Great Georgia teachers: Beyond the test scores

In an effort to highlight educational success stories — which people tell me they want — I am sharing a piece by Peter Smagorinsky, a UGA education professor. Smagorinsky hopes to profile great teachers here on the blog now and then. I invite others to contribute essays about remarkable teachers. Send them to me.

By Peter Smagorinsky

Teachers sure are taking a beating these days. Not all teachers, however. If you’re in a private school or charter school, you must be pretty danged good. No, it’s just the teachers with the hardest jobs who get the abuse heaped on them, day after day, by the great and small, named and anonymous: those in regular old public schools.

Teachers are subjected to increasingly urgent calls for accountability, no doubt because those high salaries and other cushy benefits need to be justified in the most rigorous, reliable, and valid of ways. No, make that way, not ways: The only measure of successful teaching these days is their students’ test scores. Everything that teachers do on behalf of kids can easily be boiled down to those scores, regardless of whether or not those kids have fridge full of healthy food or a clean change of clothes at home; or for that matter, a home at all.

Or, maybe teachers can be appreciated for other things that they do. In this series of columns, I’d like to feature teachers I know of who do extraordinary work, often with kids whose life circumstances do not predict college attendance or other arenas where test scores matter to them enough to do their best. What I hope to accomplish is to provide profiles of outstanding teachers without referring to their ability to train students to fill in bubbles on machine-scored answer sheets.

Today I’ll talk about a guy I really like and admire, David Ragsdale of Clarke Central High School in Athens. I first met David when he was working on his master’s degree at UGA and took some classes with me. I was always pleased to find him in my classes because of the ripple effect he had on other students. It’s pretty hard to be in a class with someone of boundless inquisitiveness and vigor, and not get caught up in the momentum yourself. He set a high standard for engagement and participation that inevitably gave the classes vitality and purpose—certainly for me as a teacher, and I believe also for the other students in the class, many of whom, like David, were coming to campus after a demanding and often exhausting day of teaching their own classes in Georgia schools.

David has taken a special interest throughout his teaching and education in the quality of learning experienced by students from low socioeconomic status groups. There are many such students in Athens, which is one of the nation’s poorest counties. David has made the academic success of such young people his mission in life. In a community in which the public schools experience unfortunately high dropout rates, David’s ability to find ways to teach students in meaningful ways is critically important in helping the district meet its goal of serving a broad and diverse population. With his unbridled passion for social justice, David has emerged as the sort of teacher that semi-urban districts such as Athens-Clarke County so desperately need.

At UGA, David was among the founding Fellows in the Red Clay Writing Project, a select group of teachers from North Georgia whose experiences laid the groundwork for the RCWP institutes that followed. RCWP is an affiliate of the National Writing Project, often described as the most important professional development program available to teachers interested in writing instruction.

David quickly took a leadership role in the RCWP, based on the strong impression he made on his university and k-12 colleagues, returning each summer as an institute leader. He is also a valuable recruiter for the RCWP, visiting summer classes to explain to other graduate students the advantages of participation and the processes experienced during the institute. With his tremendous interpersonal skills and infectious enthusiasm, along with his expertise as a teacher of writing, he often impresses a number of students into applying for Fellowships the following summer.

Locally, David has also become a key part of the UGA undergraduate program in English education as a mentor teacher. David’s gifts as a teacher and mentor are well-known throughout the local teaching community; we often hear students in our master’s degree classes refer to him as an exceptional and model instructor. His generous and caring mentorship is most appreciated by our teacher candidates, who are often fragile and require sensitive handling in order to weather the vicissitudes of school life. It’s well known that many teachers leave the profession within their first few years of teaching. Having strong mentorship during student teaching helps early-career teachers develop the resilience that they need to remain in the classroom in spite of the obstacles. David therefore plays a key role in both the careers of teacher candidates, and ultimately in the administration of schools that are able to hire teachers whose abilities and dispositions enable them to thrive as educators.

