Archive for the ‘Truth In Education’ Tag

Can Education really be fixed?   2 comments

Perhaps a better question would be: Do the powers-that-be even want to fix Education? Public Education has become the ‘hot topic’ since the Obama administration assumed office in January. Whether you agree with the current policies or not, you have to admit that Education has not received such massive amounts of press in a very long time. I wasn’t alive during the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision or the ensuing desegregation/integration (two completely different things) debates and initiatives; however, I do believe today’s initiatives, succeed or fail, have that level of significance.

Perhaps the most-known initiative is Race to the Top, where states compete for funds to improve education. I believe that the theory behind RttT is admirable, i.e., closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students; I do not believe that dangling money in front of states to achieve that end is the best solution. Honestly,  I am surprised at the lack of opposition to RttT by those who say ‘throwing money at the problem is not the solution.’ Where are those people? I need someone with whom I can dialogue about this initiative because it scares me for several reasons. Although I do believe that some of Education’s woes can be remedied with money, i.e., new computers, current textbooks/e-books, research-based and continued professional development, etc., some improvements are actually free.

Ever hear the saying, “If you continue to do what you’ve always done…?” Well, that’s exactly how I feel about Education. Let’s look at some low to no-cost change options. Since teachers have literally no control over what occurs inside a school building (unless they have a strong union), much of the change would have to occur at the district level including the Board of Education members and the superintendents. In some districts, board members have served for multiple terms and are not in touch with the needs of their constituents. Oftentimes, board membership does not reflect a district’s changing demographic (Read: There is no racial/ethnic diversity). This is the case in Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest school district. J. Alvin Wilbanks is the CEO (his moniker of choice) of Gwinnett County and is often heralded as one of the longest-serving public school superintendents in the country. Sometimes the ‘longest-serving’ whatever can be a great thing; other times it can be a detriment to that particular organization. A district which heralds itself as ‘world-class’ should at least have a teaching and administrative staff reflective of its diverse student and community population. There are many competent, degreed minorities who can hold positions of authority within districts, and produce results, but we seem to be relegated to more positions of subordination than authority.

Likewise, a ‘world-class’ district should support its claim by implementing more innovative programs in the schools where they are most needed, e.g., Title I schools and those with high minority populations. Instead, the Math, Science, & Technology Charter School and similar programs are relegated to communities where the homes have $400k+ price tags. Interestingly, the district’s own charter school does not provide transportation yet Georgia’s State Board of Education (also lacking in diversity), did not forsee the lack of transportation as a barrier to creating a diverse school environment. By the way, of the 192 students enrolled in 2007-08, only 20% were Black and 5% were Hispanic; 43% were White. But I digress.

In addition to changing the leadership, districts can also enact research-based professional development initiatives. Although this measure would require significant upfront costs, within a few years the program would pay for itself. I will admit that when I worked as a Special Education teacher, I found myself doodling or making To-Do lists during several professional development workshops. After spending four years as a Special Education teacher, making me sit through an introductory Special Education workshop was an insult and waste of my time. I literally had to talk to myself to keep from falling asleep, not because I was apathetic but because the speaker was painfully boring. I honestly think watching paint dry would have been more exciting. At least then I could have watched the colors change. There have been other workshops that were a waste of valuable time, although others were grateful for a half-day or full day without students. I am very strict about how I spend my time and I do not like to waste it because I can never get it back. If I must attend workshops then they should cover information that I can incorporate into my classroom the next day. Lastly, professional development must be continuous, comprehensive, and relevant to today’s diverse student populations and their unique learning needs. If a teacher has to take a class on using an email system, then they may want to find another profession. I’m just sayin’.

I think I have ranted long enough but I would like to add something: I am partially responsible for the problems with our district because I only took an interest in school board members and their agendas within the past few years due to my involvement in developing a charter school. I have made it my business to stay current on all issues effecting this district, but especially the community in which I live. I plan to follow all votes and opinions, as two members will seek re-election next year. We need and deserve a representative concerned about the needs of those living in places other than the palaces of Duluth, Suwanee, etc.

Until something else ires me, later!

