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.
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.
Proof that education change is slow to come to Gwinnett County: The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to extend Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks’ contract for 2 additional years, until 2012. Wilbanks is currently the superintendent of the largest school district in the state of Georgia; he is also one of the longest-serving superintendents in the country. Some of the highlights of Wilbanks’ career as superintendent:
- Missing AYP for 6 consecutive years (See story here);
- Challenging a charter school that is actually closing the achievement gap (See story here);
- Blaming Special Education for the academic woes of public education;
- Questioning the existence of Blacks in Idaho at an open school board meeting (See story here);
- Operating a system that continues to suspend and expel Black and Latino students at disproportionate rates;
- 48% graduation rate for students with disabilities.
There are more, but there is no need to fill this blog with a laundry list of public education failures. One a brighter note, The Broad Foundation overlooked the district’s blaring discrepancies and less-than-culturally sensitive superintendent when they awarded Gwinnett County $250,000 as a finalist in the Urban Education competition.
Yep, I am certain: The road to change does not run through Gwinnett County.
As I was reading the tweets of folks I follow in the Education field, I got to thinking: Some of Georgia’s education problems could be solved if we had some national attention, a la California, New Orleans, or D.C. Then I went a step further. Would a minority-developed and led thinktank make noticeable strides in educating parents, increasing advocacy, and actually closing the achievement gap? I know that some people are going to misinterpret my line of thinking, so let me clarify. I am not promoting segregating students, schools, etc. In reality, many of our country’s public schools have done an outstanding job of re-segregating any way (Yes, that was sarcasm). What I propose is creating a thinktank with some of the minority pioneers, movers and shakers, and decision-makers within the field of Education. No, I do not mean President Obama either. While I appreciate his desire to improve Education and close the achievement gap, I DO NOT agree with his decision to promote a non-educator to the rank of Secretary of Education. But that’s another blog post entirely.
Back to the issue at hand. There are many education thinktanks in existence; they receive major contributions from organizations such as The Broad Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Eli Lily Foundation, and countless others. But something is amiss: Many of the high-ranking decision makers in those organizations are non-minority. If we are to have honest and candid dialogue about students from low-income families, minority backgrounds, and all the other ‘at-risk’ groups (again, sarcasm), then members of those groups who have succeeded in spite of and because of those labels need to have a seat at the table. I get especially frustrated when ‘experts’ start spewing statistics about kids born to single-parent households with regard to graduating, going to college, etc. According to the ‘experts’, I should have never graduated from high school without at least one child and I certainly should have never graduated from the University of Notre Dame. Going by data alone, I should not be near the completion of a Doctorate in Education either. But that’s the problem: We are treating kids and their families like statistics-inanimae objects, when they are so much more than that. If those ‘experts’ insist on looking at the numbers, let’s start looking at the number of kids oorn to two-parent families who get pregnant in high school and never step foot on a college campus. When dialogue becomes two-sided, maybe then I will give consideration to its validity.
Let’s face it: Asking a group of non-educators or non-minorities to address a problem to which they have no first-hand knowledge is akin to asking a group of podiatrists and dentists to conduct open-heart surgery. It just don’t make sense! (Sorry Grammar and English teachers!)