Archive for September, 2012

Using Race to the Top to pay for doctorates in DeKalb. Good idea or are there better uses for federal money?

Several of you have already commented on DeKalb’s plan to use about $345,00 of its taxpayer-funded federal Race to the Top grant to put eight administrators, including four high school principals and two assistant principals, through a three-year doctorate program at the DeKalb campus of Mercer University. So, I figured we ought to put the story out there for general discussion.

The state Department of Education has to sign off on the school system’s proposal to use the RTT funds to underwrite the doctorates and is expected to do so, possibly today.

According to the AJC:

Twenty-five other Georgia school districts also receive Race to the Top grants. But DeKalb is the only one using some grant money earmarked for teacher and school leader training to add to the 130 Ph.D. holders the system already has in leadership roles.

The idea doesn’t sit well with some in DeKalb.  “Why as taxpayers should we pay for their Ph.D.s?” asked Robert Richardson, a retired real estate agent. …

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Author of “Working on the Work” explains how the work of teaching has to change

Phil Schlechty

Phil Schlechty

In Atlanta, noted reformer Phil Schlechty, author of “Working on the Work” and “Shaking up the Schoolhouse,” said there are two current paths being touted for fixing schools by political leaders — bureaucratic centralization or fragmentation/privatization.

“I say a pox on both their houses,” he told the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation at an all-day conference Monday.

Neither path, said Schlechty, recognizes the changing and critical role of teachers in a world where information is now easily obtained by an 8-year-old with a laptop.

“We don’t really understand that the primary role of the teacher has been absorbed,” Schlechty said. “Most of us still see teachers as instructors because we see ourselves in the knowledge distribution business. Today, kids can go out and get the knowledge. What we have to become are knowledge work systems to help kids work on and with that knowledge.”

Teachers today must become designers of work for students …

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No homework for my kids. No school for mine. For whom do such approaches really work?

I read an interesting blog by a parent on her resistance to homework. In “Starlighting Mama,” writer Heather Shumaker explains why her household bans homework. In a nutshell, her kids have better things to do. Things that are more fun and probably more educational.

So, every year, Shumaker sends a letter to the school that is generally accepted by her son’s teacher.

Here is part of her letter:

My son gets home around 4 p.m. He gets into pajamas around 8 p.m. In those short four hours, he:

Has an after-school snack, talks and unwinds from his day, plays/ pursues his own interests, goes outside and climbs in tree forts, giggles with his brother,  does family chores, practices piano, has a family supper, reads his own book and listens to a bedtime story

These are all more important uses of his time, or any young child’s time. My view is homework interrupts home learning. Homework tends to give school /learning a bad name and when given too young, kids learn to resent it instead …

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Surprising news out of Fayette: School chief is out



Outgoing Fayette school chief Jeff Bearden in happier days in the county. (AJC file)
Outgoing Fayette school chief Jeff Bearden in happier days in the county. (AJC file)

Breaking news out of Fayette County where the Citizen reports that Superintendent Jeff Bearden is leaving his post in January with a year’s salary.

Bearden had run afoul of some board members with his proposal to trim costs and close schools. The school chief’s exit comes after the school board voted unanimously in June to extend his contract to June 30, 2015.

But relations between Bearden and some board members have frayed as the district, like others around the state, experienced fallen revenues and enrollments. As a result, Fayette was grappling with the always emotional issue of whether to close schools and which ones.

The friction over which schools to close spilled into the public arena when Bearden wrote a lengthy and detailed letter to the Fayette Citizen last month in which  he stood by his recommendations to close Hood Avenue Primary, Fayette Intermediate and Fayette Middle …

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More info on how many days teachers take off

I recently wrote about a new report on paid teacher leave that prompted questions from posters. The findings were from the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which ranked 113 school systems nationwide.

Fulton teachers with 10 or more years’ experience receive 20 general leave days a year, among the most in the nation, according to the survey. Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County and Gwinnett County teachers get only 12.5 general leave days a year. Of the core metro counties, Cobb County offers the fewest (11.9). In Fulton, even teachers with less than 10 years’ experience get 15 general leave days a year.

