Convenient timing for APS to improve 26 schools at risk of the OSD

Convenient timing for APS to improve 26 schools at risk of the OSD

I just wrote about Glenn Delk’s response to APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s blog about working to prevent her 26 schools eligible for the Governor’s Opportunity School District from being taken over.

Real motivation over APS hiring OSD policy creator

Carstarphen’s blog states:

People Watch- Meria Carstarphen_0I want everyone to understand that we are developing an aggressive and targeted course of action for school improvement. If we can achieve that, state intervention will be unnecessary. The Board and I share in the belief that that ensuring all students have access to quality education and maintaining local control of education is critical to the health and well-being of Atlanta. Further, we have an obligation to the students, parents and taxpayers of Atlanta to do everything in our power to ensure that our schools improve at a pace that allows them to avoid state takeover.

When I saw the number of APS schools on the potential OSD list, it was clear to me that we didn’t have a day to waste. There are currently 26 APS schools that meet the above criteria, and there a number of other APS schools which are at-risk of eligibility either because they have one or two years of CCRPI performance below 60 and/or they have historical CCRPI performance close to 60.

It just seems more politically motivated or a way to help the image of the district than helping the students. “When you saw the number of schools on the potential OSD list, it was clear you didn’t have a day to waste?”  What did you think about those schools for the first year on the job? What steps had you been taking to help these schools improve before the OSD legislation? Certainly the work needs to be done but, seems like convenient timing that feels more like adults are the focus than the kids.

Carstaphen continues:

We also launched yesterday the eight-week New School Turnaround Strategy Project guided by the Boston Consulting Group, a national group with a strong presence here in Atlanta. Thanks to the generosity of some funders, we have been able to take advantage of their unique expertise in education. This project will include a robust community engagement component that will consist of surveys, focus groups, town hall meetings, and a community advisory panel to help inform our approach.  I will also be collecting feedback from our teachers and principals, especially those who are “in the trenches” every day in some of our most challenging schools.  It is important to me that whatever strategy we develop does not happen “to” our communities or “to” the dedicated staff members who have been committed to some of our most at-risk schools for decades.  I want our key stakeholders at the table and engaged in this important decision-making process. Learn more about how you can help here.

I hope something productive comes of this research project. We are all still trying to figure out what happened with Michael Thurmond’s Bridge Initiative in DeKalb County……thankfully, I heard that Supt. Green won’t even let Thurmond back in the building! He did some good work, but clearly not enough. However, projects like this always look good and sound good but don’t always return actionable items that are followed through on. But all the consultants still get paid….

When I learned that she planned to leave the Governor’s Office at the end of the month, I could not delay. I knew she could be a key component in challenging us to do the tough and smart work as well as help us navigate the system to avoid the OSD. It won’t give APS an automatic pass, but I think it gives us the leverage of advice from an expert who understands the decisions surrounding the creation, mission and structure of the OSD.

Navigate the system to avoid OSD. I can’t believe she actually said “It won’t give APS an automatic pass.” That all sounds like the CCPRI scores will get to 61 so they can’t be included, but will that progress really continue? Or will it simply stall after OSD is no longer a threat?

Real motivation over APS hiring OSD policy creator

Real motivation over APS hiring OSD policy creator

This year legislation passed narrowly to put a constitutional amendment to the voters regarding the state being able to take over what they are labeling failing schools and run them with tax payer monies. AJC gives a quick review:

The proposed change to the constitution would allow the state to take over “failing” schools and close them, run them or convert them to independent charter schools. The schools would be part of a new statewide district for up to a decade. This new superintendent, selected by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, would have authority to take local property tax revenue to fund both the schools and the opportunity district administration.

Other posts about the Opportunity School District:

Opposition to Gov Deal’s Opportunity School District wasn’t strong enough to prevent passage

GA follows LA & TN to an Opportunity School District

Stop vilifying pro-ed reform Democrats

GA AFT affiliate opposes OSD – big surprise!

The AJC reports that Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstaphen has hired Governor Deal’s policy advisor who crafted the Opportunity School District legislation for the purpose of not allowing her 26 APS schools currently with CCPRI scores lower than 60 to become part of the OSD.

APS logoGlenn Delk, an Atlanta lawyer and long-time advocate for parental choice in education responds to Carstaphen’s attempt to avoid the OSD with education savings accounts. (He has written about these before). He writes:

She concluded her explanation with these telling comments…”Through all of these efforts and community engagement, we can find a path that ensures that all of our schools remain APS schools.  But that path can only be defined by child-centric agendas and not adult-focused ones…”If she and the Board of Education truly put the interests of children ahead of adults, instead of hiring high-priced consultants to “…help us navigate the system to avoid the OSD…”,they would vote to allow APS students to use education savings accounts to choose the school which best fit their needs. The time has come for the Board of Education and its superintendent to stop trying to avoid a state takeover, and instead fulfill what Gov. Deal has called a moral duty to help students trapped in failing schools.

Education savings account sounds like the word “voucher” if you ask me. Also sounds like privatizing social security into personal accounts. Just making an observation that it appears school voucher advocates have re-branded away from the negative connotation of the word “voucher.”

He continues to make the point that APS has had the opportunity to educate these children and haven’t been successful especially for children in poverty or low socioeconomic status.

It’s been five years since the cheating scandal first surfaced.  In those five years, the Atlanta Board of Education has spent more than $3.5 billion in taxpayers’ funds to pay for a school system which has, according to the state’s 2014 CCRPI rankings, 31 elementary, 12 middle and 13 high schools, or over 50 percent ranked D or F.

