Archive for January, 2012

Clearing the smoke in the Smoke Rise Elementary dispute over parent-raised funds for new playground

A parent sent me this photo of a 1999 fund raiser by the Smoke Rise Elementary foundation for new playground equipment. (Special)

A parent sent me this photo of a 2009 casino night and silent auction held by the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation to raise money for new playground equipment. (Special)

On Tuesday, I received a note from Smoke Rise Charter Elementary School parents in DeKalb about what they deemed an unsavory and unfair effort to convert funds raised for a playground by a parent foundation to another use. I asked DeKalb spokesman Walter Woods about it that morning and just received his reply.

So, here are both the notes.

First, the note from members of the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation:

Last night the Smoke Rise Charter Elementary School Principal and Governance Council called a special meeting and demanded that the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation, a separate fundraising entity, provide them unlimited access to nearly $45,000 in funds previously raised by parents and the community over the last 3 years for the specific purpose of replacing the current dangerous playground equipment. …

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Is the secret to Finnish schools Finns or is there something for America to learn?

I am on my way to the General Assembly for the morning rally for school choice and the late afternoon hearing on HOPE.

Going to the Legislature is always a bit depressing because so many legislators focus on a single “fix” for schools. Of late, the fix of the day at the Legislature has been school choice, mostly through expanding charter school options but also through providing vouchers.

What always surprises me about the education reform debate in the General Assembly is that it never looks outward at what is succeeding elsewhere. It fixates on a few magic bullets rather than on a cohesive and comprehensive reform approach.

When shown successful school reform models elsewhere in the world, politicians and educators alike often scoff that there are no lessons for America.

So, in mentioning the remarkable ascent of Finnish schools from historic mediocrity to world dominance, I expect to be told that Finland’s schools are full of focused Finns, and the U.S. can never hope to …

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Bill introduced today to raise Georgia dropout age to 17

Speaking of the president’s call last night to keep students in school until age 18:  A bill will be introduced today in the Georgia General Assembly to raise Georgia’s legal threshold to quit high school from age 16 to 17.

There have been failed efforts in the past to raise the age under the argument that a 16-year-old is not mature enough to make the decision to leave high school. But the bills never went anywhere.

Nationwide, 16 remains the most common age to legally drop out, but 15 states  and the District of Columbia require students to stay in school until age 18; nine states require compulsory schooling until age 17.

From State Rep. Rashad Taylor:

Today, State Rep.  Rashad Taylor, D-Atlanta, will reintroduce the Dropout Deterrent Act which raises the compulsory attendance age in Georgia to 17. Rep. Taylor reintroduces his legislation following a charge from President Barack Obama for states to raise their compulsory attendance age.

“We must send a message to our …

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President Obama: Require teens stay in school until they are 18

President Obama talked a lot about education Tuesday night. (AJC)

President Obama talked a lot about education Tuesday night. (AJC)

President Obama devoted a sizable slice of his State of the Union speech tonight to schools and education.

Here are the relevant passages:

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies— just to make a difference.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: …

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Proposed HOPE changes: Income cap of $140,000 on eligible families, eliminate SAT for full HOPE

Efforts are under way by Democratic legislators to tweak the beleaguered HOPE Scholarship again this year, including a proposal to restore an income cap on students eligible for the merit-based aid.

HOPE began with an income cap, but it was abandoned over time, and there will be great resistance to restoring it, even if the cap is as high as $140,000. (It will be noted in debate that such a high income cap will mean that most of the state’s students will qualify.)

The AJC has a news story on the proposed changes. (If you are around today, the state House and Senate higher education committees scheduled a joint meeting at 3 p.m. to discuss HOPE and the impact of last year’s reform. Come early as it will be packed.)

Here are the bills:

Senate Bill 336 would reinstate a cap on family income for students to be eligible for HOPE, starting at $140,000 per family. A cap existed when the program began, but was quickly lifted after the lottery proved financially successful.

Senate …

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Choice advocate: Money won’t fix Georgia schools. An end to government interference and control will.

Money won't fix schools. Freedom from government control will, says a Georgia attorney and choice advcate.

Money won't fix schools. Freedom from government control will, says a Georgia attorney and choice advcate.