I have saved his most remarkable achievement for last. David has had astounding success as the faculty adviser to Clarke Central High School’s news magazine, Odyssey, and its literary magazine, Iliad. He has not merely advised these publications, however; he is the founder of both. Amazingly, before David came along, CCHS had allowed its only literary magazine to fall into dormancy, and had never before published a news magazine.

David saw the need for students to take pride in and have outlets for their writing, and so revived the Iliad and launched the Odyssey. Taking this initiative in a school in which student writing was so little appreciated reveals much about David’s spirited optimism and faith in his students in a setting in which many have simply given up on students’ prospects for achievement. Serving as advisor to one or the other of these publications would be an onerous amount of work; founding and advising both while pursuing graduate studies and being a key player in the RCWP is simply remarkable.

Each of these magazines has, under David’s dynamic leadership, risen to national prominence in very short order. The number of awards that these journals annually receive is far too long to list here, but if you’re interested in what Clarke Central students have achieved under his guidance, look here, or here, or here, or here, or in many other places. Or better yet, send him a contribution, because he’s done all this for the most part without a budget, relying instead on the generosity of regular folks to pony up the occasional sawbuck to keep the operation rolling. David has always modestly deferred credit to his student editors, but without a faculty adviser of considerable talent and dedication, students could not prosper in these roles. The remarkable series of accolades that his students’ magazines have accumulated can only be the work of a professional of magnificent devotion and ability, especially given the absence of a tradition of student publications in his school.

What are his students’ test scores? I have no idea, and I don’t care. They cannot begin to take the measure of the man or what he’s done for kids in Athens/Clarke County. David is a great teacher because he does so much more than teach. He works as hard as anyone I know, even spending his summers teaching in the Governor’s Honors Program in Valdosta. David is smart, dynamic, boundlessly determined, and a great asset to every institution he becomes a part of. We need more like him; I can only hope that the current toxic environment that surrounds our public schools does not run off those of similar gifts who might some day join him in the classroom.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.

The AJC is looking for engaged voters with opinions about political issues. The AJC is building a contact list of voters to interview for future political stories leading into the November elections. If you are willing to talk with a reporter on the record about your views on state and federal races, please complete a short questionnaire and we will follow up with you.

152 comments Add your comment


July 14th, 2012
7:17 am


Good Mother

July 14th, 2012
7:50 am

To say that private and charter teachers are not as good as public school teachers and to issue sarcasm in the very first line of this “piece” of writing is to throw all credibility aside and turn off the reader.
This writer isn’t worth reading.
We need authors on this blog to take their roles as writers seriously and not throw up inflammatory, angry, one-sided rants.

South Georgia Retired Educator

July 14th, 2012
8:01 am

Thanks for a candid and refreshing view of outstanding public school teachers. Today, when public schools are so unfairly criticized by many political leaders, we need to highlight teachers who toil to bring out the best in kids. Teaching is a tough job with low pay (no state raise for the past five years), and benefits continue to be cut, but the dedicated ones like David Ragsdale keep their heads up and continue to give their best. Shame on our legislators and Governor for not supporting the institution that shapes the future of our state. These politicians are throwing away the best chance we have to make Georgia great again.

Bertis Downs

July 14th, 2012
8:08 am

What a wonderful write-up both in general on celebrating our “regular old public schools’”successes, which are many and often overlooked, and specifically for highlighting this teacher and outstanding individual David Ragsdale– all I can add is that my own experiences with David have been similarly inspiring. I didn’t know all the earlier life stuff you filled in– but it is not surprising. He is known widely for his stellar work with the Odyssey and The Iliad year after year, but his other attributes are equally or more important in the scheme of things. David has also been honored by the Foundation for Excellence for Public Education in Clarke County, a vital and much-needed organization these day– it identifies and rewards some of the many great teachers in our schools with classroom grants and excellent teacher awards. I really appreciate reading this piece by Prof Smagorinsky– the teaching talent in our classrooms is a strength of our schools and a blessing for our kids. And policy-makers need to be mindful of this part of the picture as they legislate– they aren’t showing much sign of that lately. See, e.g.:


July 14th, 2012
8:51 am

We need authors on this blog to take their roles as writers seriously and not throw up inflammatory, angry, one-sided rants

Guess the same doesn’t apply to comments, eh Good Mommy?


