A notable mother and son share their views on education and CRCT cheating

J. Tom Morgan

J. Tom Morgan

A few weeks ago, I ran a father-son essay about the value of a college degree. Now, I have a mother-son piece penned by Virginia Morgan, a retired educator from the Dougherty County School System, and local attorney J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County district attorney and author of “Ignorance is No Defense, A Teenager’s Guide to Georgia Law.”

As J. Tom Morgan explained in a note, “Normal families play Scrabble and play cards when they get together. Mom wanted to write after I told her about the APS and Dougherty scandals.”

Dr. Morgan writes the first part; her son shares his view after her and they collaborate on the conclusion.

First, Dr. Morgan writes:

In 1955, at the age of 25, I began my professional career with the Dougherty County School System. Still stands the dusty classroom where hundreds of children began their formal education. The Dougherty County School System is currently under investigation by state special investigators appointed by the governor to examine alleged teacher and administrator cheating on the CRCT. When I started teaching over a half century ago we knew of no such thing as a test to evaluate teaching performance. The previous year the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate was not equal. I was glad the Court’s ruling had come out. I believed all the problems involving racial integration would be resolved before my just walking son started his public education in the first grade.

My first assignment was in an elementary school where I taught a sixth grade class. This school included the most socioeconomically disadvantaged white children in the district. The rules reflected the poverty. We had an understanding that if a child could not afford to wear shoes to school the child could attend barefoot. However, if a child wore shoes to school the child could not remove the shoes during the school day. Since the depression, I had not witnessed poverty as evidenced by these children. There were also rules for teachers’ attire. As a teacher, we were required to wear a girdle, hose, high heels and a dress or suit to work.

My students were not only economically disadvantaged, they were also unprepared for even a basic sixth grade curriculum. Some of my students could not perform reading and math skills much beyond a second grade level. It was my job to teach them the best and all that I could, and then move them on to the next level, junior high school.

There were many challenges educating these students. First was hunger. Even though there was a free lunch program in 1955, it only provided a child five very limited meals each week. I realized if a child came to school hungry for food it was difficult to teach that child to hunger for knowledge. Also, the school day was limited in time. The school day had to end by 3:15. After school, many children had to go work in the fields or otherwise support the family even though the children were only 12 years old or younger. Our school year also followed what we called the “crop calendar.” One reason children were released for the summer was so they could help tend and harvest the crops. Even if we had the resources to continue to educate these children through the summer, which we did not, they were needed to help care for their families.

Although the children were disadvantaged, discipline was not really a problem. Corporal punishment was used very sparingly. However, the children knew it was available. Once I sent a note home asking for parents’ help with a student. The student returned the next day black and blue from a severe beating. I resolved then that unless absolutely necessary I would keep discipline issues in the classroom.

If my future as an educator that first year had been dependent upon my students’ test scores it would have been a short career as a teacher. My principal and superintendent knew the challenges we faced, and we were encouraged to hang in there and do our best. I did not like moving the kids to the next level poorly prepared, but there was always a new group waiting to be taught.

I taught there for three years. Although challenging, I cared for those students as if they were my own. Most of these students never completed high school, but I knew that whatever they were doing they could at least read and write and perform math better than they could before they entered my classroom.

When my son turned 4, I started looking to move out of the city and to a suburb where my own children would be surrounded by other students who were motivated to academically succeed. My mother and I bought a house close to an elementary school, and I was able to transfer my teaching position to that school.

This school was in the same school district as my first assignment, but it might as well have been located in a different universe. The only similarity was that students again were all white. Most of these children came from homes where at least one parent was a professional. I had come from a school where all the children were well below the poverty line and moved to a school where most of the children were well above the poverty line.

The teaching challenges at my new school were totally different than the challenges I previously faced. I was always looking for ways to stay at least one step ahead of my students, and to make certain they were never bored and always challenged to learn more than just what was in the text books. Most of my students ultimately went to college, and several became professionals. One of my students became a Rhodes Scholar. If my students had been administered a test such as the CRCT they would have knocked it out of the park.

Parental involvement in the child’s education was much different than it had been in the previous school where there was little contact with a parent. Parents then were not the “helicopter parents” I hear about today, but the parents of children did want to know how their child was doing and what their child needed to do to become a better prepared student.

My own son started elementary school after I had sent him two years to private kindergartens. There was no such thing as public kindergarten, and I knew the kids who performed well in the first grade had received organized instruction prior to their entry into public education. Having educated both boys and girls, I also knew there was usually a striking difference in fine motor skills and attention spans between the sexes when they are young children. Age is not necessarily a determining factor as to when a child should start the first grade curriculum. My son’s achievement in the first grade I believe was a direct result of two years of prior academic education and starting out as the oldest child in his class.

After several years in the suburbs , I accepted a principal’s position across the river in the same school district. My first assignment had prepared me for my leadership position because the students once again were all white and most were below the poverty level. Most of the students lived in one of 13 trailer parks that fed students into the school.

It was during this time that on a cognitive level I realized there is a definite correlation between a child’s academic performance and the child’s socioeconomic background. Having realized the connection, I wanted to see if there was a way to shorten the gap between poverty and performance through federal programs such as Title I. The Title 1 federal program identified schools where most of the students were financially underprivileged and attempted to correct the education gap by special instruction. I now became first Title 1 director for Dougherty County.

