Tuesday, November 30, 2010

OMG! Dare we hope? YES - Change is coming!

9:00 PM


Have a look at these election results. According to this chart from the DeKalb County website, JESTER and EDLER both won!

To check out the results yourself, click here.  To follow the Twitter reports on the North DeKalb Neighbor's website, click here. Here's their latest tweet, "Incumbents are out. Nancy Jester wins the BOE District 1 seat with 55.38%. Donna Edler wins District 7 with 72.36%."

Technology: A 2020 Vision

While our school system debates their 2020 Vision by evaluating brick and mortar as well as program offerings in order to finally (hopefully) redistrict and consolidate our schools, others in the educational world are also creating 2020 Visions - technology based visions. While the redistricting in DCSS is certainly necessary, we have been stuck on this discussion for three years. I hope that this board will finally make these decisions and enable the system to move forward in focusing on providing the best education possible to our students, regardless of which building they attend.

The staff at T.H.E. Journal have compiled an article focused on the 2020 visions of leaders in educational technology. Entitled, 2020 Vision: Experts Forecast What the Digital Revolution Will Bring Next, you can read it here. The article interviews several leaders in technology, such as Mary McCaffrey, CEO of TH(i)NQ Ed, Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology within the US Department of Education and Linda Roberts, who headed the Office of Educational Technology until 2001, as well as others in educational technology.

What will be the next transformative step in tech-based education?
“I think we’re going to see the revolution from the students, if we can keep them engaged. We’ve separated the world of our students from their school world. When they go to school, the only thing they have is social—their friends they see. We block out the rest of the their life—their texting, their phones, their computers, for the most part their digital world. I don’t think the students are going to put up with that. The students will lead this revolution if we keep them engaged and give them hope that they can make use of these technologies that they love in their private lives and make use of them for learning. Teachers will come along with that because teachers’ role will change. In my 2020 vision, we’ll have teachers as facilitators and mentors, and the students will be directing, leading, and collaborating, even as early as elementary school. The relationship between students and teachers will be, on a whole, much different and more valuable.”

What role can technology play in changing the way we assess students, teachers, and schools?
Race to the Top [which funds states whose education systems are moving toward the US Department of Education’s school reform goals] set aside $350 million for the states to create an entirely new generation of assessments. One of the problems with our current system is we have the testable standards, and then we have the ones we say are nice to have but that we can’t really test now. These have been relegated to “bubble” tests. The opportunity now is to go way beyond the bubble test, to create a new generation of assessments that can give us much better information for students, their teachers, the school, the district, and the system as a whole. The entire world of assessment is about to change dramatically, and technology is going to be central to that.

Let’s talk about textbooks. What will be the fate of the traditional one print textbook per student, per course, per grade level?
I think over the next 18 months or so we’re going to see a transition from a predominantly print-based classroom to a digital classroom in which students have devices and the content is provided for them online in a much more flexible and customizable manner. We can take advantage of the power of technology to do things like simulations, visualizations, and games with better feedback, better adaptive materials, and better opportunities to personalize and conduct deep research on things that students are interested in. We’re going to move away from the notion of a print-based textbook toward a new platform. I’m hopeful about this.

There are all sorts of interesting revolutions that will come out of the movement toward interactive textbooks and multimedia. Using the Kindle app on my iPad, I’ve been loving the social highlighting feature in which you can see the passages in the book that hundreds of other people have highlighted and thought were important. That suddenly takes textbooks and reading to a whole new level. I’m not sure if I would agree with Karen that it’s 18 months away, but it’s closer than most people think it is.

How about this for a vision?

Thomas Frey, futurist, executive director of the DaVinci Institute
What barrier needs to be moved out of the way in the next 10 years to allow the education system to take advantage of the available technology?
“Who is the most famous school teacher in the world? I end up with a lot of blank stares when I ask that question. If I ask you who is the most famous radio talk-show host, you can probably name three or four. If I ask you who the most famous newspaper columnist is, you can probably name three or four of them. The difference is in one word: syndication. Teachers haven’t been able to syndicate their work because they’re owned by the institution they’re working for. We have fifth-grade math being taught by 10,000 teachers across the country every single day. Why do we have such a duplication of effort? Say there’s someone out there who is just exceptional at teaching fifth-grade math. Somehow they’ve mastered this like nobody else. We’re able to package it and deliver that course through some online medium that would enable students to learn from the best. They could sit at the feet of the true master, not the teacher who happens to have been hired for that job at their school. That teacher would become the most famous fifth-grade math teacher in the entire world. Teachers would become the celebrities of the students of that age.”

Let's start the discussion. What do we envision a DCSS classroom to really look like in 2020?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lots to do this week

Aside from recovering from Thanksgiving and shopping, we have lots of DCSS things to do this week.

Share Your Vision Tonight or Tomorrow Night

Parents, students, faculty, staff, and taxpayers of DeKalb County Schools are invited to participate in the 2020 Vision for DeKalb Schools tonight, November 29th held at Henderson Middle School from 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

To learn more about "charrettes" and this opportunity, click here. This is your opportunity to participate in break-out sessions and talk about the needs of the school system.

Everyone with an interest in the future of the DeKalb School System should plan to attend this important event!

If you are unable to attend the charrette at Henderson Middle and have not attended a previous one, the last one will be offered at Peachtree Middle School tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 30th from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Take the Online Survey

If you have not yet taken the 2020 Vision Survey for DCSS, click here to do so. Scroll down and click on "take the survey". You can see the results and comments by clicking here.


Most Importantly - Get out and VOTE in the runoff on Tuesday!

Polls open at 7 a.m. for the runoff election - Tuesday, November 30th! In District 1, incumbent Jim Redovian faces challenger Nancy Jester and in District 7, incumbent Zepora Roberts faces challenger Donna Edler. For info on the candidates, click here.  Please remind your friends and neighbors in Districts 1 and 7 to vote one more time on Tuesday.

Your Regular Polling Place is Open
Tuesday Nov 30th

Friday, November 26, 2010

Make sure your opinion counts

I was perusing the responses to the online survey for the 2020 Vision and found that they had some themes:
  • All schools are not perceived as equal. Even schools geographically close can be wildly inconsistent in educational opportunities.
  • Therefore, people do not want to redistrict schools that currently do a very good job. 
  • If the board simply rearranges attendance zones, people will either leave or move to be in the school zone of choice, making redistricting futile.
  • These feelings are amplified at Fernbank, Dunwoody and Chamblee.
  • Montgomery parents are upset at severe over-crowding.
  • People are concerned about the impact of property values.
  • People are concerned that they will lose their neighborhood feel and the ability to walk to school.
  • The consensus on magnets is split. Many want the magnets left alone. Many think they usurp funds and opportunity.
  • Overall, most respondents recognize that our schools have deteriorated into a vortex of disrepair and inequity. Parents that can, have worked very hard to improve and maintain a good neighborhood school. They will fiercely protect it.
  • Many people commented that the board is not to be trusted. They questioned who is serving on the committee.