July 14th, 2012
9:11 am

Peter, there are many selfless and hard-working teachers out there and it’s entirely appropriate to talk up what they do, as in any other profession.

But your smugly dismissive reference to achievement testing as “training (students) to fill in bubbles” grates on the nerves of this former K-12 educator. And it surely feeds a wholly unrealistic and even provocative disdain for accountability among your UGA learners.

As an education professor would you really have us believe you don’t care about test scores? Did you for instance pay no attention to them when choosing private schools for your own kids? If I recall correctly, you’ve noted in the past that your children attended “a mixture of private and public” schools (some of which, by the way, must been financially out of reach of kids—and parents—you seem to seek some sort of “social justice” for, if the throw-away reference above wasn’t just a genuflection to political correctness.)

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 14th, 2012
9:16 am

Beyond test scores, not without test scores.


July 14th, 2012
9:21 am

Yeah and we should stop keeping score at high school football games and just grade coaches on their enthusiasm and infectious attitude….. Seriously? I do applaud great teachers but please stop with the “test score improvements dont matter” BS.

Whirled Peas

July 14th, 2012
9:38 am

Teachers and their leftist friends (like Msssss. Downey) absolutely do not want to be graded. They have the American taxpayer by the throat and like it that way.

It is time for vouchers so we can send our kids to good schools. No more government monopoly of our schools.

Julie Walker

July 14th, 2012
9:39 am

Thank you for taking the time to recognize a truly remarkable teacher. David Ragsdale’s commitment to his students, to excellence in journalism and writing, are outstanding. The Odyssey and Iliad deserve the honors and recognition they recieve, and Mr. Ragsdale deserves every good thing written about him. A caring, dedicated teacher who gives so much of his time and his heart is a special find.

Jerry Eads

July 14th, 2012
9:46 am

Actually, gm, what he was saying is that on average (REPEAT: on average) folks in the privates and the charters have gotten the “cherry picks” – kids who are fed and parents who care. They’re on average A LOT easier to work with in a classroom that someone who is lead poisoned from the paint or plumbing in an old shack or has rarely had a regular meal with anyone, much less a family.

THAT said, yup, afraid so: the better publics knock the socks off the privates. While granted anecdotal, I’ve heard only too many stories of kids tranferring to public high schools from privates who are a year AND EVEN TWO behind their peers who have had the luxury of having come through a public system. The most expensive and exclusive of the privates probably can afford very good teachers. They may well be on par with the best of the publics – but they get to pick and choose, while the publics still must take everyone.

dc: Test scores on decent tests might matter. Changes in pass rates on state minimum competency tests tell us absolutely nothing except that a few more or less 5th and 10th percentile kids passed a simple easy test that any average kid can pass in his sleep.

Good Mother

July 14th, 2012
9:59 am

Jerry Eads, If you want to talk about averages. On average, private school teachers get paid less and have less benefits.
…but here is my point.
What I get tired of is the constant bickering and complaining by public school teachers that private and charter schools have it so much easier and their work is so much better…
If that were really true, public school teachers would leave public schools and teach in private and charter schools but they don’t because…the pay and benefits of teaching in a public school are much, much better.
It’s a choice.
Teachers are free to make their own choices including NOT being a teacher at all. It might be a calling…it certainloy isn’t a life sentence.
If I had my way, the Get Schooled Blog would be a place for teachers and parents to share ideas for strategies for doing things more effectively, for sharing success stories, for mentoring one another, for helping one another.
Instead, most often the Get Schoold blog and its posters do the following five things on a routine basis:
1. Complain ad nauseum.
2. Blame everyone else.
3. Bicker and aruge with one another.

Just think what an impression taht makes on the people who pay them. Just think how it feels to have a so-called teacher (Bootney Farnsworth) call our children sociopaths. Imagine. Sociopaths.
That’s abusive.
Teachers complain they don’t get respect.
Respect is earned. It is not passed out fylers on your windshield in the super market parking lot.
When so-called teachers like Bootney Farnsworth call our children lazy sociopaths…
They get the amount of respect they DESERVE.