Contrary to popular belief, one bad apple can wreak havoc   Leave a comment

In 2006, Laura Mallory began her crusade to keep her kids from reading the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, her persistence and insistence that Harry Potter books are evil and encourage interest in the Wicca religion has now infringed upon the rights of other Gwinnett County Public Schools students, including two of mine. I do not disagree with Mallory’s desire to keep her kids from reading Rowling’s books; however, when one mom’s beliefs infringe upon those of other people, then I believe that we all suffer. That’s why I have a problem with this particular ‘crusade,’ no religious pun intended.

Anyone who has ever worked with adolescents, especially males, and then Black and Latino males, knows that they lose interest in Reading (assuming they ever possessed it) at around that age. As the mother of a 14 year-old boy, I can honestly say that I was ecstatic when he wanted to read the 800-page ‘Order of the Phoenix’ book without any cajoling from me or his teachers. He has not lost his love of Reading; however, finding high-interest materials for him has been a challenge.

The argument can be made that parents can still buy the books or borrow them from the local libraries, but then we would have to remove all C.S. Lewis books for the religious references, Hemingway for Anti-Semitism, Faulkner and Twain for racism, etc., etc., etc. Our country already has a dismal literacy rate. Such trivial debates about what is best for everyone will only exacerbate the problem. Ask me how I know? My daughter’s third grade teacher had to remove a Patricia Palacco book from her classroom because it is not on the ‘approved’ book list.

Thank you Laura Mallory!

Embattled district making improvements despite drama   Leave a comment

Last year, the Clayton County School District became the first school district to lose accreditation in 40 years. One of the main reasons the district lost its accreditation was due to the dysfunctional school board that was in place. Like other districts, board members are elected by community members. Other problems included member in-fighting and accusations that some board members did not legally reside within the district; therefore, making them ineligible to serve. Governor Purdue even issued an executive order to remove four board members. The loss of accreditation almost jeopardized HOPE Scholarship eligibility for graduating seniors, but the governor made special provisions to ensure that did not happen.

As part of its two-year probation, Clayton County must undergo a review every six months which includes site visits and interviews with parents and teachers. The district also hired a new superintendent for the 2009-10 school year, replacing John Thompson who was hired to ‘restructure’ the district. The results of the most recent review were favorable. The district has made some improvements; however, the board must continue to receive training and SACS noted concerns about the district operating with a deficit but did not list specifics.

Despite the drama created by the school board members’ behavior, the students and faculty of Clayton County have made some notable improvements during the past 2 years. For the 2007-08 school year, only 69.5% of schools made AYP. That number was up to 81.7% for 2008-09. During both years the district met the AYP requirements for attendance and the graduation rate, with the averages increasing from 76.5% to 79.7% district-wide. If the students continue to perform at those rates, we can expect to see at least 90% of Clayton’s schools make AYP and the average graduate rate reach 82% at the end of the current school year.

Hats off to the students and teachers of Clayton County who have managed to stay focused and perform despite the antics and politics of those who obviously placed their own agendas before your educational needs.

If arts education programs work, why are they withheld from those who could benefit the most?   Leave a comment

The Center for Arts Education recently released the findings of a 2-year study on the correlation between participation in arts programs and high school graduation rates at more than 200 New York high schools. The study identified nine key indicators for conveying a school’s commitment to offering quality arts programs:

  • Certified Arts Teachers
  • Dedicated Arts Classrooms
  • Appropriately Equipped Classrooms
  • Arts & Cultural Partnerships
  • External Funds to Support The Arts
  • Coursework in the Arts
  • Access to Multiyear Arts Sequence
  • School Sponsorship of Student Arts Participation
  • School Sponsorship of Arts Field Trips

For those high schools demonstrating a strong presence of the nine indicators, graduation rates were higher over the 2-year period. The study also points out the fact that access to arts is unequal. Students attending schools in low socioeconomic or majority-minority neighborhoods have less access to quality arts programs than students attending schools in more affluent neighborhoods. This is problematic, especially since students in those groups have higher drop-out rates. Furthermore, these student-groups are at the center of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as academic achievement, attendance and graduation rates are significantly lower than those of White and Asian students across the country.