Some quotes:

Fernbank and Dunwoody seem to be the most prolific responders -

Fernbank elementary school has a lot of international kids from Emory families. Many of these families live around Emory University which is on the outer edge of the Fernbank school area. These kids contribute a lot to the credits of international baccalaureate for this school. In addition, most of these families pay attention to education very much, I do not think they will send their children to another school that they are not satisfied with if they are cut out of the Fernbank area. I heard many parents said that they will move into the new fernbank school area or move to the area of another good school, which will make consolidation less effective.

Please do not jeopardize the success of Fernbank elementary by redistricting.

Fernbank Elementary School is a great model. The district should not be altered which would chnage something that works very well.

Like where the kids are now at Vanderlyn. Would like very much if Oxford Chase subdivision stay at Vanderlyn

Chamblee HS responses were also high -

Keep magnet program at Chamblee HS

I do not wish to be redistricted away from Chamblee HS

And there was a fairly large supply of opinions from Towers HS parents who had these comments -

Keeping neighborhoods intact is very improtant to me. Towers HS has a new technology wing. This addition is vital to our future.

It is important that Towers HS receive all monies that have previously been allocated forimprovement in both science/technology as well as providing improvements that have been requested for exterior appearances. this should be compatible with schools in North DeKalb!

Treat this school like it was on the north side of town. give it the funding that those schools receive

In fact, to add to the north/south debate, someone left this comment -

North Dekalb gets too much money allocated. South Dekalb, darker in hue and having the bulk of the more impoverished neighborhoods, needs the funds to be at least evenly distributed. Why do we always have to threaten public exposure and discord in order to get what we pay for? Keep Wadsworth open and stop playing games to prevent enrollment increase. We need more Wadsworths in South Dekalb. That will improve the performance of the county as a whole educationally and justify greater federal funding.

(Oddly, there is only one response identified as being from Arabia. But then, none of this effects them. Most comments are from over-crowded schools in disrepair with an assigned attendance zone.)

Concerning property values, these are some responses -

concerned about very negative impact on housing values if neighborhood is redistricted to Cross Keys HS

Be very careful with your changes. Dekalb has lost a ton of families and students as of late. The wrong changes and Dekalb could lose much more in the wrong areas. Your choices can seriously affect property values and the tax base for the county. In this economy, Dekalb could turn into Clayton very quickly.

And overall, the mistrust of the school board was a consistent theme in the responses -

school board must establish trust, transparency, accountability

Nobody trusts the board.

I don't believe the BoE will implement the plan as delivered.

I found one comment that I think states the crux of the problem in a nutshell -

Redistricting is a futile effort if there is no coherent plan to bring all of our schools up to par academically. Parents whose children are in under-performing schools will always find a way to move their children to better schools.

But overall, I agree most with this comment -

Please place the goal of providing the best education experience for the children of the county at the very top of your list of goals.


At any rate - please go to the website and add your opinion. The school district is asking and posting them for the world to see - I'd call that transparent! Now do your part and participate!

Click here and then click Take the Survey. You can only take it once per computer, as the software keeps track of IP addresses and locks you out.

After that, make sure you attend one of the remaining Charettes below.

Henderson Middle School, Mon. Nov. 29, 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Peachtree Middle School, Tue. Nov. 30, 6:30 – 8:30 PM


Update: It looks like the word got out in the Lakeside cluster.  Many in that district have filled out the survey and want to maintain the Oak Grove, Henderson, Lakeside lines.  There is also a consensus to send all of Sagamore to Lakeside (some now go to Druid Hills). 

Keep it up! Please encourage folks from other school districts to fill out the survey! It seems that the only reason they aren't is because the awareness is too low. Spread the word.

For more information, read our some of our other posts on the subject,
School Closings and Transparency
New Attendance Data to Review
DeKalb County School Closures and Redistricting are coming and listen to Board Member Sarah Copelin-Wood argue at the inequities
Yeah Task Force!!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Many blessings to you and yours!

I am very grateful to have made so many wonderful, caring friends on this blog. Thank you all for your informed, important contributions to the blog and to your schools and the children of DeKalb!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Legislative breakout meeting a success

GA PTA/Legislative Forum for the DeKalb Council of PTAs hosted a very informative meeting last week. What follows are some notes collected from those in attendance.

Ruth Primm was in charge. If you subtracted the legislators present (about 20 -- no Ron Ramsey -- it seemed like most of the Reps/Senators from DeKalb were there, including new ones) -- and the Ga Council of PTA folks -- there were relatively few people there (30-50 -- Nancy Jester went and Ernest Brown and no one else with "school board ties").

Marcia Coward did an intro -- Ruth did an overview of the legislature -- we have 3 branches of government -- a governor/state house and state senator and judiciary -- the senators and house members serve for 2 years each -- there are 180 house members and 56 senators -- they meet for 40 legislative days in the session -- these are not calendar days -- this is not a full time job -- they get paid about $18k per year -- they get some per diem - they spend a lot of time.

She discussed the GA PTA "platform" -- no money to private school -- all to public school. Total educational budget has been reduced over the past few years even though it is about 41% of the overall budget (and 56% if you include everything) - she mentioned that since 2003-04 the budget has been reduced by $75 billion -- GA PTA wants to restore these funds -- at the same time, population has increased (e.g. due to Katrina kids), there have been problems with the adequacy of the funding cuts; priority on health and safety. She encouraged everyone to let legislators know how you feel.

Then Fran Millar (currently Rep, soon to be Sen) spoke about the BRIDGE bill (the subject of the AJC article)-- it's to get guidance counselors to address the students we're losing because they get no guidance - primarily in middle school -- mandatory -- trying to minimize the drop out rate -- especially for black males. He gave Martha Reichrath's phone 404/656-2804 as a point person for questions. The BRIDGE bill acknowledges that not everyone is college-bound and that we need an educated work force. He stated that, "math is currently not working" (it is changing). The question was asked if they plan to conform the diploma choices and "rigor" to this bill and he said "yes".

Otha Thorton, GA PTA Legis. Chair spoke -- big GA state wide priorities are to support adequate funding and race to the top money.

We then divided up into groups based on our senate district. We had about 25 people in our room and we addressed all sorts of issues important to us -- ranging from educating illegal immigrants to math to vouchers to the need for the state to step in to investigate and take over -- to do we need the county at all -- to why do we not have a consistent building plan (why do we always start from scratch with buildings) -- to splitting the district -- to the toothless ethics policy -- to needing help to get the board changed over. We took a straw poll on how big the school board should be on Mary Margaret Oliver's now pending bill: 7? No votes -- 5? All hands up ... then 0? Everyone in favor... it was funny actually.... someone plead to remove the "I" from the ballot -- issue raised about investigating internal affairs -- thanks for removing the CRCT from 1st and 2nd grade --- debate over how "representative the board" is -- who can remove them and any way to do something about criminal behavior.