A spokeswoman for the council read the comments on the blog and sent me this  note:

It was great to see so many readers were interested in it too. In scanning the reader comments, there were a few questions we had info on:

1. Cobb County: The 11.9 days we cite comes from page 5 of this board policy . As you can see, employees who work 191 or 194 …

Continue reading More info on how many days teachers take off »

Chicago strike ends, but debate continues over how we regard and treat teachers in America

A relieved Chicago sent its children back to school today as teachers agree to tentative contract. (AP Images)

A relieved Chicago sent its children back to school today as teachers agree to tentative contract. (AP Images)

Today, 350,000 students return to school in Chicago where the striking teachers’ union has agreed to a tentative contract.

Much commentary has been written about the seven-day strike but I found this piece by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera among the most interesting. He talks to noted education researcher Marc Tucker, quoted here on the blog a few months on why Finnish schools perform so well.

An ongoing frustration with education debates — including many on this blog — is that we focus on things that don’t matter, that appeal to ideologues and bumper sticker voters who don’t have time to read the fine print.

Georgia is now in a frenzy over a charter school amendment that will do nothing to dramatically alter school transformation. Millions will be spent in the battle, a fair share coming from for-profit education companies that see Georgia a potential new market …

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Another test in schools: Cobb wants polygraphs for employees

Does it make sense for a school district to use polygraph tests to get to the truth in employee disputes and conflicts?

Cobb plans to do so.  The school board amended its discipline policy to say employees who refuse to take the exam could be fired. The district, the state’s second largest, is the only major school district in metro Atlanta that uses polygraph tests to try to determine whether a person is lying.

There is a great deal of controversy around the reliability of polygraph tests, which is contributing to concerns about Cobb’s policy.

According to the AJC:

Although administrators insist they rarely use polygraph tests, teacher advocates say that could change at any time and that they object to the test being used at all. “I don’t think [polygraph tests] are reliable, dependable or accurate,” said Connie Jackson, the president of Cobb County Association of Educators. “I think [their use is] horrible and unconscionable.”

Administrators say the tests are used in …

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Southwest DeKalb High does have math teachers. Just not enough.

DeKalb says it is adding two math support teachers this week at Southwest DeKalb High (AJC file)

DeKalb says it is adding two math support teachers this week at Southwest DeKalb High (AJC file)

I was puzzled when I saw the Twitter comment yesterday from a Southwest DeKalb High School mother that the school lacked math teachers, which sounded impossible. And, in fact, the high school has math teachers, 15 of them.

However, the school did not have the two math teachers needed for an elective class called math support. And that was what alarmed a mom who discovered her daughter was in PE rather than math.

(Two teachers are supposed to be starting this week, according to the county. I am now hearing from other teachers that their schools are also down math teachers and kids have been having long-term subs.  Isn’t this what was supposed to be resolved by the closer alliances between k-12 and the public colleges? Can’t Georgia Tech help with math teachers?)

The mother expressed shock that a high student would go a semester without any math, but that is not uncommon in block …

Continue reading Southwest DeKalb High does have math teachers. Just not enough. »

SACS to DeKalb: We’re coming next month.

In a letter today, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools informed DeKalb Schools that it intends to pay a site visit Oct. 17 -19 to address its ongoing concerns over governance and leadership and resource and support systems.

Addressed to Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and signed by AdvancED president Mark Elgart, the letter states that while the school chief has outlined reforms under way in DeKalb, SACS remains concerned that the system’s problems “could have a significant, negative impact on the capacity of the system to realize the many improvements that are the focus of these initiatives. Consequently, AdvancED has determined that an on-site investigation is warranted and necessary to evaluate the adherence of the DeKalb County School District to to the Accreditation standards and/or practices.”

That review team will then recommend whether DeKalb’s accreditation status should be “continued accreditation, advised, warned, probation or dropped.”

The Elgart letter …

Continue reading SACS to DeKalb: We’re coming next month. »

DeKalb offers parents two calendars. Weekly early release still under consideration.

Just received this from DeKalb schools:

After hours of collaboration and discussion by a team of parents, teachers, principals and administrators, the DeKalb County School District Calendar Committee has released two calendar options for public review.

The first, a traditional calendar, reflects a start date of Aug. 12 and an end date of May 23. DCSD has historically adopted the traditional calendar model.

The second, a balanced calendar, begins the school year on Aug. 5 and ends on May 29, but has an additional week of vacation in each semester. Balanced calendars are growing in popularity and are utilized by other districts including Rockdale County Public Schools and the City Schools of Decatur.

Both calendars have 180 school days for the students and an additional 10 days for the teachers, comprised of nine work days and four two-hour teacher conference nights.

Among other considerations is a weekly one-hour early release in order to allow for professional development for …

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