Archive for the ‘Charter School Commission’ Tag

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?


An open letter to the Georgia Charter School Commission   Leave a comment

December 12, 2009

Dear Mssrs. Scafidi & Robinson:

For the past few days, I have been reviewing the charter petitions recommended by the Charter School Commission. I must admit that I am disappointed and quite disturbed. Explanations cited by the Commission are in direct contradiction to the legislative intent of charter school law. Furthermore, either White-owned management companies or affluent community groups submitted those petitions recommended. This continual selective practice places minority grassroots groups at a clear and blatant disadvantage. If the true intent of charter schools is to create school choice options for minority and low-income students, close the achievement gap, and involve parents in the educational process, then should not those same individuals have an opportunity at full participation by way of playing an active role in creating schools within their communities?  

I have shared these same concerns with the Charter Schools Division earlier this year, as the State Board of Education did not approve our charter petition because our group neither secured nor raised the entire operating budget prior to approval, as required by Andrew Broy. The charter landscape has only slightly changed since then, as it appears that Commission is placing the same barriers before more qualified charter applicants. An abbreviated list of charter petition discrepancies follows below. As the Commission made the recommendations, I rest assured you are more familiar with the petitions and deficiencies.

  • Board membership
  • Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education
  • Conflict of interest with a board member being a paid school employee
  • Teacher salaries
  • Leadership competency – Contracting with EMO/CMO


Parents as Board Members

If I am not mistaken, the Obama Administration is challenging parents to become actively involved in their children’s education. As a parent and educator, it is my opinion that assembling a board comprised of dedicated parents ensures sound decision-making as it relates to children and a quality instructional program. I assume that this is a recent addition to the state’s charter school law and guidance, as Oglethorpe Charter School’s governing board is comprised mostly of parents. Oglethorpe has received federal recognition for the governance structure that includes a high percentage of parents with enrolled students. It is my sincere hope that the application of this rule applied to all charter schools, and not based solely on the proposed location of the school. 

Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education

When drafting a charter petition, it is impossible to state with 100% certainty the school’s composition, unless the proposed school’s location is in a community absent of racial and/or ethnic diversity. This holds true when determining the number of students that will receive services through Special Education. At best, the petitioner can make an educated guess based on the district’s percentage of Special Education participants. Even so, determining the actual programs, e.g., Learning Disability, Emotional Behavior Disorder, etc., must wait until students actually enroll in the school. It is clear to me, a former Special Education teacher, that this is an area of confusion for Commission and State Board of Education members. I do suppose that petitioners can model the practices of traditional districts and track 40-50% of the students into Special Education. I digress.

Conflict of Interest of Board Members

The Internal Revenue Service provides specific guidelines on developing a Conflict of Interest policy for non-profit organizations. If the Commission has a policy beyond that of the IRS, it is imperative that petitioners have access before assembling their boards and hiring key personnel. I noticed that several petitioners received feedback regarding the potential conflict of interest of a board member who was also a potential employee of the charter schools. This is especially troubling considering that several charter schools in existence have individuals serving as founding members and employees. These charter schools have been approved by the local and state boards. In fact, one charter school in Gwinnett County has a husband and wife receiving compensation form the charter school. That, to me, sounds like a clear conflict of interest. Furthermore, other charter schools employ founding members. I digress.

Teacher Salaries

Neither the Commission nor the Charter School Division provides any guidance on setting teacher salaries, or salaries for other employees for that matter. I personally addressed this same issue with Andrew Broy, Clara Keith, and Kathy Cox earlier this year. As none of these individuals is directly involved with an organization’s efforts to recruit qualified and dedicated staff, neither they nor the Commission should have the authority to determine appropriate teacher salaries. The benefits of charter schools are numerous. One of them is the ability for teachers to have some creative freedom within their classrooms, as opposed to teaching to the test. Many teachers are willing to sacrifice a few thousand dollars for the opportunity to work in an environment where they will be treated as professionals and adults; traditional schools tend to devalue the importance of those liberties. It is quite possible that several charter school petitioners already secured verbal commitments from individuals wishing to work at the proposed schools; however, Georgia law stipulates that a teacher cannot sign a new contract while teaching under contract with another school system. As Education experts, all Commission members should possess this information.

Leadership Competency

“Neither does (insert charter school name here) propose to contract with an educational management organization for the provision of experience in educational services.” Again, if petitioners are required to contract with educational management organizations, then the Commission should make that information available to petitioners before they dedicate months and years to community outreach, marketing, researching, and writing the petition. Furthermore, many grassroots organizations oftentimes spend their own money to cover expenses associated with creating a charter school. If it is the intent of the Commission, legislators, Charter Schools Division, and Kathy Cox to create an  EMO/CMO-only charter environment in Georgia, please extend a professional courtesy to students, parents, and educators and make those intentions known locally and nationally.

In closing, I would like to point out the fact that for-profit management companies masked as non-profits have the upper hand here in Georgia. This is evident in their policies of locating schools only in districts where 60%+ of the students qualify for Free and Reduced priced meals, yet none of the parents are directly involved in the creation, management, or daily operations of those schools. That smacks of blatant racism. The laws, State Board of Education members, and Charter School Commission members are perpetuating the unspoken belief that minorities are not qualified to educate their own children, let alone anyone else’s. Spare me the rhetoric of your best friend being (racial/ethnic) or being married to a (racial/ethnic minority), as anyone who recognizes these policies, but says nothing to change them, is just as guilty as those who wrote them.

I have written this letter with an open mind and clear conscience. I am expressing concerns on behalf of those who still have an interest in resubmitting their petitions for future consideration. After spending more than 2 years of my life and time researching and developing a petition, I have accepted that changing Education from the inside may not be correct choice for me. As long as my principles and integrity remain non-negotiable, I am confident that the kind of radical change necessary for Georgia’s families must come from the outside. The Center for Education Reform was obviously extremely lenient in assigning a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia’s charter school law.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these observations.

Good day,

Monise L. Seward, Ed.S.