Regarding Fran Millar's BRIDGE bill.

The AJC article on this new legislation is called, New bridge to a brighter future, is written by Brad Bryant and Fran Millar and explains that this "Legislation is now being put in place in Georgia high schools that focuses on students receiving quality career advisement and links the high school course work with their future college and career goals."

It further informs us that "The implementation of the BRIDGE (Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy) Act — House Bill 400 — will become an integral part of a student’s educational plan this year. The BRIDGE Act will help students and parents work together to enhance their child’s education to reach their goals and dream career.

The most critical part of this recently signed law is the requirement for all students in middle and high school to receive annual career guidance and advisement to choose a career area, create an Individual Graduation Plan and graduate high school prepared to go to college or enter the work force.

The new rigorous performance standards and graduation requirements found in our Georgia secondary schools better prepare our students to enter life after high school graduation.

A qualified work force will attract strong, stable companies and industries to Georgia."

This was from the January, 2010 Georgia PTA Legislative report
HB 400: BRIDGE, Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy Act. Department of Education is to develop programs so a student can get courses at the home school, a technical college, a two or four year college, a work site as an apprentice, and other approved settings. Middle grades advisement shall provide counseling, advisement, career awareness, career interest inventories to evaluate each student’s academic skills and career interests. In grade 8, students shall select a preferred focused program and study and develop an individual graduation plan (IGP) with parents. High school students shall have annual reviews of the IGP which are to include academic core subjects and course work in math and science OR humanities, fine arts, and foreign language, OR sequenced career pathway courses; include IEP components if applicable. Senate amends: Individual Graduation Program is for all students. The Individual Graduation Plan will be a lot of work but may be very beneficial in tracking every student’s achievement in attaining graduation credits. This bill was VETOED in 2009 when it was attached to SB 178 and is back as a stand alone bill. PASSED House PASSED S. Education & Youth

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rut row! The Heery/Mitchell lawsuit has moved to federal court

Hot off the AJC online press: DeKalb schools move lawsuit to federal court

After spending an astounding $15.5 million in trial preparation, DeKalb County school officials will attempt to cut down on additional legal expenses by moving a lawsuit against construction manager Heery/Mitchell to federal court.

On Monday, the school board opted to transfer the suit from DeKalb County Superior Court to federal court, schools spokesman Walter Woods told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The board requested the transfer on the same day a DeKalb judge signed an order allowing Heery/Mitchell to sue individual school board members, former superintendent Crawford Lewis and other administrators. The suit previously named only the school district. . . .

“We’re trying to take the route that will get us to court the soonest," Bowen said. "The federal docket is managed much tighter to keep cases from moving. The faster we get to trial, the less expensive it will be.”

Even with the change in venue, Bowen anticipates the trial won't be scheduled for another year.

$15.5 million! (Heavy) Sigh!

1,900 Bullying Cases Found In Atlanta Schools - DeKalb leads the way

After spending nearly $400,000 for Judge Moore to conduct an "investigation" into bullying after the suicide of young Jaheem Herrera, resulting in her verbal proclamation (no written report) that there was "no bullying" at Dunaire, we now find out that in reality, DeKalb is the leader of the bullying pack.

From WSB:

A survey of school systems in the metro Atlanta by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution found 1,900 instances of bullying were reported in the 2009-2010 school year. Of those instances, only 30 students were expelled, sent to alternative schools or placed in other classes as the law requires in documented cases of bullying. DeKalb County schools led the list with 696 incidents of bullying, but did not record how many students faced disciplinary action. But Quentin Fretwell, director of student relations in DeKalb, said the system takes bullying seriously. The Georgia Legislature approved legislation this year that tightens the state bullying law. Public school systems across Georgia have until Aug. 1 to adopt policies that meet the requirements of Georgia's revised bullying law.

And if DeKalb being the worst isn't bad enough, the following facts are just as bothersome:
  1. Very few students were disciplined according to the law.
  2. Quentin Fretwell says one thing, but the district obviously is doing something different.
  3. DeKalb didn't document (or wasn't transparent about) how many students were disciplined.
According to the AJC, the reason Judge Moore could pronounce "no bullying" in the Jaheem Herrara case was that there was no legal definition of bullying for students his age. (To clarify - in reality, her $400,000 investigation could not legally state that there was bullying, as legally, there was no such law for her to stand behind.)
Jaheem’s death prompted Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, to sponsor amendments to the state’s bullying law. Effective in January, the revised law requires the state Department of Education to develop a bullying policy that local school systems can use as a model.

The former statute, said Jacobs, didn’t adequately define bullying, didn’t address cyber-bullying and applied only to grades 6-12, overlooking about half the state’s students — those in grades k-5. Jaheem, Jacobs noted, was in the fifth grade.

Unless otherwise noted, all data came from the 2009-2010 school year. The first number represents bullying cases; the second depicts the number of students transferred to alternative schools, expelled or offered some other alternative:

  • Atlanta: 351; 5
  • Cherokee County: 42; 5
  • Clayton County: 520; 7
  • Cobb County: 166; 0*
  • Decatur: 0; 0
  • DeKalb County: 696; N/A **
  • Fulton County: 131; 5
  • Marietta: 59; 0

*Based on 2008-09 academic year
**The district does not keep records of transfers or disciplinary actions


For our blog post with information on bullying and places to get help, click here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

ESEA Tutoring Options

We have discussed the little-used tutoring option for ESEA (aka: NCLB) students whose schools did not meet AYP.  I found information regarding this option and wanted to ensure parents had access to it.  I have found that many parents are not aware of all of the options for their children.

Below are the board meeting minutes from August, 2010 on the subject:

Payment to Various Vendors for Federally Mandated Supplemental Educational Services

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 mandates that students, from low-income families, who are attending Title I schools that are in the second year of school improvement (i.e., have not made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for three or more years), in corrective action, or in restructuring status are eligible for free tutorial services. These services will be provided by vendors who have been approved by the Georgia State Board of Education.

Quick Summary / Abstract
Presented by: Dr. Audria Berry, Executive Director, Office of School Improvement

Supplemental Educational Services is a service that was introduced by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Supplemental Educational Services is designed to provide additional services to low income students who attend a Title I School on the needs improvement list.

Supplemental educational services include academic assistance such as tutoring, remediation and other educational interventions designed to increase the academic achievement of students in low-performing schools. These services are provided outside of the regular school day.

Students from low-income families, who are attending Title I schools that are in the second year of school improvement (i.e., have not made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for three or more years), in corrective action, or in restructuring status are eligible to receive these services.