Atlanta attorney and school choice activist Glenn Delk says the solution to Georgia’s education problems is not more money.

Instead,  Delk writes:

Georgians are once again being inundated with calls from members of the government education blob, school board members, superintendents, teachers’ unions, etc. to demand that Gov. Nathan Deal, state senators and representatives eliminate the so-called “austerity cuts” and spend more money on our k-12 system.

On this blog, former Atlanta School Board member and unsuccessful candidate for state school superintendent Joe Martin, wrote, “The state is systematically starving our schools – and jeopardizing our future – under the pretense that it doesn’t have the needed funds, while the wave of tax exemptions and cuts never ceases.”

I wonder if Mr. Martin would admit that our public schools are not on a starvation diet, if he knew …

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Porn on school board member’s computer. Why is it always Clayton?

As an AJC editorial writer for 12 years, I spent a lot of time writing about the problems of Clayton schools and its dysfunctional school board. So, it saddens me to read accounts of continued problems with the adults running the system, which has many dedicated teachers and committed students.  (I saw them at the many public hearings and rallies that were held during the loss-of-accreditation days.)

Clayton also has some of the weirdest stuff — stuff that takes away from the core mission of education and makes me wonder about the caliber of its school board. And this is an example.

Board member Trinia Garrett was accused of  downloading 400 pornographic pictures to her district-issued laptop. There was a hearing Monday on whether Garrett’s actions constituted an ethics violation, but the 5-2 vote was not sufficient to sustain a violation.

Garrett contends that she did not download the porn and that the computer was out of her hands at times being fixed, but an audit could …

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Budget review: State’s disinvestment in education undermined economic health of state

The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute reviewed Gov. Deal’s  2013 budget and also did an analysis of the pre-k-12 and higher education budgets.

Here is a brief summation from the institute:

  • Contains $930 million in additional funds; however, the budget is nearly $2 billion less than the pre-recession budget of FY 2009. Most of the increased spending keeps the Medicaid budget whole ($244 million), pays for increased number of students in K-12, Board of Regents, and Technical College System ($188 million), and makes the required payments into the Teachers and State Employee Retirement Systems ($146 million).
  • Faces a projected $320-million deficit in FY 2014.
  • Fully funds student growth within the Department of Education (K-12); however, the budget does not begin to restore the more than $1 billion (12.5 percent) in cuts to K-12 education in recent years.
  • Partially funds student growth within the Board of Regents, cutting funding by an additional $35 million. The Board …
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    Planned merger of eight campuses: Where is promised transparency?

    The University System of Georgia’s planned consolidation of eight public campuses into four has sparked some concerns in the affected communities. Here are those of state Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross.

    By Mark Hatfield

    “We discussed a number of options. We had a number of ideas that were suggested to us. We had ideas come from several of you, we had ideas from legislators, we had ideas bubble up from the communities. We had ideas that came from other sources, and we took all of those and talked about them because we felt like it was important to take anybody’s idea and think about it and look at it.”

    These words from Dr. Steve Wrigley, Executive Vice Chancellor of Administration for the University System of Georgia, made at the Jan. 10 Board of Regents’ meeting during which a proposal was unanimously approved to merge eight different public colleges around the state, would initially suggest that the merger decision was reached through much openness, transparency, …

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    A teen headed down a dead-end path. A teacher who rerouted him.

    New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has an inspiring column today about the power of teachers to change lives.

    He writes about Olly Neal, a poor kid with such a bad attitude that he pushed his teacher Mildred Grady to tears. One of 13 kids growing up in a house with no electricity, Neal attended a segregated Arkansas school and was considered a problem student.

    But in his senior year, Neal stole a book from the high school library, and it changed everything. He eventually became Judge Neal. His inspiring story was featured on NPR’s StoryCorps in 2009, and you can hear Neal tell his own version here. In that oral history, Neal also credits a second educator, Mrs. Saunders, as a co-conspirator with Mrs. Grady in his redemption.

    Kristof writes about Neal today:  (This is a small excerpt. Please read the full piece. It is worth your time.)

    Neal wasn’t a reader, but he spotted a book with a risqué cover of a sexy woman. Called “The Treasure of Pleasant Valley,” it was by …

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