Saturday, February 14, 2009

Everyday Heros

By Shayna Steinfeld
(originally written for her monthly column addressing the Atlanta Bar, as their president)

By now, those of you who were following the election have heard that I narrowly lost my race for DeKalb County School Board by 252 votes of nearly 20,000 cast in the runoff. It was an interesting adventure into Georgia politics. I appreciate your support and willingness to allow me, in a few of the columns this year, to indulge my passion for the education of the most vulnerable members of our society.

As Bill Ragland so kindly pointed out, this is my platform. I have sought to use it to encourage you, my reader and Atlanta Bar Member, to think about ways that lawyers can and should contribute to their own lives, to their families, and to society at large in a more positive way. We should strive to be our own everyday heroes.

We, as lawyers, are fortunate to be educated members of society. In fact, we have reached one of the upper levels on the pyramid of education. Therefore, we have the ability, and arguably, the obligation, to speak out for those who are unable to speak for themselves. Once again, please indulge me in the topic of where I believe we, in Georgia, have gone astray in education and what we, as individual lawyers, may be able to do to make a difference. This is different from the general solutions and interventions proposed; too often those on the left throw money at the problem, and those on the right argue for vouchers. A better solution is being sought by strong educators like Michelle Rhee, the new Chancellor who has taken Washington, DC schools by storm; she was featured in Time Magazine the week of November 26, 2008 in an article that notes that young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school and that America is behind most developed nations in math and science even though we spend more per pupil than any other country.

Maureen Downey, in her November 24, 2008 AJC Editorial, posited “Better schools will bring better jobs to Georgia.” She has called to our attention that “new reports cast doubt on Georgia’s strategy to use low costs rather than an educated work force as its calling card [for bringing new jobs to Georgia].” States that lead the 2008 State New Economy Index are Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia – and these are all states that have high achieving schools. Georgia, however, ranked 18th in 2007 and 21 in 2008 on this index. She contends that this is the result of our reliance on low taxes, low wages, and a declining emphasis on schools.

Thomas Jefferson first proposed creating a public school system and his ideas form the basis of the public systems developed in the 1800s. One of Jefferson’s main concerns was to make schools available to all regardless of their status in society. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, free public education at the elementary level was available for American children in order to create good citizens, unite society and to prevent crime and poverty. By 1918 all states had mandatory attendance laws for elementary school. The first publicly supported high school was founded in Boston in 1635. By the middle of the eighteenth century the demand for skilled workers increased and Benjamin Franklin established a new kind of secondary school in Philadelphia in 1751. As we progressed in the Twentieth Century, most states passed laws requiring attendance in school through age sixteen.

From the beginning, individual states, rather than the federal government, have had primary authority over education. Each state currently has a department of education and has enacted laws regarding funding and financing, hiring of personnel, attendance and curriculum. Generally, local districts oversee the administration of the schools, with the exception of licensing and rules concerning health and safety. Public schools rely mostly on property taxes to meet expenses. Under President Bush, Congress enacted No Child Left Behind legislation, which asserts federal mandates on local school issues. This legislation leaves the curriculum decision to the states and requires regular criterion-based testing of the students to determine if they are meeting the standards of the state-based curriculum.

A few years ago, I personally asked Senator Isakson why we didn’t have a Federal curriculum standard for No Child Left Behind and I was referred back to “State’s Rights”. I submit to you, my friends, this month’s frustration: Georgia, which tends to be ranked towards the bottom of all 50 states in education, for decades, in a country ranked towards the bottom of industrialized countries in education, develops its own curriculum rather than selecting the best curriculum from states in the top 10. Further, we seem to lack options for our students who are not college-bound (that 25-30% we’re losing through the dropout rate addressed in last month’s column).