School districts must allocate twenty percent of the Title I part A allocation to implement Public School Choice and Supplemental Educational Services. A school district must spend at least five percent of the twenty percent on Public School Choice and at least five percent on Supplemental Educational Services. The remaining ten percent may be spent on either Public School Choice or Supplemental Educational Services. Due to the demand of Public School Choice and the reimbursement of transportation, the DeKalb County School System will allocate five percent of the twenty percent on Supplemental Educational Services and will allocate fifteen percent on Public School Choice.

Every year, the State Board of Education approves a list of vendors to provide Supplemental Educational Services. There are 114 vendors for the DeKalb County School System for the 2010-2011 school year. The student’s per pupil allotment is based on the Title I allocation and census data. Parents have the opportunity to select a vendor of their choice and the school district will contract with the vendor to provide services. The effectiveness of the services is monitored at the state and local levels.

Financial Impact
Title I district level funds will be used for this expenditure. Local funds will not be used.

Goal #1-To narrow the achievement gap & improve the graduation rate
Goal #2-To increase rigor and academic achievement in Reading\Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies in PreK-12

Dr. Audria Berry, Executive Director, Office of School Improvement, 678.676.0380

Requested Action
It is recommended that the Board of Education approve payments to the State Board of Education approved vendors to provide Supplemental Educational Services to low income students who attend Title I schools that qualify. The cost of these services will not exceed $2,162,241.00.

Below is the official list of schools that must offer individualized tutoring as an option to a transfer. Money was approved to pay for tutoring in the Title 1 schools on this list.

Elementary and Secondary Education Assistance ESEA
Schools that must offer Supplemental Educational Services


Avondale High
Avondale Middle
Bethune Middle
Cedar Grove High
Clarkston High
Columbia High
Cross Keys High
Dunwoody High (Non-Title I)
Eagle Woods Academy
Elizabeth Andrews High
Freedom Middle
Indian Creek Elementary
International Student Center
Lithonia High
Lithonia Middle
M.L. King, Jr. High
McNair Discovery Learning
McNair High
McNair Middle
Miller Grove Middle
Redan High
Shadow Rock Center
Shamrock Middle (Non-Title I)
Southwest DeKalb High (Non-Title I)
Stephenson High
Stone Mill Elementary
Stone Mountain High
Stone Mountain Middle
Toney Elementary
Towers High
Tucker High (Non-Title I)

Parents, if you would like to schedule tutoring for your child, talk with your principal or contact Audria Berry at the number above. For the list of approved vendors, click here.

(BTW - you are also entitled to a MARTA card if you choose to take a transfer. Click here for more info.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Study Finds Few Benefits in Character Education

"Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children"

We had a conversation on another thread titled, The consequences of our love affair with gadgets, discussing whether or not character, social skills or empathy can be taught in our schools, as well as, whether or not schools are actually set up as good learning environments for today's children, especially boys. Interestingly, it seems the federal government has been conducting a 3 year study on whether or not character education as a curriculum component, is effective. The results are rather surprising and disappointing.

From Education Week -
The largest federal study to date of character-building or social-development programs has found that, for the most part, they don’t produce any improvements in student behavior or academic performance.

The Institute of Education Sciences gauged the effects of seven typical schoolwide programs from across the country: the Academic and Behavioral Competencies Program, the Competence Support Program, Love in a Big World, Positive Action, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), the 4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution) program, and Second Step. . . .

In the intervention schools, the study found, the programs did significantly increase educators’ use of character-development instruction over three years. For example, 68 percent to 72 percent of teachers in the schools doing one of the programs reported doing a related activity to address a school character education goal, compared with only 20 percent to 36 percent of teachers in control-group schools.

But the programs did not improve the use of schoolwide strategies related to character building, teachers’ attitudes, or teachers’ use of routine classroom practices, such as engaging students in decision-making, that are thought to contribute to students’ character development.

Across 20 student and school indicators, covering school climate and student behavior, academics, and social and emotional growth, the programs showed no overall evidence of improving students’ academic performance, behavior, perceptions of the school climate, or their social growth. While teachers did report getting more support from students in the first two years, that effect faded by year three.

Some program advocates argued the study did not follow the students long enough to see more slow-developing results.

Click here to download the 650+ page study.

Aerials of our high schools - SPLOST in progress

I received a copy of the updated aerial photo of Tucker high school, and rather than simply posting it with a reference to just how wonderful some of our SPLOST projects are, I thought I would grab aerials online of all of our high schools and create a slideshow for everyone to review. (You can click on it to go to the full size images.)

I think the slideshow emphasizes that we have many wonderful new and newly renovated high schools, but we still have a ways to go to get them all up to par.  I am guessing that the board  is under great pressure to hire a business and education-savvy superintendent as well as streamline the construction department while posting the new internal auditor at the helm to watch over the SPLOST dollars in order to regain the public's trust so that we will vote in a SPLOST 4.  Obviously, we need it, as we still have a lot of construction to do. I hope the board is able to meet their goals, appease SACS and regain the public's trust. But I must say, that I, personally will not vote for SPLOST 4 unless the board can prove that they have secured strong oversight so that the bungling and corruption of the past cannot be repeated.

FWIW, posting the check register online would be a strong step in the right direction in order to exemplify transparency and earn trust.

Friday, November 19, 2010

State super-elect shakes up the department

I'm not sure if you all read the article in yesterday's AJC about the new state superintendent-elect, John Barge. It seems he has already selected his leadership team. The article states that he is keeping Brad Bryant as general counsel, or top legal adviser, but replaced Erin Hames, the woman who was chief of staff and heavily involved in Race to the Top. His new chief of staff, Joel Thornton, currently president and CEO of the International Human Rights Group and a former classroom teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School and Model Middle School in Rome, has his own blog. Here's an excerpt (the post goes on, but I'm pasting only the first handful of paragraphs).

Whatever Happened To America’s Moral Center?

Published 18 March 2010

I believe we are in the midst of a crisis of conscience in this country. What was once considered normal is suddenly considered abnormal. What was once considered abnormal is suddenly considered normal. It truly is a world turned upside down. Matters that seemed unthinkable only a decade ago are suddenly becoming the standard by which we are measured in public.

The biggest change we have experienced is a loss of our moral center. Our founding fathers understood the moral center that comes from a biblical world view—even the founding fathers who were not Christians understood this value. Our grandparents and our parents understood the value of the Ten Commandments.

Benjamin Franklin summed it up when he said, “I believe in one God, creator of the universe; that He governs it by his providence, that He ought to be worshipped,…As to Jesus of Nazareth,…[I] have some doubts regarding Jesus’ divinity.”

My point is this; Christianity was so prominent in our founding that even those who did not believe felt that there was a great value in the system of Christianity that allowed the governance through democracy in a republic form of government.

We no longer have that moral center. Now, we find ourselves in a culture that not only does not believe, but actually mocks belief in one God. We have gone from the place where it is okay to make fun of belief in God in limited cases, like a Hollywood movie or a book. At the same time, it was not okay to make fun of the core beliefs that surrounded the belief in God.