CAE is not the first organization to publish such a study so why, then, do our public schools look to arts programs first when faced with budget cuts? Some districts claim that having comprehensive arts programs would be too costly; others insist that it is not possible to offer a variety of arts programs during the traditional school day. I wonder, though, if the real reason has anything to do with the fact that disadvantaged students may actually begin to perform as well as, or better, than their advantaged peers. Perfect example: DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts – DESA (formerly Hooper Elementary), a magnet school located in the DeKalb County School System. For the 2008-09 school year, DESA’s students outperformed their peers at traditional schools without an arts focus. There were 345 students who took the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), where passing scores are required for both Mathematics and Reading/Language Arts1. Of DESA’s 331 Black students tested, 14.2% Did Not Meet (DNM) the standard, compared to 28.8% for the district’s Black students. Sixty percent of DESA’s Black students met the standards, while only 53.6% of the district’s students met the standard. Students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch at DESA also outperformed students in the same group at the district level.

I have my opinion of academic disparities, especially when many students (victims of their zip code) can be helped with something as simple as access to quality arts programs. Unfortunately, those in charge of making important curricular decisions tend to be ignorant of research in support of such programs. As a result, more kids suffer through less-than-engaging curricula, from minimal opportunities at differentiated instructional practices and superficial arts exposure masquerading as ‘arts-integration.’

1 All of the students attending DESA for the 2008-09 school year were classified as Black.

Mass firings not a magic bullet for D.C., other struggling districts   1 comment

In just a few years, Michelle Rhee has become a household name. Appointed Chancellor of the D.C. Schools, Rhee has become well-known for implementing her tough top-down management style in an effort to improve academics and teaching quality in the struggling school district. One of Rhee’s more radical tactics is firing ‘ineffective’ teachers (Read: Those who refuse to be bullied to keep their jobs) and replacing them with Teach For America alums, a program which Rhee also completed. I do not discount the improvements Rhee has orchestrated since assuming her responsibilities as Chancellor; however, I do disagree with the manner in which she is attempting to exact large-scale change.

I am concerned about assigning the ‘ineffective teacher’ moniker haphazardly, especially given the fact that private funding is a substantial motivator in demonstrating academic improvement at the expense of dedicated teachers. Before a teacher can be deemed ineffective, we must first ask ‘Who determines a teacher’s ineffectiveness, and by what means?’ Every state has some procedure in place to both evaluate teachers and correct any deficiencies, usually by developing a Professional Development Plan (PDP). For argument’s sake, let’s assume that every principal in a D.C. school evaluates every teacher, the prescribed number of times, each and every school year. (Note: If this happened anywhere, NCLB likely would not be necessary.) Given this ideal situation, how would a supposed ‘ineffective teacher’ manage to keep the same teaching job for 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years? The answer: He or she would not.

Here is the million dollar question: How does a teacher become ineffective, under the direction of an administrator who is supposed to evaluate this teacher every year? That’s the easy part. There are, in my opinion, three possible explanations. First, the teacher may have never received an official evaluation. For those who wear rose-colored glasses, this does happen more than anyone may want to know. Second, the teacher may have received an unsatisfactory evaluation, but never received a PDP either because the administrator did not feel like doing the paperwork or this teacher was a part of the ‘in crowd.’ Lastly, the teacher could have very well been an excellent teacher, with outstanding classroom management skills and the ability to interact with students and parents. For the upcoming year, the principal may need to hire an additional coach but does not have a teaching assignment. Guess who suddenly becomes an ineffective teacher?

With the case of D.C. Schools, Rhee wants to replace the ineffective teachers with recent TFA alums, who will earn lower salaries, work longer hours, and fall inline with her regime without asking any questions or making any waves. Recently teachers, whether ineffective or otherwise, have essentially been thrown under the bus in the name of closing the achievement gap or improving schools. Do I believe that there may be some ineffective teachers? Absolutely. Will mass firings solve that problem? Absolutely not. If schools and districts wholeheartedly implement and follow-thru with effective practices, teachers would not be the scapegoats for what ails public education. In her efforts to make change, Rhee is alienating students, teachers, parents, community members, and some politicians. As public education faces scrutiny and tougher accountability measures, those are not the people she wants as enemies.