This month’s plea to you: as we get underway in the Gold Dome, there are laws that can be passed to improve our educational landscape that require minimal (or no) funding. We can begin to re-think how we educate our children and how we develop curriculum. I believe that the only curriculum we, as a state, should be creating from scratch is Georgia Studies. Every other subject that our students are learning – at every grade level – is taught in another state. There are at least 40 states doing it better than we are. Why not stop reinventing the wheel and instead start cherry-picking the best of the lot, by subject? (Not just curricula, but the associated proven texts, tests, lesson plans, and teacher training methods.) Instead of developing a math curriculum from scratch over the past few years at taxpayer expense, we could have chosen the number-one ranked Massachusetts’ curriculum, which has been proven teachable and effective.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson and Rep. Fran Millar are re-introducing their BRIDGE bill this term. This Bill seeks to allow students, who are not interested in attending college, to earn a certificate to allow them to pursue a technical career (e.g. in aerospace, health care, elderly care, agribusiness, life science, energy and environmental, logistics and transportation, information technology, teacher education training, engineering, science and mathematics, humanities and fine arts) with an introduction to these areas in 9th grade and concentrating in one area beginning in 10th grade. This bill, as proposed, exempts these students from some current graduation requirements and this has drawn criticism from educators. There is merit to giving the 25% to 30% of the students who are dropping out some alternatives. Perhaps, some support from constituents would make a difference?

Let’s start teaching our kids what they really need to know. Let’s give them tools to become successful in life. Let’s focus on English and math basics. Let’s teach everyone up-to-date computer skills. Let’s make sure no child leaves school without being financially literate. Most importantly, let’s allow them to fail if necessary, at early ages so they can understand how to work hard, win and succeed in high school and beyond. Albert Einstein experienced failure. Chipper Jones strikes out. Litigators lose a case every so often. Why are we so afraid to teach young kids the art of losing a game?

I will get off my soapbox now. I really wish we, as individual lawyers, could urge our legislature to require our State Department of Education to implement the best educational practices from around the country, to utilize the best curriculum from one of the states that are in the top five -- in toto – not modified where any child must be a guinea pig. Plus, we need to give our students critical life skills and alternatives – so we can make the American Dream possible for future generations of Georgians and keep our State and Country strong. In the process, we would re-invigorate Georgia to pull back in those jobs Maureen Downey says we are losing to other states because our system of education has been weak for too long.

Be an Everyday Hero and participate in the legislative process in the way you best see fit. While you are at it, thank your colleagues who have taken the plunge and have succeeded in being elected to public office.


Many thanks to Shayna (who is herself, an Everyday Hero in my book) for allowing us to reprint her article here on the blog. I think she has done quality research and made excellent points. Although she is addressing her peers - lawyers - I hope this article inspires some creative, thoughtful conversation about how each of us in every occupation can work to improve our local schools. - Cere


Anonymous said...

This is a superior post. I agree totally with Shayna that we should look at other states that are already doing it right verses using our children in Georgia as part of a learning experiments with new curriculums. Our children deserve to be educated with the best curriculums which have already been tested and have been proven to be affective.

Anonymous said...

Is it me, or do lawyers always come across as a bit arrogant and self-important?

Anonymous said...

It's you.

Cerebration said...

I know Shayna and she is definitely not arrogant - she's actually quite humble. She ran for school board because she truly wanted to do whatever it takes to help lead this school system into the future. But - voters went with Paul Womack, choosing instead, someone who represents a long history of Board representation as he served on the Board once already for 12 years back in the 1980's.

Although Shayna's column (which was published in the Atlanta Bar newsletter) is addressing her peers - attorneys - I think her message is one that can be reworked toward any businessperson/community member. I hope you all take it as such a challenge.

greenie said...

Cerebration - thanks for publishing this. I ran into Shayna recently and she again expressed her frustration that Georgia is not providing decent voc education for those who want it. Only weeks earlier, I had an e-mail from a former neighbor who moved to Ohio, detailing the quality of their education, the variety of choice, and the outstanding offerings for vocational track in high school. I told Shayna this and she responded that her experience in local politics is that promoting quality voc tech training for kids who are not college bound is perceived as elitist or racist. How sad is that.
I have lived in Europe and Australia, where vocational training and unpaid internships replace expensive post-secondary training, and provide a quality workforce (instead of a poorly-educated drop-out force).
and here in DeKalb, our voc tech is splintered and apparently inadequate, and has always (even when I was a student) considered the only option for poor learners. When did we lose the sense of pride of quality, trained people - in any field? I certainly felt and understood it in my travels and living in other countries.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers do not always come across as a bit arrogant and self-important. As every other profession some lawyers are arrogant and some of them are some of the most humble individuals I have ever meet. Shayna is not arrogant at all. My husband who is a lawyer also is one of the most down to earth and humble individuals I know. Both of them are very intellectual individuals which may be preceived as arrogant to some.

This article is superior and her points are well thought out and extremely intellectual comments with merit.

Respectfully Anonymous I strongly disagree. You need to get to know Shayna like I have and you would know what a humble and great person she is.

