Monday, January 31, 2011

PTAs: Are they the new political power?

Kim Gokce made an interesting observation in a recent blog discussion. In response to a question about Mike Jacob's email supporting a certain redistricting plan, he said that didn't concern him as much as the power of PTAs.
I do believe in many ways we are our own worst enemy. Anyone who reads what I post or who will chat with me off-line knows that I support our teachers, parents and children in Chamblee and Cross Keys attendance areas and beyond with full dedication. It is when our PTAs turn into PACs that I get cynical and discouraged.

Could our most powerful PTAs and parent groups be steering our school board and possibly drowning out the voices of weaker, poorer parents? I was interested to see a report on Channel 2 News last night, that focused on DeKalb's redistricting, the parent groups debating the issue and the survey. The reporter actually showed the bar chart of the responses from the online survey which clearly shows that the majority (88.5%) of respondents are from north DeKalb and have children in elementary school. Less than 2% of the responses came from Sarah Copelin-Wood's district—the district slated to have the most schools consolidated and closed.

Now, TIME magazine has published an article on that very subject called "PTA Wars".
School budgets are so strapped these days that parent groups are not only battling to keep basics in the classroom, but some parents are even fighting one another. The superintendent in Albany, Calif., last fall suspended PTA-funded chess, music and art classes at two elementary schools after the parents at a third school complained they couldn't afford a similar curriculum. Why, the parents at Marin and Cornell elementary schools wondered, is the PTA at Ocean View trying to keep our kids down?

This is the same quandary we have in DeKalb. Some schools have those things listed in TIME: Chess Club, art and music classes, foreign language instruction, special curriculums, etc.—many don't.  Is this what we want for our public schools? Is it acceptable to have extras funded by parent groups in public schools while nearby schools have so little by comparison? I would make the case that this is exactly the reason we are where we are right now in the redistricting battle. Our school system leaders have for far too long abdicated their responsibility to create a system of schools that are by and large equal in offerings, balanced in enrollment, staffed with similar teachers and administrators and focused on a quality education in each and every classroom. For far too long, our school system leaders have catered to the most vocal communities as well as individuals in order to quiet "squeaky wheels". The management policy has been, "no squeaking = no problems". There has been no formal overall districtwide educational plan.

Sadly, now that redistricting has pulled back the curtain we found that it is not only the numbers of students that need balanced, it is the education those students are receiving inside those schools that need to come into balance. Our school board and superintendent have an enormous task in righting this ship. It will require a clear vision and teamwork to get there. We are a decade into the "New Millennium" and many of our schools are not keeping up with the rest of the world. Our resources must be reeled in and more wisely spent. Our administration needs streamlining and updating. We need to truly become a student-focused school system.

It's time.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Emory Lavista Parent Council hosts Fran Millar, Mary Margaret Oliver and Joe Martin - Part 1

First, before I write a single word about this very informative meeting, let me give major props to the Hospitality Committee and parents at Hawthorne Elementary. I have never seen such an enormous, delicious spread of food at a school-related meeting! They created a welcoming reception for our meeting participants, organizers and attendees.

Friday morning, January 28, the Emory Lavista Parent Council held a very informative meeting focusing on two related topics: “The 2011 Legislative Update” brought to us by State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (Dem, Decatur, House District 83) and State Sen. Fran Millar (Rep., Dunwoody, Senate District 40) and “How State Funding for Schools Really Works” as explained by Joe Martin, past Executive Director of the Georgia School Funding Association and recent candidate for state school superintendent.

First, Mary Margaret Oliver (MMO) and Fran Millar highlighted the education-related bills before the legislature this session. SB 84 which outlines ethics for school board elections, has been in effect for two years and states that school boards must create an ethics policy (our school board is still tweaking one) and also says that school boards are limited to seven members unless under local amendment or federal court order. MMO pre-filed HB 22, a locally written bill redrawing attendance lines for the DeKalb school board. Currently the bill is written as dividing into five districts, but it could change to seven. (She took an informal poll and a show of hands in the room preferred five.) In addition, now State Rep. Mike Jacobs has filed HB 63, a statewide bill on the topic that sets school boards at seven members. Although, according to the AJC, "it applies only to school boards in counties with a Homestead Option Sales Tax and education tax -- which is only DeKalb -- and mandates a seven-member board", his bill must pass the House and Senate statewide.

Fran Millar informed us that without the federal stimulus, states would not have been able to balance their budgets and schools would have seen even deeper cuts. There is a funding hole that has not closed so prepare for more major cuts to education from the state. Fran announced that there is a new committee charged with conducting a two-year study on revising the QBE school funding formula. In addition, he would like to see better flow between K-12, technical colleges and universities. He would like to see more opportunities for technical and vocational studies as well as allowing students to Move On When Ready, as evidenced in his B.R.I.D.G.E. bill.

The lottery funds do not benefit K-12 as many people believe, they are spent 2/3 on Pre-K and 1/3 on HOPE college scholarships. Both say that the HOPE scholarship will definitely be revamped. Recommendations include perhaps creating a flat amount for college grants or funding only 80% of tuition or making the scholarships to needs based or perhaps distributed according to a sliding scale. In addition, neither legislator wanted to change the GPA from 3.0 to 3.5 (saying it would only encourage more grade inflation), but adding an ACT or SAT component would be a good idea.

(next post: Joe Martin’s presentation at the same meeting)

You can view Lynn Jackson's presentation on state school construction funding here:
The video of the meeting is found here:

Emory Lavista Parent Council hosts Fran Millar, Mary Margaret Oliver and Joe Martin (Part 2)

Georgia is very fortunate to have a public servant as devoted, level-headed and thoughtful as Joe Martin. Joe has a vast knowledge of education issues in Georgia and has been instrumental in serving as a watchdog for our schools—even going so far as to run for state superintendent of schools last year. Joe also served as Executive Director of the Georgia School Funding Association, and was on the committee that wrote Georgia's Quality Basic Education funding formula. He expertly guided the crowd through the very tedious system of Georgia’s education funding called QBE (Quality Basic Education) at the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting Friday at Hawthorne ES.

In the formula, each student is assigned a “value”. A regular education high school student has a value of 1.0. Kindergartners have higher values and the value declines as children age. "Program" points are higher: gifted students receive 1.6 points and special education points can be even higher. This value is basically a multiplier and FTE represents revenue. Cost categories are assigned values as well, such as teachers, paras, counselors, textbooks, maintenance, social workers, operations, media specialists—all the components necessary to run a functional, effective schoolhouse are assigned an associated cost. So, students represent revenue and the others represent costs. These components are then layered one upon another creating a funding framework for each of our school systems statewide. The state allocates funding to systems based on the total number of students (FTE values) reported in October and then school systems reallocate those FTE points to individual schools. Principals then decide how to spend their allotted FTE "credits" (within state and federal laws).