This has been on my mind for awhile. I felt the best way to release it was to out my thoughts on paper. Of course, this is the condensed version! As I said in my first post I am not an expert, just full of common sense.

Thanks for reading!

 

Additional links on Rhee and D.C. Schools:

Probe demanded in teacher firings

Rhee’s firing streak continues

Anger over layoffs vented in 18-hour meeting

Posted October 20, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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Is your state’s Department of Education misleading parents and constituents?   Leave a comment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing results for 2009 were released this week. The NAEP is the only nationally administered assessment that randomly tests America’s 4th and 8th grade students’ to measure whether students know what they should at those grade levels, with special attention on the Mathematics assessment. The exam is actually administered every 2 years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a component of the U.S. Department of Education. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on the question at hand: Is your state’s Department of Education misleading parents and constituents?

The practice of reporting ‘half-truths’ or omitting important data is very disturbing to me, both as a parent and an educator. According to the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia’s students showed ‘significant improvement’ on the 2009 NAEP; the state was one of 15 to show such improvement. By Georgia standards, what constitutes ‘significant improvement?’ Apparently for 8th grade students, only three points. In 2007, the average score for Georgia’s students was 275 compared to 280 for the nation. This year, Georgia’s average increased by three points to 278, compared to 282 for the nation. Over a 2-year period, Georgia has managed to close the performance gap between the national average by only one point. Fourth-grade NAEP performance remained relatively the same, with only a one point gain over the same 2-year period. In 2007, Georgia’s 4th graders averaged 235 compared to 239 for the nation. Two years later, the score increased to 236 for the state but the national average remained the same.

Despite the small gains made by Georgia’s students overall, there still exists a significant achievement gap for Blacks, Hispanics, Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible (FARL), and Students with Disabilities (SWD) when compared to White and Asian students. Of the 8th grade students performing ‘Below Basic,’ 72% were reported as having a disability, 50% were Black, 47% FARL, and 41% Hispanic. When compared to White and Asian students, the disparities are magnified because 18% and 14%, respectively, scored ‘Below Basic.’ For more detailed information about the performance of AYP subgroups, click here.

As parents we must remain vigilant in finding and demanding the truth from our education officials. If parents do not have full disclosure they are essentially prevented from making informed decisions about where and how their children are educated.

Posted October 17, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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Not an expert, just full of common sense   Leave a comment

This is my first blog. I was hesitant to start one since I spend so much time on Twitter and Facebook (and even adjusted to the word limits), but I thought now would be a good time to expand my social networking repertoire..so here I go!

I have spent the past 2.5 years developing a Visual & Performing Arts Charter School in Snellville, GA, approximately 35 minutes northeast of Atlanta. To say the chartering experience was filled with ups & downs, twists & turns, roadblocks & deterrents would be an understatement. Despite all the obstacles, frustration, and politics I am glad that I assumed the challenge. I have learned a considerable amount about the inner-workings of school systems: The stuff they do not want the general public to know. I gained a little insight by working as a Special Education Teacher for 5 years, but even that experience did not prepare me for the lessons learned in developing a charter school. (See, I am a little long-winded for Twitter & Facebook!)

As I continue to revise (ok, completely rewrite) the charter petition, I have spent more time researching and ‘decoding’ much of the Education mumbo-jumbo, e.g., AYP, NCLB, etc. I have also noticed that districts and state departments of education tend to mislead parents and community members by not truthfully reporting on student performance and issues. I will cover these topics as truthfully as I can, because I believe that informed and educated parents will ensure that their children, as well as those of other parents, will receive the highest quality education, regardless of race, socio-economic status, etc. Hence, the title of this first blog. I do not claim to be an expert, but I do have enough common sense to know that the elected officials will not always provide us with the most accurate information.

If you have a topic of interest or comments, I will gladly welcome them!

Thanks for taking the time to read. I hope to share some new information and keep parents informed!

Posted October 16, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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