Anonymous said...

jodynroy is right about Ohio. They have a great statewide education system. Much tougher academics and real high quality teachers. Also, they have a bunch of colleges and universities that really reach out to the local school level with programs and partnerships.

Cerebration said...

Ohio's Proposed Plan for Credit Flexibility

Senate Bill 311 (the Ohio Core legislation) raised the graduation requirements for high school students in the hope that more students would be ready to meet the demands of our global and technological age. It included among its several provisions a requirement that by March 31, 2009, the State Board of Education adopt a plan that enables “students to earn units of high school credit based on a demonstration of subject area competency, instead of or in combination with completing hours of classroom instruction.” Once the plan is adopted, school districts, community schools and chartered nonpublic schools “shall comply” with the provisions of the plan, phasing in its provisions during the 2009-10 school year.

The purposes behind this provision of the law are to allow students to:

Show what they know and that they are ready to move on to higher order content; and
Learn subject matter or earn course credit in ways not limited solely to seat time or the walls of a school building.
Students may earn credits by:

Completing coursework;
Testing out of or demonstrating mastery of course content; or
Pursuing one or more “educational options” (for example, distance learning, educational travel, independent study, an internship, music, arts, after-school/tutorial program, community service or other engagement projects and sports).
The overall effect is to increase student engagement and sense of ownership of learning to reduce the dropout rate, accelerate learning and cultivate habits of mind essential for success in careers, post-secondary education and lifelong learning.

In order to study and vet this matter thoroughly before consideration of the State Board of Education, a Design Team -- consisting of K-12 practitioners and representatives from business and higher education – was created. Following several meetings, the Design Team reached consensus on the following: “Because the structure of Carnegie credit is tied to seat time, seat time serves as a proxy measure for learning. Though useful for management purposes (such as scheduling students and staff), the utility of seat time as an accurate measure of student learning is limited.”

Credit flexibility is intended to motivate and increase student learning by allowing:

Access to more learning resources, especially real world experiences;
Customization around individual student needs; and
Use of multiple measures of learning, especially those where students in which students demonstrate what they know and can do, apply the learning or document performance

Cerebration said...

Here is a link to the bill for Ohio's curriculum change - notice that they only require 20 credits. In my opinion - 24 credits is ridiculous. Get them READY for college courses by making sure they have mastered the concepts or for the work world by offering career training - don't hold them prisoner by making them take so many core classes.

Cerebration said...

Georgia's New Graduation Requirements

In September 2007, the State Board of Education passed a new set of graduation requirements. These requirements will affect current 8th graders as they begin high school next year and all subsequent freshman classes. Students attending high school prior to the 2008-09 school year are not affected*.

** To clarify - it is DeKalb that requires 24 credits - Georgia requires 23 in the new standards --

All students will be required to complete a total of 23 units for graduation. All students will take:
􀁹 4 units of English
􀁹 4 units of Science
􀁹 4 units of Mathematics
􀁹 3 units of Social Studies
􀁹 At least 3 units required from: Foreign Language*
and/or CTAE and/or Fine Arts for all students
􀁹 At least 4 additional electives
􀁹 1 health/physical education course

Cerebration said...

More good ideas from Ohio

Honors diplomas

· Authorizes the State Board of Education to prescribe an honors high school diploma that recognizes technical expertise for a career-technical student.

High school credit

· Requires the Department of Education and the Board of Regents to propose a standardized method and form for recording high school credit on high school transcripts.

· Requires the Department of Education to make its Individual Academic Career Plan available on its web site for schools to use in guiding students and families in selecting high school courses.

· Requires the State Board of Education to adopt a statewide plan for students to earn units of high school credit based on demonstration of subject area competency, instead of or in combination with completing hours of classroom instruction, and requires school districts, community schools, and chartered nonpublic schools to award high school credit in accordance with it.

College and work readiness

· Requires the Partnership for Continued Learning, in collaboration with the Board of Regents and the State Board of Education, to recommend by July 30, 2007, a means of assessing high school students' college and work readiness, especially in English and math.

· Directs the State Board of Education to display measures of the preparedness of high school graduates for higher education and the workforce on the school district and building report cards, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.

Other provisions

· Requires the State Board of Education to issue an annual report on the quality of teacher preparation programs.

· Requires the Teacher Quality Partnership to study the relationship of teacher performance on educator licensure assessments to teacher effectiveness in the classroom and to submit annual reports.