Believe it or not, the dollars assigned as multipliers for schoolhouse essentials have not been updated since 1985! For example, the state budget still only allocates about $40 for a high school textbook. In addition, after adding the total number of “FTE” points and calculating the funding for a school system, the state—upon deciding that they don’t “like” or have the money to pay the number the formula produces—makes “austerity” cuts to the QBE budget! So, we have a double-whammy: first, there is no funding adjustment for inflation since 1985 and then the state makes arbitrary cuts to funding our schools. The state has a Constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education to our children, yet the state continues to abdicate it’s responsibility. These "austerity" cuts have left our education budget is where it is: crimped and snipped year after year until we now stand at the point where in order to bring funding to DeKalb schools (in today’s dollars) to the level it was in 1998, the state would need to increase it's annual contribution by 45.3%. Further, DeKalb County, then participates in “Equalization” where a portion of its revenue is given into a pot that is “redistributed” out to “poorer” counties (this is based on property tax revenue – so essentially if the county commissioners raise property taxes by a few mil some of those funds will go into a pot to be redistributed to poorer counties) – so now we have a “triple whammy.”

In answer to the “450” students per school number we have heard discussed in relation to our current redistricting conversation, Joe tells us that the state cares very little about our buildings and the numbers of students in them, as far as FTE funding. The 450 number is a result of basic expectations: 6 grades x 3 classes per grade x 25 students in each class. However, as Lynn Jackson informed us, it does matter to the state when it comes to funding construction projects for new schools and additions. The state won’t give us money for an addition to an over-crowded school if there are other schools that are under-utilized anywhere in the district regardless of their actual location in the county. Even here the 450 number is not magical as it pertains only to a small portion of new construction financing (ie whether a new elementary school receives state dollars primarily for a gym). And we learned that states do not count schools with less than 225 in construction funding formulas.

But for QBE FTE funding, the state merely takes the FTE count given them by the county in October (which can be amended in January), applies it to the QBE formula and sends a big “check” to each school system. It is up to school boards to spend that money as fiscally conservatively and effectively as possible. That means our school board needs to ensure that buildings are properly utilized, school staff is not redundant and other resources are not wasted.

Local school systems then reassign those FTE credits (with dollars attached) to individual schools where principals then decide how to spend their budget within the requirements of the law. Staffing requirements and extras beyond what the state sends is paid by local tax dollars. 450 seems to be a breaking point at which a school has enough state funding to hire an assistant principal but allows for no special staffing. When you have more students, of course, you get more funding and proportionately, principals can hire special staff such as art, music and PE. The state does not have a voice in how schools spend FTE dollars other than the fact that schools must stay within state laws for class size and special program staffing such as gifted. Federal laws mandate how special education money should be spent. [Please note: Principals play no role in filing the FTE count for their school.]

Joe encouraged us all to demand better funding from the state as mandated by our state Constitution. To illustrate the cuts made to education by the state, our funding responsibility has essentially flipped. In 1998, the state funded 49.2% of the revenue for schools, with local systems paying in 50.8%. In FY 2010, the numbers are drastically different: the state pays only 38.4% of the total school revenue, leaving local systems picking up 61.6% of the costs. We have dropped below the threshold necessary for the state to adequately fund education. Georgia is still ranked 49th in the nation and unless we seriously fund what we claim to be important, our ranking will not improve and our children will continue to suffer the lifelong repercussions of having received a poor education.

As Joe said, “this is not about ‘those’ kids—these our ‘our’ kids. Public education is for the public good.” Call or write your state legislator and demand the state of Georgia rise to it’s Constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate education for each and every child in our state.

For more in-depth but easy to understand information on FTE, click here and download a great Powerpoint called FTE for Dummies written by Paige Cooley of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Money, Money, Money

So the official estimates of savings from both the centralized and decentralized plans are now up on the 2020 Vision Website. (Once again, I want to commend Dan Drake for his transparency throughout this process.) From one of the documents:

We estimate the centralized plan to save the DeKalb County School District approximately $150 million in operating costs over the next ten years; the decentralized option is estimated to realize gains of approximately $161 million over that same time period. Additionally, we can expect an extra $5 million in capital entitlement earnings over the ten year period from the centralized plan (and slightly less in the decentralized plan).

After studying the various documents and trying to understand how the savings are greater with the Decentralized Option, I have come to the following conclusion. Because the Centralized Plan utilizes Avondale Middle and Avondale High School, there is a loss of the 3 Million Dollars annually in savings from shuttering those schools. In addition, Nancy Creek is kept open in both models, so no savings is realized there. (In one model, it remains KMS, in the other it becomes a neighborhood school so the overhead costs remain the same.)

Fifteen million a year in the centralized plan and 16 million a year in the decentralized plan are the estimated savings. Neither analysis estimates ongoing maintenance costs, which given the age of these buildings are probably not insignificant.

Here are the links to the documents:

Food For Thought ... and A Call to Action!

Would you like a copy of Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education's Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2011?

Send an email to Bill Maddox at . GPEE can provide up to 2 copies for free and will ask for postage reimbursement for more than that.

This year's issue includes 10 indicators that show where Georgia is in relation to states ranked 20th in a particular category. It shows how far we have to go, as a state, to crack the Top 20! DCSS has even further to go under present Palace "leadership" and their BOE-supported philosophy of "Act Now, Plan Later."

You can also read and download GPEE's Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2011, as well as other relevant reports -- including Top Ten Issues for previous years -- online.

The Top Ten Issues for 2011 are:

  1. Georgia's new leaders: where will they take us
  2. Continuing our Race To The Top
  3. Early learning: quality and access for our children
  4. Confronting poverty: a dire need
  5. Eradicating gaps in student achievement
  6. College and career readiness: are we getting it right
  7. Getting a handle on school choice
  8. Scraping the barrel: our new school funding model
  9. Understanding teacher effectiveness
  10. The need for honest and accurate data

Thursday, January 27, 2011

We Commend the Board for Bold Action Against CRCT Irregularities

Greetings ~

The DeKalb County School System announced today actions to address concerns raised during its internal investigation of the administration of the April 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

Based on the results of the investigation to date and after receiving feedback from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), the School System has taken the following actions to ensure that the CRCT process is accurate and represents the progress of students:

  • Twenty-nine current and former school system employees have been referred to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission based on concerns that they may have been engaged in inappropriate conduct during the administration of the 2009 CRCT.
  • Twenty-four school system employees, including principals, assistant principals and teachers, have been reassigned to duties outside of the schools, pending review of their teaching certificates from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. One employee who is not currently certified by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission will also be removed from currently assigned duties.
  • For students who may have been affected by irregular testing administration, individual learning support plans are being put in place for those students identified as needing assistance to improve their CRCT performance. Parents of those students have also been notified.
  • The system, as it did in 2010, will continue to monitor the CRCT administration.