However, those results don’t begin to show the depth of the problem, given Georgia’s low academic standards compared to the national NAEP results.  Keep in mind that Georgia ranks either dead last, or next to last, when comparing our standards to other states, using the National Assessment of Educational Progress results as the benchmark.

According to the 2013 NAEP results, 88 percent of black 8th grade students in APS are not proficient in math, and 84 percent are not proficient in reading.

Another indicator of the lack of acceptable academic achievement by both APS students, as well as statewide, is the recent report by the ACT that only 11 percent of Georgia high school graduates who qualify for free and reduced lunch met college readiness benchmarks on the four major subjects.

Since over 76 percent of APS students are low-income, APS is clearly not meeting Gov. Deal’s goal of having at least 60 percent of entering 9th grade students ultimately receive a two or four-year college degree.

Delk sees Carstaphen’s action as trying to circumvent the PSD process for the protection of her district, image, and to protect teacher’s jobs – but NOT with the primary objective being student’s education. I mean really – they have had all this time and why now? Because the state has threaten to take some of your schools away? You shouldn’t have needed the Governor to tell you that these schools needed help.

Delk makes the claim that all over the country students are being  segregating students by wealth, income or zip code, which is unconstitutional. Parents deserve school choice and those who can’t afford choices should be able to use the money allocated for their child for a school of their choice that fits their needs.

Atlanta is a microcosm of the state and the country when it comes to the issue of giving low-income minority families the same rights and financial means as wealthier families, to choose the best school for their child.  Those residents with the money to do so have bought a house in the right zip codes where their children can attend Buckhead or Midtown schools such as Jackson or Morris Brandon, where less than 10 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, or pay $25,000 or more in after-tax income to attend Lovett, Westminster, etc.

While these parents can exercise school choice, the low-income families, who are overwhelmingly black, whose children attend one of the 68 APS schools where the free and reduced lunch percentage is 98 percent or more, have no such choice.

Does Carstaphen really have the best interests of students at heart? or is it district image, her own success, pride and jobs for adults?

Quality of education lacks with grade changing

Yesterday I wrote about grade changing in an Atlanta HS. Aside from the responsibility of those involved, it brings larger perspective thoughts to mind.

group of african american university students in lecture hall

What is the quality of education that goes along with a situation that ends up with grade changing?

I know that many school personnel are preoccupied with day to day responsibilities, of which I would normally call babysitting because I have seen too many ineffective schools and teachers, but someone needs to be looking at the bigger picture.

The technical interview stories revolved around a few key issues regarding grades.

  • Even though there was  “instruction” and “packets of work” none of the substitutes actually recorded any grades
  • Ms. Martin wanted to be fair to the students who showed up and did the “packets” that they deserve some credit. Apparently it is unfair to fail students who never received adequate instruction.
  • Dr. Smith the principal points out that you can’t fail a student who was not given a fair notice of the failing grade (I guess that is what the mid semester grading period is for?)

What I would like to know is how did Ms. Martin and Dr. Smith allow 12 weeks of virtually ineffective “instruction” and “packets” in order to create a situation where no grades could be reported?

So they didn’t get instruction so you can’t fail them, not their fault, but they still need grades – nevermind that they lost 12 weeks of adequate instruction!

Then when they are making up grades the registrar brings up that all the students shouldn’t get the same grades because so were absent more than others, some did more work than others. Apparently there is or at least was a policy that when grades could not be determined all students get an 80 or 85.

No one seemed to be bothered that the students clearly did not receive any adequate education for 12 weeks.

This should also help lead to a real overhaul of substitutes and hopefully also employ some training for substitutes. In DeKalb, I couldn’t even get in as a substitute, then a year later I hear that DeKalb has classrooms without subs because no subs want the jobs.

Still, what about the student’s clear lack of quality education? No one was willing to take responsibility for that.

More Atlanta administrators fail to take responsibility – grade changing

The AJC reported on August 20, 2015 about grades that were changed at Mays High School located in SW Atlanta. This report of the investigation includes many details of the incidents and interviews with various individuals involved.

An anonymous complainant and the teacher who’s students grades were changed both reported changed grades without the teacher’s consent.

changing of history gradeThe first suspicious case involved a failing 55 grade for a student in history. As this excerpt details, all of the teacher’s records have 55 and the student even signed a paper acknowledging the 55. Yet to both of their surprise, the student magically received a 70, passing grade. The teacher’s suspicion involved “Dr. Smith” an administrator for favoring the student because he was a school football player.

The next major piece involves times when this teacher was out on medical leave, mainly a 12 week medical leave. The Academy lead was Ms. Martin and she was apparently responsible for ensuring that the multitude of substitute teachers recorded grades for the students over 12 weeks. Each of the substitutes claims they weren’t asked to record grades. At midterm time, Ms. Martin decided to give 80’s to all the students because although “there has been instruction and packets of work” there were no grades. The Registrar wouldn’t change the grades without teacher permission and they went to Dr. Smith for approval which he did. And the only thing Dr. Smith did admit to.

The Regisprincipal interview Maystrar told investigators that he keeps records of every grade change. Yet when he was audited, these specific incidents were missing. I’m willing to bet Dr. Smith is covering tracks by hiding those files and forcing the registrar to receive disciplinary action.

Dr. Smith’s interview is seemingly void of any information, and for an administrator, should have known. And I think he’s covering up.

There appeared to be CLEAR evidence that student S.M. had a grade changed, the teacher and the student matched stories on those details. Yet, because there was no “evidence” and because no one made any admissions of guilt….I guess there is nothing else to do?