concerned about the ramifications of these institutionally racist (yes, that is the correct application of the word racist) policies because we are the only ones to voice concerns. But I take offense at people who try to deny the importance of diversity, especially within a county and school district that is now majority-minority.

A few weeks ago, Maureen wrote a blog post based on interviews she conducted with the two school board candidates for District 4 in Gwinnett County: Dr. Robert McClure and Mark Williams. Dr. McClure does not have a web site or Facebook page. I assume he never created them because he has almost always ran uncontested. McClure, like many other people within the community, denies that the board lacks diversity. All five board members are White and have served for many years. (Side Note: One of the members is fairly old; I could swear I saw her doze off during a board meeting.) Williams stated that it would be impossible for staff and leadership to truly reflect the community. He did add this: ‘However, you can put in place a staff and leadership that respects the broad range of diversity that exists in the county.’ Kinda sounds like he wants to say diversity matters, but he may be weary of directly doing so because it may cost him some votes. Newsflash: The people who live in District 4 fall into two groups: Those who are aware of their own diversity and those who have tried to run from it. We know that there are more Black and Latino families in this community; we see it everyday. No one will fault you for acknowledging that the district has not done enough to keep up with its rapidly-changing, demographics. Denying the significance of and need for diversity makes about as much sense as Barack Obama denying the significance of his blackness…oh wait, he did allude to that, didn’t he? OK, bad example.

I will not repeat my concerns with this district or its leaders because I am starting to sound like a broken record. It is a sad commentary that incendiary and culturally insensitive remarks can be made by education leaders without ramifications. It’s even more dangerous to reward those same leaders with million dollar prizes and accolades. Your acknowledgement of their achievements should not come at the expense of excusing their bouts with foot-in-mouth disease or offending the very people for whom the district received credit in assisting (closing the opportunity gap). As long as school board elections are low on the list of priorities of most voters, this district’s leadership will continue to move forward, business as usual. The same homogeneous group will continue to make decisions for a group of vastly different children, without input from parents, experts on diversity issues, or without consideration for the reality that holding an office for an extended period does not mean you are the most qualified individual for the job. It simply means that you have been a member of this community longer and, therefore, possess more name recognition than someone who may actually bring a diverse viewpoint and new ideas to the table. Winning a monetary prize does not exclude you from being respectful of diversity, the manner in which your system has continuously failed students with Special Needs (check the dismal numbers), or addressing the obvious disciplinary disparities between Black, Latino, and White students.

By all means, winning money is simply a means to maintaining the status quo. Interpret as you wish.

How do we reward anti-reform efforts? Why with $1 million dollars, of course.   1 comment

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?