The DeKalb County School System’s investigation was initiated to address the results of an analysis conducted at the direction of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement of erasures on CRCT answer sheets. The GOSA analysis showed that in some classrooms statewide, including some in DeKalb Schools, there were an unusually high number of wrong answers changed to right. The school system conducted an extensive investigation, including interviews, a review of the erasure audit data, an analysis of student performance comparatives, and consideration of other data and information. The school system’s investigation is ongoing.

The school system’s investigation, and the report of its findings to GOSA in August, identified potential testing irregularities at nine schools. GOSA has agreed with the majority of the findings in the school system’s report, as well as the school system’s responses announced today.

“We appreciate the state’s support in our actions to resolve this serious investigation,” said Thomas Bowen, Chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education. “We have made all of our decisions in responding to these irregularities based on what’s best for the students, and we will continue
to do so. The DeKalb County Board of Education is committed to ensuring that we have an ethical, responsible and effective school system for our children.”

Ramona H. Tyson
Interim Superintendent
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
678-676-0010 office
678-676-0709 fax


Thank you Ramona Tyson and the Board of Education!

Fear and Loathing Not Just in Druid Hills, Alas Brookhaven ...

Below is the text of a campaign of the Ashford Park PTA to help save one neighborhood from certain demise and DeKalb County from imploding. I had to respond and also feel obligated to share the factual corrections with as wide of an audience as possible because they are gross AND erroneous. Memo to DeKalb PTAs - you don't have to denegrade everyone else to lift up your children.

"Dear Ashford Park Elementary School PTA Representatives:

As a School Council Member for Woodward ES, a School Council Member for Cross Keys HS, and as the President of the Cross Keys Foundation, I am obligated to correct the mis-information contained in your communication below.

Woodward Elementary School has made AYP three of the last four years (2010 being the exception). Woodward Elementary is a good school with nearly 900 very fine young people and an excellent faculty. Woodward Elementary School is just as much part of the Brookhaven community as any of our other area public schools. To suggest that a change to the Woodward ES attendance area would "devastate Brookhaven's close-knit community" and "reduce the educational opportunities for all DeKalb children" is a groundless assertion that is offensive to me personally as your Brookhaven neighbor and is a direct attack on the reputation and dignity of these young people's families.

Putting aside the insult and the urge to return the favor by insulting the Chamblee attendance area schools with facts, I will continue correcting the mis-information about our Cross Keys area schools. The horrible little school at Woodward has recently produced a Presidential Scholar at Georgia Tech (Cross Keys Class of 2009). For those who are not familiar with this scholarship, it is awarded only to the top incoming freshmen at the school. In his year of admission, Carlton Washington was one of sixty students out of over six thousand and nine hundred applicants to receive this merit scholarship. Mr. Washington chose GT after spending his Junior year summer at engineering camp at MIT. One of his 2009 classmates won the DeKalb County Science Fair and competed internationally for her work in epigenics.

Then there is Yehimi Cambron, Cross Keys Class of 2010, who earned a competitive scholarship for a full ride ($160,000) at Agnes Scott College. Her dream is to be an art teacher at a school like Ashford Park or Woodward. This year's class includes Mpaza Kapembwa, a recipient of a full ride at Williams College, Forbes-ranked #1 school ahead of Harvard, Yale, and a few other schools you may know. The Class of 2011 also includes Vy Tran. The odds-on favorite for Valedictorian is considering her options but the full ride offered to her by Stanford University is one option she may have to take. You may know that school for their recent successes in NCAA football but they are an up-and-comer in academics.

While these are just a few exemplary cases of the type of high achieving students from Cross Keys HS and Woodward ES, they are just that - examples. The students in my local schools are every bit as educated and competitive in academics as those in your schools. I guess technically they are all our schools, aren't they? I personally own residential property in both districts and am proud of both schools.

The above examples are representative of the following additional accolades:

1. The high school was one of four high schools in DeKalb to make AYP last year. The others were Dunwoody, Tucker, and Lakeside.
2. In 2008, the seven schools of the Cross Keys attendance area were the only attendance area in which every single school made AYP that year, including Woodward making it for the third year in a row.
3. Cross Keys is an AP Honors School.
4. Cross Keys Georgia High School Graduation Test Scores in Math and Science are regularly in the top three in DeKalb.
5. The Brookhaven Rotary Club-sponsored Interact Club at Cross Keys has won three of the last four first place honors at regional service club competitions that include schools like Milton, Campbell, and Chamblee Charter.
6. Cross Keys HS has won many Helen Ruffin Reading Bowls at DeKalb County, including last year.
7. The school's robotics team finished in the first quartile of over one hundred teams from around the world.

These and many other individual and collective accolades are being quietly accrued at what I consider to be one of, if not the, best high school in DeKalb County. Both Woodward and Cross Keys are schools that Brookhaven residents should be very proud of, not encouraged to fear.

Besides my role as a School Council member at both schools, I am personally compelled to correct this mis-information you've propagated. For while hundreds of our neighbors in Brookhaven, Doraville, Chamblee, and Dunwoody have taken the time to learn the truth about the schools you have slighted, many have not and will take your mis-representations and errors as fact.

These children have far too much to struggle against to have the weight of this horrible image of them and their schools perpetuated. Please consider sending out a corrective statement to your members and encourage them to forward it along.

The truth has a way of healing. If you would consider sending these truths about my schools with the same energy and enthusiasm as the mis-information you are circulating in the community, I have a feeling that our community will be the better for it.

Here's hoping you can accomplish what you wish to accomplish for yourselves and for your children without mis-representing the truth about these high achieving and worthy neighbors.

Sincerely, Your Neighbor,
Kim Gokce
P.S. I hope the APE open house was a success. I missed it this year due to prior commitments. Please consider Cross Keys' Open House on Valentine's Day, 9:00am-11:00am, February 14th. If anyone would like to tour Woodward ES, I would be happy to be your escort."

On Wed, 26 Jan 2011 21:56:37 -0600, Ashford Park PTA wrote:

The turnout at last week's Public Forum on redistricting and consolidation at CCHS was huge, both in terms of number of people (2,000+) and level of passion in opposition to the proposed Centralized Redistricting Option (aka Plan A). We sincerely thank our neighbors and parents who came out.
Below are three things you can do to keep the momentum going and elevate our voice. Time is of the essence. On February 7, Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson will make her proposal to the BOE; on March 7, the Board will vote on redistricting and school consolidation. THANK YOU for your immediate action!
1. Join the Brookhaven Fields effort to sustain their neighborhood and protect their children’s educational opportunities by clicking the link below and “signing” your name to their virtual petition. Even if you do not have a student in a DeKalb County school, please consider adding you name; be sure to reference Ashford Park School. The BOE needs to understand the kind of active, vocal support we receive from our wonderful neighbors!

