Archive for the ‘AYP’ Tag

They Can Slow Me Down, But They Can’t Stop Me..or Why I Have Decided To Fight From The Outside   4 comments

I have spent the past month recuperating from two round-trip drives home (Indiana, 12 hours each way but I managed to shave off an hour coming home the last time…no snitching!), a minor illness, and a 7 Day Mental Cleanse (upon the advice of my Life (saving) Coach @MyLifeKeys and @StephanieAlva). I will be honest, I thought I would go crazy without my social media vices (mostly Twitter but I missed Facebook a little too). After the first 2 days, I was actually getting used to and making the most of the free time by reading, thinking (without thousands of other people’s thoughts coming at me), and planning to launch my own business(es). I was amazed by the amount of work I accomplished by unplugging from the extra noise.

Being away, however, did not change this drive I have to fulfill what I believe is my purpose in life: Use my knowledge, education, and passion to provide equal education and access to the arts for minority and/or low-income kids. I am human and I will admit that whenever I hit a roadblock, I get frustrated. I question why the path to ‘doing good’ is always fraught with politics, red tape, and malarky b.s. Why is it that when someone (Read: A black, female, outspoken, liberal, and educated Yankee -that’s what they call me in the South, as if it hurts my feelings) identifies a need within his/her community, the powers-that-be old White boys’ network works so hard to make people believe there is no such need? But then I check myself because any time we (minorities) start shouting about our realities and how we perceive know things operate, we’re labeled as sensitive. Or even worse, we get accused of playing the ‘race card.’ First of all, I don’t view this thing called life as a game. So what in thee hell is a ‘race card?’ And unfortunately, the majority of us with melanin-infused skin and obviously non-European features cannot pick and choose the days that we are something other than what the mirror reflects. My point, and I do have one, is that someone (whom I respect a great deal, even though we don’t agree on everything), validated the feelings I’ve held for the past 4 years: There is no place for (all of) us at the table. And by ‘us’ I mean those who are not willing to placate, secret handshake, shuck-n-jive, skin-n-grin, or throw kids, single moms, or teachers under the bus to make others comfortable enough listen to us, let alone hear and consider us. Or give us our own segment on some Cable News Network.

As I read two of Jose’s (@TheJLVposts, I thought: I can either spend my time, talents, and energy trying to get on the ‘inside’ so that I can fight them on their turf, or I can fight from the outside by continuing to encourage parents to speak-up and be the advocate their kids need. I can also fight by doing my own thing; providing opportunities for our kids, where the local board of education’s approval is not needed. Yeah, I think that would be a much better use of my time.

Whatever they throw at me, I will always win as long as I remember: They can slow me down, but they can’t stop me.

A Day Late and A Dollar Short….   Leave a comment

For those who have never used the phrase or understood what ‘A Day Late and A Dollar Short’ means, click here because I am trying to keep this post short so that my ire doesn’t increase as I write. Let’s see how I do….

My adventures with the local district last year were….let’s say ‘interesting.’ I wrote about my experiences with the elementary PTA, the lack of services provided to Title I students by the high school, the non-school choice options, etc., etc., etc. Two weeks ago, before I attended the Open House at the elementary school, I promised myself to leave the house with a positive and open attitude. And I did! I don’t usually have issues with the elementary level bureaucracy, as I learned a long time ago to just bypass the principal and go straight to the county office. I even decided to let them slide on the photo mix-up for my two girls last year: One was a 1st grader and the other one was a 4th grader. Their pictures got switched in the yearbook. Granted, they are sisters and they do resemble each other. Oh yeah, the youngest is slightly taller than the oldest. But damn, if a kid tells you that she is the youngest/oldest, why wouldn’t you believe them? *grabs drink* Anywho…

