This morning's meeting of the Dunwoody-Chamblee Parent Council featured guest speaker, Maureen Downey, Education Reporter at the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Check out Maureen's most excellent school-related blog called, "Get Schooled". We link to her blog often here at DeKalb School Watch.
Maureen interviews and chats with many powerful, well-known and respected people in the education arena, most recently having interviewed U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan on the President's education initiatives.
Maureen touched on many topics and gave her experienced insight on several fronts, so I will just bullet-point the things that were discussed for those of you who missed the meeting.
- No Child Left Behind (NCLB), now referred to by the Obama Administration as ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) will soon be renamed (again). They are currently leaning toward "Every Child Counts" (Georgia PTA will think this sounds familiar, their slogan is, "everychild. onevoice".)
- Those 5,000 terrible schools we kept hearing Obama was planning to shutter—well, he's still planning to. The national focus will be on the worst performing schools (the bottom 5%), leaving good schools to continue doing what they do so well.
- There is a Renaissance rising for art and music instruction, but how do we pay for it? And how do we identify art and music as "core" classes?
- The major issue in Georgia is teacher quality, especially in rural areas. It's very hard for rural systems to find enough "highly qualified" teachers to fulfill federal requirements.
- We are "creeping our way" to vouchers. Bit by bit, laws are being passed in Georgia that allow for or open the door to vouchers. Maureen is opposed to vouchers, but "for" open enrollment, meaning school choice within a county system, or perhaps even across counties.
- DeKalb, like many organizations, has administrative bloat. When new leadership arrives, they often bring their "posse" and friends (like middle schoolers). However, when that leader leaves, often we are stuck with the well-paid friends and the new leader brings along new friends.
- That said, cutting all of our county's administrative bloat will never cure our financial woes. The state will continue to make cuts and we will continue to be expected to produce better results with less. (As Joe Martin pointed out at ELPC, the state has funded education at $2 Billion LESS than was intended by the QBE formula. That equates to about $30,000 per class.)
- Our new state superintendent, John Barge, will reduce testing requirements. He currently favors eliminating the CRCT and replacing it with the IOWA. We also need to finally implement the original plan to delete the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) and simply use the End Of Course Tests (EOCT) in high school.
- The Race To The Top (RTTT) funding coming to Georgia will require better tracking of student data (experts are collaborating in several states to develop this software) and will also bring some kind of teacher merit pay component.
- The data will "Measure Adequate Progress" (MAP) of students from year to year. Surprisingly, it is the gifted and high achievers that are hardest to track as their movement year after year is positive, but can be smaller than others, leaving us uncertain if they are truly performing to their ability.
- Maureen recommends watching the superintendent of Baltimore schools, Dr. Andres Alonso. He implemented a STAR teacher program, placing highly trained teachers and principals in every school with amazing results.
- She advocated for school-based budgeting and the need to search and hire fantastic principals. Principals set the tone of a school, and hire great teachers—and teachers are key to student success.
- Maureen did not think there should be an SAT or ACT component added to the HOPE scholarship. Her point made sense to me as I hadn't thought of it this way—There are students who have worked hard, shown discipline and effort and earned As and Bs in high school, yet when they arrive at college, they need remedial help. Fran Millar did not think we should pay for that remedial help, but Maureen thinks we should. Why? Because it's not the student's fault, it's the fault of the sending high school. The student played by the rules, did the work and earned the best they could at the high school they attended. If anything, go after that high school for educational malpractice.
- To learn more, Maureen recommended reading "Crossing the Finish Line", a book from Princeton Press showing that students who earn As and Bs in high school, by and large, will be successful in college, even if they need remedial help, because they bring the proper work ethic and study habits to the table.
- On the subject of charter schools or systems, Maureen hasn't really seen that they are all that different from the public schools they are molded from. Simply suddenly declaring a school a "charter" will not usually cure what is ailing a school or system or state for that matter. Some "for-profit" models could possibly do better, as they have a motivation to make money.
- Bottom line: The principal sets the tone and attitude for a school and the teacher in the classroom is what makes a difference in the education—and life—of a child.