Good Mother

July 14th, 2012
10:03 am

yeah, I know I said five things and listed three.
The other two are…
4. Ridicule their leaders.
5. Run around like a little silly chicken claiming the sky is falling “teacheres will quit in masses…”

How about a blog with a topic that says here is the challenge of teh day and feature a teacher or parent that has a strategy for handling it. Have at least one productive blog a week. Is that too far a stretch?


July 14th, 2012
10:18 am

Clearly written by a professor of education!

Dekalb Parent & GT Prof

July 14th, 2012
10:23 am

It’s sad that a story about a hard-working, dedicated, inspiring public school teacher brings out negative comments. Perhaps Good Mother, having invested dearly to send her kids to private school, can’t tolerate the thought that public schools have many good, or even great, teachers?


July 14th, 2012
10:26 am

I believe Wheeler High School has a similar in-school magazine, or at least they did a few years ago.


July 14th, 2012
10:28 am

I am pretty sure Marist outscores almost all Georgia High Schools on the SAT, as do several of the other large private schools in the same league as Marist.


July 14th, 2012
10:30 am

I remember hearing, years ago, an old saying – “those that can, can. Those that can’t, teach”.

With school rooms becoming a more and more hostile place, the not too distant classrooms of the future will be filled with tough, mean teachers whose only qualification is being able(barely) to teach.


July 14th, 2012
10:40 am

carlosgvv – Given the damage done to the jobs market, I suspect teaching jobs will become increasingly attractive to people. The Washington Post had a good article last week or so about the lack of jobs for people with a PhD in the sciences, from chemistry to biology. The only bright spots were in Engineering and Physics, in all other areas recent PhD’s were stuck in post docs at 30K a year or working outside their field. In the liberal arts, PhD’s have traditionally had great difficulty in the jobs market, but this recent collapse in the science market for PhD’s is very troubling. In part the collapse is due to the American pharmaceutical companies closing their research labs, as a consequence of changes in tax law (the loss of some research tax credits). The green shade guys have decided it is cheaper to just buy the new drugs produced by small independent labs than to fund large in house research programs. The USA is starting to look much like the rest of the world, with a surplus of useless, but highly educated people. We are producing something like 45,000 new lawyers a year, with job openings in the legal field of only 10,000 or so.

NWGA Teacher

July 14th, 2012
10:47 am

Thank you for the profile of a great public school teacher.


July 14th, 2012
10:47 am


No, I suspect that those who fill the K-12 teaching positions of the future will continue to resemble the ones meant to be lauded above (if one ignores the accompanying rhetoric). And all schools, public and private, will no doubt benefit.

Their self-pitying compatriots, meanwhile, will have been moved on to more appropriate employment somewhere far, far from children—or equally as likely, no employment whatever.


July 14th, 2012
11:02 am

And I’ve always wondered … if “teaching to the test” is, as implied, such a trivial and easy thing to do—why are so very many of our public school teachers such spectacular failures at doing so?

Dramatically better test scores would instantly disarm critics. And yet, years … decades! … later test scores show scant improvement.

With all the money spent on public K-12 education—why?

[...] In an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, UGA education professor Peter Samogrinsky talks about what makes Ragsdale such a great teacher and community asset. He was Ragsdale teacher in graduate school, and he celebrates his student’s success in the classroom. [...]


July 14th, 2012
11:09 am

keep in mind, that many Marist parents can afford outside tutoring for SAT prep. And choose to do so for their students. Not slamming on Marist at all, but as one of those tutors, it is a reality.

Mary Elizabeth

July 14th, 2012
11:13 am

“I can only hope that the current toxic environment that surrounds our public schools does not run off those of similar gifts who might some day join him in the classroom.”

As aware citizens, we need to do more than “hope.” We need to recognize, and state, the sources of the “current toxic environment that surrounds our public schools.” One of those sources is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. That organization has tentacles into Georgia’s Legislature. Some of ALEC’s members in Georgia’s Legislature have sponsored bills which would help to dismantle Georgia’s public schools.