So tonight I attended ‘Curriculum Night’ at the elementary school. This is the opportunity for teachers to review the county’s Academic, Knowledge, and Skills (AKS) curriculum. Yes, Gwinnett County is so special that it has its own curriculum. After all, they did bamboozle win $1 million bucks from the Eli Broad Foundation. As I am listening to the teacher review new policies and procedures for the school year, imagine my dismay when she said that this year the district is doing something ‘new.’ That new thing goes a little something like this: Any student has the opportunity to re-take five assessments that he or she failed during each quarter/nine week period. Using my old-school math skills, that calculates to twenty assessment re-takes during the school year. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not upset about the opportunity to get a better grade on a test. I am, however, kinda pissed that this new policy is the prime definition of ‘A Day Late and A Dollar Short.’ If you read any of the blogs I wrote about how much my son struggled with Integrated Geometry last year, you may slightly understand my level of pissed-offness. The teacher’s words began to sound like those of the teacher on Charlie Brown: wah wah wah wah wah……

I couldn’t help but wonder (even though I already knew the answer): ‘Why did they wait until now to implement this new policy?’ Yep, I already know the answer. In a nutshell:

A bunch of non-Title I, non-minority, non-disabled, non-ESL students flunked either MATH I, MATH II, or MATH III last year. Some probably made-up the credit through Credit recovery; a bunch others probably did not. Of those who did not recover the Math credit, they likely will not be classified in their correct grade this year because you must earn a Math credit each year to progress to the next grade. Sooooooo, a bunch of kids may/may not graduate with their intended class due to the ‘new Math,’ the district’s reluctance to use the flexibility granted by the Georgia Department of Education, and the stubbornness of the powers-that-be in holding onto some facade of being a ‘world-class’ school district. I can only imagine the outrage of the parents who had plans for their kids to get the HOPE Scholarship to offset the costs of college tuition because they must maintain a 3.0 GPA in their core classes, e.g., Math, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. A kid who has failed one or more of the Integrated Math classes can pretty much kiss their hopes for HOPE goodbye now. Silly me; I was only worried about my son graduating from high school before he turned 21. Where are my priorities?

Stay tuned because I do plan to acquire the numbers, broken down by AYP subgroup, of students in Gwinnett who failed the EOCTs for MATH I, II, and III before and after summer school.

A school for the kids: It’s still calling me….   Leave a comment

You know how you have this one thing you really, really wanna do? But no matter how well planned your plan is, road-blocks and obstacles always seem to find their way in your way. Sometimes the plan is so grand and the vision so intense that you can’t sleep or you find yourself drawn to it at weird hours of the day.  There may have even been a time (or five) where you thought: “To hell with this; it’s a waste of my time. I could be doing XYZ with those 16 hours I spend researching, writing, making phone calls, etc.” Surely, I can’t be the only person who has felt that way at some point or another, right?

When I get to feeling that way, I start thinking about Langston Hughes‘A Dream Deferred’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It may sound simple, but that poem provides me with some motivation. Why? Because I don’t want to ever get to the point where I sit around thinking, ‘I wonder what would have happened if….’ Life is too short and precious to be filled with ifs. (Can I get an ‘Amen?’) Well, my dream was to open a Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I know there are many people out there who are against charter schools, but for some of us, they are our only option. I will add that I am against these faux, non-profit predators organizations opening-up schools in low-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods, promising parents that their kids will succeed and go to college. Hell, depending on your definition of ‘succeed’ anyone can promise that. Furthermore, I can take a bus load of kids to a college campus, let them step foot on the campus and then proclaim that they went to college. Just when we thought the last thing our communities needed was a liquor store on every corner, but I digress.

Our organization is truly a grassroots group, made-up of parents (Black, White, Latino, etc.), teachers, and community members. We had the passion, purpose, vision, and research bases covered. We had no idea we’d be expected to turn water to wine raise a ridiculously large sum of money in such a short time. We were all discouraged, and rightly so I do believe. No such demands were placed on other groups. That is when I decided to walk away (after I raised more than my fair share of hell, of course). So when I learned of the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling on the Charter Commission, here is what I thought initially: ‘Like I always say, God don’t like ugly.’ And by ‘ugly’ I mean the way our group was treated as well as how other grassroots groups were dismissed because they did not have the name recognition of EMO/CMO groups, or because their boards actually reflected the communities they planned to serve. Yep, that’s how it went down. Even uglier, then-State School Superintendent Kathy Cox chose not to address the issues. Charter Commission members ignored emails, as did the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Yep, those organizations created to help charter school developers turned their backs on us. They turned their backs on our kids. I guess because our school model was not controversial enough to garner national attention, we were not worthy of their support or even an offering of mediation. Ok. I see you. But now the entire (education) community sees you and your obvious lack of research and knowledge of the law, even though the individual responsible for drafting the language has a law degree and graduated from TFA. Laughable, but I digress.