At the same time I became the Title 1 director, a high school classmate who was a federal judge, Judge Wilbur Owens, decided he would implement his own program to reduce the educational achievement disparity between black and white students.

Judge Owens redrew attendance lines. To be fair, Judge Owens was just implementing the federal busing mandate as proscribed in Brown. The premise at the time was that busing white upper middle-class students to previously all black schools, and busing lower socioeconomic black students to previously all white schools, would correct educational gaps.

Most white parents, except those who were truly racist, accepted black students in the high performing white schools. However, most parents would not allow their children to attend underperforming previously black schools. Over the course of a generation, white parents ultimately decided to send their kids to private schools or to move one county north and avoid the busing mandate.

Dougherty went from 70/30 percent white to black when I started teaching to 87/13 black to white as it is today. I understand a similar transformation took place in the DeKalb County during the same period and for similar reasons.

As Title 1 director, I tried to find ways to educate poor kids of all backgrounds so they would be on par with their peers who came from middle-class and above backgrounds. I knew from prior experience that race was not the determining factor for a child’s academic success, but rather whether that child was provided the tools at home he or she needed to succeed at school. Unfortunately, our success rate was not what we had hoped it would be.

If a school improved by one standard deviation we were ecstatic. The limited school day, the limited school year, and the lack of preparation before that child ever started school were great obstacles to our success in raising student achievement. For example, the Title 1 students needed additional instruction, but the school day was fixed in time due to bus schedules.

If we removed a child for special instruction, the child missed the instruction in the regular classroom. Title 1 instruction, without more instruction time, will not narrow the educational gap. Much more needs to be done for these students.

Now, here is what J.Tom Morgan says:

My sister and I are graduates of the Dougherty County Public School System, a system now under investigation by state investigators. Our mother taught us a quality public education was as important to society as a freely elected democratic form of government. Her belief is that a truly democratic form of government cannot exist without quality public education for all its citizens. What I did not understand until I reached adulthood was the success of our public education could not have occurred but for the private education we received at home.

My mother mentioned I went to private kindergarten. There were no public kindergartens for two years before starting first grade. What she did not mention was that she started teaching my sister and me to read, write, and do simple math skills, such as making change from a dollar bill, before we even started kindergarten. My earliest childhood memories include books, lots of books, and being read to every evening.

Learning did not stop at the ringing of the last bell when we were in elementary school. The public library was next door to the school, and we went there every day and did our homework while we waited for Mom to take us home. There were no organized sports for girls at that time, and few sports opportunities for boys. In any event, homework always came first in our childhood.

I recall the homework check as a very frustrating time of the day. Mom would check our answers, and if we got an answer wrong she would tell us to go back and do it until we got it right. After homework was pleasure reading time. A 2004 survey performed by the National Endowment of the Arts found that only one in three 13-year-olds today reads for pleasure each day. This is disturbing.

Although mom never told us what we had to read, she would guide us to books she thought we would enjoy. We were also provided Classic Comics. These were illustrated comics of classical stories such as Ivanhoe, Ben Hur, and Romeo and Juliet, which had been dumbed down for elementary school students. Years later, when I had to read the actual texts for school, I already knew the story lines from my earlier readings.

Music lessons for us were not an option, but rather a requirement. Although neither of us is an accomplished musician, we can read music. Many educational specialists believe there is a definite correlation between the ability to play an instrument and math skills. Amazingly, music and the arts are the first to get the axe when public education spending is cut.

We spent summertime like most kids — playing in the yard, swimming and attending camps; but we also had reading assignments. Because mom was an educator, she could get us the text books for the upcoming school year. We would read the books for the next school year and try to answer the questions at the end of the chapters. Mom would also borrow the school reel-to-reel tape recorder and we would listen to great voices read books. I guess these were the original books on tape.

I recall one time when I was 11 she left me alone at home while I listened to Boris Karloff read Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Telltale Heart.” It frightened me so much I got an extension cord so I could listen to the recording on the curb of the street.

My 10th grade year of high school I struggled with Algebra II and mom somehow found the money to hire a tutor. I made an A for the semester. My sister on the other hand is the math whiz. This was long before girls being accomplished in math was cool. Our mom made sure my sister always took the toughest math courses offered. My sister ultimately got her undergraduate degree and master’s degree from Georgia Tech and is now an engineer with Intel Corporation.

In my junior year in high school. a startling event occurred. I had just completed the two-week summer football camp prior to the beginning of school. I also had been elected to the student council the spring before and was excited about starting my new year.

On the Friday afternoon before we were to play our crosstown rival that evening, Albany High School, an order came down from a federal judge transferring me and 21 other football players, along with numerous other students, to Albany High School the following Monday morning.

I moved from a school that was 90/10 percentage white to black to a school that was 55/45 percentage white to black. The new school was not only racially diverse, but the students, black and white, came from many different socioeconomic backgrounds. It was the first time I had been exposed to peers from very impoverished backgrounds. I also met students for the first time who could barely read and write and perform math, yet they were in high school.

I signed up to play football and was also elected to the student council in my new school. Years later, when I saw the movie “Remember the Titans,” I thought it could have been Albany High School in 1972. Mom made sure I signed up for the most challenging courses that were offered. I found that the students in these classes, no matter where they were before arriving at Albany High, were motivated and eager to learn. My senior year I spent one class period teaching 10th graders remedial math. I quickly learned these students were not mentally challenged, they just somehow had missed out on opportunities to learn math skills which were afforded to me.