Cerebration said...

Ohio Report on quality of teacher preparation programs

(R.C. 3319.233)

Continuing law requires the State Board of Education to adopt standards for and to approve teacher preparation programs at public and private institutions of higher education.[11] The bill further requires the State Board, in collaboration with the Ohio Board of Regents, to issue an annual report on the quality of those institutions. This report must be prepared in collaboration with the Teacher Quality Partnership, which is a research consortium of 50 Ohio colleges and universities that offer teacher preparation programs. Information contained in the report must include (1) identification of best practices in the preparation of teachers drawn from the Teacher Quality Partnership's and others' research, (2) a plan for implementing best practices in approved teacher preparation programs, (3) the number of graduates of approved teacher preparation programs who graduated with a subject area specialty and teach in grades 7 to 12, disaggregated by the subject areas of math, science, foreign language, special education, and any other subject areas determined by the State Board, and (4) a plan to be implemented by teacher preparation programs to increase the number of science, math, and foreign language teachers needed throughout the state, especially in hard-to-staff schools. All information in the report must be based on data collected by the Teacher Quality Partnership and other educational agencies.

Cerebration said...

Ohio Study of teacher performance assessments vs. classroom effectiveness

(R.C. 3319.234)

The bill requires the Teacher Quality Partnership, a consortium of teacher education programs, to study the relationship of the assessments adopted by the State Board of Education for licensing teachers to teachers' actual effectiveness in the classroom. The Teacher Quality Partnership must submit reports to the Governor, the President and Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker and the Minority Leader of the House, the chairs and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Education committees, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Board of Regents, and the Partnership for Continued Learning. The Partnership is required to begin submitting its reports not later than September 1, 2008.

Anonymous said...

I think it is important for our state education department to study what all other states are doing and what is working and then use curriculums which have already been proven to effective verses spending a great deal of money and time to come up with our own curriculum (example is math) without knowing if it will be affective with our children in Georgia. Our children should not be the test to see if this curriculum is effective. Our children in Georgia deserve a great deal more than this.

No Duh said...

Does anyone remember when the buzz was that the SAT was racially biased to white people? I have a friend who is very well educated (including an MBA from Harvard)and has helped teach SAT prep classes to lower income students. We once had a discussion about the idea that the SAT is racially biased. I asked him to tell me how that could be. With a straight face, my friend said "Well, say the analogy is 'a cup is to a saucer as a hat is to a head'. That's racially biased because African American children probably don't know what a saucer is because their families don't use them."

I told him that was a load of crap. I said, "well I've never used a guillotine, but I know what one is!"

BTW, my friend is African American.

Raise the bar high. Never lower it. Put the resources in the classrooms during the school day -- expect the material to be learned during the school day (stop offering after-school school). Stop inflating grades. Start giving zeroes again. Don't socially promote. Hire inspiring teachers. Pay inspiring teachers well. Fire uninspiring teachers. Provide discipline and enforce it. Enforce the dress codes. Separate only the truly "special needs" kids.

Let's "get her done!"

Cerebration said...

No duh - this is interesting. I used to think that was impossible too - until I watched my child at 4 years old take an "IQ" test. She couldn't read so it was done with clipart (bad clipart I might add.) As I watched, I realized that those tests really are biased. First, they are created by Harvard types - New England elite - so you get NE language. For example, the psychologist asked my child to point to the "luggage". Well - I mouthed to the doc (I knew her pretty well) that's not the word we use (we use suitcases) - and she said "I know - this is a problem - but I'm not allowed to substitute words!" So my kid got it wrong! Then she goes on - point to the "drill" - well, luckily, my husband is a handy guy and uses lots of tools so my kid got that right. But then - point to the "hinge". Now - how often have you discussed hinges with a four-year-old?

Lucky the test-taker who has had all of the proper conversations and exposure to the proper items of interest to Harvard test makers.

I really do think the tests are biased - very much so.

No Duh said...

I don't know why a four year old would be asked about a hinge, but it was an IQ test.

If our schools/teachers are capable of sparking an interest in LEARNING -- then we begin to produce students who are life-long learners, who are exposed to things outside their immediate cultural setting. If we are going to judge education and capabilities only on things children have been exposed to (personally seen or done) then why do we teach History?

The SAT questions could all be thrown out and replaced with -- name five rappers, identify the following texting terms, etc.