Archive for December, 2011

FAMU aftermath: DeKalb suspends all high school marching band activities

I have been talking to experts on hazing in the wake of the FAMU scandal, and one shared conclusion is that college hazing rituals have spread to high schools.

DeKalb County Schools apparently is concerned about that possibility,  announcing today that the district is  suspending all marching band activities pending an investigation of “possible inappropriate activities” among  band members, alumni advisers, band directors and others.

Hazing has dominated the headlines because of the death last month of FAMU drum major Robert Champion. Metro Atlanta sends a lot of students to FAMU, so the death has been felt here, no where more acutely than Southwest DeKalb High school from which Champion graduated.

According to the AJC story:

System spokesman Walter Woods said officials started asking questions at Southwest DeKalb High School because of connections to alleged hazing incidents at FAMU. Robert Champion, the FAMU band member who died, and another member, Bria Shante …

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Charter schools: Is financial mismanagement the issue to watch?

Charter schools are not faring well in the national press where there have been a series of articles about financial mismanagement, including a searing three-part series this week in the Miami Herald.

We are seeing some of the same problems arising in Georgia that the Herald cites in its series. For example, the entry of for-profit management companies into the charter school market has dramatically increased the number of charter schools, but it has also led to the natural tension that results when profits become a driving force in school decisions and motivations. In fact, New York, New Mexico and Tennessee ban for-profit companies from managing charter schools.

According to the Herald series, which is worth reading:

But while charter schools have grown into a $400-million-a-year business in South Florida, receiving about $6,000 in taxpayer dollars for every student enrolled, they continue to operate with little public oversight. Even when charter schools have been …

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Gov. Deal to unveil need-based aid plan, but it won’t help current students in college

You can’t say Nathan Deal doesn’t listen to his critics.

Apparently stung by all the laments from cash-strapped families affected by the reductions to the HOPE program, the governor has a new idea, but it will take years to culminate. The program would use private funds to provide need-based college aid to worthy and qualified students identified in middle school.

I wasn’t sure exactly what the program entailed so I asked the reporter, higher ed writer Laura Diamond, to explain a bit more: “It will be something that will happen for current middle school students once they get to college. The idea is students will be identified in middle school and then — provided they maintain decent grades and stay out of trouble–  they’ll get college scholarships.”

Laura said she had more questions but the governor’s rep, Erin Hames, declined to elaborate until the official news release next month. The biggest question is the source of enough private funding to power a statewide program …

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Help parents out. What do teachers really want for holiday gifts?

A parent sent me an e-mail asking what are the ideal gifts for teachers. She said teachers always tell her personal notes or letters from the student, but the parent asked, “If you want to spend some money, what should it be spent on? What would teachers really like this year?”

Pals who are teachers have told me they like books for their classrooms, gift cards and restaurant certificates. What they  don’t want are any more mugs.

Any other ideas?

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

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APS parents challenge redistricting. Let the changes begin.

APS parents spoke out about the proposed redistrictings at a public board meeting last night. It is interesting to note how much of the parent reaction in Atlanta replicates the response in DeKalb, where protesting parents caused a dramatic scale-down of the proposed closures and redistricting there.

I would assume that the APS scenarios will be modified accordingly, although Atlanta, like every other district in the country facing demographic shifts, has to address growth patterns and overcrowding.

One argument likely to resonate with the Atlanta board is that school communities are still reeling from the CRCT cheating mess and can’t withstand another blow. As this account shows, some parents are making that argument, and I think it’s a valid one. The management of Atlanta Public Schools is, in effect, rebuilding its reputation and restoring customer confidence, and has to be mindful of that in redistricting.

I have been reporting on schools long enough to know that there is …

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Teacher quality: State pinning its hopes on better evaluations

A reader says a good college provides more than a good education. It upgrades your life and your social circle. (Dean Rohrer art)

On Sunday, the AJC ran another installment in its ongoing teacher quality series.

