State Ranked for Big Bucks; DeKalb Policy Vacuum; Impassioned Montessori Plea
By Tom Doolittle
This is a belated report, but it may add some perspective to the statewide CRCT testing allegations that arose since the Cox January visit.
On January 29, State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox visited the Northlake area—Mercer University’s Conference Center; Evansdale Elementary School and Lakeside High School. On the one hand, Cox’s presentation to the Dunwoody-Chamblee Parent Council (DCPC) at Mercer looked like one she would have made anywhere in the state. She came to talk about Georgia’s competitive position for a share of $4 billion “Race to the Top” funds from the Obama Administration. As a bonus, she delivered some spontaneous strong medicine for DeKalb’s stakeholders’ relations with each other and its school system.
The DeKalb remarks were spontaneous, as Cox took questions (comments, mostly) during a refreshing give-and-take while moving through her prepared presentation. Cox, after enduring comments about local budgetary plans and priorities in the midst of her higher-level strategic presentation, summed up the education leadership challenge in this bifurcated (“multi-furcated”?) urban/suburban county. Stopping the audience cold, the statewide official told an audience that included about thirty DCLP parents, “the problem in DeKalb is that you don’t trust each other”—meaning that stakeholders and communities throughout the county need to relate to each other so that that time and energy can be focused on “policy”, rather than pet issues.
Former DeKalb School’s Chairman William (Brad) Bryant, introduced Cox, complimenting the audience in advance as one that would demand a presentation with “some meat on it”—high level policy information and room for give-and-take. He explained afterward, “when I learned that Superintendent Kathy Cox was planning a visit to two of our DeKalb schools, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to have her visit with a group of engaged… parents (and) discuss education policy issues on the national and state level….”. Bryant, now an appointee to the state Board of Education, is recognized by some as representing the Governor’s office consulting with Clayton County’s school board in its remedial efforts in 2008.
Cox’s “Race to the Top” readiness report had some encouraging news, but the 90-minute session might have gone a bit differently if it had been ten days later. The DCPC January meeting predated the now-infamous potential fundraising and economic development disaster over public school testing irregularities.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the test flap will jeopardize the federal money, but from what Cox had to say, we are (or were) well prepared to receive the money. You see, “preparation” is one of the Feds primary criteria for awarding “racing” (as in ready, set, go) dollars. This program is not your grandfather’s government hand-out—the awards are focused on a review of a state’s long-term strategy for improvement and end results—“end” being post-secondary education and get this, professional placement.
According to Cox, here’s where we stand:
(1) Georgia is cooperating with a national consortium with several states signed on to set standards at a progressively higher standard. Note: there is no “federal” body, nor “federal” standard that can subsume a state’s independence.
(2) Georgia’s Performance Standards are a hybrid, formed from those in Massachusetts, Singapore and Japan, each being highly ranked worldwide in specific areas.
(3) Georgia is ranked very highly to receive Federal funds via President Obama’s “Race to the Top”. It is ranked third “Most Competitive” among what is classified as Tier 2 states (by population)—up to $400 million of the $4 billion total.
(4) Georgia’s graduation tests are subject to federal peer review and the science portion has received a federal “green light”.
(5) “Project Express”, exam preparation for re-taking social studies graduation tests has tripled “success rates”.
(6) All goals are “P-20”, from Pre-K to Post-Grad, meaning that all grades are taught to expect to do post-graduate work, whether at a 4-year university of a technology college.
(7) Georgia DOE, University System and Technical School System are working together seamlessly. Linked data now track secondary school graduates’ performance in post graduate institutions.
(8) Georgia has the second most technology schools of all states for post-graduate education.
(9) Technology education is free of charge with a Hope Scholarship available for anyone enrolling in a school (i.e., no B-average requirement). Technology schools may actually meet the requirement for future jobs better than four-year universities do in terms of total “trained” workforce.
(10) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Georgia the top Reform state, based on technology standards and performance.
DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis attended the meeting. While leaving, Lewis mentioned his scheduled “weekend chats” about the 2010 budget constraints and priorities. At least one group, from the Huntley Hills Montessori program, took Lewis’ cue to express its concern for the possible elimination of the “choice” program.
Huntley Hills, Briar Vista and Midway elementary schools have Montessori options for students in their home districts. Huntley Hills parent, Amy Holmes-Chavez said that the elimination of the program would save the school system very little money relative to total cuts required, while dramatically affecting the neighborhoods that are served. In fact, the Chamblee area parent says it’s possible to run the program at a lower cost than traditional classrooms.
Holmes-Chavez wrote later in an e-mail, “Montessori has…worked among students across all income levels, across ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and across learning abilities.” Although the program is in neighborhood schools, the choice advocate said that there has always been room for kids that have their own transportation from other districts.
Huntley Hills Elementary School is a Title 1 school in the Chamblee area. Apparently, according to Chavez, more neighborhood families are choosing the public school now. She said the school has made AYP for the past seven (7) years, adding, “we've built a strong school with a rich diversity across ethnic groups.”