Brookhaven Fields, a vibrant 750+ home neighborhood, is at serious risk of being removed from Ashford Park Elementary School and subsequently, from nationally-recognized Chamblee Middle School and Chamblee Charter High School. Over the past 10 years, Brookhaven Fields residents and parents have invested time, talent and resources to elevate Ashford Park School to the successful community school it has become, and we do not want to be removed from the APS school district and Chamblee magnet cluster. Redistricting Brookhaven Fields relocates our 41 children from a high-performing elementary school to a school that did not achieve Georgia Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards in 2010—and has not since 2004.
2. Participate in the DCSS virtual public input workshop by taking the following survey; the deadline is Sunday, January 30. It takes less than five minutes, and we would greatly appreciate your support. The survey allows you to cut/paste directly into the survey (albeit with a character limit) and also allows you to directly e-mail your comments to

3. Email our BOE members the following statement (or similar points in your own words). Their emails are listed after the statement.
I am opposed to the Centralized Plan proposal to redistrict 16,100 students, including those who currently attend Ashford Park Elementary School in my neighborhood. The Centralized Plan will:

- needlessly move more than 40 children from a high-performing elementary school which consistently meets Annual Yearly Progress (Ashford Park) to a low-performing school which has not made AYP since 2004, and reduce the educational opportunities for all DeKalb children
- devastate Brookhaven's close-knit community which has been undergoing a renaissance centered around Dresden Drive

- undermine the Board's stated goal of community cohesion
- create costly requirements to completely retrofit a school campus that was only recently repurposed (Kittredge) and increase busing in our area

The nationally-recognized Chamblee magnet program which includes Chamblee Charter High School and its feeder schools is not broken. Chamblee is a highly successful magnet model with strong community support from parents, neighborhood associations and local businesses that work together to create these high-performing schools. DeKalb County tax dollars should not be spent to "fix" something that is not broken.

We recognize the need to make urgent changes in other areas of DeKalb County where parents and community members are pleading for change in their districts; they need DCSS’ focused attention. We urge DCSS to please slow down and not change everything at once. There is no urgent need to change the Ashford Park/Chamblee district or to reduce the educational opportunities provided to DeKalb children.
Raise opportunities for all children. Reduce opportunities for none.
Ramona Tyson, Interim Superintendent,
Thomas E. Bowen,
Nancy Jester, Board Member
Donna Edler, Board
Sarah Copelin-Wood, Board
Jay Cunningham, Board
Don McChesney, Board
Pam Speaks, Board
Eugene P. Walker, Board Member,
Paul Womack, Board

  Ashford Park PTA


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DeKalb School Board May Undergo Major Changes

Legislation being introduced this week in the state Senate
By Timothy Darnell
For the Dunwoody Patch

DeKalb County’s Board of Education would undergo major changes if legislation being introduced this week in the General Assembly eventually becomes law.

“With the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Council on Accreditation and School Improvement now beginning DeKalb’s accreditation renewal, we have serious issues to examine,” said state Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-10, Decatur). Jones, who also chairs DeKalb’s Senate delegation, plans to introduce three bills this week that would create an ethics committee to oversee the board; create a set of minimum qualifications that anyone running for the board would have to meet; and downsize the board’s membership from nine members to five.

The lengthiest piece of legislation that Jones has authored would be the creation of an independent ethics commission, “for openness and transparency,” he said. “This would prevent school board members from having to pass judgment on their colleagues, but instead put the matter in the hands of a commission.”

Jones’ second bill would create a set of minimum criteria, including some level of secondary education, which individuals elected to the board would have to meet. “School board members should be role models, and we should ensure we’re getting the best representation possible,” he said.

Click here to read the rest.

Students Find Focus with Exercise Balls

I find this really inventive and fun! I learned from my child's occupational therapist, that often times children need a physical or auditory "distraction" in order to focus. Really. These kinds of physical distractions (or auditory like a low hum or buzzing toy) focus extraneous energy in one place, allowing students to refocus the rest on the task at hand.

Another great news bit from my new favorite news source: The Patch. This one's from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Every DCSS Student Deserves

The topic of magnet schools and their associated costs is often discussed on this blog. In fact, the magnets sometimes take over conversations that start out on a completely unrelated topic. Bloggers main concern is the cost of magnet schools—all of which are given extra, locally-funded points (teachers). After the cuts to last year's budget, the following magnet programs have the following numbers of extra teaching staff:

DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts - 7
Wadsworth ES - 3
Clifton ES - 2
Evansdale ES - 2
Kittredge ES - 6
Chamblee MS - 4
Chapel Hill MS - 2
Columbia MS - 1
Chamblee HS - 7
Columbia HS - 6
DeKalb School of the Arts - 7
SW DeKalb - 6

One of our researchers for the blog has tracked down some enlightening data on the subject. Arabia Mountain High School is not technically a magnet school. Rather it is a "choice" school with an environmental science and engineering magnet component. Arabia Mountain successfully operates at a much lower per student cost than comparable schools even though it doesn’t receive additional points.

Check out what our blogger dug up on high school costs per student comparing SW DeKalb with Arabia:

I. Southwest DeKalb HS:
Cost per student (including benefits cost): $6,323

Student Enrollment: 1,667 (October, 2010 state FTE enrollment numbers)
Personnel Total: 172
Total School based employee salary cost: $8,433,646
Total School based employee salary cost (including 25% benefits): $10,542,057
Administrators: 1 Principal and 5 Assistant Principals
Instructional Coaches: 2

Fast Facts:
- 65 (38%) of SWD school based employees are non-teaching staff
- 107 (62%) of SWD school based employees are teachers (directly instruct students)
- 56 (33%) of SWD school based employees are Content Area teachers (math, science, social studies, and language arts) - i.e. totally responsible for AYP results
- Average teacher's pay (including benefits): $69,361
- Average administrator's pay (including benefits): $116,940
- Percentage of SWD HS students (based on NCLB Test Takers) who are classified as Economically Disadvantaged: 62%
- Percentage of SWD HS students who are Special Education Students (Based on State Report Card): 7.6%

II. Arabia Mountain High School:
Cost per student (including benefits cost): $4,980

Student Enrollment: 1,473 (October, 2010 State FTE student enrollment numbers)
Personnel Total: 130
Total School based employee salary cost: $5,868,765
Total School based employee salary cost (including benefits): $7,335,956
Administrators: 1 Principal and 4 Assistant Principals
Instructional Coaches: 0

Fast Facts:
- 45 (35%) of Arabia Mtn. HS school based employees are non-teaching staff
- 85 (65%) of Arabia Mtn. HS school based employees are teachers (directly instruct students)
- 50 (38%) of Arabia Mtn. HS school based employees are Content Area teachers (math, science, social studies and language arts) - i.e. totally responsible for AYP results
- Average teacher's pay (including benefits): $59,304
- Average administrator's pay (including benefits): $109,786
- Percentage of Arabia Mtn. HS students (based on NCLB Test Takers) who are classified as Economically Disadvantaged: 52%
- Percentage of Arabia Mtn. HS who are Special Education Students (Based on State Report Card): 3.4%