I graduated from high school and received a scholarship to attend college. Mom, along with a good public education, had prepared us for what was ahead. Unfortunately, many in my class never made it to college or other higher educational training. Some did not finish high school.


The state investigation of the Atlanta Public School System and the Dougherty County Public System has hopefully raised the consciousness level regarding public education in our state. Unfortunately, too much attention has been focused on the teachers who may have changed answers on their students’ CRCT exams.

Although there is no excuse for an educator righting wrong answers on a student’s test, we must ask the question how did we get to this point and what can really be done to improve our state’s educational product and our students, who are now at the bottom of the heap in nationwide scoring.

Teachers, like all professionals, should be held accountable for their performance. However, measuring a teacher’s performance by students’ test scores, without taking into account many other variables, is just flat out stupid. Assign a mediocre teacher to a classroom of highly motivated, well-prepared students, and the students will still do fine on the standardized tests. Assign the best teacher in the state to a classroom of students who are not eager to learn and who are not prepared for the curriculum assigned to their level, and despite the teacher’s best efforts, most of these children will still fail to meet the minimum required performance.

If we want to improve the education of Georgia’s public school students so that our students are competitive with students in other states, as well as foreign students, there are solutions, but most of these solutions are expensive. First, we must recognize and admit that many students entering public education are not provided the skills and resources in their home environments to meet the challenges of a demanding education curriculum. Most students do have the mental capabilities to become successful students, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, they lack the foundation and skill sets to becoming successful students. Therefore, we suggest the following:

Prekindergarten instruction for all Georgia students must be a mandate, not an option in our public schools. The school day cannot end at 3:15, but should continue on so that all students from all backgrounds will have more learning opportunities. Bus schedules will need to change to accommodate the longer school day.

Music, performing arts, and individual tutoring may occur during this additional time. Schools can also use volunteers to assist with elementary students’ homework and provide mentoring opportunities. Most senior citizens still have bright minds that can encourage and educate our youngest citizens and would welcome the opportunity to tutor children if given the structure-sort of like Teach for America, but with senior citizens instead of recent college graduates. Year-round schools should be available for all students, if not mandated, at least optional. Of course, teachers and administrators will need to be adequately compensated for the additional time required to educate children.

As the gap widens with each recession between the “haves” and the “have-nots” nowhere is there greater evidence of the economic disparity than in public education. Students in public education who have the fortunate resources to supplement their education will succeed where others may fail. James Baldwin, the African American novelist, said, “These are all our children. We will either profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” The choice is ours if we want to improve the quality of education in our state.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

68 comments Add your comment


November 29th, 2011
5:21 am

Great essay. Great suggestions.

Then we have the Georgia General Assembly, which would rather cut Pre-K to to the bone than force the Lottery Corp to pay their “suggested” percentage to education, or require minimal tuition from higher income families.

We have the GaDOE, which declares 8th grade students “proficient” if they have 4th grade reading and math skills.

Some days I’m more optimistic, but much of the time I’m not really sure that we want to do any better.

Peter Smagorinsky

November 29th, 2011
5:46 am

Some very impressive testimonials. Thanks to Maureen for providing a forum where these views, and the comments that follow, are available.

Fred in DeKalb

November 29th, 2011
6:01 am

Well written reflections. Once again, we read another variation of this statement,

“However, measuring a teacher’s performance by students’ test scores, without taking into account many other variables, is just flat out stupid.”

Those who come from priveleged backgrounds, such as some of the posters on DSW, refuse to acknowledge this reality. Instead they would rather focus their wrath on someone that ensures Title 1 dollars are allocted as prescribed by law. In their eyes, Title 1 should be eliminated unless the recipients of these services magically achieve to levels determined by a standardized test. Test results don’t tell the full story about student academic growth over a year as Dr. Morgan mentions. What would you do if Title 1 was eliminated? What and how would you replace those services?

Of course another recent blog topic, discipline, factors in the success a teacher can have with students. Same can be said for what happens to the student outside the school hours. Did they eat? Do they have clothes to wear? How about a place to sleep without fear? Yes, there are many variables a test cannot measure.

There is enough blame to go around for the state of our schools…

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

say what?

November 29th, 2011
7:14 am

Wonderful essay that shows that the problems with education cannot be adequately addressed. Fred is correct that the DSW bloggers are only concerned with “their kids, their community” and yielding power on a subject-Title I, that they are constantly ignorant about. If a person can account for every penny of the millions of Title I funds sent from the federal government to the state DOE to DCSS, then what is the issue?
Guess those fighting for power and control of DCSS never read or heard Baldwin’s statement.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2011
7:29 am

Yes, there are a few people on DSW that need to lay off the caffeind. But for the most part the posters are concerned with the education of ALL DCSS students – Friends of DeKalb not withstanding.

Fred, do you have any insight as to why the person in charge of Title 1 at DCSS was fired yesterday?


November 29th, 2011
7:31 am

The only way that a longer school day would work is if the instruction is improved throughout the day. If it is just a couple additional hours of test prep every day, then it is a waste of everyone’s time and money.

Again, though, I think we need to focus on the roots of education and what it should be before making tweaks here and there; minor reforms at this point will not do anything in the long run. We need an overhaul of the system that includes not only curriculum and instruction but also flexible scheduling and delivery options.

