Archive for the ‘Kathy Cox’ Tag

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.

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.

NAEP Data: It is what it is   2 comments

Georgia’s State Superintendent of Schools, Kathy Cox, released the December 2009/January 2010 newsletter. It included a list of the 17 schools that moved-off the NCLB ‘Needs improvement’ list, as well as a summary of Georgia’s performance on the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The assessment, administered every 2 years, compares academic performance of 4th and 8th grade students across the country in areas such as Math and Reading. With the exception of the SAT and ACT, it is the closet thing we have to a national assessment. I believe I may have blogged about this topic before but I feel it’s important to revisit it because I have a problem with people presenting data without using full disclosure.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that the national average is just that: An average of scores from all 4th and 8th graders across the country. I did not find the word average anywhere in the article; I read it four times.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results show great improvement in Georgia.

Let’s analyze the data to see exactly what determines ‘great’ as opposed to say ‘good’ or no improvement at all. Data for AYP *subgroups is listed below.

4th Grade Performance Math (2003 to 2009>6 year period>4 administrations)

  • GA (All Students) 230-236; +6 points >1.5 gain/admin
  • Nation (All Students) 234-239;+5 points >1.25 gain/admin
  • GA (Free & Reduced Lunch) 219-225 +6 points >1.5 gain/admin
  • Nation (Free & Reduced Lunch) 222-228; +6 points >1.5 gain/admin
  • GA (Black Students) 217-221; +4 points > 1.0 gain/admin
  • Nation (Black Students) 216-222; +6 points > 1.5 gain/admin
  • GA (Hispanic Students) 201-212; +11 points > 2.75 gain/admin
  • Nation (Hispanic Students) 199-204; +5 points > 1.25 gain/admin

The article stated that Georgia is “…leading the nation in improving student achievement,” (Cox, 2009). For some reason the performance of Students with Disabilities (SWD) and English Language Learners (ELL) were omitted from the newsletter, so I decided to check the NAEP site for those numbers.

GA ELL Population

  • 2009 > 220
  • 2007 > 212
  • 2005 > 208
  • 2003 > 208

Nation’s ELL Population

  • 2009 > 218
  • 2007 > 217
  • 2005 > 216
  • 2003 > 214

GA Students with Disabilities Population

  • 2009 > 215
  • 2007 > 219
  • 2005 > 218
  • 2003 > 209

Nation’s Students with Disabilities Population

  • 2009 > 220
  • 2007 > 220
  • 2005 > 218
  • 2003 > 214

Although Georgia’s ELL population performed higher than the national average for 2009, performance in other years has been considerably lower, with 2 years of no growth at all. The scores of the SWD group have been on the decline for the past three administrations, while the national average scores have improved. Perhaps that explains why those two groups were omitted from the newsletter. Just a thought. If anyone is interested, I will probably (meaning definitely) do a state-by-state comparison of each subgroup and compile some sort of ranking for each. I will likely start with SWD since I am a former Special Education teacher.

Thanks for reading!

 *AYP subgroups=those groups of students identified as having a ‘gap’ in their achievement compared to White, Asian, and economically advantaged students: Blacks, Hispanics, Students with Disabilities (SWD), and English Language Learners (ELL).

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.