Much has been blogged about Arabia Mountain High School being a high cost center school built for an elite group of students. However, comparing it’s cost per pupil with an established high school such as Southwest Dekalb High School which also houses a magnet program, Arabia Mountain High School seems to have a very reasonable per pupil cost. Nor does Arabia Mountain High School appear to be elite. This school has a fairly high number of low-income students (52%), especially when compared to Kittredge (14%) and Wadsworth (36%). Arabia Mountain has eight Special Education teachers to serve students staffed into the Special Education program so they are not screening Students with Disabilities out of the program. Entry into the Arabia Mountain Environmental Energy and Engineering Magnet Program does not appear to be based on being “gifted” or in that upper 5% in mental ability so many posters seem to advocate for magnet programs. Although I’ll grant that the physical plant and the science and technology equipment that went into this school was extremely expensive, the energy cost must be exceptionally low (a fact that will be of extreme importance in the future), and you've got to admit that the ongoing cost per pupil ($4,980) is impressive. Remember that 90% of DCSS’s annual expenditure is in personnel cost.

Most of the lower per pupil cost is driven by the lower administrator cost per employee and the lower teacher cost per employee. Arabia Mountain High School per teacher and per administrator costs is substantially lower than the overall county per teacher and per administrator costs, which are $68,000 and $114,000 respectively (25% benefit cost included). Arabia Mountain had substantial teacher turnover last year, and seasoned science and math teachers are extremely difficult to replace. Close to half of Arabia Mountain’s teachers are in their first or second year of teaching (per the Georgia Certification website) - most with only a bachelor's degree. Time will tell if they stay. If they remain, their pay will slowly increase so the per pupil cost will advance to the point that it is comparable to most DCSS regular education schools. Hopefully, this crop of new teachers will remain at Arabia Mountain even though the pay for a math or science major is so alluring in the private sector.

Arabia Mountain shows creative thinking in its educational programming and overall administration and organization. There’s a part time engineer and a retired engineer for direct student instruction. There are no Instructional Coaches. They offer a full array of AP classes including AP Calculus AB. The students are required to wear uniforms. Their list of business partners is extensive. Go to Arabia Mountain HS’s website to see the summer requirements. There were no custodians listed on the website so that expense in this analysis was based on other DCSS high schools’ custodial data. I've heard that the custodial support was outsourced at Arabia Mountain. If that’s true, it seems that Ms. Tyson might have looked to data from this school when she was making the decision to take custodial and all other outsourcing off the table for DCSS in her budget balancing efforts.

Even though Arabia Mountain serves a substantial amount of magnet students, it doesn't cost any more to operate than the vast majority of the regular education schools. The students have a specialized educational interest. Although it’s imperative that Arabia Mountain produces results in terms of increased academic achievement, magnets should also be thought of in terms of educational interests, not just reserved for students who score well on academic tests.

Comparing and equalizing cost centers and ensuring equitable access to resources is imperative if EVERY student in DCSS is going to have:

1. A clean and safe learning environment
2. A competent teacher in a reasonably sized classroom
3. Abundant access to cutting edge science and technology equipment

Ms. Tyson and the BOE need to be looking at each school in DeKalb in terms of cost centers, how that cost compares with other schools, comparing the compensation and cost of groups of DCSS employees doing similar job functions in other school systems, and measuring this information against the academic results of DCSS students. This is the essence of cost/benefit analysis. All the expensive personnel and programs in the world along with those “non-negotiable” Central Office edicts will not produce the results taxpayers want and students deserve. A good education does not happen anywhere but in the schoolhouse and most specifically in the classrooms. Let’s make them equitable and let’s make them cost effective.

Arabia Mountain High School Website
Southwest DeKalb High School Website
2010 Georgia DOE Enrollment Data
2010 State Salary and Travel Audit
DCSS Community Net
Georgia Teacher Certification

(Data corrections are appreciated. There are no paid positions on this community blog, and no one is perfect.)

DCSS fixing something that isn’t broken say unified Lakeside community leaders

DCSS ignores its own rules and transfer students
By Tom Doolittle

Supercluster meeting to be held Tuesday, January 25 at Oak Grove United Methodist Church at 7:00.

What started as DeKalb School System’s (DCSS) attempt last year to close and consolidate twenty-three (23) underutilized schools (most south of US 78) has morphed into a plan to identify overcrowded schools and change several schools’ neighborhood boundaries (county-wide “redistricting”).

The Lakeside High School zone is not overcrowded according to community school advocates and no schools are being closed; but traditional neighborhoods are slated to be removed from four elementary schools for the first time since the last school was built 40 years ago. (Neighborhoods were added to other schools when Heritage Elementary was closed as a feeder in the mid-1980s.) Lakeside area advocates want to know why DCSS is trying to “fix something that isn’t broken”. Not only that, but they say DCSS “can have its cake and eat it too”, by continuing to serve students from outside of the school zone.

After the DCSS plan was published in the first week of this month, Lakeside PTA president Barbara Haan immediately contacted representatives from feeder schools. Emphasizing that providing feedback and information to the community and DCSS regarding the school zone proposals is not a PTA effort Haan said, “We have never seen the Lakeside community more together on a scholastic issue.” Four elementary schools and Henderson Middle School had representatives at the meeting on a moments notice on Friday before the big snow storm. Meanwhile, the Leafmore, Diamond Head and Sagamore neighborhood associations called meetings to generate support. Also, the Lakeside Foundation’s role in the “Valhalla Project” $1.5 million capital campaign was put on hold to consider the impact on the community’s giving.

Depending upon which plan DCSS chooses, a so-called “centralized” or “decentralized” plan, Lakeside would lose neighborhoods with at least 231 current students, 84 from Oak Grove, 63 from Evansdale and the rest from Sagamore. Sagamore is being moved in total (“redistricted”) to the Druid Hills High School zone, despite the fact that many Sagamore students have walked to Lakeside since it was built in 1965.

As Things Stand Now
A Lakeside communiqué to parents establishes a primary goal of having no “split-feeder” schools, whereby students who attend schools together are separated moving onto the next level. Summarizing the plan’s impact to the community, “the current plan splits neighborhoods at the primary and secondary level and sends children far outside the natural boundaries of a school's community. This negatively impacts our children's socialization and the neighborhood's identity.” (City of Dunwoody advocates have raised similar objections regarding city areas being redistricted from schools in Dunwoody.)

