Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Maureen Downey guest speaker at DCPC this am

Well, no sooner did I announce that Hawthorne parents had taken the prize for the best spread of goodies at a meeting than I went to another meeting where they were simply "outdone"—by the teachers and staff at Kingsley Charter School no less!  Thank you, teachers and staff. Kingsley Charter—what a welcoming and charming school tucked away so nicely in the middle of a good old-fashioned neighborhood!

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.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Maureen's perspective. She brought out so many points I had never considered and I feel enlightened on many topics. I never thought about the remedial college courses being the fault of the school/teachers... they absolutely are! I didn't agree with her on all her topics, but she was very informative, thoughtful and a great speaker.

And you are right – the Kingsley teachers and staff did a WONDERFUL job on the “spread” - not only was it abundant, but really lovely.

Anonymous said...

There was this meeting today about the morals related to terrible schools. I will try to link it once it is archived.

In the little bit I watched, they talked about how charter schools, when compared to only the schools in their states, really do perform better. It is when you throw them all one big box, mixing states that the results are less promising.

Cerebration said...

If I got nothing else from this meeting, I appreciate my newfound perspective on students deserving the HOPE scholarship. We all tend to be so harsh - but these students did the best they could - given the teachers and staff they were given to educate them. They deserve a hand up - if they're willing to continue to do the work.

Anecdotally, a friend teaches remedial courses at Perimeter, and says that by and large, the students who take the remedial courses do much better and have a better chance for completing college than "at-risk" students who don't.

Anonymous said...

You should realize that one push of the regents and national discussions is retention and time to graduation for universities. The problem with remedial classes in college is that the universities have to fund them and students are then behind on tracking towards graduation. It is a viscous cycle. Lower tiers of education are not doing their job, the student comes to college unprepared. Colleges are penalized for not graduating students on time, so remedial courses get in the way of universities posting positive improvements in time to graduation. There was discussion at some point about relating funding formulas to graduation and retention rates. Isn't this impacted by the population of students accepted by the universities in question? What would the impact of this be on changes in application requirements?

I honestly think that lower level educational systems should be held responsible. If a kid gets to college unable to identify what a percent means, it is the system at the lower level that should be footing the bill....that child has not only failed, but the system has failed that child.

How do universities take kids that step further in real preparation when the level of preparedness for higher order thinking simply isn't there?

Anonymous said...

We have such a good junior college system. I wonder if there is something the university system could do that would create some kind of partnership. You apply and get accepted to your choice college, but agree to take the remedial classes at the Junior College. If you get A/B in your remedial classes, you pass onto your choice college. If not, you stay at Jr College. Just an idea.

Anonymous said...

The problem with discussing "charter" schools is that one word is used to describe a vast range of differing things:
--for-profit charters. These are increasingly becoming the model, to the extent that chartering commissions are looking at community-based startups to have the same financial acumen as these corporate schools.
--conversion charters--as when an existing 'mainstream' converts to charter
--start-up charters, for the purists "true" starters, such as, in DeKalb, the International Community School. There are even subdivisions here, such as county-charters (ICS) vs. state-chartered (Museum School) and, shall we say, well-connected (the chater at New Birth) vs. less well-off

Which in a nutshell is why I think Maureen or anyone else referring to "charters" as one uniform idea and dismissing "charters" as no more or less effective than other schools is basically inaccurate and lazy.

Cerebration said...

I think the point is that charters, overall - like public schools - do about the same job educating students. Some do well, others poorly. It is hit or miss, just like it is in public school. For instance, you could compare a high-performing charter to a high-performing public school and get similar results. Same goes for bad ones. Only - the bad charters can be shuttered by the state, as the Academy of Lithonia was (only to return (resurrect?) as the Leadership Academy at New Birth).

Anonymous said...

My point is that Maureen refers to all 'charters' as being the same thing, which they patently are not, and this leads to considering the better off (and New Birth was my reference) and the corporate in the same breath as the start-up not just in academic discussions, but also in other discussions, of legitimacy ("New Birth is in a church, ICS is in a church--hey, too many charters are in churches and they're all the same, you know"), of finances ("charters are just like vouchers--a scheme to bilk public money for the rich or corporations"), or of other topics.

BTW, it's a little inaccurate to say only the "bad" charters can be shuttered--charters have to renew with DCSS and BOE every 5 years, and are thus subject to political whims that may have nothing to do with academy quality twice a decade.