July 14th, 2012
11:15 am

when I read comments that contain the words “teachers union in ga” or “those who can, do; those who can’t teach”, I see that person’s credibility drop like a lead balloon. And promptly move on. Can we stop these phrases and have a serious, informed blog for once?

Google "NEA" and "union"

July 14th, 2012
11:31 am

Mary Elizabeth, please don’t risk the fate of @carlos leaving your comments unread … by including partisan clap-trap about the “tentacles” of ALEC and other silly imaginings.

And for God’s sake—don’t get going on “Thomas Jefferson” again!

Truth in Moderation

July 14th, 2012
11:37 am

Bragging rights….
One of mine was

K- home schooled

1st -4th – small private Christian school ($1500/yr)

5th-8th -home schooled ($1000/yr)
Speaking of the Odyssey, as a culmination of our chronological study of the history and literature of the ancient world, we took a 2 week cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean and visited the lands of Homer and the Apostle Paul: Greece and the islands, Crete, Egypt, and Turkey.
For our Earth Science field trip, we visited Hawaii so we could see a volcano first hand, and even drove to the top! We also visited an amazing aquarium and snorkeled so we could see beautiful fish in their natural habitat.

9th-10th- Top STEM charter school (public) $$8,000+/yr
This child has maintained a 4.0+ GPA, has held many leadership positions including robotics team.
Nominated for Governor’s Honor’s in Physics (by a Star Teacher) and Engineering (Sophomore yr.)
Scored 700 on SAT Math (Sophomore yr.)
Scored 5 on AP World History, AP Chemistry, and BC Calculus (Sophomore yr.)

Also, this child has Aspergers Syndrome (Autism)
The teachers at his STEM Charter have been wonderful in helping him to achieve his dream of attending a top engineering school!


July 14th, 2012
11:41 am

@solutions – According to the people who produce the SAT, tutoring can have only a minimal benefit at most, maybe 30 points on average. One cannot credit tutoring with superior SAT performance by private school students.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

July 14th, 2012
11:48 am

David Ragsdale, it sounds like Clarek Central High is lucky to have you!

After reading many of these comments I have come to the conclusion that some people simply do not want any type of traditional public education – regardless of how good the schools and teachers may be. Here we have an article about a supurb public school educator, and rather than being pleased that there are great teachers in the public sector, we still have the same folks “whining” about their personal talking points. So, depsite their claims that they want good teachers and good public schools, I have decided they really don’t support either one. They want public schools gone – period. Which leave me wondering, who butters their bread?


July 14th, 2012
11:53 am

Here is a link on SAT tutoring that confirms my 30 point at most gain allegation:


July 14th, 2012
12:06 pm

Written by a guy hoping to keep the steady flow of masters students/sheep filing into his class to shoot the bull for an hour and get an A. I wonder, has a student ever gotten a B in your class? Ever?

Mary Elizabeth

July 14th, 2012
12:26 pm

@Google “NEA” and “union,” 11:31 am

“Mary Elizabeth, please don’t risk the fate of @carlos leaving your comments unread … by including partisan clap-trap about the ‘tentacles’ of ALEC and other silly imaginings.
And for God’s sake—don’t get going on ‘Thomas Jefferson’ again.”

You are the type of person who needs to be reading my posts, and I hope that you will continue to do so. There is nothing “silly” about ALEC’s having tentacles into Georgia’s Legislature. That is quite real.

BTW, I have posted recently in The New York Times in which I mentioned both ALEC and Thomas Jefferson. Over 700 posts were recorded on that thread. My post was recommended by over 100 people across the nation, which placed my post, in the NY Times, in the top 8% of those posts that were valued enough by readers that they recommended that others also read my post.

In my opinion, you need to broaden your horizons, as well as your mind. Wake up and see how stealthy politics in Georgia is effecting your life. And, Jefferson would never have supported an American vision in which the wealthy/power elite have a greater voice in the direction that this nation take than voices of the majority of Americans. In other words, Jefferson supported a nation of, by, and for the people. That fact cannot be emphasized enough. Thank God for Thomas Jefferson’s mind – which was not a petty one, I might add. You could well learn from him.