The position paper also says DCSS actually defies its own stated priorities: (1) preserving geographic proximity (primary criterion); (2) safe and efficient traffic patterns; (3) preserving and supporting intact neighborhoods (secondary criterion); (4) minimizing disruption of long-standing feeder patterns.

The source of the problem is DCSS’ contention that some Lakeside feeder schools are overcrowded and therefore the high school zone should change. However, Lakeside united group says the high school itself is not overcrowded and the feeder zones should be handled within the highly regarded school’s current boundaries.

“…the plan significantly understates the student capacity of Lakeside High School...” which will be increased from 1314 to 1789 once the current 25 classroom renovation is complete during the next school year.

Transfer Students
As there is no school within the Lakeside zone being proposed for closure; Sagamore is currently not overcrowded; and Lakeside has 450 seats being added to its campus; many advocates are mystified that the sometime controversial school zone is being reformulated. The Lakeside communiqué points out that DCSS also does not account for “increased/decreased enrollment due to non-resident transfers from sending and receiving schools under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”

This is what Lakeside’s Haan refers to as the “AYP bubble” which she claims will not be relevant soon because no schools will ultimately be able to meet its 100% success mandate and remain a transfer school. “If you remove the AYP bubble, there’s no need to restructure—and the middle school and some elementary schools can be rebalanced (within the zone), she contends.

Next Step—The Supercluster Meetings
Haan, Lakeside feeder school representatives and the various communities that started their own efforts, about 50 people; met Sunday to establish a comprehensive position and solutions to rebalancing the feeders. Some changes to feeder boundaries are suggested, DCSS figures are contested and school populations are creatively managed in the proposal that “makes more sense and impacts as few as possible” and “does no harm to any other group”, presumably a reference to the Druid Hills cluster.

The Supercluster effort continues for the general public on Tuesday, January 25 at Oak Grove United Methodist Church at 7:00.

Writer Tom Doolittle is a 17-year Northlake area resident, founding trustee of Northlake Community Alliance, Inc., founder Northlake Business Forum and writes the

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why no consolidations yet? What happened to "Plan A"?

Question:  Tell me again, why exactly could we not consolidate the original 23 schools that are costing so much money to operate, simply due to the enormous waste and redundant administrative costs because of superbly low enrollments? Why did we have to put those consolidations on hold while we arm-wrestle the entire rest of the system over redistricting?  It's the consolidating that will save us the money.  Yes, redistricting needs to occur, but I just, for the life of me, can't figure out why we diverged so far away from the original plan to consolidate under-enrolled schools into the massive, bizarre sideshow of charrettes and redrawing attendance lines countywide that we have now.

One of our best data mining bloggers kindly developed a map showing the schools in District 5 that are slated to be closed in the current MGT consolidation proposal. Why did this not get done before school started in August?  This is a slam-dunk way to save the system money.  But politics seems to have intervened and we are somewhere in Oz at the moment instead.

Anyway, above is the map.  Click here to link to it for yourself.  These schools are very close together. In fact, our blogger did the math and measured the distances between schools for you to review (via roads, of course, not as the crow flies). What on earth is the hold-up here? I am have a seizure trying to figure out how we got to the crossroads we stand at today.

Atherton to Rowland - 1 mile

Atherton to Canby Lane - 1.5 miles

Glen Haven to Snapfinger - 2 miles

Glen Haven to Knollwood - 2 miles

Peachcrest to Midway - 1 mile

Gresham Park to Meadowview - 1 mile

Gresham Park to Flat Shoals - 2 miles

Sky Haven to Meadowview - 2.5 miles

Sky Haven to Kelley Lake - 3.5 miles

SACS' visit begins today

According to the AJC -

A team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will visit DeKalb schools Monday through Wednesday to determine if the state’s third largest district meets national accreditation standards.
Last week, SACS placed Atlanta Public Schools on probation, a final step before losing accreditation. Atlanta has until Sept. 30 to make changes.
“The DeKalb school system is cooperating fully. The board is cooperating fully. And that puts us in a different place,” DeKalb schools’ spokesman Jeff Dickerson said Friday. “When SACS has these kinds of questions and require action steps, it is important to take them seriously.”
Dickerson also works as a spokesman for Atlanta Schools.
SACS is particularly concerned about the board securing a permanent superintendent, implementing newly enacted policies and procedures, addressing ongoing legal matters and the improving its governing effectiveness. Those issues must be addressed by early 2012, said Mark A. Elgart, SACS’ president and CEO.
“People in DeKalb shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that because Clayton lost accreditation, they will. The goal is to make them a better system,” Elgart said.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

But Wait! There's Still More!

Ok, so until now we have communities coming from all corners of the county (well, actually, they are mostly in north DeKalb) writing up formal responses to the redistricting proposals. We've seen them from Fernbank, Lakeside, Leafmore, Sagamore, Livsey and the Dunwoody City Council.

Now the Valleybrook Neighborhoods Weigh In -

Neighbors within the communities located inside I-285 along East Ponce De Leon Avenue through Valley Brook Road, to DeKalb Industrial Way thank the DeKalb County Board of Education for taking steps toward optimizing the use of our limited resources. We support the goals that grew from the public charrettes across the county and the online survey.

Both proposals would redistrict our neighborhoods from the Druid Hills MS/HS feeder pattern to the Freedom MS/Clarkston HS feeder pattern, thereby splitting our elementary school, McLendon ES, between the two.

That in itself is contradictory to DCSS’s stated goal of “minimizing split feeder patterns and maintaining intact neighborhoods”. We agree with that goal and want to preserve the vertical alignment of schools that was put into place seven years ago.

Another DCSS stated goal is to “minimize the distance that non-choice students travel to school”. Again, both proposals are inconsistent with this goal, as current distance and travel time to Druid Hills MS from our neighborhood is between 1.5 to 3 miles and between 3 and 8 minutes respectively. Conversely, distance and travel time from our neighborhoods to Freedom MS are between 6 to 8 miles and between 18 and 25 minutes respectively; more than doubling the distance and/or travel time our students would have to endure.

Finally, under a third DCSS stated goal, “Provide students with equitable access to quality programs”, both proposals drastically decrease equity to our children for at least two reasons:
➢ First, they move our children from their current middle and high schools that are not listed as Needs Improvement to middle and high schools that are both in Needs Improvement Year Five (NI-5) or Greater status.
➢ Second, both proposals would move our children out of schools that offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program to schools that do not provide IB.

If we are redistricted according to either plan, we will exercise our Public School Choice option as is our right considering both Freedom MS and Clarkston HS are in NI-5 status, potentially defeating the purpose of redistricting this neighborhood.

We do see common themes in all of these responses:

  • Keep neighborhoods together
  • Keep feeder systems stable - no split feeders
  • Don't move from passing schools to failing schools
  • Be mindful of travel times and congestion

Those seem like reasonable requests.