So, this whole experience/desire to open a school with a well-developed arts program is coming full-circle now. As I was speaking with a student, who is also a single parent, I learned about the Arete Scholars Fund. As it turns out, people and businesses that owe taxes to the state of Georgia can donate those funds to a scholarship fund to pay tuition at a private school. Hmmmm. This is obviously a well-kept secret, or at least it was until I found out about it. I shied away from opening a private school because I knew that the students I wanted to serve would not be able to afford private school tuition. Now there is a way to open this school, without the bureaucracy and politics of public education. Most importantly, I don’t have to deal with short men with Napoleon complexes who expect me to kiss their arses….as if.

My, how the tides have turned. Assembling a dream team of educators. Time to change the game. Dream not deferred, just re-imagined. Stay tuned.

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.

How many reports does it take to close the opportunity gap?   12 comments

Depending on your age, you may or may not be familiar with the commercial from which I borrowed (paraphrased) the blog title. Remember the Tootsie Pop commercial with the boy and Mr. Owl? The boy always asked, “Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop?” Every time, Mr. Owl would take the boy’s Tootsie Pop and start licking; he eventually just bit into it. The boy could have saved himself the grief and just counted for himself, instead he continued to wait for someone to answer his question. What’s my point? Do we really need another report to tell us that the number of low-income school kids is steadily growing?  Didn’t we read a similar report from the Southern Education Foundation a few months ago? And yes, I weighed-in on that one too. I was surprised that Steve Suitts, the author of the January report and Vice President of the foundation, responded to my comments (and I asked how I could help). Here is an excerpt:

“The reality is that far too many students of color and low income students of all races and ethnicities aren’t getting the education they need. The students who need the most resources and support are now usually getting the least. For large numbers of these students to succeed, this pattern has to change. Our report is a call to arms in fighting for that change. Best wishes.”

So if the first report was a ‘call to arms in fighting’ for change, what does that make the second report? Better yet, what will that make the reports that we know will follow? By no means am I being cynical, but rather practical and realistic. Anyone who has spent time (as a teacher or volunteer) in an urban classroom knows the financial circumstances of the students. We know that the number of students now eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch has increased because the economy is in the crapper, and millions of people, with kids, are now unemployed. Did we really need another report to tell us that? How much money and human resources were spent on this study? Aren’t there better ways to use those resources? How about spending some time with lawmakers and educating them on the unseen effects of double-digit unemployment, e.g., families with fewer financial resources to pay for such novelties as food, school supplies, and after-school enrichment programs? Now I feel as though I sound like a broken record because I talk about the same issues, e.g., school reform, wasteful spending, etc., in almost every post. Stuitts has a valid point about the allocation of resources, but when will we see a detailed study on how these states (15 in the South), spend Title I and Special Education funds? Some districts spend more of those funds on administrative costs (unnecessary training, conferences, etc.) than instructional resources. And they get away with it because the federal government’s accountability system is weak. Unless and until stricter guidelines are developed, implemented, and monitored districts will continue to take advantage and waste free money our tax dollars.

Unfortunately, districts will continue to blame their AYP shortcomings on the fact that there are a large number of low-income students in their classrooms. And the madness will continue. So I am issuing a BOLO for the next study telling us that there are now more poor kids in America than ever before. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being minority or poor should not dictate level of academic achievement   9 comments

DISCLAIMER: Sorry for so many numbers!