July 14th, 2012
12:29 pm

@ Mary Elizabeth.

Thomas Jefferson, and the other American Founding Fathers, are not the sole property of the Tea Party and arch-conservatives such as “Google ‘NEA’ and ‘union.’” Remind us of what this third President, Deist, and genius would say today as much as you want.

And, considering the source, this appraisal of your 11:13 am post– “partisan clap-trap about the “tentacles” of ALEC and other silly imaginings”– should be taken as a compliment. The hit dog squeals.

Bertis Downs

July 14th, 2012
12:54 pm

Mary Elizabeth– well-said.

This also has some good info:

The guy who started Media Matters, David Brock, was a Bush (41) staffer who realized he was working for the wrong side. Now he just focuses on calling them out with like, you know, facts.

Google "NEA" and "union"

July 14th, 2012
12:56 pm

Mary Elizabeth, please don’t risk the fate of @carlos leaving your comments unread … by including partisan clap-trap about the “tentacles” of ALEC and other silly imaginings.

Mary Elizabeth

July 14th, 2012
1:01 pm

@Prof, 12:29

Thank you for your words of support at 12:29 pm, Prof.

One of the reasons I mention Jefferson often is that I neither want this country’s arch-conservatives to hi-jack this nation’s original tenets and claim them as exclusively their own, or to claim, as exclusively their own, the thinking of our Founding Fathers. And, Jefferson, as even his compatriots acknowledged in that day, exemplified the highest order of the thinking of our Founding Fathers. Silence is admittance that what today’s arch-conservatives assert is correct regarding this. They do not “own” our Constitution, the thoughts of our Founding Fathers, or the thinking of Jefferson, himself. Again, in my opinion, Jefferson would be appalled at the direction today’s conservatives are taking our nation, with its emphasis on a monied, powerful elite ruling the masses – and for their own petty, monied self-interests, and not for the interests of the common welfare of the people, as a whole.

But, why not let Jefferson speak for himself? Here are the words of Thomas Jefferson, from page 171 of the Pulitzer Prize winning book that I am currently reading, entitled, “Washington: A Life,” by Ron Chernow, published by Penguin Books in 2010:

“Jefferson ended with a dire warning for George III: ‘Kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people. Open your breast, Sire, to liberal and expanded thought. Let not the name of George the Third be a blot in the page of history.’ “

Google "NEA" and "union"

July 14th, 2012
1:02 pm

… And don’t be too quick to accept accolades of fellow union-istas as sincere!

Dr. Monica Henson

July 14th, 2012
1:09 pm

Clearly, David Ragsdale is a passionate and committed teacher. I enjoyed very much reading about his work and no doubt he has had a profound influence on many students’ lives. He is the kind of teacher I recruit. However, if Mr. Ragsdale were to apply for employment at my virtual charter high school, which includes a statewide online student body along with brick-and-mortar urban centers devoted to aggressive recruitment of dropouts and other high-risk kids to study in person with the staff, I would take a long, hard look at his students’ state exam results over time. I’d also want to know if he has substantial experience working with the neediest students at Clarke Central HS, or if most of his work has been done with honors & AP kids. The best teachers are able to reach across the spectrum from high to low ability and skill levels and engage, motivate, and inspire all types of students, not just the easiest-to-teach ones.

As great as they make one’s resume look, it’s not enough to be passionate and committed and sponsor publications and participate in all sorts of professional development activities. For decades, most teacher professional growth plans in this country have allowed teachers to list courses they will take and PD activities they will engage in, without being required to demonstrate any connection to how those things will help their students attain proficiency. I have dealt with several teachers over the years who scurry and flurry with all sorts of extracurricular sponsorships, grad school courses, etc., yet who bore the living daylights out of their students and don’t challenge them.