(The AJC is making this occasional series on teacher quality available only to subscribers. You can read the full article by picking up a copy of Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution or logging on to the paper’s iPad app. Here is a link to the AJC digital options, including an E-subscription, which gives you the actual paper online.)

This latest installment by AJC ed writer Jaime Sarrio focused on a new evaluation approach under way in City Schools of Decatur that relies heavily on teacher observations and measuring academic progress.  The story notes that Decatur’s own testing shows students are learning more in one year than they did in 2009 when the first real changes to evaluations were introduced. SAT scores are rising. And there has been an increase in the number of teachers who were not rehired after their contracts expired.

In its ongoing teacher quality series, The …

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Are we setting students on a path to careers that may not even exist in 20 years?

I have never understood the focus on “career paths” in middle and high school as I don’t think a 14-year-old is ready to pick a career.

Often, when middle and high schools offer specific career training, they lag behind the industry because they can’t keep up with the rapid changes from afar. Nor can schools afford the new technology so they are sometimes teaching kids with yesterday’s standards, equipment and practices.

The ideal career path models place high schoolers in internships and apprenticeships in the actual industries where they see what current practices are and where the technology is up-to-date. That makes sense and is happening in some places in Georgia.

Speaking of up-to-date, I was talking to a Georgia Tech professor who suggested that computer coding become a standard course starting in elementary school. He said everyone will have to deal with coding in their jobs, so computer languages should be regarded as a basic skill set that every child should …

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I disagree with APS board member. Redistrictings are not always in “best interest of the children.”

As we have been reporting on the blog, Atlanta is in the midst of a redistricting that may wrest some kids from strong schools and reassign them to weaker ones.

An AJC.com news story on the issue today features this quote: Atlanta school board Chairwoman Brenda Muhammad said the district wants feedback and hopes parents understand the plans will likely change once input is compiled. “We encourage responses and recommendations,” she said. “I am hopeful parents will understand at the end of the day, the final decision has been made on fairness and what is in the best interest of children.”

While I respect Ms. Muhammad, I have to disagree with her. Redistricting occurs because of financial and administrative needs, not academic needs. Decisions to redraw lines and close schools may be fair and in the best interest of the district’s financial bottom line but the decisions are not in the best interest of every individual child. There will be kids who lose out on a better …

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Sunday AJC: A debate on guns on campuses and the hazing culture at FAMU. Take a look.

The Sunday AJC revisits two education-related topics that have inspired a lot of comments here on the blog this week; There is an excellent piece on the culture of hazing at Florida A&M University. (See earlier blog on FAMU.)

And there is a good piece on guns on campus. (See earlier blog on Tech and guns.)

Today’s guns on campus AJC piece features a pro/con on the issue.

Speaking for the pro is Jason Shepherd, 36,  general counsel, Young Republican National Federation, and former political aide to Newt Gingrich.

From the story:

The way Jason Shepherd sees it, college students are easy marks for criminals. They carry cash, laptops, iPods, expensive smartphones. And they are unarmed. “It sends an open message to the criminal element of Atlanta: Come. Here are easy pickings,” he said. “If you go onto a college campus, with the exception of campus police, you are going to be looking at a completely unarmed and helpless group of people.

“I think it’s an issue both …

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Why not let bright students take GED at 15 or 16 and then take college courses? Everybody wins and it costs less.

A reader sent me this note suggesting that the GED should be used to leapfrog high achieving kids into college-level courses. I thought the ideas were worth sharing.

Here is the reader note:

Consider some facts. First, community colleges and vocational schools (both of whom offer A.A. and A.S. degrees in Georgia) only require a GED for admission. Second, a significant percentage of college-bound high school students are capable of passing the GED by end of their junior year. Not a few are able to pass it by the end of their sophomore year. (Some by the end of their freshman year.) Yet many of these students spend their last year or two in high school taking AP courses and extraneous electives.

Why not open high schools – either charter schools or magnet schools – where the GED is the entrance examination?

You pass the GED, and you’re in. You can then spend your remaining 1, 2, 3 or even 4 years as a public school student working toward an A.A. or an A.S. degree (in general …

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