Archive for the ‘Broad Prize in Urban Education’ Tag

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.

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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.

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?