Fred in DeKalb

November 29th, 2011
7:48 am

Yes Dunwoody Mom, not all on DSW have agenda. They even questioned you in the past for having an open mind. There are a few hard core people that thrive on taking things out of context and misinformation.

I have not heard of any personnel changes but will check around. If an educator has been fired, there usually is a documentation folder that has just cause reasons for doing so. If an educator has violated the terms of their contract, appropriate action should be taken.


November 29th, 2011
8:28 am

Ok, I confess, I’m stoopid. What is DSW?

V for Vendetta

November 29th, 2011
8:37 am

Did I read that correctly? She moved out into an area where students were more academically motivated. A parent who is wliling to pick up and move in order to provide a quality education for his or her child–i.e., one who puts school above all else?

Wow. Imagine that.

If people would stop acting like success in life is some big mystery, perhaps we could make some real forward progress, but as long as we keep making excuses for the lower classes, they will continue to underperform spectacularly.


November 29th, 2011
8:46 am

Well it’s not 1955 anymore Toto. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 helped low income families provide food for their children. President Truman started the school lunch program after discovering that many men were rejected from military service because of child malnutrition. How sad. Even then no one was interested in student achievement. Only having men physically fit to march and pull the trigger. President Johnson included the breakfast portion of the school lunch program and it was in full swing by 1975. The summer lunch program was started in 1968.

Now in 2001 a mandate by the feds correctly pointed out that public education was in big trouble with students being given a high school diploma without being able to read, write , add, subtract and so on. That George Bush sure was stupid. And that nice school teacher wife of his, well I guess she is just as dumb as he is. Stupid Republicans!

The education community did nothing to correct the problem and now we have Chicken Little realizing the sky really is falling. So as much as I enjoyed this heartfelt story and the struggle of a sixth grade teacher realizing the neglect of her students and the noble attempt to correct the mistakes of previous years of failed education, we have been made painfully aware of these shortcomings again in public education thru NCLB and the people responsible for performing the task of educating our youth continue to do no more than blame everyone but themselves.

How is it that educators and administrators are so smart, but they cannot find a way to do something as simple as teach children 2+2=4?

Dekalbite@Fred in DeKalb

November 29th, 2011
8:52 am

Title 1 should not be eliminated. It should be used to provide direct instruction for students – very little of that is happening currently in DeKalb. Other school systems with almost identical demographics have much higher student achievement. There is wide leeway given to school systems to allocate federal funding. The leadership of DeKalb County Schools are ultimately responsible for the state of our schools. If they cannot effect change, why are they given the power to set policies, procedures and processes for every classroom as well as make more in compensation than a teacher can ever make? You can’t have the power and the money without assuming the responsibility (well, maybe the rulers of Wall Street could – but look where that got us).


November 29th, 2011
8:56 am

No one can talk a good game like educators can.


November 29th, 2011
9:01 am

“I realized there is a definite correlation between a child’s academic performance and the child’s socioeconomic background”.

Since the 60’s, one social experiment after another has been imposed upon us in an attempt to invalidate the above. None of them have worked and none of them ever will. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. However, since it is politically incorrect to say this publicly, look for more social experiments in the future to try to change what cannot be changed.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2011
9:06 am

I am not advocating getting rid of Title 1 funds, but has all this money given to school systems really done what is what is intended to do? Level the playing field between the have’s and have not’s? It does not seem to me it has. Maybe it’s time to look at alternative methods other than just giving school systems all of this money and apparently, no accountability, to go along with it.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

November 29th, 2011
9:09 am

We cannot have good learning conditions without good teaching conditions. Sound familiar? It should. And it’s true.

Does anyone with a triple-digit IQ and at least one day of teaching experience really believe that SES is a better predictor of academic achievement than classroom and school climate?


November 29th, 2011
9:13 am

Predictable tripe, naturally concluding with a cry for even more money to be poured down the increasingly dry hole of public education. We even get the bonus of a former teacher decrying demands for accountability, now there’s a shocker.


November 29th, 2011
9:14 am

DSW? Decatur Sacred Wookies? Dunwoody School Watchers? Dekalb Slovenly Whistlers? Darned Silly Women? Drunken Southern Wingbats?

Can I get some help here please?

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2011
9:17 am

DeKalb School Watch


November 29th, 2011
9:19 am

Thank you. THAT I can google lol.

Maureen Downey

November 29th, 2011
9:20 am


November 29th, 2011
9:28 am

Thanks Maureen, already googled and bookmarked.


November 29th, 2011
9:47 am

Well-written thoughts and essay. But what’s the next step? How do we get senior citizens into the elementary schools?
Enough whining/proselytizing/condemning. Where does it go from here?

William Casey

November 29th, 2011
10:02 am

Interesting essays. Took me back to 1955 when I entered first grade. Bless Ms. Yancey, a wonderful first grade teacher. Thanks for sharing this, Maureen. Now, into the solution.

Dekalbite@say what

November 29th, 2011
10:54 am

“If a person can account for every penny of the millions of Title I funds sent from the federal government to the state DOE to DCSS, then what is the issue”

That’s not the issue for taxpayers. The issue is student progress in Title 1 schools. DeKalb Title 1 schools consistently underperform – not just compared to DeKalb non-Title 1 schools – but compared to the Title 1 schools in EVERY other Atlanta metro system.

