I am always delighted to receive a submission from Lawrence M. Schall, president of Oglethorpe University. Here is a column he wrote about the DeKalb County school board drama and its larger implications. (You can read his blog on Huffington Post.)
In relation to his comments on the pending lawsuit by the DeKalb board, I want to note that Schall earned doctoral degrees in law and education from the University of Pennsylvania and practiced civil rights law earlier in his career.
By Lawrence M. Schall
We will all soon learn of the decision of the federal district court regarding the constitutionality and/or legality of the governor’s decision to remove six of the nine sitting DeKalb County School Board members.
If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the decision being overturned. While the performance of the school board, and more importantly, the school district have been abysmal for far too long, the process used to throw some of the board members out of office just doesn’t pass the “due process” sniff test. Having the executive branch remove elected officials from office ought to require more hard evidence than what I have read in the AdvancED-SACS investigatory report.
I went to the AdvancED-SACS website this morning and here’s what they say about their purpose: “Accreditation is a voluntary method of quality assurance … designed primarily to distinguish schools adhering to a set of educational standards … (that) effectively drive student performance and continuous improvement.”
Just two thoughts here before I continue. First, regional accreditation is voluntary in name only. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, but the reality is that every public school in our state must submit itself to SACS accreditation to function.
If DeKalb were to lose its accreditation, it would cease to exist, at least in its current form. And second, is there anyone out there who believes that public K-12 education across the state of Georgia is marked by student performance and continuous improvement? I am pretty certain even our own governor wouldn’t use those phrases.
There’s something horribly wrong here and it is not simply that fact that the DeKalb County school board is a disaster. In the last few years, three school districts, DeKalb, Clayton and APS, that serve the children of metro Atlanta have been on death’s doorstep.
With very few exceptions, the entire system in our state and in many other states is broken. Nationwide, half of the children born into low-income families drop out of school, at the rate of more than 1.2 million a year, and only one in 10 graduate from college. That is a national embarrassment of immense proportions.
Why should we care? Well, if your child is in one of those broken systems or broken schools, his or her chance of succeeding in life, of leading a better life than you were able to build for yourself, is diminished to a frightening extent. Even if you are fortunate enough to be able to send your child to a high-performing independent school or you happen to live in a district that performs far better than average, you ought to realize that the future of the country which your child will inherit will be bleak if the majority of its citizens lack a basic education. Every other developed country in the world gets this; it’s hard to imagine how we can be so short-sighted.
In my view, we (and I include the AJC here) have spent a huge amount of time and energy over the last few years focused on the symptoms and not the problem. Our schools are failing our children, each and every day. Every year that passes means we condemn hundreds of thousands of kids to a life of struggle.
We deprive them of the American dream in which we all purport to believe. There is no equal opportunity for these children. The state can appoint six new school board members in DeKalb for a year or so and we might see some marginal improvement in governance, but it will be temporary. And I can pretty much promise you we will not see a change in educational outcomes. We will not see, using SACS’ own terms, a system that drives student performance and lives by the mantra of continuous improvement.
My two older children are both middle school teachers inside the public school system. They are each at schools that work. The great shame of the entire situation is that we have examples of what works all around us, even here in Atlanta. There are national education reform organizations such as Stand for Children, StudentsFirst (started by Michelle Rhee), and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (led by Jeb Bush) that share a common agenda for change.
That agenda includes initiatives to 1.) elevate the teaching profession with appropriate teacher and principal evaluation systems and by creating paths for the recognition and reward of effective teachers, 2.) empower parents with real choice by providing them with easily accessible and understandable data and through the equitable funding of effective charter schools, 3.) implement rigorous academic curriculum with high expectations, with a special focus on early childhood education and K-3 reading readiness, and 4.) spend tax dollars more efficiently by promoting better governance structures.
Until we make fixing our schools our highest collective national priority, we and our children will continue to fail.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog