Are flexibility and freedom keys to school success? Why didn’t they work before?

I used to follow the Barnes blue ribbon education reform committee around the state as it sought ideas on how to fix Georgia’s schools. One of the ideas that Barnes himself advocated was leaving those systems that were doing well alone. He wanted schools and systems that were excelling to have freedom and flexibility.

It was also an idea that had widespread support among the many hundreds of people who came before the committee as it traveled the state. But it never was fully developed in the single term that Barnes served as governor.

Now, the idea has become policy under Perdue’s administration. Is this the answer? Letting systems develop their own rules? The argument against more flexibility is that Georgia schools had a great deal of freedom — or at least benign neglect — from the state and the Legislature for many decades and it did not lead to terrific schools.

It is not a simple matter. Consider that a new study suggests that instructional fidelity to highly scripted reform models produces better results. Some of the nations that outpace us have very scripted classroom plans that do not vary from school to school.

On the other hand, I talked to a woman over the weekend who is about to quit teaching because she spends too little time teaching and too much time doing reports, entering data and going to meetings where she is told that she is not making targets. Her class is micromanaged to the point that she can’t take a breath.

According to the story in today’s AJC:

Freedom from state mandates on education has allowed Gwinnett and Forsyth counties’ public schools to be more innovative. The districts are the first in Georgia to enter into contracts with the state under the Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2, law affording them greater flexibility to ignore red tape and bypass restrictive rules in exchange for more accountability for student achievement.

Teachers, principals and parents are noticing an improvement. Ideas birthed by teachers that change how students learn are being approved and implemented faster by principals who no longer have to wait for feedback from their bosses.

“We are a school system that prides itself on being innovative,” Forsyth Superintendent Will Schofield said. “Our principals know what they need to do to make their schools most effective.”

Georgia’s IE2 legislation allows school systems to seek flexibility from rules regarding class size, teacher certification, seat time in class, teachers pay, duty-free lunch and graduation requirements, among other things. Schools can use this freedom to reallocate resources to help students meet or exceed state standards.

Every Georgia school district will have to decide by 2013 whether its to seek a flexibility contract.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said several districts are discussing the possibilities of IE2, but only Fulton County Schools is in talks with the state.

The pioneer of the movement, Gwinnett County Public Schools, has received several inquiries from metro Atlanta school systems about how IE2 is working. “We have talked to a lot of other systems that are looking at what is best for them,” said Steven Flynt, Gwinnett’s chief academic officer.

In Gwinnett, local schools were given the authority to pick the area of flexibility they wanted and the weakness they wanted to improve first. Most schools chose class size as a flexibility so they could fit more students onto the roster by splitting them between classes. The savings from larger classes overall helped schools hire other staff they needed to allow some teachers to teach small groups.

In Forsyth, the district launched a massive campaign to include parents in the decision to apply for IE2, including asking them how their neighborhood schools should improve. Each school’s IE2 plan is posted on the district’s Web site. Schofield said the freedom afforded by IE2 in areas such as staffing and materials will help the district save $10 million to $15 million in five years.

While Gwinnett is moving slowly to implement IE2, Forsyth has jumped in with both feet.

At Mashburn Elementary, students in English for Speakers of Other Languages programs and the Early Intervention Program can receive both remedial help and language coaching in the same room because funding red tape has been cut.

34 comments Add your comment

jim d

January 4th, 2010
9:46 am

“Gwinnett is moving slowly to implement IE2″

SURPRISE!! God forbid Alvin give up his micro managing

Jennifer

January 4th, 2010
9:59 am

I cannot even read this post. The IE2 contract in Gwinnett – if anyone will ever really look at the data plan – keeps the academic achievement targets for black, Hispanic and special education students at rates for the next ten years that actually increase the achievement gap in many, many cases.

There is nothing wrong with the IE2 legislation – it is actually sound in concept – but no one is willing to take a hard look at the data contract that follows – and parents of minority and special ed students would be appalled at what their district leaders think is setting a high standard for their students.

Another instance of setting the bar so very low to look good that you can trip over it. Only this time, resources are put behind the data performance standards to make it work, and that means that minority and special ed students are not going to be beneficiaries of this legislation.

Disgusted

January 4th, 2010
10:00 am

As much as many of us wish it weren’t so, Will Schofield is the superintindent of Hall County Schools. He also publically threatened bloggers in the Gainesville Times who dared to voiced disatification with some issues and ask some very pertinent questions about goings on in the district with a lawsuit a couple of weeks ago. Nice guy. Would love to see him move on elsewhere.

Correction

January 4th, 2010
10:08 am

The Forsyth County Superintendent is Dr. L.C. (Buster) Evans.

Observed

January 4th, 2010
10:29 am

I recently watched the movie “Blindside” and it occurred to me that this moving really points out the problem with education, parents. I do not mean to take away from the work ethic of the large majority of teachers in my school system or the State of GA. What this movie showed to me is that students who do well do well because of effort, home environment, and parents (or parent figures) who holding them accountable and set standards for their child. In most systems that have lower achievement, is it a factor of the poor teaching or the lack of community demands of achievement that the parents and students take responsibility for reaching? If you took the best students in a good system and placed them in a poor system they would still achieve high marks. Place the lower achieving students in a good system and they will still have low achievement, unless you change something besides the school. The home environment has so much to do with student achievement that the teachers do not have control over. There are obvious exceptions inwhich students do well in poor systems and visa versa. But I think that the improvement in home life and parent/student self accountability are more affective than teacher improvement. I think that teachers that have gone from one system to another will tell you that is the case. I realize that it is not the only factor but I am convinced that it a major factor. Yes I fo realize that the movie “Blindside” in anecdotal, and although it is an extreme example, it points out the need for parents “to bring up a child in the ways he/she should go”.

Observed

January 4th, 2010
10:32 am

Sorry for the grammar errors above “affective” s/b “effective” and a few others. Guess I am too dependent on Word spellcheck.

Disgusted

January 4th, 2010
10:42 am

http://community.gainesvilletimes.com/blogs/detail/1701/

The fact that our county is going to IE2 with Charter Schools also is a bit troubling considering the attitude towards citizen input and questions I see in our superintendent’s reaction in this instance. Some organizations may actually need some increased oversight and scrutiny.

Uncle Commode

January 4th, 2010
11:33 am

One cant teach a stupid person or student to learn, SO…let them sink under the ever so stinky waters of THE ALMIGHTY TOILET.

PS…we can build more prisons!

Let's discuss

January 4th, 2010
11:55 am

Let’s discuss the real flexibility and freedom that’s needed. The flexibility and freedom to remove those who choose to disrupt the regular learning environment.

What if the blog moderator had a group of students as interns, and one intern regularly didn’t show up, didn’t work when he did show up, refused to follow the blog moderator’s instructions, argued with other interns, caused a constant disruption among the interns, and consistently showed a pattern of abusive behavior toward the interns and the blog moderator when she attempted to intervene?

What would be the best course of action for the blog moderator’s administration to take?

-The administration should tell the blog moderator that the intern’s actions indicate a weakness in her skills, and that she needs more training in order to provide more engaging instruction to the intern so that he will be less inclined to act out?

-The administration should remove the offending intern, who has consistently made the decision to disrupt the learning process of the other interns, so that they may take advantage of the blog moderator’s expertise?

Let’s discuss. Let’s discuss because this is a scenario played out in classrooms all across the state, and compromised the ability of good, effective teachers to maximize their instruction.

Let’s discuss, because if we aren’t willing to discuss, we really aren’t serious about addressing education issues. We may be serious about sounding serious; we may be serious about getting paid to sound serious, we may be serious about following an agenda that doesn’t offend higher ups, but we aren’t serious about what’s best for Georgia students.

Let’s discuss.

More Disgusted!

January 4th, 2010
12:21 pm

@Uncle Commode: go flush yourself!

Uncle Commode

January 4th, 2010
12:32 pm

Stop the kenyan from taking our healthcare freedoms…

http://youcanstopobama.com/

Let's discuss

January 4th, 2010
12:56 pm

I see when a scenario is put forth, on what support the blog moderator would or would not ask for from administration if the blog moderator had one chronically disruptive intern in a group of interns, the scenario doesn’t get posted.

If the blog moderator had one chronically disruptive intern in a group of engaged interns, would the blog moderator expect administration to tell the blog moderator it is due to the weakness of instruction, and send the blog moderator to more training, or would the blog moderator expect that the chronically disruptive intern be removed?

I think readers with a clue on current classroom conditions know the answer. And know the non answer on this blog is a classic case of talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

Teacher2

January 4th, 2010
1:37 pm

Because I teach “specials” I spend a great part of my day teaching outside of my content area in an effort to make AYP. The good part, I am employed in a down economy. The better part, I have developed a 2 year plan to actually use my skills outside of public education. NCLB is leaving kids behind every day…especially the have nots.

M

January 4th, 2010
1:57 pm

Why can’t special elections within each school district allow voters to decide if their schools go on a flexbility schedule?

TW

January 4th, 2010
2:12 pm

Maureen – was this Barnes Blue Ribbon Committee the same one that dumped the middle school PE requirement?

Go Raiders!

Talking out of both sides of one's mouth

January 4th, 2010
2:33 pm

Were we just told that some of the nations that outpace us have very scripted classroom plans that do not vary from school to school?

But no, no, no, we’ve been told over and over again that the single biggest factor is the teacher, not the curriculum. If that’s true, who cares if the curriculum is scripted or not?

And if it is the teacher as the biggest factor, why don’t foreign teachers come over here and recreate those results? Why don’t their students become light years ahead of other American students, like the students in their home country?

And what does the blog moderator suggests is the single most likely factor for this? The only thing the blog moderator could suggests, of all the possible factors that could cause this, is that the only teachers who come over here from other countries are the weak teachers.

Couldn’t have anything to do with the value that students in other countries, and their families place on education, and on respecting the sanctity of the learning process could it? Couldn’t have anything to do with the accountability other countries are willing to hold their students to, unlike the United States could it?

Of course not. That wouldn’t fit the agenda, so we have to instantly throw those out as reasons. Even if we have to look foolish in the process, we have to stick to the agenda.

Talking out of both sides of one's mouth

January 4th, 2010
2:52 pm

But I think that the improvement in home life and parent/student self accountability are more affective than teacher improvement. I think that teachers that have gone from one system to another will tell you that is the case.

No, no, no, a thousand times no Observed. Hasn’t this blog educated you to the fact that when a student does poorly, it’s inevitably due to weak teachers?

Now what about those teachers who go to better systems and their test scores shoot up? Why Observe, don’t you know the answer? It has nothing to do with the system, nothing to do with the parents, and most of all nothing to do with the students. The scores improved because when they went to better system, they all suddenly decided to no longer be weak teachers!

Don’t you get it?

Warrior Woman

January 4th, 2010
3:00 pm

Flexibility and innovation haven’t worked in the past because there has never been flexibility and innovation in public education. There is far too much teaching to the lowest common denominator, keeping disruptive students in classrooms, and failing to offer anything meaningful for high achievers.

high school teacher

January 4th, 2010
3:42 pm

Hey jim d, I’m on a furlough day and I didn’t go to school today :)

On topic, does anyone else see a conflict between IE2 legislation and National Standards?

Sad to say but true

January 4th, 2010
3:49 pm

@Talking out of both sides of one’s mouth

“Now what about those teachers who go to better systems and their test scores shoot up? Why Observe, don’t you know the answer? It has nothing to do with the system, nothing to do with the parents, and most of all nothing to do with the students. The scores improved because when they went to better system, they all suddenly decided to no longer be weak teachers!”

I saw first hand evidence of this over the Christmas break. There was this teacher, non-certified, who was literally ran out of our school, minority black and poor, a couple of years ago. Even though she was in her early 20s she looked VERY tired and haggard when she left. When I spotted her at the mall she looked very good and had a very confident air about herself. When I asked how life was treating her at her new, private, school I had to make up an excuse just to break away from her! She kept going on about how much better the students were, how much support she received from administration, ect ect. She is also now certified but has no plans to EVER teach in a public school again.

sped teacher bibb

January 4th, 2010
4:53 pm

FYI- Many foreign countries do not “require” every child to go to school. Ie,any comparison based on their students vs ours is nul and void. Someone just needs to say it-We need to let teachers teach. I just spent my planning day at a workshop were I learned that I would be requied to do even more paperwork. My answer to one of the questions on our exit summary was that I needed a clerk to do paper work so I could have a couple of hours a day to actually teach.

sped teacher bibb

January 4th, 2010
4:53 pm

FYI- Many foreign countries do not “require” every child to go to school. Ie,any comparison based on their students vs ours is nul and void. Someone just needs to say it-We need to let teachers teach. I just spent my planning day at a workshop were I learned that I would be requied to do even more paperwork. My answer to one of the questions on our exit summary was that I needed a clerk to do paper work so I could have a couple of hours a day to actually teach.

Middle Man

January 4th, 2010
6:40 pm

@Let’s Discuss – So, if the kids were better, the education would be better. If the parents were better, the education would be better. In essence, you are claiming that the teacher doesn’t really matter at all and havs little or no influence if the parents are not “good”. Seems like the solution is simple and we should make it happen, get rid of the kids who don’t do it your way and who don’t have parents who do what they should and teaching would be easy and free public education would be fixed.

If we are really going to have honest dialogue, we will move past the issues we can’t control and fix and talk about those things we can fix and that do impact student learning. As responsible educators, it would be better to stop complaining about fixing parents and offer solutions on how to improve what we can control.

Either that, or get rid of the kids that don’t fit. While we are at it, we should probably stop educating kids with special needs like “we used to” before the early 1970s. We should make sure we have corporal punishment available to all teachers and we should probably go back to only 40% or so of graduates going to colleges. Heck, I know that there was a factory looking for unskilled wage earners that just got shut down in my city. Maybe the kids we kicked out could go there.

That being said, no teacher should have to put up with actual verbal abuse, with ever being physically threatened, or with kids using profane language. That should be dealt with by administrators and kids should be held accountable for those infractions.

just one little question

January 4th, 2010
6:50 pm

“That being said, no teacher should have to put up with actual verbal abuse, with ever being physically threatened, or with kids using profane language. That should be dealt with by administrators and kids should be held accountable for those infractions.”

And you just nullified your first three paragraphs by your last one. No teacher that I know, to include myself, is looking to teach a ‘perfect class.’

FLAWoodLayer

January 4th, 2010
7:43 pm

Excellent point high school teacher. You can’t move towards national standards and allow more flexibility. If you allowed DeKalb to go off the radar for instance do you actually think it will improve or get even worse? I vote the latter. We know what works already. Qualified teachers who know their content, which because of pay are too few, innovative administrators, few and far between also, parental involvement, and specific instructional startegies, which are data driven. Besides the parental involvement, all of the above requires a real investment from the nation and it will never happen. You have to pay teachers to stay in the profession many of us love but would also like to have a higher standard of living. You have to provide quality professional development which currently is a joke. If we want better teachers, which is the engine that really runs the machine, you have to provide an incentive to get the best of the best. There is none currently. Even when we do get the best, there is virtually no beginning teacher support program in this state and good young teachers are left to sink or swim.

That's where you're wrong middle man

January 4th, 2010
8:11 pm

Middle Man you say if we are really going to have honest dialogue, we will move past the issues we can’t control and fix and talk about those things we can fix and that do impact student learning?

That’s where you’re wrong. We can control the issue of removing chronically disruptive children from the regular classroom setting when those children engage in abusive behavior towards their peers and their staff.

We as a society are just not willing to do so. So our educational bureaucracy, mirroring the lack of resolve of society as a whole, has agreed to play the game Let’s Blame The Teacher because it’s easier to do that as a society than blame ourselves.

You can point to a million failed reforms that have at their roots a Let’s Blame The Teacher mindset, but I challenge you to find one school that got serious about discipline, and got serious about removing chronically disruptive influences, that didn’t fail to improve.

Walt Holden

January 4th, 2010
11:14 pm

Aileen Dodd has yet to write a positive article about Gwinnett schools. She presents the data in whatever way makes GCPS look the worst. If she can not get the name of the superintendent of Forsyth correct, what does this say about her attention to detail in getting the facts right?

Nate

January 5th, 2010
1:36 am

I agree with Barnes’ point about leaving successful schools alone. If a school is doing well then do not impose ridiculous mandates on it that may be disruptive to what has made the school successful.

Are flexibility and freedom keys to school success?

In principle, one would assume that increased flexibility is great… However, I would argue that it may only prove to be effective in the case of an individual school that has a very capable Principal AND a good number of qualified and passionate teachers in place.

Why did it not work before?

I haven’t read any research on this topic, but if I were to take a guess, in keeping with my thought process here, it may have been a case where some schools had freedom and autonomy but did not have capable leaders and teachers in place. In those cases, a more prescriptive approach may make more sense.

It’s my belief that all systems in GA should actively be working to establish IE2 contracts that ultimately aggressively aim to raise the academic achievement levels and expectation of all racial and ability level sub groups of students. In doing so there should ideally be an easier way to get rid of bad teachers, and incent the good that are based in part on the relative(i.e, how much did the student progress while in the class of a particular teacher) academic achievement gains of students across all subgroups. It would also be nice if there were more clear cut causes for termination of a teacher that are called out. For example, if a teacher teaches an Advanced Placement (AP) class and for 2-3 consecutive years his/her student are averaging 2’s, for example, then either termination should occur, or this may simply highlight the fact that there are students in AP classes who are not ready for AP Level work. In that case the school can review it policy for admittance to AP classes to insure that only those who receive recommendations from their prior year teachers can get in the class.

Jennifer

January 5th, 2010
8:03 am

Since no one will ever take the time to look at the data contracts in Gwinnett, I have taken the time to provide a quick look for the Reading scores.

Radloff Middle School:
% of Black students scoring at the exceeds level on CRCT = 14.7%
Performance Goal for % of Black students scoring at the exceeds level in 5 years = 14.8%

% of Hispanic students scoring at the exceeds level on CRCT = 7.9%
Performance Goal for % of Hispanic students scoring at the exceeds level in 5 years = 14.3%

% of White students scoring at the exceeds level on CRCT = 25.9%
Performance Goal for % of White students scoring at the exceeds level in 5 years = 34.2%

% of students with a disability scoring at the exceeds level on CRCT = 4.7%
Performance Goal for % of students with a disability scoring at the exceeds level in 5 years = 4.7%

The performance goals are based on a comparison to the state subgroup performance. If performance goals based on race/ethnicity is not an incubator for discrimination in school settings – someone please enlighten me.

Jan

January 5th, 2010
11:24 am

@ Middle man

How about the parents stop blaming the teachers and became actual parents…

How about administrators giving the teachers the ability to discipline disruptive students and actually supporting the teacher…

I’m not saying that there aren’t bad teachers. I know there are.

However, I think there are many, many more poor parents who are too self-involved, frightened, or delusional about their children to be an adequate parent. I also think there are too many chicken-livered administrators who won’t support a teacher’s discipline efforts, because a poor parent might yell at them and threaten a lawsuit or the even more chicken-livered chain of command won’t support them.

Angry Black Man

January 5th, 2010
2:30 pm

I am greatful for my job, however, the people in this country do not understand monetary policy and the detrimental things that banks, the federal reserve and the federal government are doing to destroy the dollar and the economy. Here is my list of top 10 things most Americans are oblivious to:

1. The creation of money out of thin air is inflating the money supply and will cause hyperinflation, just wait. Most of you idiots still think we’re on the gold standard, if you even know what that means!