Decision-making 101

Many people have asked about the Open Records Request I sent to Ramona Tyson on Thursday, January 13, 2011. Here's the story:

To date, Tyson has not opened the clearly labeled e-mailed Open Records request.

The law provides that the custodian of the public records has three (3) business days to decide whether the record requested is subject to inspection under the law and to provide access to the document for inspection and copying.

Of course, the week of January 10 - 14, schools were closed due to ice and snow. Most salaried state employees teleworked that week if they were unable to get in to their offices. But apparently not Tyson. We must not be paying her enough.

Then, Monday, January 17 was a state holiday recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

So, I cut Tyson some slack. However, it is now January 23, 2011 -- 10 calendar days and at least 4 business days -- and still no response to the Open Records Request for the 2004 Ernst & Young Salary Study.

Of course, since Tyson has never opened the request e-mail, she has no idea what I am asking for.

I simply am asking for a critical piece -- the 2004 Ernst & Young Salary Study -- of the overall DCSS financial puzzle. The whole financial puzzle must be completed before it makes any sense to redistrict or proceed with any closures or consolidations. In short, we simply do not have the necessary basic, raw financial information required for responsible decision-making.

We also do not have related and accurate student population information, nor do we have accurate staffing information. Dollars. Numbers. Copies of state and federal reports to confirm funding and spending. DCSS has this -- or can get it. DCSS must share it. All of it.

We have waited this long ... let's stop yelling at each other and insist -- with one voice -- that Tyson provide the required, documentable information. Provable. Transparent. Online. It's time to stop DCSS's secrecy and irresponsible, uninformed, costly decision-making practices.

For those who think that if only we paid Tyson more -- a whole lot more -- she might just do her job ... think again.

New study evaluates school system productivity nationwide

A new study on educational spending sponsored by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, suggests that strong ties within the broader community can prompt some schools to produce better results than others, given the same amount of funding. The new report examined student performance in 9,000 school districts that teach 85 percent of America's K-12 students resulting some interesting findings:

A few of the study's most significant findings:

• The least-productive districts across the nation spend 3 percent more of their budgets on administration and operations than better-performing districts.

• Poor students are more likely than wealthier ones to be attending an unproductive school district. More than a million students overall are attending schools the study labeled as unproductive.

• More spending -- above a certain threshold -- does not guarantee higher productivity. More than half the school districts in the study showed no relationship between the amount of money spent and student achievement. For example, two very similar school districts of about 10,000 each in Wisconsin produced students with virtually the same average test scores. But one district, Eau Claire, spent about $800 million more than Oshkosh did.

• Especially productive school districts appear to share some traits, according to the study's authors. These districts were often located in "supportive communities" and spent about 3 percent more of their budget on instructional costs -- e.g., teacher salaries, curriculum materials -- than lower-performing districts did.

Here are some more interesting traits found in successful districts:

Strong community relations
Many of the highly productive districts worked closely with their communities to help maximize education spending.

A willingness to make tough choices
Reducing spending while maintaining strong outcomes takes fiscal acumen, political savvy, and a willingness to make hard choices.

A priority on quality instruction
The country’s highly productive districts devoted 3 percentage points more of their budget to instructional costs than did the least efficient districts.

Smart use of data
Most of the highly productive districts reported having sophisticated data systems that provided detailed information on a variety of school outcomes, from parent satisfaction to student success in college.

This year-long study is chock full of much more information. To read about it and download the report visit the link below found at the Center for American Progress website.

Return on Educational Investment
A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity

Interactive Map: Check out DeKalb County's ROI here

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Right Way to Do It vs. The DCSS Way to Do It

Public’s business, plain for all to see

See the photo above: A regular, ordinary DeKalb County resident/DCSS parent who's made a difference.

After a few years of back and forth with DeKalb County stonewalling on improvements to the neglected Brook Run Park, Mr. John Heneghan, aka "Hene", started requesting documents, posting them online, attending and taping meetings, etc. It's not that hard, and not that expensive. He was self-taught, and put in many late night hours doing so.

When he became a City of Dunwoody councilperson, he made darn sure that every document, meeting minutes, agenda, etc. were not only posted online, he podcast and videocast meetings. Again, many late night hours.

He did it on his own dime until Dunwoody had their IT up and running.

“I am not a politician...I am a public servant.”

One ordinary, red headed Irish guy with a wife and kids doing something that the billion dollar Dekalb County School System can't seem to do, despite the fact that the current superintendent is the former head of the system's IT Dept.

Posting BOE minutes and detailed budget info., online, broadcasting all BOE meetings online, archiving them, time-stamping them, having all documents available online and easy to find? The DCSS tv station is run by a daughter of a former powerful BOE member who receives a generous six figure salary, yet had no previous experience in media, and it shows.

You would think with 100,000 students, there would be an occassional video piece highlighting the great accomplishments of our students and teachers? You would hope that some of these public meetings on re-districting would be broadcast. Hey, we're paying Cohn & Wolf a lot on money, and I'd expect local media consultant/local TV star, the condescending and defensive Mr. Jeff Dickerson, would give Ms. Guillory some advice on Media 101.

I digress. Parents, PTA officers, taxpayers, etc. should expect and demand that the Central Office & the out to lunch Board of Education follow's Mr. Henghan's lead, and operate in a manner where information is always shared easily and consistently, using multiple forms of media.

If one man army "Hene" can do so, I'm sure the DCSS Central Office, MIS Dept. and Board of Education (with Jeff Dickerson and Cohn & Wolf) can do the same.


Public’s business, plain for all to see

John Heneghan remembers the roadblocks he encountered when he’d request information from DeKalb County government. Too often, the longtime Dunwoody resident got stonewalled, ignored and met unnecessary resistance about public dealings that should have been completely in the sunshine.

When Dunwoody incorporated into a city, this tech-savvy Chicago native would capture the meetings in audio and convert them to his blog for all to hear.

Within a year, he used his own expense account to buy a webcam and laptop so he could stream meetings live and archive them, too.

When it comes to government, Heneghan believes the public should be able to access every fact he has regarding whatever issue. That includes city e-mails and documents. With him, an open records query isn’t necessary to learn what’s going on with proposal A or issue B. He’s the conduit.

Some locales have come to expect stonewalls, grandstands and arrows shot at the pesky media for attempts to simply divulge the facts.

Then in walks Heneghan.

“Dunwoody grew up under the auspices of DeKalb County, where I have had to file so many open records requests,” he told me. “We need to be the opposite of what we have broken away from. Now, everybody is used to me doing what I do in Dunwoody. It’s natural.”

Heneghan posts in his blog any e-mails and documents he receives on city-related matters. That practice propels the idea of transparency to a whole other sphere. He wants residents to help run the city.

“I am not a politician,” he told me. “I am a public servant.”