Now we do not have the mockery limited to Hollywood, it is the core of how our average citizen thinks. We cannot offer any type of spiritual help to struggling youth because we have no place for God in our schools. We have nothing to base our moral core on because we suddenly do not believe in moral absolutes.

Then we wonder out loud why it seems that evil is so much more present in our society. Why is there a problem with drugs? Why do we have an increase in out of wedlock pregnancy? Why are we in a seeming downward spiral?

I believe it is all tied into the fact that we no longer value the things that God values because we no longer really believe in God. He was good for our ancestors. He was okay for children, but we are enlightened and have no need for God.

From the AJC:

The announcement of a new chief of staff was viewed as surprising. Erin Hames, who had served as policy director for Gov. Sonny Perdue and had been deeply involved in Georgia's Race to the Top application, was put on the job only weeks ago.

Barge asked her and two others -- Courtney Burnett, coordinator of external affairs, and Buck Hilliard, the agency's liaison to the state board -- to resign, a DOE official said.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Newsflash! From the Superintendent: Inequities at DeKalb schools

As today's AJC tells us, Ms. Tyson has concluded that there are Inequities at DeKalb schools.

Oh my! You're kidding! How can that be?

Some excerpts:

More than 11,000 empty seats have caused DeKalb County students to suffer from inequities in learning at different schools, the interim superintendent said Wednesday.

An instructional audit the school system is now conducting has revealed teaching and education opportunities are not equal at all schools, interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson told business leaders.

“This school district will have to address instructional offerings,” Tyson said. “It will validate what parents are saying that, ‘If I go here, I get this, but if I go here, I don’t get that.’”

Tyson said the audit will not be done until next month, but the initial findings show the need for massive change.

It’s unclear if those inequities match parents’ long-standing complaints that schools in north DeKalb, which have more white students, receive more resources than south DeKalb schools, which serve more black students.

(Editor's note: There are about 10,000 white students in the system of nearly 100,000.)

“The issue of equity is something we’re hearing loud and across the district,” said William Carnes, a consultant with MGT America. “How expensive are those empty seats? They are very expensive because that’s where they get the inequity.”

Sigh! We have been discussing exactly this for a year and a half on this blog, only to be dismissed or worse by the board. At any rate, I'm glad they're looking at data finally. For an education from this blog highlighting the empty seats (which we found could be due to the abundance of "choice" and "theme" schools in south DeKalb,) click here. Or for more, check out our report on the central administrative bloat as compared to other systems. Or read a bit here about how much focus and energy is spent on legal defense and construction contracts rather than on educating children.

I'm happy that the board and Tyson are listening to the consultants. Lord knows they have convinced themselves that we don't have a clue what we're talking about.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Race to Nowhere - a film screening

**Save the Date*** 

Film Screening and Critical Chat

sponsored by GA-NAME and education professors at Clayton State University, Emory University, and GA State University

Race to Nowhere: The dark side of America's achievement culture

December 2, 2010 @ 6PM

A concerned mother turned filmmaker aims her camera at the high-pressure, high-stakes culture that has invaded our schools.

Race to Nowhere is a call to action for families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

Pre-sale Tickets are $6.00 and may be purchased at the following website.


On-site tickets are 10.00 and may be purchased at the door for cash only.

Refreshments will be available.

Location and Parking Information:

Emory University


Room PAIS 290, 2nd floor

30 Eagle Row Atlanta, GA 30322


Click for Peavine South Parking DECK (free after 4pm)

29 Eagle Row

Click for Peavine South Parking LOT (paying lot for visitors)

27 Eagle Row

For film details go to: www.racetonowhere.com
or contact Mari Ann Roberts (contact info below).


Mari Ann Roberts, PhD.

Assistant Professor, Department of Teacher Education,
Clayton State University,
o. 678-466-4720, mariroberts@clayton.edu

Click for Mari's Homepage

Time for Change

DeKalb County Residents,

You have an opportunity to make a significant change that can positively affect your quality of life and your wallet.

For most local elections, the incumbent has an overwhelming advantage.

We now have the rare chance to bring new vision to the DeKalb County Board of Education. The DCSS BOE oversees a billion dollar budget and over 15,000 employees (unfortunately, it's top heavy with more staff and administrators than actual teachers). There are two very qualified challengers to BOE incumbents and the final vote is less than two weeks away.

Nancy Jester is in a run-off against incumbent Jim Redovian. If you believe the BOE just approved $70 million dollars for a new Chamblee High School for any reason other than getting Jim Redovian re-elected, I have a bridge for sale I'd like you to consider (no slight against Chamblee; it's a fine school and your facility was long past due for attention).

Please consider voting for Nancy and donating to her campaign:

Donna Edler is in a run-off against longtime BOE member Zepora Roberts. Roberts has multiple family members working for the system and infamously brought state-wide negative press to the county with her infamous "'I'm gonna slug you" confrontation with a TV news reporter.

Please consider voting for Donna and donating to her campaign at:

You can advance vote on Nov. 22nd, 23rd and 24th at the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Office on Memorial Dr. across from the county jail, or on run-off election
day on Nov. 30th (check http://www.dekalbvotes.com/ for your precinct).

If you prefer the status quo for a board of education who's lack of oversight led to indictments against the system's then superintendent and chief operating officer, along with numerous other scandals (Bookgate, CRCT cheating scandal, the Frankie Callaway grade change, the Jaheem Herrera investigation, Gasgate, the Arabia Mountain High bait and switch, etc.), then Redovian and Roberts are for you.

If you believe this system can improve dramatically, can be transparent in its operations, and can break free for its status quo, then please consider Donna Edler and Nancy Jester.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Does Size Matter?

On Monday, State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver pre-filed a piece of legislation that would allow the citizens of DeKalb to vote on the size of the Board of Education. If the bill is passed, then a referendum would be placed on the November 2011 ballot.

This legislation must:
  1. Be voted on positively by a majority of the DeKalb delegation.
  2. Be voted on positively by both the House and the Senate.
If the voters of DeKalb approve the referendum, elections for the newly created seats would be held in 2012. The DeKalb Delegation can also choose to simply make a decision on their own about the size of the board. However, if they take this approach, the changes would not fully go into effect into 2014.

Voters will be given the choice of voting for either 5 or 7 members. Districts, as has always been done will be drawn by the DeKalb delegation. In 2012, some board members will be elected for a two year term, while others will be elected for a four year term. After that election, all terms will be 4 years.

Click here for the legislation.

The AJC has an article about this legislation today. Click here to read it.

“The Commission for School Board Excellence, a group of business leaders and legislators that drafted the state’s school ethics law, recommended school boards have no more than seven members. All boards in the metro area meet that standard except DeKalb, Clayton and Atlanta Public Schools, according to Bryant.

All three of those boards have struggled with school board governance and meeting accreditation standards. DeKalb used to have seven seats, but expanded to nine seats eight years ago.”

