Archive for August, 2011

Decatur board member: “Quality of the teaching in the classroom is the most powerful determinant.”

On the blog today, some folks asked why I don’t write more about  the practices of high-achieving districts, such as Decatur. Two hours later, I received this e-mail from a Decatur board member explaining why he is choosing not to run for a third term.

That board member is John Ahmann, who is also a policy expert on education and has worked with the Atlanta chamber and APS over the years. Ahmann and I have had a lot of professional discussions over the years on teacher quality, one of his major focuses. (As I noted earlier, my twins attend Decatur schools.)

I thought Ahmann’s statement offered insights beyond Decatur, so I am sharing it here:

Here is his statement in part:

Over the last eight years, I have worked hard to contribute to helping City Schools of Decatur be among the best of the best. But just as in a relay race, I think now is the time to “pass the baton” so that someone else may continue the sprint to the finish line, and I have decided to not seek re-election to …

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Live blogging education finance committee: Lots of great ideas, but most cost money

The all-day meeting of the Education Finance Study Commission just kicked off at the Capitol with a lighthearted aside by co-chair and state Rep. Brooks Coleman of Gwinnett: “We may have to have a bake sale — we need lots of money.”

After four hours of testimony, Coleman is right. The members have offered up several reforms and changes, but most require new funding at a time when the state has little extra cash.

The day features detailed reports from the subcommittees — in between legislators dashing across the street to the House and Senate chambers for votes during the General Assembly special session under way. (The committee is a mix of people, including lawmakers, state officials, educators and business leaders.)

Early on, the committee heard about the importance of investing in technology and leadership.

Committee co-chair and state Sen. Fran Millar of DeKalb noted that Gwinnett invests a million dollars a year to train principals at its academy and that might be a model …

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Readers: No racial component to doubts about DeKalb school chief

I have been getting an earful from readers unhappy with a column I wrote on DeKalb’s divisive search for a new school chief. (I also received some responses in agreement.)

Here is an excerpt of my column. Below are some critical responses shared with the writers’ permission:

Unfortunately, the debate over whether Atkinson is the right choice has assumed the racial overtones that mar most discussions about schools in DeKalb, a county whose rich diversity often becomes a point of strife rather than strength.

Atkinson is black. An earlier white female candidate —perceived to have the endorsement of many north DeKalb parents — withdrew in the midst of contract negotiations. A Texas candidate favored by some board members was Hispanic.

Many questions about Atkinson’s qualifications come from white parents and board members in north DeKalb, while her staunchest support seems to be with black parents and board members in the south.

The intense public focus on Atkinson …

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“Undocumented, unafraid” and unwelcome today at Georgia’s premier campuses

High school students staged a mock graduation at the UGA arches today to protest state policy toward students who are here illegally. (AJC file)

High school students staged a mock graduation at the UGA arch Tuesday to protest state policy toward students who are here illegally. (AJC file)

High school students staged a mock graduation today at the University of Georgia arch to protest the state policy’s of documenting citizenship of students. Chanting “undocumented, unafraid,” the students expressed dismay at the policy, which they said will lock them out of UGA and other prestigious campuses.

Illegal immigration became a volatile issue in Georgia after it was discovered that Kennesaw State University charged an illegal immigrant in-state tuition in violation of state law. Now, illegal immigrants are barred from any University System of Georgia campus that turned away academically qualified students for the past two years. (The impacted campuses are UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia College & State University and the Medical College of Georgia.)

The State Board of Regents adopted the policy last …

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Today’s college freshmen: “Ferris Bueller could be their father.”

Imagine what Ferris Bueller could have done with social media and text messaging. (AJC File)

Imagine what Ferris Bueller could have done with social media and text messaging. (AJC File)

Having two college students, I’ve come to realize that technology does not simply inform young people’s lives now; it defines their lives.

Today, when my teens and I search for a movie, I reach for the newspaper and they reach for their laptops. (In defense of my primitive ways, I often open to the movie listings and find a theater while their computers are still loading.)

I chatted with a young college professor a few days ago about the resistance of older faculty to technology, some of whom dismiss it as a distraction rather than a fact of life. We discussed how not incorporating technology into classrooms is akin to forcing students to write with a quill pen and ink or teaching classes by oil lamp rather than electric lights.

A story today in the AJC talks about this new reality of today’s college freshmen.