As I perused the AJC’s ‘Get Schooled’ blog this morning, I came across Maureen Downey’s post about a new study by the Southern Education Foundation. Interesting read.The South has become the first region in the country to have both the largest population of poor and minority students. Other than that exact statement, I am not too sure why this topic is newsworthy. Demographics are changing. Didn’t we already know that? If I am not mistaken, back in 2000 experts predicted that Hispanic/Latinos would become the largest minority group, surpassing Blacks/African Americans. What I find disturbing is the correlation between minority status and/or poverty with low academic expectations by the ‘experts’ and public education institutions. I guess I missed that lesson during my certification program. For the record, let me reiterate my platform: I do not buy into stereotypes and I refuse to become one. What I would like to see is some research that emphatically (and empirically) proves that if you are poor and/or minority, you cannot and will not learn anything or perform on par with White, Asian, and affluent students. I don’t want to see NAEP stats or AYP data; I want to see research that says minority students are incapable of learning, must accept someone else’s limitations, and resolve to be underachievers. That is essentially what this correlation is saying. By the way, wasn’t a similar correlation spewed before? Like in The Bell Curve?

It’s time for these so-called education foundations and think-tanks to call a spade a spade (no racial overtone intended). When are we going to really start digging and revealing what is really going on in the South? I will share some statistics on Georgia, since that is where I live. Let’s look at the population growth/changing demographics in Georgia for the past 5 years (3-5 years is a good span when tracking change):

2004-05 State Student Enrollment: 1,515,646

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 8%
  • ELL: 4%
  • FARL (low-income): 48%

2005-06 State Student Enrollment: 1,559,828

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 8%
  • ELL: 5%
  • FARL: 50%

2006-07 State Student Enrollment: 1,589,839

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 9%
  • ELL: 5%
  • FARL: 50%

2007-08 State Student Enrollment: 1,609,681

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 10%
  • ELL: 5%
  • FARL: 51%

2008-09 State Student Enrollment: 1,615,066

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 10%
  • ELL: 6%
  • FARL: 53%

The above information is not awe-inspiring alone, but when we look at the state’s Special Education demographics for the same groups/years we get a completely different perspective. The following information is not available on the state’s web site; I obtained it through an Open Records Request.

2004-05 Special Education Enrollment: 242,565

  • Black/African American: 39.9%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 5.5%
  • ELL: 2.3%
  • FARL: 54.4%

2005-06 Special Education Enrollment: 241,773

  • Black/African American: 40.2%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 6.1%
  • ELL: 2.7%
  • FARL: 55.3%

2006-07 Special Education Enrollment: 244,210

  • Black/African American: 40.1%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 6.8%
  • ELL: 2.9%
  • FARL: 58.5%

2007-08 Special Education Enrollment: 235,016

  • Black/African American: 40.2%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 7.3%
  • ELL: 2.9%
  • FARL: 59.5%

*2008-09 Special Education Enrollment: 224,064

  • Black/African American: 40.3%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 7.8%
  • ELL: 3.1%
  • FARL: 61%

What does all of this mean?

  1. For at least 5 years, minority and/or low-income students have accounted for at least 50% of the students in Special Education (except 04-05. slightly under 50%). Believe me when I say the numbers for Gifted are almost the polar opposite.
  2. None of the think-tanks have factored in misdiagnosis, tracking, etc. into their formula for why minority and low-income students continue to underperform when compared to White, Asian, and affluent students.
  3. Georgia has a history of misdiagnoses and ‘directing’ African American students into Special Education programs. See here.

Simply put, does anyone find it strange that African Americans make up 38% of the state’s total student population, yet the enrollment in Special Education has been holding steady at 40%? Even more unnerving is the fact that 61% of students in Special Education are from low-income families. There is some overlap: Students from the other categories also fall into the low-income group. In my opinion, this is more newsworthy than the (obvious) fact that Georgia’s Hispanic/Latino student population has grown every year. The growth for Blacks/African Americans is not as noticeable. I await the critics’ rhetoric about single parent familes because you cannot tell form the SEF’s study or state data which students have two parents or which two-parent households are considered low-income. Pretty soon the superficial variables will be eliminated and people will have to admit the real problem. That should be interesting.

*Unusual drop in enrollment; waiting on Open Records Request from OCR to find if some form of corrective legal action was taken to address enrollment disparities.