What do you think about school board size? Would a smaller board be better? Would we be able to attract a higher calibre candidates? What about potential superintendents? If you knew that the system was going to only have a board of 5, would that make the job more appealing to you?

What else would you like to see included in this legislation? Minimum education standards, term limits, etc.

As a blogger already posted, this is an issue that your state representatives need to hear from you about.

Go here to find out how to contact them:

Email link is on the right hand side:

Here's a link to express your opinion to Governor Perdue:

Interesting meeting at Kittredge Magnet School

It seems that the redistricting fears have already kicked up so strongly that Jim Redovian felt the need to respond to some Kittredge magnet parents requests for a sit-down.  I couldn't resist sitting in as well.

Jim began the meeting by introducing his co-board members, Paul Womack and Pam Speaks and stating that the purpose of the meeting was to "take the thoughts and pains about redistricting away from the minds of the parents".  It was just the three of them, no other board reps were in attendance.  Donna Edler (in a runoff with Zepora for District 7) and Nancy Jester (in a runoff with Redovian for District 1) were also there.  I think word got out that there was a possibility this was going to be more or less a Jim Redovian pep rally, however, that's not what happened at all. Redovian was put on defense in responding to the many questions fired at him by the 100+ parents in attendance.  On one hand, he insisted that his hands were tied, while on the other, he more or less promised that nothing would change for the area's magnets.

I shot some (terrible quality) videos with my phone, one of which I split in two parts posted above for everyone to watch (they overlap, so you might want to start the second one at 2:40). I found it interesting, as in the video, basically, Jim promised a parent that his child would not be redistricted out of Chamblee.  Also, Paul Womack promised us that they were in the process of cutting the administration so deeply that it would be "unrecognizable".  And in response to a question about the enormous administrative costs, Jim stated that we have to have so many administrators due to federal mandates from the $450 million we get in Title 1 funds (which is a wildly incorrect number - we get about $30 million in Title 1 funds annually).

During the discussion, Paul reiterated that we have over 11,000 "empty" seats, mostly in south DeKalb, costing us millions in FTE dollars—thus the need for closures and consolidation.  He later promoted Coralwood school, which focuses on children with special needs and does an excellent job, however, since they only serve a couple hundred 3,4 and 5 year olds, I think they don't receive FTE dollars either. (I'm not certain where their funding comes from though.)

Paul also had terrible, hateful comments about "the blogs".  He pretty much stated that we don't know what we are talking about.  That all of our information is wrong and that we "delight in sitting at home with nothing else to do except create rumors and see where they go".  Funnily enough, after that he and Redovian went on to make several statements that endorse specific postings from this blog, such as the fact that the magnets need to be replicated in every school, that there is a history of nepotism in the school system, that more money is actually spent in south DeKalb vs north, that Wadsworth is not equitable to Kittredge, that the (untrue) perception is that you can only get a good education in north DeKalb, that the board has a history of not being transparent. (One parent made the suggestion that in this day and age, many people get their news and information electronically and the school system should be providing it as such.  In fact, why don't they have a Q&A blog of their own? I swear - it wasn't me! But, as I have often said, I couldn't agree more.)

Regarding his point about administrative cuts, Womack further stated that "we have teachers who can't write teaching our children" and he specifically asked Tyson what she was going to do about poor performing teachers and administrators.  He said that in the past, the superintendent "non-renewed" only about 15 contracts per year, however, this year, Tyson "non-renewed" 152. Womack said that there is currently an accent on getting rid of as many non-performers as possible, in preparation for a new super in April or May.

Womack also was very pleased with the budget cuts they made, stating that they are ahead of the curve by about $29 million.  He was proud that the board had "stayed out of the classroom", to which several parents responded that the board cut 20 points to the magnets—8 to Kittredge alone—costing them teachers. (Also, remember that they cut 200 parapros as well as many media clerks and technical support staff to all schools.)

Redovian, in trying to get back to the topic of magnets, assured the crowd that he thinks it would be "insane" to do anything with Kittredge and Chamblee. Womack seconded that by stating that "your program here is safe".  Pam Speaks, on the other hand, eluded to the fact that if they can't replicate the program, then they should at least place it in an area of the county that is accessible and equitable for all.   Redovian pointed out that if they moved the magnets, they could lose faculty. He said that the "rumors" of moving the program came from the Citizens Task Force on redistricting and that they were referring to the many small, very expensive magnets, like Evansdale and others located all around the county.

Basically, it was a very casual, unfocused discussion from which no new information or knowledge was gained. There is no way that these board members could have any knowledge of what kinds of recommendations will come from the consultant's charrettes and in my opinion, were speaking out of turn. There is no way that they can promise anything to anyone.  Truly, until we get all of the facts, none of us can know what the future holds for any school in the system.

For more notes on this meeting, check out Dunwoody Talk's in-depth report.

Legislative Forum this Thursday and ELPC Wednesday AM

Bloggers might be interested in this forum Thursday night - it is a chance to talk with legislators - share concerns they have that appear on the blog often: term limits and size of BOE, testing, math, GA Performance Standards, class sizes, unfunded mandates, the QBE funding formula, etc.

From: Marcia Keise-Coward, President 2010-2012, DeKalb County Council Of PTAs

Hello All,

The DeKalb County legislative delegation has been invited to a meeting at the Board of Education complex at 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd., Stone Mountain, GA 30083 by the DeKalb Council of PTAs. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the coming legislative agenda for public education and issues regarding our children.

We are asking all Principals and PTA Presidents to forward this information to as many of their local community as possible. We have done the work in pulling them together. Now we need your help in bringing the community out to talk about the issues. Please also encourage your staff, school Councils, Parent Councils and club sponsors to bring our students out so they too can be a part of the process.


Don’t underestimate your influence: Legislators pay attention to the issues raised by voters in their communities.
Don’t assume you need to be an expert in legislative advocacy: You are the expert in knowing your child's educational needs and what support your family and community need.
Stay informed: Once the legislative session starts, things happen quickly.
Often there is little notice before an issue comes up for a vote. There will be times when a legislator needs immediate feedback from you on an issue and they don't usually get it! Let your voice be heard on the issues that are important to you NOW!

The following members of the 2011-12 Georgia Senate are going to be present:

Gloria Butler, Jason Carter, Steve Henson, Fran Millar, and Ron Ramsey. The following members of the 2011-12 Georgia House of Representatives are going to be present: Stacey Abram, Simone Bell, Stephanie Benfield, Karla Drenner, Scott Holcomb, Mike Jacobs, Rahn Mayo, Billy Mitchell, Howard Mosby, Mary Margaret Oliver, Elena Parent, Pam Stephenson and Tom Taylor. Most of the planned agenda is for constituents to meet in small groups with their respective legislators. This is an excellent opportunity for your voice to be heard on issues of concern to you.

The date, time and place is
November 18, at 7:00 p.m.
at the Board of Education Complex
at 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd., Stone Mountain, GA 30083.

