Archive for February, 2010

Teachers: No merit to merit pay arguments

When Centennial High School English teacher Jordan Kohanim suggested that I run a column on the Monday print education page against merit pay to balance the one in favor it last week, I asked if she would write a piece. She and Northview High colleague Ashley Ulrich quickly produced this piece, which runs in Monday’s AJC Opinion section. Enjoy.

By Jordan Kohanim and Ashley Ulrich

Furloughs. Pay cuts. Class size increases. With all these factors, the talk about merit pay and the proposal of Senate Bill 386 brings Georgia public education to a crossroads. By switching to merit pay at this critical time, not only is the legislation dropping the proverbial straw on the camel’s back, legislators are setting up a system that will harm students for much longer than their terms in office.

The bill, which is not clear on how exactly teachers will be compensated, does claim to rely on more than just test scores to gauge teacher quality. Sadly, the fact of the matter is there are …

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Is “acting white” a legacy of integration policies that shortchanged blacks?

As the white adoptive parent of two black children, Harvard Law graduate Stuart Buck began to read about education and race and became intrigued by the “acting white” epithet sometimes directed at at high-achieving minority students.

That personal interest grew into a professional one that culminated in a book due out in May, “Acting White, the Ironic Legacy of Desegregation.”

A doctoral student in education at the University of Arkansas, Buck says his research led him to a surprising conclusion, that the “acting white” criticism had its roots in desegregation that wrenched black students from schools and communities they knew and threw them into new schools where they were often reviled, shunned and underestimated.

“The analogy I would draw is treatment for cancer,” said Buck, speaking by phone from Arkansas. “Segregation is like a cancer that we had to get rid of, but the treatment that saved our lives had unintended side effects.”

While black students often attended …

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House bill would eliminate CRCTs in first and second grade. Hurrah or Hurrumph?

A few weeks ago, I ran into state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) at Kroger and she told me about her bill to end mandatory CRCT testing in the early grades. House Bill 1132 has been introduced and it eliminates mandatory criterion-referenced competency tests in grades one and two.

The bill has the wide support of education groups that question the efficacy and point of high-stakes testing in first and second grades.

“This is in line with recommendations of most national professional organizations that serve young children. And it is also more consistent with national trends. Only one state also tests in grade 1. Six test grade 2 — but some states count a 5-minute reading test in that total,” says early child education professor Caitlin McMunn Dooley of Georgia State University

“The general consensus of professionals in education is that large-scale, standardized tests are inappropriate for children prior to grade 3. This is especially true in Georgia, where the …

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Deciding which DeKalb schools to close: Academic performance will not be a factor

A concerned crowd of north DeKalb parents whose small “underutilized” schools are on a list for possible closings heard two critical pieces of information at a lively session with county officials Thursday night: In deciding which of 23 targeted schools to close, academic performance will not be considered and their schools are unlikely to be closed because they are not that far below capacity.

Described as an emergency meeting of the Tucker cluster, the session drew 260 parents from Midvale Elementary, Brockett Elementary and Smoke Rise Charter. They are among the schools being looked at by the Citizens Planning Task Force for possible closure due to Dekalb’s $88 million budget deficit.

The parents were disappointed in the lack of consideration of academics since their schools are doing well, but were delighted with the prediction from DeKalb schools planner and forecaster Daniel Drake that there are other schools on the list with far more worse enrollment to capacity …

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DeKalb’s Lewis steps down temporarily. How will it affect school closings and layoffs?

In a shocker tonight, DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis temporarily stepped down from his post after a morning search of his house ordered by the DeKalb DA.

It appears the search was the catalyst for the sudden decision, but it is unclear why. Was Lewis upset by the search, which is related to an ongoing investigation of school construction projects, an investigation that Lewis himself instigated and that now seems to have widened to include him?

Did he feel the whole mess compromised his position to oversee the county schools in these next few months of controversial and painful budget decisions? (I just came back from Tucker where 260 parents from three small elementary schools turned out to find out if why their schools were on a possible closure list and what they could do to fight it.)