Here is part of the story:

Mention Amazon to the incoming class of college …

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Improved performance for district run by DeKalb school chief finalist

Lorain city schools improved this year on the annual state of Ohio report card. That is relevant because the DeKalb County school board has chosen the superintendent there to lead its system. (Cheryl Atkinson comes here Saturday to meet parents.)

In an interview with the local paper on the about-to-be-released scorecard, Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said, “We’re not perfect. But we’re a lot better.”

According to the Morning Journal:

While the report card will not officially be released until Wednesday, a preview showed the district passed four of 24 tested categories and improved scores in 18 of the 24 tested areas. “This officially moves us from academic watch to continuous improvement,” Atkinson said.

The report showed that Lorain High School had a graduation rate of 80.7 percent, after hitting 84.7 percent in 2010. Lorain High School and Admiral King Elementary were both rated as effective in the report.

For the past two years, the Lorain City Schools have been listed …

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Teacher efforts to teach soft skills run into hard reality of testing

I wrote an entry last week on the state’s push to teach soft skills in high school. Here is a response from a newly retired high school teacher, Pat Pepper, on that topic:

Your column “Teaching punctuality 101″ caused me to smile sadly and shake my head. On May 31, I retired after 30 years in the classroom. For most of those years, I was a public high school English teacher here in Georgia.

After my first two years teaching, I quit the classroom because I could not live on the $5,200 a year salary that beginning teachers made. I got a job as an office supervisor for a large insurance company based in Atlanta.

In that position I quickly learned that my most valuable employees were those with enough intelligence to learn their jobs and were reliable in their attendance. I once had to fire the brightest employee I had ever had because I could not count on her to be at work when needed.

When I returned to teaching, I saw a great need to not only teach the hard skills of good …

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Pope: College is more than job training. It is a journey to truth.

Pope Benedict told college professors that universities should be where a student "seeks the truth proper to the human person." (AJC file)

The Pope said students should come to universities to seek "the truth proper to the human person." (AJC file)

Here is a speech that Pope Benedict XVI gave Friday in Spain to university professors.  The Pope expressed concern over the new utilitarian view of higher education, arguing that creating a labor force should not be the main objective:

Being here with you, I am reminded of my own first steps as a professor at the University of Bonn. At the time, the wounds of war were still deeply felt and we had many material needs; these were compensated by our passion for an exciting activity, our interaction with colleagues of different disciplines and our desire to respond to the deepest and most basic concerns of our students. This experience of a “Universitas” of professors and students who together seek the truth in all fields of knowledge, or as Alfonso X the Wise put it, this “counsel of masters and students with the will and understanding needed to master the various …

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Did Rhee and Hall consult the same playbook on how to respond to news of cheating?

Michelle Rhee's success in Washington as measured by student scores is now in question.

Michelle Rhee's success in Washington as measured by student scores is now in question.

I have to wonder if all school chiefs follow the same playbook when confronted with catastrophic evidence of cheating in their districts:  Dodge, deny and dismiss.

It did not work for former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, and it isn’t working for Michelle Rhee, the ex DC chancellor who is now confronting her own Erasure-gate as the result of a well done USA Today investigation.

USA Today’s investigation is similar in scope and findings to the AJC probe in 2008 that first revealed troubling score disparities in Atlanta schools and led to an in-depth statewide review that ultimately confirmed widespread test tampering.

In fact, some of Rhee’s defenses are exactly what Hall offered up to the AJC after its accounts of likely cheating within APS, down to the citing of the district’s own cheating investigation by Caveon.

(I have to note that Hall did sit down with the AJC over the years as the …

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AYP transfers: Does anybody win? Does anyone know?

One of the most contentious provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act is the AYP transfer mandate in which students from schools deemed failing can transfer to schools judged as more successful.

The problem is that the wave of students transferring can tax the receiving school. Not surprisingly, no one in the state keeps track of whether students who exercise their right to transfer to another school end up doing better than their classmates who stay put.

In theory, you might assume that kids would do better at a “better” school, but they may lose ground if the classes are overcrowded or they have adjustment challenges to a new setting. If transportation home to their neighborhoods is a problem, then the students may be less likely to participate in after-school activities or evening programs.

And there is the overarching debate over whether the AYP designations are even remotely accurate in depicting “good” and “bad” schools.

There were so many transfer requests …

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