I am not in any way attributing this type of behavior to Mr. Ragsdale, simply making a point in order to counter Dr. Smagorinsky’s assertion that student achievement outcomes on objective measures don’t matter. This is a typical position taken by those in the schools of education, who don’t want to be held accountable for the quality of their graduates by linking whether the kids they go on to teach in K-12 can read, write, and calculate at a minimum proficiency level. The schools of education have joined with the NEA and the AFT in opposing accountability systems that link student achievement outcomes in any fashion with teacher evaluation or with federal funding of schools of education.

A teacher must be able to help students demonstrate that they can meet proficiency standards, or s/he isn’t worth the paper on which his/her college diploma is printed, nor are all the activities in the world worth the time spent on them. What if Dr. Smagorinsky made the comment about an Advanced Placement teacher that it doesn’t matter what the students’ AP exam scores were? Students who sign up for AP courses are doing so in order to try to earn college credits, which are based on the AP test scores. If a teacher cannot help students produce high AP test scores, then that teacher won’t last very long in the AP program. Parents will demand that a competent AP teacher be put in place.

The schools of education in this country have got to stop fighting against accountability measures and recognize that all students deserve to be provided instruction that enables them to function in the job market and higher education. The accountability systems that have come into being on the K-12 level, while varying widely in quality, are an effort imposed on the public education system from the outside due to the failure of the system to ensure quality control.

I successfully signed on three powerhouse teachers as the nucleus around which we are building the Provost Academy Georgia faculty: all longtime public high school teachers who have worked for me at the high school level previously, three master’s degrees, two reading endorsements, two National Board Certificates, and one Teacher of the Year award among the three of them. Two are relocating to Atlanta from out of state. All have spent many years leading extracurricular activities and engaging in high-quality professional development. Most importantly, all have proved over time that they can help students at high risk achieve proficiency on the exams in their states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Georgia).

I have the luxury of building a high school faculty from scratch, without inheriting previous administrators’ problem employees. That will make my job a lot easier starting out. We have several high-achieving kids who are enrolling in the school, with motivated parents who give them every advantage. However, we are actively and aggressively reaching out to the dropout population in Georgia, which is estimated conservatively at 60,000 students who have not yet “aged out” of eligibility for public schooling. My teachers have to be able to teach at both ends of the ability and skill spectrum, and everything in between. Many of their students will be “in the cloud,” but a substantial number of them will be working with them in person at the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy centers we are setting up in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah. Those kids will likely be overaged for their grade and undercredited. They won’t have the luxury of time. I simply refuse to give those kids anything less than the absolute best in terms of quality teachers.

I’d love to add more teachers like David Ragsdale to my faculty–but ONLY if they have a proven track record of producing high student achievement among the students most at-risk. That is the truest measure of an accomplished teacher.

Mary Elizabeth

July 14th, 2012
1:18 pm

Bertis Downs, 12:54 pm

Thank you for your remarks and for your well-informed link regarding how ALEC is effecting Georgia’s legislation. I hope readers will read your link in full. The link states that Rep. Jan Jones – who sponsored HR 1162, the state-created charter schools’ bill (that now will be voted on in November as an amendment to Georgia’s Constitution) – is a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force.

I want to highlight the following words from your link. Thank you again.

“Georgia media have been silent as members of ALEC in Georgia’s legislature have successfully pushed through a version of ALEC’s Charter Schools Act, which would create a state-controlled board with the power to establish and fund charter schools over local opposition. A Media Matters analysis found that while Georgia media have frequently written about the bills, they have completely overlooked ALEC’s influence in the debate.”


July 14th, 2012
1:23 pm

For those of you who do not like negative comments, may I remind you that the author initiated this with his snarky comments about private school teachers and how public school teachers have “the hardest jobs” as compared to the privates.

Take out that first paragraph and this is a good read.

If folks like Smagorinsky are tired of public school teachers being under the microscope, might I suggest these same public schools not pass students from grade to grade who cannot do the work and “graduate” students who are performing on a fourth grade level.