DeKalb Title 1 students are not less intelligent or less capable and their parents are not appreciably different than the students and parents of students in Title I schools in Rockdale, Marietta, Clayton, or Gwinnett. However, DeKalb Title 1 schools consistently underperform when compared to the students in those systems with almost identical demographics.

DeKalb receives around $100,000,000 a year in federal funding – $40,000,000+ of that is Title 1. However, most of that $100,000,000 is supposed to be targeted toward students in Title 1 schools. What has been our Return on Investment?

There are many ways to allocate Title 1 funds and federal funds in general that are perfectly legal. DeKalb needs to look at how the metro systems that are having the most success with Title 1 schools (e.g. Rockdale – 100% of their Title 1 schools made adequate yearly progress last year and Marietta City – 73% of their Title 1 schools made adequate yearly progress) are allocating their Title 1 funds. Go into the schools in these school systems. You will see a big difference in how Title 1 funding is spent and a big difference in the physical classrooms – not classrooms “on paper”.

It’s not simply a matter of crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s when you use $100,000,000 of tax dollars to improve student progress. You actually need to have more students making adequate yearly progress. Mareitta City and Rockdale are exemplary in this respect. They do not have superior Title 1 students. They do not have richer Title 1 students. They do not have better parents if students in their Title 1 schools. They just do a better job of funds allocation and setting policies, procedures and processes for Title 1 schools than DeKalb. This is not a teacher issue. Funds allocation and setting policies, procedures and processes is squarely on the shoulders of the upper management of DeKalb schools. Anyone who works in a classroom knows this is true.

Dawg Man on the Flint

November 29th, 2011
11:09 am





Why does EVERYONE not understand this?

Dekalbite@Dawg Man on the Flint

November 29th, 2011
11:24 am

IMHO – that’s too simplistic. You are right that schools with a disproportionate number of non-involved parents perform at a lower level than schools with involved parents. That has always been so and points to a societal problem versus an educational problem.

However, there are school systems that turn out a higher percentage of students who can read and compute than other school systems even as the demographics are almost identical – i.e. they basically have the same demographics with respect to students, parents and teachers, yet they have markedly better achievement. What is the difference? That’s the question we need to be asking.


November 29th, 2011
11:32 am

Interesting…there was no mention of the parental responsibilities sorely lacking today in public education. I find this cheating scandal inexcusable and the guilty individuals should be prosecuted in full and not paid to sit at home. That said, I know it is not PC but when are we going to address the other side of this equation and that is we have to many children having babies without a father in the picture. It is not uncommon to hear of young girls under the age of eighteen with multiple children.

As a taxpayer forking out twenty five grand a year, most of it on public education, I am getting very tired of being asked to pay for bad decisions by inept council members, administrators, teacher unions and teenage parents


November 29th, 2011
11:52 am

That is in property tax!


November 29th, 2011
11:56 am

We do need a solution, it is just a little difficult because one size fits all and cookie cutter mandates don’t work for most kids. Our population is more diverse than ever with a great divide in socioeconomic class.

All I know is if something isn’t done to change public education for the better, if public education is done away with because no one wants to deal with it and they think it’s cheaper, all those funds that once was for the Department of Education will end up at the Department of Corrections.


November 29th, 2011
12:05 pm

@CG ~ “when are we going to address the other side of this equation and that is we have to many children having babies without a father in the picture.”

Actually, the teen pregnancy rate is the lowest it’s been in two decades. In 2009, there was a 37 percent decrease from the teen birth rate in 1991. In 1991, 61.8 births per every 1,000 females was a teen pregnancy. The rate has now dropped to 39.1 births per 1,000 women. I am not saying teen pregnancy is a good thing, on the contrary I think it’s dangerous in many ways. However, what does that have to do with the state of public education today, especially if the rate is the lowest it’s been in two decades?


November 29th, 2011
12:24 pm

Teen pregnancy may have declined, but what has happened to the rate of unmarried mothers having children? Below is a good article from the CDC on the effect of this phenomenon on family structure:

Atlanta Mom

November 29th, 2011
12:24 pm

“When my son turned 4, I started looking to move out of the city and to a suburb where my own children would be surrounded by other students who were motivated to academically succeed. ”
Is Dr. Morgan saying that the students in her first school were not motivated to academically succeed? I’m curious because nothing she previously stated even remotely suggested that this was the case.


November 29th, 2011
12:31 pm

What is the teen pregnancy statistics in metro Atlanta and what is the number of multiple births by a single teen? Not as a percentage of an ever growing population. Reminds me of that old Mark Twain quote “There’s lies, damned lies and statistics”

Dr. John Trotter

November 29th, 2011
12:33 pm

I just finished reading what J. Tom Morgan and his mother, Dr. Morgan, offered up. Very interesting and quite reflective of my own background. J. Tom, I too graduated from high school in 1972. My sons and I enjoy Remember the Titans so much. We have two copies! T. C. Williams High of Alexandria, Virginia was indeed symbolic of other experiences in the South. (I do indeed realize that this story of Coach Boone and the T. C. Williams High School football squad was based on a true story.) My first two seasons of playing Varsity Basketball was on an all-white team. Of course, the black schools and the white schools (a couple of high schools were slightly integrated at the time) had been playing each other since the 1967-68 school year in Columbus. In fact, in quite a feat of accomplishment, I was the starting point guard on our all-white Jordan Red Jacket basketball team during my sophomore season when we defeated the very powerful all-black Spencer High Green Wave two times that season. We look back on this and ask, “How did this happen?” Spencer was so much more talented. My senior season, we were the recipients of Judge Wilbur Owens federal mandate as well.