The complex is located at the Mountain Industrial Exit 4 of U.S.
78, the Stone Mountain Freeway. Make a right turn at the exit and the complex is .2 miles on the left side of Mountain Industrial Blvd. (Turn left at the Hampton Inn sign.)

Ruth Primm
DeKalb Council of PTAs
Legislative Chair


In addition, be sure to attend the Emory-Lavista Parent Council Meeting tomorrow for even more legislative news -

Emory Lavista Parent Council
Join us at 9:15 am
(refreshments begin at 8:45 am)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Medlock Elementary School
2418 Wood Trail Lane
Decatur, Georgia 30033

Our guest speakers Zenda Bowie,
Georgia School Board Association,
and Berney Kirkland,
Chief of Staff Gwinnett County Public Schools


Good Governance for our Schools

Julie Rhame, board member for the Decatur City Schools and former Director of PR for DeKalb County School System, and Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, board member for the Atlanta Public Schools, will be joining the panel on governance.

The program will begin with an overview of good governance practices for school systems including the proper roles for school boards and their members. With a variety of school systems represented, each panel member will give their personal perspective.

Please join us at Medlock Elementary for the relevant and timely program.

Next meeting:
January 19th at Hawthorne Elementary School

To receive our notices, send an email to
or visit our web page

Monday, November 15, 2010

The consequences of our love affair with gadgets

This is a bit off-topic, but I came across this article in "Wired" magazine and thought I'd go ahead and share it with our bloggers. It wouldn't be a bad idea for teachers to share with students. As Americans, we have always had a love of material things, but the new love affair with iPhones and other electronic gadgets has incurred some very bad human rights problems for the people who spend most of their day making these gizmos in order to feed our desires. (Full disclosure - I have an iPhone and an AT&T plan.)

After viewing the video bashing Steve Jobs (of whom I have always been a huge fan, so it's hard for me to watch this), then click here to view a slideshow of the horrible places these workers have to live in order to make our iPhones. (You think our school buildings are bad...) And then click here to read the full article about the company FoxConn, Taiwanese maker of electronics for the rest of the world.

I hope teachers use these kinds of news reports (and their Promethian boards?) to truly educate our children as to the interconnectedness of all of us in this world. Your actions and desires here in the states—gadget addictions, designer clothing addictions, jewelry and diamond addictions and drug addictions—can have a profound, often negative effect on the quality of life of others, thousands of miles away.

Tangentially, we have terrible crimes committed here every day by people whose desire is to simply steal that gadget, gizmo, purse, shoes, iPod, cellphone, scooter, car, or drugs from their fellow human being.

How do we teach young people to think more globally, more responsibly and with greater empathy for others and greater concern for mankind? How do we even get them to stop fighting in their own neighborhoods and pulling guns on each other or stomping each other to death? Can empathy be taught? I understand it's a parenting/societal issue, however, unless we bond together and purposefully teach mutual respect and personal responsibility, any one of us could be the next victim of a senseless crime by a troubled youth out to take away some small material possession or just to vent anger.

Check out the latest headlines. Something has to change. So many of our young people are out of control.

In response to Bobby Tillman's death, hundreds meet to stop the violence

DeKalb schools officer shoots student near Redan High School

18-year-old shot to death after party

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education

Check out this video from TED.com (one of my very favorite websites). Sugata Mitra, education researcher shows how children are capable of learning in groups - without a teacher - but with computers.

Why you should listen to him:

In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

In the following years they replicated the experiment in other parts of India, urban and rural, with similar results, challenging some of the key assumptions of formal education. The "Hole in the Wall" project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it "minimally invasive education."

"Education-as-usual assumes that kids are empty vessels who need to be sat down in a room and filled with curricular content. Dr. Mitra's experiments prove that wrong."

Linux Journal

TED hosts events around the world. This is a link to some in our area.

TEDx Peachtree

TEDx Atlanta

BTW, the Next Event: January 25, 2011

Lakeside High School Sets Major Construction and Renovation Project

Groundbreaking Ceremony for Tuesday, November 16 at 4 p.m.

UPDATE: Due to weather concerns, the ground breaking has been postponed until Dec. 2nd.

Lakeside-DeKalb High School has scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for Tuesday, November 16 at 4 p.m. to commemorate the start of major construction additions and renovations of the school facilities located at 3801 Briarcliff Road.

The event, to be held just due east of the gymnasium, will be hosted by Lakeside principal Joe Reed and invited attendees include various DeKalb County School System dignitaries.

Construction and renovations to the school, which was opened in 1965, include the addition of a 600-seat fine arts auditorium, 25 new classrooms, new science labs, career tech facilities and new special needs classrooms. Locker rooms, restrooms, cafeteria, media center and other spaces will get much needed makeovers, and the facility’s technology, security and ADA accessibility will also be upgraded.

According to Mr. Reed, the challenge of continuing to educate students amidst the two-year project is one that the school and community will pull together to get through. “Lakeside and its surrounding community have a strong tradition of working together,” said Mr. Reed. “We’ll manage through this process that ultimately will benefit our community, faculty and most importantly our students.” He added, “I was a student here back in the 1970’s and not much has changed since then. That just goes to show you how much this project is needed.”

Funding for the $24 million project comes from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) III used to pay for necessary school system capital improvements including building improvements, new schools, classroom additions, technology, and transportation needs. Project architect is Manley, Spangler & Smith and construction will be handled by the Hogan Construction Group.

Numerous other additions and enhancements to the facilities that will not be covered by the SPLOST funds are to be funded through “The Valhalla Project” by way of the Lakeside High School Foundation, an independent 501(c)(3) corporation. More information on the Foundation can be found and donations can be made at www.lakesidefoundation.org.

About Lakeside High School
Tradition. Legacy. Expectation. Reputation. Lakeside High School gives life to each. Opened in 1965, Lakeside has built traditions of excellence and top achievement in academics, athletics, visual and performing arts, citizenship and community service. Such are the traditions of being a Lakeside Viking. With its vibrant, diverse and high-performing students, teachers and administrators, Lakeside is poised to remain a pillar of the community for many years to come.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Before redistricting—we need a new way to teach so that learning can happen in every school

I had lunch with friends the other day and we had a conversation about the evolution of boys.  We talked about how for 4,000 years, boys have functioned in the world kinesthetically - or physically.  They hunted, fished, built wagons, homes and farms, fought intruders and wars and survived by their prowess and wits.

In the early parts of the 20th century, boys attended school, but usually farmed or worked in some industry as well. In fact, many schools focused heavily on sports and hands-on trade skills for boys.  However, in the 70s and beyond, girls were found to be trailing boys in school scores as well as opportunities in sports.  So the law began to focus on girls, which has proven very successful.  Today, our colleges are on an average 57% girls. Sadly, the high school graduation rate among boys is only 65% nationally. Worse, it's only 48% for African-American boys and 49% for Hispanics boys.