2. The Federal Reserve and the IRS income tax are both unconstitutional. The US Constitution gave the power to create currency to Congress but these crooks gave the power to the Federal Reserve.

3. Democrat vs. Republican- Hey you idiots? Have you ever heard of political atheism? Democrats and Republicans alike have both done severe damage to the American way of life. Don’t you dummies get it? The Elite bankers who control everything (media, government, etc) want bickering and fighting amongst the people. Think about it, as long as we are divided politically, we can never achieve real change, dummies!

4. Money is debt and debt is money. Most of idiots do not understand where money comes from. Of course the mint prints currency, but that’s not what I’m referring to. Each time a back makes a loan, new money is created. Did you know that? Money is created out of debt!

5. Fractional reserve banking is causing inflation also. When you make a depostit at your local bank, they are only required to keep a percentage of that amount in reserves. The rest can be loaned out at interest which creates money out of thin air.

6. The President has no real power, only the Banking Elite has the real power. Obama is nothing more than a puppet and you dumb ass white people are still talking about him being a Socialist. Obama is the least of our problems.

7. Most politicians do not understand monetary policy and they are nothing but crooks who take bribes from lobbyists. The politicians in DC are only interested in fattening their pockets. Think about it-Why would a politician spend millions of dollars to fund a campaign for a six figure salary?

8. Gold and Silver is the only “real” money. Have you dummies checked the price of gold lately? Of course not, I know you had to catch the last episode of ” Dancing with the Stars” or “Desperate Housewives” or maybe “American Idol” re-runs. The dumbing down of America is obvious as most Americans probabaly do not know their state governor.

9. NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement is one of the reasons why most of the American manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to other nations. We have a 40 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico? Do you know why? America doesn’t make anything, I mean anything! What do we produce? We only produce hate, not products that could be exported and traded on the open market. Hey dummies, ever wondered why most items in your house say “Made in China” or “Made in Mexico”. That’s why!

10. Cap and trade is nothing but a huge tax increase on energy production. I’m a black African-American male and I think Ron Paul would’ve been the best President for this nation. A lot of white people are stupid and just don’t like Obama because he is black. You should not like Obama because he doesn’t understand monetary policy and is ruining our currency with continuous bailouts and federal spending.

Republicans and Democrats are nothing but idiots who do not understand the real problems in this country. Be a Political Atheist and do what’s right for this country, not what appeals to a party. Dummies!

Sincerely,
Angry black Man

Nate

January 5th, 2010
7:03 pm

I agree with Barnes’ point about leaving successful schools alone. If a school is doing well then do not impose ridiculous mandates on it that may be disruptive to what has made the school successful.

Are flexibility and freedom keys to school success?

In principle, one would assume that increased flexibility is great… However, I would argue that it may only prove to be effective in the case of an individual school that has a very capable Principal AND a good number of qualified and passionate teachers in place.

Why did it not work before?

I haven’t read any research on this topic, but if I were to take a guess, in keeping with my thought process here, it may have been a case where some schools had freedom and autonomy but did not have capable leaders and teachers in place. In those cases, a more prescriptive approach may make more sense.

FLAWoodLayer

January 5th, 2010
7:12 pm

Amen Jennifer.

dbow

January 5th, 2010
10:28 pm

Here’s my two cents worth as far as IE2 is concerned. Last year without it, I had roughly 22 kids per class and I could actually sit down with each of them individually and conference with them. I could also individualize the lessons for the most part. Fast forward to this year and I have 33 or more students per class. This includes special ed students that shouldn’t be there, but that’s another story. Forget about individualizing anything because there just isn’t enough time in the day. It’s a lot more crowd control and one size fits all approach with those large numbers. Anyone who believes that IE2 is about children is fooling themselves. It’s a way for school districts to pack classrooms full of students because they no longer have to follow class size limits. This allows districts to hire fewer teachers and save thousands of dollars. Everyone I know voted against it, but it went through anyway. Go figure.