We received many students from Spencer High and Carver High at Jordan High. Some of my friends were transferred to Spencer High and Carver High. Carver High had won the State Basketball Championship the year before in Georgia’s highest classification. We now had many basketball players from Spencer’s and Carver’s teams. In our opening game of the 1971-72 basketball season, our Jordan team opened the season against the Carver Tigers down at the old Municipal Auditorium. I was on the white boy on the court for the opening tip. Nine brothers and me. (Sound like a title for a book, heh?) That year we upset Coach Don Richardson’s powerful Southwest Macon High. I hear that he still talks about that Jordan upset victory over his team made up of NBA star Norm Nixon and Miles Patrick (Auburn signee) and Lewis (Bubba) Linder. Just four years later, this same Southwest Macon High’s basketball team was ranked the number one basketball team in the nation (with UGA’s Terry Fair, Mississippi State’s Jeff Malone, and Furman’s Michael Hunt, just to name a few). We went on to do well in the State Tournament, having the Savannah High Blue Jackets down by eight with three and one-half minutes left on the clock. But, the Blue Jackets pulled out a victory over Red Jackets and went on to win the State Championship in the highest classification.

I remember Jordan playing the Dougherty County (I assume that J. Tom Morgan was transferred from this high school to AHS) and the Albany Indians in years gone past. My father was also a principal, after having taught and coached in Columbus for many years. In fact, in 1950, he was offered a principal’s job in Columbus at 25 years of age, mainly, I believe, because he had a Master’s degree and hardly a soul had a Master’s degree in Columbus back then. (He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Auburn in 1948 and a Master’s degree from Peabody – now part of Vanderbilt – in 1949, thanks to the G. I. Bill!) He wisely turned down this offer and continued to teach and coach for nine more years before becoming the Assistant Principal at Jordan High in 1959. Jordan was a solid middle class school, but virtually all kids who lived in the projects, trailer parks, or other low income areas matriculated at Jordan. Virtually none of these students attended school at Columbus High School or Hardaway High School which, like Jordan, were located on the north side of town.

Socio-economic status does indeed correlate with standardized test scores, and I have been saying this for years. It is a fact that is indisputable. Therefore, for a superintendent or other administrators to beat the drums of “No Excuses” is asinine. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. Jordan, for example, had the smartest kid in the city back in the day. He perhaps aced the old SAT. He wanted to attend Jordan because it offered an Electronics class back in the 1960s. He graduated in 1965 and went on to graduate from Stanford University and is still a whiz in electronics in the Silicon Valley. But, as a general rule, kids who come from families with parents who are professional themselves are highly motivated to learn. Kids who come from broken homes where the dad hardly ever shows up and where the biggest concern each day is putting food on the table are not as highly motivated to learn.

I have said for years that the motivation to learn is a cultural phenomenon or social process. I am not the first person articulate this thought. When I first heard one of my professors, Dr. Eugene Boyce, articulate this thought thirty years ago at UGA, I knew then that he was onto something because it simply and eloquently articulated what I had been observing for years.

I think that this piece written by Dr. Morgan only re-confirms this same message: The motivation to learn is a social process. To hold teachers responsible for those factors which teachers can’t control (income level of the family, whether the kids come from two-parent homes, whether there are abusive and dysfunctional adults in the home, etc.) is just plain S-T-U-P-I-D, as I pointed out in a post a couple of days ago (and I may attach it with this post) and as Dr. Morgan pointed out on this thread.

NOTE: The post below was on a thread a couple of days ago but seems even more appropriate here.

Through the years, I have written many articles about why any form of merit pay to judge a public school teacher’s performance and adjudicate his or her pay relative to a student’s performance on a standardized test is a concept flawed beyond repair. American public schools have to deal with all children…of all kinds of backgrounds. Some children come to school with absolutely no motivation to learn. Some children come to school very eager to learn. Some kids have almost a blank slate when it comes to cognitive preparation; however, some kids have been cognitively nurtured from the beginning of their lives and can read and write before they enter kindergarten.

Would you judge a dentist as being unworthy of certain pay because his patients all come to him with rotten teeth? What if his patients refuse to exercise dental hygiene at home or even refuse to listen to his at his office? What if the young patients tell him or her: “My momma says that I don’t have to listen to you or do what you say about my teeth!”? What if these rotten-teeth patients still refuse to brush their teeth, floss their teeth, or rinse with mouthwash? What if this dentist has a twin sister who is a dentist on a very prominent side of town where all of her young patients come to her dental office with pearly white teeth which obviously have been the objects of much care? What if both twin dentists attended the same dental school and made the same grades, finishing summa cum laude of their dental school? The only difference was that one of the dentists decided to practice in a rough area where dental hygiene is way down on the list of their survival skills. His or her patients come to the office because a social worker brings them; they would never come of their own volition. They are forced to come. They have never bought into the system of dental hygiene.

