Pronunciation: \pri-ˈmir, -ˈmyir, -ˈmē-ər;
Etymology: Middle English primer, primier, from Anglo-French, first, chief, from Latin primarius of the first rank —
1 : first in position, rank, or importance
2 : first in time : earliest
In case you hadn’t noticed, Dr. Lewis has taken to linking the word “premier” with “DeKalb County School System” in his speeches and references these days. He attaches the word “premier” to the front of the name of the school system – as if it’s a corporate tag line or a copyrighted word association. In fact, the word “premier” is part of the school system’s logo on the website.
“Premier DeKalb County Schools” is downright false advertising that fails to overcome the reality of just how truly poor this school system really is. In fact, Dr. Lewis has diminished the definition of the word “premier” to the point that it has become a non-word to anyone who hears it pass his lips. He would better serve his “stakeholders” (another favorite buzzword) to simply allow pure, clear air to pass his lips instead – the pure air of honesty.
Here are some facts about DeKalb County Schools that serve to show that not only is DeKalb not premier, many of our schools can’t even rise to the level of "adequate".
Governor’s Office of Student Achievment
The data here tells several stories. Perhaps as a harbinger of future performance, our first grade students have lost 6 percentage points in the number of students who exceed performance expectations on the CRCT over the last three years. Moreover, the number of students who are NOT meeting expectations has risen by 2% in Language Arts and 8% in Mathematics. In fact, in 2006-07 (the last year with published data) 14% of first graders did not meet reading standards, 24% did not meet language arts standards and 24% did not meet mathematics standards. In the corporate world, an inability to hit performance targets this badly would trigger replacements. However, our school board just renewed our superintendent’s contract until October, 2011, in effect, a reward. This adherence to the status quo, with such dismal first grade performance doesn’t give us much hope for improvement.
Along with this decrease, comes a system-wide drop in enrollment of about 2%. (Are we losing our best performing students?) Our results on the high school graduation test have improved in the last three years, with Hispanics making the greatest gains, and everyone having trouble with science. However, students with disabilities are failing the test miserably. The failure rate on the End of Course Tests is frightening. The most recent scores show 47% failure in 9th grade literature, 26% failure in American Lit, 66% failure in Algebra 1, 60% failure in Geometry, 59% failure in Biology, 58% failure in Physical Science, 38% failure in U.S. History.
The good news is, our graduation rate has risen about 10% in three years. The school system has not shared exactly how they determine the graduation rate though - do they track students across four years or do they simply divide the number who began the year as a senior by the number who graduate (as many schools do). Disaggregated, though we find that the graduation rate for Title 1 schools is only 67.4% compared to 79.0% for Non-Title 1 schools. Sadly, the graduation chasm between males and females is wide: 76.4% of females graduate, compared to only 68.5% of males. The K-12 retention rate supports the gender discrepancy: 37.7% of females are retained from K-12 compared to 62.3% of males. (Are we sending our boys an early lesson that they are not capable?) Of those who did manage to graduate, only 35.7% qualified for the Hope Scholarship in 2007. Interestingly, DeKalb supplied 6,213 of the total 104,123 high school graduates in the State in 2007 – nearly 6% of the total – imagine how many more we would have provided had they all made it through to graduate. Conversely, imagine how many we have sent into society ill-prepared.
Further, we continue to segregate students based on performance, thereby creating environments with low performers separated into different schools from high performers. For example, the brand new Arabia High School, with all of its learning potential and possibilities to serve as a new kind of learning environment for so many, in the end has been introduced as more or less, a magnet school, requiring an application, essay and lottery to gain admission. Our best resources seem to only be focused on our best students – leaving the under-performing to flounder. Why are we not focusing more heavily on those most at-risk? Why do we not invest millions into new, different and exceptional educational opportunities for them? One size does not fit all. The DCSS college-prep diploma, which requires more credits that the state does, may not be achievable for all. Does that mean some must be ignored or forced to achieve the same goal using vaguely different routes? What is wrong with offering a truly impressive, positive vocational opportunity which could carve a path to a viable career for so many – especially our boys, who we seem to be failing the most?
Adequate Yearly Progress
In July, 2007, the AJC listed over 100 metro area schools having trouble meeting “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). Of the list, Cobb had 14, Gwinnett had 14, Fulton had 15, Atlanta City had 18 and DeKalb had a whopping 40. Of those in DeKalb, the most egregious was McNair Middle, which hadn’t made AYP in 8 years and required state intervention. In addition, Clarkston and Cross Keys High Schools hadn’t passed AYP for 5 years at the time of the report. (Cross Keys did manage to make AYP last year though!) At the time, students from the following 12 high schools in DeKalb were allowed to transfer to a “receiving” school: Avondale, Cedar Grove, Clarkston, Columbia, Cross Keys, Lithonia, MLK, McNair, Miller Grove, Open Campus, Stephenson and Towers. In fact, of the 21 high schools in DeKalb, only four were allowed to accept these transfers: Lakeside, Chamblee, Dunwoody and Druid Hills. Fast forward to 2008 and you will find that although we have many individual schools passing AYP, some even labeled “Distinguished”, we still have 40 schools that failed to make AYP (out of a total of 143 schools).
Currently, DeKalb’s District AYP Status for 2008 was still “Needs Improvement” meaning too many of our schools have missed AYP for two or more consecutive years. In fact, DeKalb has only met 15 out of 22 criteria markers. Needs Improvement (NI) schools must offer options to parents – such as tutoring or school choice – and may need to take specific action to improve student performance. (This is scaled on a grading system that includes Needs Improvement, Adequate Did Not Meet, and Adequate.) Although the system is making improvements, having made AYP in K-8 as well as some high school markers, it is still evident that the system struggles with math on the graduation test. But as you can see, as a system, DeKalb Schools still have two levels of improvement in order to reach the level of “Adequate” as defined by the state. So where do they get the deluded idea that they are instead, “Premier”? Let’s be honest -- Premier is a far cry from Adequate and several miles from Needs Improvement.