Maybe that’s the stark difference between him and other officials. This servant has an explanatory statement stripped across the top of his blog:

“First is that when I have the ability to make a difference, I have a responsibility to do so. Transparency in government breeds self-corrective behavior.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Systems can choose which math to teach

Have you all heard the news?

According to the AJC:

State Superintendent John Barge, responding to the ire of parents and the governors’ concerns about the graduation rate, introduced a plan Thursday to allow local school districts to choose how they will teach math giving students the same rigor, but different approaches to learning concepts.

The plan allows districts to teach math in the traditional way and do away with the current integrated Math I, Math II and Math III courses, accelerated classes which have been criticized for being too fast-paced resulting in the failure of about 80,000 students statewide on final exams in math last May.

Or districts can choose to offer both traditional and integrated math consecutively. They’d also have the option of continuing as is with the challenging integrated approach.

Aye yai yai

There's a new news team in town

I have recently been introduced through several avenues to a new news source in Atlanta. Maybe you've heard of it - it's called Patch, and it focuses on local news - even micro-focusing on neighborhood news - with an emphasis on immediate, responsive reporting by qualified, intelligent writers and reporters. I already introduced you to some postings at Patch by the "history of education" reporter, Claudia Keenan. I'm really impressed with this brand new effort. I think they exemplify the news of the future. They are a highly reliable source for very fast access to the latest happenings in your world. Click here to check out the video interview with the MGT consultant they already have posted on the "Dunwoody Patch" from last night's DCSS community meeting! There are also several very good articles on the subject of our schools. Like this one called, "DeKalb Parents in 'Turbo Due Diligence'". Nice job guys!

Update - I see that Patch offers the embed code for the video so that I can share it right here on the blog - thanks! CLICK ARROW TO PLAY -

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Attention Losers! This is How You Win ...

This post, a copy of an email distributed by Fernbank was added yesterday by a new participant . We just want to assure readers that the blog is simply enlightening the community—as we did by publishing the other community emails we received—not endorsing anyone's actions or viewpoint.   - Moderator

Points for Tonight at Shamrock/Druid Hills
Everyone must attend tonight's redistricting meeting at Shamrock/Druid Hills Middle -- even if you think you're not affected, you are -- we will lose teachers, financial support, and key parental involvement. Some examples of how you will be affected? No art special, no science special, no Reflections, no Chess Club, no Hospitality chairs, no Library Committe chairs, no Ambassador leaders, no Garden Committee leaders -- the list goes on and on. Your community needs you there tonight and every other night you possibly can. Every parent and stakeholder should have a personal goal of attending TWO meetings.

Process Points to Follow:
1. Be on time, or better yet, be early.
2. Sit at a table (8-12 roundtops) with 1/3-1/2 Fernbank people.
3. Control the pen, control the mike, or better yet, both. Each table will have a "scribe" -- be it. Each table will have a "reporter," who will speak for 2 min. -- be it.
4. When you get to "Option 3," be clear and concise. Use Fernbank as an example of the larger theme -- e.g., not breaking up long-established neighborhoods, moving kids to different programs, supporting larger schools.
5. When you hear a point that is consistent with our position, go ahead and applaud.

Substance Points to Follow:
1. We need a clear strategic vision first, before we implement redistricting for fewer, bigger schools.
2. With that vision in place, follow the Board's own goals:
-- don't split in half historic neighborhoods, like Fernbank, where the building has supported the same neighborhood for 50+ years and the school's many buildings have served Druid Hills for 90+ years.
-- don't move children from one kind of educational program to another, like IB. The IB program should be available to more students, not fewer. We support a larger school of 900 and providing more access to IB.
-- the plan must account for future growth. Construction on hundreds of residences for Emory and CDC families is breaking ground this year. According to the Board's own goals, those residences should be zoned to Briar Vista.
-- the plan must provide safe, walkable environments and pay attention to traffic patterns, and not further clog the Clifton Corridor.
-- decisions should be based on actual cost benefits, not on speculation.

Response on smaller issues:
1. We have no official position on location of magnets. If conversation at your table focuses on that, incorporate that concern into your points and MOVE ON.
2. If anyone suggests making Briar Vista a PK-K or PK-1 campus for Fernbank's children, talk about 1100 students and families with multiple children driving back and forth and back and forth along Clifton Road during the morning rush hour. Enough said.
Finally, schools from our cluster will be there tonight in DROVES. Be there -- for your friends, your neighbors, your children, and OUR school.

Concerning multiple intelligences

There is not an instructional method I know of that’s a bigger scam. When the psychologist Howard Gardner came up with the theory of multiple intelligences he never meant to suggest that students could learn math, literature, or social studies by physical actions or listening to music. He has been appalled that it has been used that way and that it’s become a multi-million dollar industry with no scientific support. He simply meant the theory as a way to explain why some people are highly adept in some areas but not in others- why someone could be very gifted at music but not read well, or why another person could have immense athletic ability but poor math skills. He never meant that students should be taught to read by manipulating paper objects with words on them.

Recently a meta-analysis was conducted by real psychologists and scientific researchers (not educators with EdDs whose idea of research is reading polemic works on educational philosophy). The study examined whether there was scientific evidence for the efficacy of using learning styles within the classroom to stimulate achievement. The only way to provide this evidence was to use a very specific research design—a randomized sample had to be used, and those students whose preferred mode of learning matched the type of instruction being applied, whether it be visual, audible, tangible, etc., had to perform better in that condition than students with learning styles that contrasted the type of instruction.

The researchers combed through every piece of published work on learning styles and multiple intelligence and found less than five studies that used a design capable of validly testing the question. And here’s the kicker: out of those very few studies with a quality research design, all of them either showed inconclusive results or found evidence AGAINST the learning styles approach. There is no evidence for it. Period. Yet we are forcing teachers to teach using this method that does not work and are spending millions on training and teacher development tools for it. There is evidence that if given a survey, students will happily indicate what they prefer, but no evidence that tailoring instruction to those styles assists their learning.

As a psychologist (and certified teacher), my view is that we are actually handicapping students with this approach. Humans have to learn in many different ways. When they become adults their occupations will not tailor the training or the job to their whims. If we only teach students using the particular learning style they prefer, it may cause the other pathways for learning to atrophy. We are essentially making sure they can only learn in one way. This could have devastating long term consequences for them.

The research on many of the other “research-based methods” being pushed in our public schools is similarly dubious. This is because most educators don’t understand research and read secondary (and subjective) sources for their information. Teachers have expertise in their subject matter but often don’t have the time, or the means, to immerse themselves in statistics or psychology in order to gain the prerequisite knowledge necessary to understand what “research-based” really means and how to critically review it. And the administration generally doesn’t even have subject matter expertise, nor do they have an understanding of research because they received degrees in ridiculous fields like leadership. But they’re the ones making the decisions and pushing the agenda. And here we are…

Originally posted by Progressive Humanist
on the Get Schooled blog at the AJC