So, in the State’s foolhardy attempt to upgrade the dental health of the entire State, the dentist working with the rotten-teeth youngsters who have no motivation to clean their teeth and to care for them will be judged much more harshly than his or her twin sister who works with youngsters who come to her office highly motivated to maintain the beauty of their pearly white teeth, even though the first dentist works 20 hours per week longer than the latter dentist. What do we call this? S-T-U-P-I-D. Not looking at the mitigating circumstances of each peculiar and unique situation is a call for disaster. The State ought to tell Arne Duncan, the U. S. Secretary of Education who has never been a teacher and knows nothing about public education, to stick Race To The Top where the sun doesn’t shine. In fact, the State of Georgia ought to jettison all of the Federal funding which invariably comes with strings attached so that our State’s teachers could then be freed up to get on with the joy of teaching. When the joy is taken out teaching, then disaster is on its way. We need to restore the joy of teaching. As we always say at MACE, you cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions.

I have written a number of articles on merit pay through the years, most of which can be found on these two sites:



Dr. John Trotter

November 29th, 2011
12:35 pm

Maureen: I just submitted a post, in response to the insightful articles from J. Tom Morgan and his mother, Dr. Morgan. I am sure that Mr. Filter jumped on my post because of the length. Please release it. Thanks.


November 29th, 2011
1:02 pm

@GG ~ “Reminds me of that old Mark Twain quote “There’s lies, damned lies and statistics””

Well, isn’t that what standardized testing results are?? Statistics right? Remember, you cannot only use statistics or lies however you look at them, to benefit your viewpoint only. Statistics can be lies, but can also be proof as long as they can be experimentally assessed.


November 29th, 2011
1:14 pm

@Dekalbbite ~ I wasn’t arguing what unmarried women having children’s impact is on the family structure. I was simply asking GG what teenage pregnancy had to do with the current state of public education.

However, I would like to address your link. Even though the rate of unmarried women having children has increased, per the study itself, “The United States is not unique, nor does it outpace other countries, in nonmarital childbearing.”, yet in 2008, America’s graduation rate was 21st out of 27 industrialized countries. The problem cannot just lie in unmarried mothers, teen mother’s and single mothers. Even when people marry they can divorce and just because a woman isn’t married when she has the child doesn’t mean that the father isn’t involved as your linked study proved “: According to the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), about 40% of recent nonmarital births were to cohabiting women”. Furthermore, the study was simply statistics and didn’t really address “the effect of this phenomenon on family structure” nor it’s effect on public education.


November 29th, 2011
2:17 pm

“Furthermore, the study was simply statistics and didn’t really address “the effect of this phenomenon on family structure” nor it’s effect on public education.”

Here is a quote from the article:
“Despite the currently older age profile of unmarried mothers, concerns remain because their infants are at greater risk of low birthweight, preterm birth, and dying in infancy, and are more likely to live in poverty than babies born to married women (3,4,6).”

I thought the crux of Dr. Morgan’s article was the difficulty of increasing achievement in economically disadvantaged children – children in poverty.


November 29th, 2011
3:04 pm

@Dekalbite ~ I understand your thought process and the point you are trying to make. But there are so many other factors that go into it. The study does not specifically state how many children of unmarried mothers end up in poverty it just says it increases their risk. People who drive over 10 miles to work everyday have an increased risk of having an accident, but how many are in them daily? Also, only 23% of nonmarital births in 2007 were to teenage mothers, and of all nomarital births reported, 40% of them live with their partner (possibly the child’s father).

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that a nurturing family unit is important to any child, whether the parents are married or not. Both the mother and father should be involved and be concerned for the welfare of that child. I just think there are more causes than that of unmarried mothers as it relates to the current state of public education.

Just A Teacher

November 29th, 2011
3:45 pm

I hate to disagree with the authors here, but I believe that academic success has less to do with finances than it does with parental (and self) motivation. Even a very impoverished person can and should strive to learn all that he or she can over the course of a lifetime. My family was far from wealthy, and I began earning money to help out with family finances when i was 12 years old by cutting grass, shoveling manure and loading hay bales at neighboring farms. Yet I somehow managed to make decent grades and have since gone on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. My parents were insistent that we (my siblings and I) complete our homework and give our maximum effort to master the curriculum put before us. I try to inspire my students to do the same, but, unfortunately, I am not always successful. In most cases, when I am having difficulty reaching a student, I need only contact the child’s parents to understand why. More often than not, the parents have little respect for education, and, as the old adage states, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I don’t care if you are poor as a church mouse or as wealthy as a Rockefeller; if you don’t teach your children the value of an education during the 18 years that they reside with you, it is highly unlikely that I, as a high school teacher, can accomplish that task while I see him / her for one hour per day for 18 weeks. Don’t worry about whether your child dislikes you right this minute for making him do his homework. Have some backbone, make him do it, and he will love you for the rest of his life. An earlier poster had it right; it all starts at home!

Just watching

November 29th, 2011
5:01 pm

I have NO interest in seeing the school day extended for all children. As an option for those needing more instruction, maybe. As the only time that students would have instruction in the arts and music, absolutely not! Public schooling already takes enough time from our lives, thank you very much.

I will concede that research is beginning to show benefit of an extended school day for economically disadvantaged students. But pushing more “education” on all students b/c some need it is not going to help in the long run.

Dekalbite@Just a teacher

November 29th, 2011
6:06 pm

Poverty does not always mean you will get a poor education, but statistically speaking, the lowest performing schools are those with the greatest poverty rate. It doesn’t matter if it’s urban or rural poverty. Look at the low performing schools and then look at their poverty rate. There is an overwhelming correlation. That’s why social scientists have looked to poverty as causal factor in low student achievement.