I can understand the pressures on Lewis right now, but is this the right decision given the delicate negotiations over the next months to decide which schools to close and which …

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Everybody struck out in Marietta teen drinking incident

The trove of embarrassing details about a December teen drinking party involving Cobb parents in high places has led to a refiling of charges and the resignation of an assistant solicitor who allowed baseball practice to qualify as community service. (See earlier blog on this issue and the larger question of the treatment of middle-class kids and athletes by the courts.)

I suspect more fallout will come from this case, which seems fraught with poor judgments by people who should know better, including state Sen. John Wiles. The party took place at the Marietta home of Diane Busch, an attorney at Wiles’  firm and a magistrate judge.

After police arrived at the party at 3 a.m.  in response to neighbors’ complaints, Wiles showed up to pick up his son. The police report states that Wiles asked officers not to give a citation to one teen because his baseball scholarship could be yanked. While Wiles says he spoke only as a concerned parent, the report says that he told police he …

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Food fight! Parents have egg on their face in this one

I thought out-0f-control food fights were the stuff of TV movies, but apparently they happen – and too often at Berkmar High School in Lilburn. The persistence of food fights led frustrated administrators to close the school cafeteria this week.

According to the AJC:

Principal Ken Johnson sent a letter to parents stating, “We have had a number of food-throwing incidents in the cafeteria in the last few weeks, and as a result, students will be served lunch in their 5th-period classrooms until this Friday. All students will have the option to receive a balanced meal, just as they do when we serve lunch in the cafeteria, only with a reduced number of choices.”

Johnson noted that staff members monitor lunch periods and have identified and disciplined a few students for throwing food.

This is a parent problem, not a school problem. If you have raised a kid self-centered and arrogant enough to ignore teachers and cafeteria staff and throw food to the point the cafeteria has …

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DA stages early morning search of DeKalb school superintendent’s home. Why?

So why is the DeKalb County District Attorney searching  DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ home?  In an AJC exclusive this morning, we learn that investigators came to his home this morning armed with a search warrant as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into multimillion-dollar school construction projects.

To get up to speed, please look at the recent AJC update on the allegations surrounding school construction manager Pat Pope’s actions in regard to her husband’s firm.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that Tony Pope, an architect, worked on three of the six multimillion-dollar construction projects being investigated by the authorities.

Pope and Lewis have appeared adversaries in this ongoing drama, so it is unclear now why the investigation has turned to Lewis or why the DA felt compelled to go to his home as well as his office.

Please remember that the school system and DA’s office crossed swords not along ago when the system balked at …

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Indoctrination versus education: “Time that we remind teachers of their job descriptions.”

Last week, I ran a piece sent to me by a Clayton State education professor describing schools as pressure cookers. Professor Mari Ann Roberts questioned the value of standardized tests and cited the growing demands on teachers. Now, another academic responds, with strong criticism.

English professor Mary Grabar, who has taught at Clayton State, Georgia Perimeter and Emory, offers a much different take.

By Mary Grabar

In the wake of revelations of testing fraud in Georgia, professors of education blame the tests.  Both Shannon Howrey of North Georgia College and Mari Ann Roberts, at Clayton State University, opined in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that less testing is needed.  They echoed the dominant view of education schools, where mastery of the subject is relegated to the position of an onerous task to be circumvented.

While they train in new techniques of emotionally coercing students to adopt their own ideological views, teachers share strategies for keeping within …

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Could we see a 77 percent tuition hike at public colleges?

A week ago, we sat down with UGA president Michael Adams who was concerned about the ongoing hits to higher education in the state budget. His main concern was losing good faculty members to competing schools because of an inability to come up with counter offers. (He said some interesting things about the disparity in high school quality in the state, but I will write that up later.)

But his boss was at the Legislature today with even more dire warnings: It would take a 77 percent tuition increase at Georgia’s colleges and universities to meet the demand for a $385 million cut in the state’s higher education system budget, said Chancellor Erroll Davis.

That was not what lawmakers wanted to hear. They did not want Davis to tell them that the system could not sustain many more cuts or find any real money outside of raising tuition through the roof. “We are in a budget crisis,” state Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland) told him. “We have got to cut another $200 to $300 million …

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