In recent times, we have asked boys to learn more like girls.  It is unnatural to expect them to sit still all day long and listen and learn by reading and imagining. So, what do we do to compensate? Often, in elementary school we drug them. If they're older, we incarcerate them. Granted, there are students who really do need ritalin and similar drugs in order to focus, but the use of these controlled narcotics for learning issues is astronomical.  I have to wonder what would happen if we simply returned to inserting a couple of recesses during the day - and lightening the academic load by replacing a few classes in high school with hands-on learning.  This would include good old-fashioned shop, auto mechanics, printshop, and even cooking! Life skills have been sidelined in favor of AP Calculus and I would go so far as to say that we are losing many boys due to this inverted learning plan that goes against the grain of how boys learn.

A new article in USA Today states,

Our public schools are turning millions of normal children into dropouts and failures. This isn't because of a few bad teachers or principals, but because the natural learning behaviors of children are routinely penalized instead of praised. Initiatives such as "No Child Left Behind" and "Race to the Top" won't change this, because they don't adequately take into account research about how children learn.

Our classrooms are outdated, functioning like mid-20th century factories. Each child is offered an identical curriculum, like a car on an assembly line. But children aren't units of production, and this approach is failing. Since 1970, the rate of high school graduation has declined, and the U.S. has fallen from first to 12th among developed nations in education.

This is inexcusable given the well-documented research about what makes students effective learners. Contemporary neuroscience has confirmed that children's learning is largely dependent on inherent interest, emotional engagement, social interaction, physical activity and the pleasure of mastery. . . .

Freedom to make mistakes and benefit from them is the basis of intellectual growth. If researchers or entrepreneurs were forbidden to make errors, innovation would cease. But when teachers are required to prioritize standardized test preparation, children are necessarily taught that being wrong is unacceptable.

Further, the NY Times informs us that Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected. The article shares some sobering facts proving that our schools—and our society—are not doing the job of educating all our people.

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

The state with the highest overall graduation rate was New Jersey (88 percent), followed by Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, each with 85 percent. The state with the lowest overall graduation rate was South Carolina (54 percent), followed by Georgia (56 percent) and New York (58 percent).

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches. . . .

Worse, the Council of the Great City Schools released a new study with the alarming headline, New Report on Black Male Achievement in America Reveals 'National Catastrophe'

But the study points out that there has been no concerted national effort to improve the education, social and employment outcomes of African-American males, who are not receiving appropriate attention from federal, state and local governments or community organizations.

"This is a national catastrophe, and it deserves coordinated national attention," stresses the report.

What's going on?

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

Last, an article from the AP entitled, "Blacks struggling with 72% unwed mother rate", tells us

Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics.

Children of unmarried mothers of any race are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults and have their own children out of wedlock.

The black community's 72 percent rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of American Indians were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent. . . .

There are simple arguments for why so many black women have children without marriage.

The legacy of segregation, the logic goes, means blacks are more likely to attend inferior schools. This creates a high proportion of blacks unprepared to compete for jobs in today's economy, where middle-class industrial work for unskilled laborers has largely disappeared.

The drug epidemic sent disproportionate numbers of black men to prison and crushed the job opportunities for those who served their time. Women don't want to marry men who can't provide for their families, and welfare laws created a financial incentive for poor mothers to stay single.

"It's all connected. The question should be, how has the black family survived at all?" says Maria Kefalas, co-author of "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage."

The Council of the Great City Schools report makes the following strong statement on society,

"The issues that emerge from the data are both moral and economic, calling into question the nation's ability to harness all of its talent to maintain a leadership footing in the world," says Council Executive Director Michael Casserly. "How can you narrow or close the country’s black-white achievement gap when African-American males are not getting the attention and support they need to succeed?"

George Will writes in the Washington Post of some of the findings of a sociology professor named Nathan Glazer. In an article in American Interest Glazer puts forth some alarming statistics on what he calls "the black condition." Glazer is concerned that with the election of Obama any discussion of the black condition in America has all but disappeared.

Here are some of the statistics:

70% of black children born in the United States are born to unmarried women.

More than 60% of black high school dropouts born since the mid-1960s go to prison.

Mass incarceration blights the prospects of black women seeking husbands.

For every bachelor's degree conferred on a black man, 2 are conferred on a black woman.

Only 35% of black children live with two parents.

And here's an interesting number ...

By age 4 the average child in a professional family hears 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family and about 35 million more than the average child in a welfare family.

There is a very strong link between the number of words a child hears in the early years and that child's success in school.

Now, from the Educational Testing Service, comes a report about "The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped," written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley. It examines the "startling" fact that most of the progress in closing the gap in reading and mathematics occurred in the 1970s and '80s. This means "progress generally halted for those born around the mid-1960s, a time when landmark legislative victories heralded an end to racial discrimination."

There are those in Georgia examining the state's history in education. In fact, just today, the Georgia Family Council released ...

What do you really know about education in Georgia?

Their Citizen's Guide to Education in Georgia covers virtually all aspects of primary and secondary education in Georgia. The guide includes:

  • The history of education in the state
  • Current forms of education (public, private, virtual and homeschooling)
  • How education is funded
  • How Georgia compares nationally relative to student achievement
  • Trends in education spending, public school reform and parental choice in education

Overall, DeKalb suffers from virtually all of the above societal issues. Our system is a majority African-American (72%), about 12% Hispanic and less than 10% white and 3-4% Asian and other. Our schools are 64% free and reduced lunch, bringing over $30 million annually to the system in Title 1 funds.  Funds that are not finding their way to the classroom and are instead funding an army of "supervisors" in the school administration.

We have a lot of work to do to bring the education of all of our students to a respectable level. Currently, some of our students do quite well, while others are not testing well at all. Our schools are not equal.  Some, like Fernbank, Oak Grove, Vanderlyn, Austin and Evansdale do quite well.  Others—merely a few miles away—are doing a very poor job. The achievement chasm is wide. And this is the reason that redistricting is being fought so hard.

The board, therefore, is in a quandary. They cannot simply redraw attendance lines and expect everything to be grand and glorious. If they try, they will enter a battle of wills like we've not seen in a very long time in DeKalb. They also cannot continue the culture of responding to the "squeaky wheels". They must fix what ails all of the schools first. They must offer a quality education at every school coupled with a healthy, well-rounded arts and physical education.  On top of that, they must insist on new teaching methods and tools and offer teachers a high level of support in their efforts in the classroom. Additionally, they must find a way to make high school interesting for boys (and girls) who struggle with the traditional learning environment—find a way to light a path for them to a future filled with hope.

As one of our regular bloggers so eloquently put it the other day,

Ultimately we need to spend less on buildings and more on instruction. In order to do that we need to reduce the number of schools in the district. We'll soon find out if our Board is willing to make the tough decisions or continue to accommodate citizens.

To me, that pretty much sums it up.