Even with involved parents students are often below grade level in low income schools, especially in math. There is a reason parents in low income area schools scramble to find alternate choices for their students. You don’t see that happening to a great extent in affluent schools. Poverty is the key risk factor for low achievement. That’s what Title 1 has always been about. Has Title 1 erased the difference in low income and middle to high income schools? If not, why not? That’s a good question for national debate. Continuing to get federal funding for low income students is what is has driven the entire NCLB movement. School systems have only been required to participate if they take the federal funds – and those federal funds are NOT for middle and high income students.

Does poverty mean you don’t have involved parents? Well, it means you have less involved parents. Everything is more difficult if you’re poor – from lack of transportation – to work that you cannot miss for parent conferences – to living in unsafe housing – to loading up on cheap foods filled with fat and carbohydrates – to lack of quality prenatal, medical and dental care and so on.

We are more stratified in income level in the US than we have been since the 1920s, and more and more middle class people are falling into poverty. Of course, employment (or lack thereof) is an enormous factor in this mix.

Simply blaming parents will not fix anything. Simply throwing money at the problem will not fix iit either. Much of the money never makes it to the classroom, particularly in low income systems like DeKalb and APS. These are extremely complex issues we as a society are dealing with, and many of the issues are economic and social in nature, not educational. The world the US is living in has changed while so many of our institutions (economic, educational, governmental, and religious) have not.


November 29th, 2011
6:51 pm


“This school included the most socioeconomically disadvantaged white children in the district….. Although the children were disadvantaged, discipline was not really a problem.”

Even the poorest of the poor white children were better behaved than the “urban” schools of today, where 93% of school arrests in New York are black/hispanic.


“Having educated both boys and girls, I also knew there was usually a striking difference in fine motor skills and attention spans between the sexes when they are young children.”

Interesting that not a single blogger questions this statement and most accept it as matter of fact. Substitute “boys and girls” with “black and white” and watch the politically correct pathogen fall over themselve crying racism – even though there is a ton of empirical and ancecdotal evidence to substantiate that claim.

“Judge Wilbur Owens, decided he would implement his own program to reduce the educational achievement disparity between black and white students. Judge Owens redrew attendance lines. …. The premise at the time was that busing white upper middle-class students to previously all black schools, and busing lower socioeconomic black students to previously all white schools, would correct educational gaps.”

How’d that work out for you?

“Over the course of a generation, white parents ultimately decided to send their kids to private schools or to move one county north and avoid the busing mandate. Dougherty went from 70/30 percent white to black when I started teaching to 87/13 black to white as it is today.”

Shame that American citizens have to give up their homes because of some mis-guided, politically correct judge makes a poor decision.


November 29th, 2011
6:56 pm

Dr. John Trotter
November 29th, 2011 12:35 pm
Maureen: I am sure that Mr. Filter jumped on my post because of the length

Ya think? Brevity is your friend. Try it sometime and maybe we can make it through one of your incoherent, narcistic ramblings without falling asleep.

Follow-up to Lee

November 29th, 2011
7:07 pm

Dr. John Trotter: Also, no need to cut-and-paste previous long posts. We get it.

The bio. not needed either.


November 29th, 2011
7:47 pm

I teach in a Title 1 school in Dekalb Cty. We made AYP for 10 years straight. We have not made it for the past 2 years…our English 2nd lang. population has increased dramatically which had a direct impact on our scores. Title 1 funds used to help teachers purchase educational tools for their classrooms. It also helped pay for training for teachers. This was when our principal allowed the classroom teachers to choose the tools he or she felt they needed for their rooms. Now the principal keeps all our Title 1 money and I am not sure where it goes. We have not had new supplies for quite some time. I go to the thrift store regularly to buy shoes, coats, sweaters, and socks for my kids. They need them, I buy them. We do not have a strong PTA, usually the teachers out number the parents. I often ask my 1st graders if their parents help them with their homework and usually I am told no. Why? Well many of my parents cannot speak English or read English. Many of my parents work 2 jobs, or work the late shift so they do not see their children. Some of my parents just don’t give a darn or so it seems. Do these children want to learn, most of them do. Learning is hard when no one cares at home, learning is hard when your siblings that you share a room with keep the TV on all night, learning is hard when you can’t see but no one takes you to get glasses. Some of these kids do not even sleep in beds, they make pallets where ever they can find a spot in the house. Do not tell me I do not know how to teach 2+2, do not tell me we do not need extended school days, do not tell me I am ineffective. Put on my shoes, or the shoes of my students and walk a short walk down the hall,then let me know what you think.


November 29th, 2011
7:49 pm

I agree with most of this piece, but definitely not with the mandatory pre-K idea. I chose to keep my children at home with me before they entered kindergarten. I spent hours each day helping them learn to read, write, and do math. I guarantee I was a much better teacher to my son and two daughters than a teacher of 20+ students would have been. Parents should always have the option of keeping their children at home at those young ages. And yes, there is always the option of home schooling at any age, but at those young ages, a parent should not have to jump through the hoops required to be considered a home school.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Eddie G

November 29th, 2011
10:03 pm

“Over the course of a generation, white parents ultimately decided to send their kids to private schools or to move one county north and avoid the busing mandate.”
Deerfield-Windsor and Lee County thank you for the business.