July 14th, 2012
1:40 pm

Dr. Monica Henson – I know the education establishment gets more credit for the slightest accomplishment of the neediest and slowest kids, but in a larger sense, they mean little to nothing. It is the AP and Honors kids who will collectively go on to lead the nation commercially, scientifically, and politically. Concentrate on educating them, let the others fall by the wayside, it is the way of the world.

Google "NEA" and "donations"

July 14th, 2012
1:48 pm

Yes, @Lee, it has been challenging for those on the political left—to see represented on issue blogs those who provide state Republicans with their victory margins.

I’d guess a consolation is that the liberal AJC remains—for now, at least—economically viable. And that GAE/NEA continues able to bankroll the Democrat Party and other liberal-left groups.

Mary Elizabeth

July 14th, 2012
1:51 pm

Lee, 1:23 pm

It is my hope that you, and other readers, will become more informed as to why all students are not functioning on grade level, within every grade, in public education. This phenomenon does not begin in the first grade or even in kindergarten. It starts at birth. Some of the issues that could help to minimize this problem need societal changes, as well as educational adjustments. Perhaps, my link below can help in informing with more depth of understanding. (Please read, also, the link provided, within this link.)


July 14th, 2012
1:55 pm

@ Lee, 1:23 pm: “If folks like Smagorinsky are tired of public school teachers being under the microscope, might I suggest these same public schools not pass students from grade to grade who cannot do the work and “graduate” students who are performing on a fourth grade level.”

And just how is this the fault of public schools when the state of Georgia mandates “social promotion” by law?

living in an outdated ed system

July 14th, 2012
2:00 pm

This writer’s posts are better posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog. I agree wholeheartedly with some of the comments here that address the partisan comments the writer inserted into the letter. If he would have just talked about the teacher’s story, it may have merit. But he tainted it with his other nonsensical remarks.

There are certainly great teachers out there, and it is a shame that all parties can’t come to some level of consensus on what constitutes an “effective” teacher. Test scores should only be a part of the equation, not the vast majority of the equation. Unfortunately, we have gotten away from the core issues, which has to do with tenure and “last in, first out.” Professional development and compensation are also critical elements of this.

Has anyone ever looked at Singapore? They only have the finest teacher training program IN THE WORLD! There is no shame in looking at how other countries do certain things well, but we are too afraid to acknowledge we don’t have all the answers and that maybe we should replicate and re-purpose practices that are working elsewhere.

Mary Elizabeth

July 14th, 2012
2:06 pm

“It is the AP and Honors kids who will collectively go on to lead the nation commercially, scientifically, and politically. Concentrate on educating them, let the others fall by the wayside, it is the way of the world.”

This type of hierarchial thinking is the antithesis of the ideas upon which America was founded. America was founded upon an egalitarian vision of humankind. That is why Jefferson supported public education.

Proud Teacher

July 14th, 2012
2:18 pm

This policy of passing students without appropriate academic achievements is rampant all over Georgia. It’s not prudent to make the administration look bad. Much of it is done subversively by putting pressure on teachers to conform while making the teachers most uncomfortable in their schools. The numbers must add up to everyone looking good in the press and on paper to those who monitor education but never have taught. Nothing is ever on paper so it can’t be proven but those of us who have suffered this know what is really going on. And who loses in the end? The students. Again.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 14th, 2012
2:22 pm

DeTocqueville warned of the rise of an American mediocracy. I sometimes wonder if it has already made its appearance in GAPubEd. Of course, I am neither saying nor implying that among my colleagues there aren’t many, many able folks. But I am saying that rather than having been led by “the best and the brightest,” we have been led all-too-frequently on the local and state levels by “the mediocre and the dim.”*

* “Dim” would be operationally defined in terms of standardized test scores no higher than 1 SD
above the mean.


July 14th, 2012
2:33 pm


Thomas Jefferson supported education of the public—not the “public education” of today’s usage. Private schools supported by taxpayer funded tuition vouchers and charters would qualify.

He was also a slave owner, which clearly defines limits he placed on egalitarianism. Nor do I recall him championing the cause of women’s suffrage.

But perhaps you have a different Thomas Jefferson in mind?