Georgia Teacher Evaluations: All Trick, No Treat

EmpowerED Georgia published an “infomercial” on teacher evaluations just in time for Halloween, and on the heels of a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). NCTQ is a Washington-based group funded in large part by The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. NCTQ is also a purveyor of “junk science.”

Real Scary Stuff

As scary as the evaluation system is in Georgia, for 34 other states, teachers will be evaluated using student test score gains, an absurd metric given all the variables that affect student performance on high-stakes tests.  The NCTQ report is a survey of what methods the states are using to test teachers.  Nothing wrong with that.  However, when you add a layer of NCTQ policy that is an amalgam of such recommendations as requiring student test scores as the criterion in any teacher evaluation system, tenure must be tied to student test scores, compensation must be tied to student test scores, teachers are dismissed based on student test scores, out of state candidates licenses must be based on test scores, and teacher prep programs must to tied to student test scores.

The conclusions in their report are based on bias, and not on sound science.

 

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Inquiry Teaching: A Hallmark of Teaching in a Democratic Society

Teachers who instill as sense of inquiry in their classrooms are the educators who lead the rest of us out of the conservative and neoliberal paradigms that dominate education today.  These teachers know that teaching is not about skills, economic growth, job training and transmission of information.  To these teachers, classroom teaching is about equity, helping students learn to collaborate to learn, progressivism, and risk-taking.

Teachers who embody inquiry as a cornerstone in their philosophy of teaching are willing to cross into the unknown, and bring students along with them.  The teachers I have known who embrace this philosophy are courageous, imaginative, and creative.  Their method or pedagogy is influenced and based on a philosophy of inquiry in which they see their role as helping their students learn how to learn, as well as develop a love affair with learning.

Last month I published a little book entitled The Artistry of Teaching, that challenges the assumptions of present day reformers by showing that schooling is much more than teaching to the test, and that student learning should be encourage in a humanistic and experiential environment.  It’s about how teachers mingle art and science, as well theory and practice. It is about the artistry of teaching.

The fabric of teaching that emerges from teachers who practice inquiry is a mingling of art and science, theory and practice.

I put together a slide show that explores inquiry teaching based in part on The Artistry of Teaching.

There are many stories about inquiry teaching.  What are some of your ideas and beliefs about inquiry?

What is Georgia’s Race to the Top Plan for New Teachers?

What is the Georgia Race to the Top (RT3) Plan for New Teachers?

Teach for America

The simple answer is to hire inexperienced and uncertified teachers through contractual arrangements with Teach for America, a political action organization that provides boot camp summer training for college graduates from élite universities.  After five weeks of training, with little to no “student teaching,” these young persons are then dropped into a variety of schools.  For Georgia, most of the TFA cadets are hired by school districts in the metro-Atlanta area.  According to the TFA Metro Atlanta website, since 2000, there are 989 TFA alumni in the Atlanta region, 13 alumni school leaders, and 300 corps teachers hired this year for Atlanta area schools.   And according to the AJC, four of the TFA alumni are running for a place on the Atlanta School Board.

The New Teacher Project

The New Teacher Project is essentially a step-child of Teach for America.  It was given birth in 1997 with the aim of giving poor and minority students equal access to effective teachers.  TNTP’s CEO was Michelle Rhee, a TFA alumni, from 1997 – 2007.  TNTP uses  TFA boot camp model with a five-week “pre-service” summer training period.  TNTP teachers then begin their teaching assignment in the Fall.

trendsThese two programs train teachers, just as we train athletes.  At their websites you will find falsehoods about so-called traditional teacher education.  They make the claim that traditional teacher education stress theory, and don’t offer practical field-based experiences for its students.  Both of these are falsehoods.  I entered the field of science teacher education in 1969, and from the beginning all of our programs at Georgia State University were field-based, and might be described as programs that mingled theory and practice, and prepared people to be educators.

And to make matters even more fuzzy, Georgia State University’s College of Education has partnered with TFA to offer a route for recruits to earn a teaching certificate and a master’s degree in education.  Although I do not know the circumstances that led to the partnership, it is questionable why GSU would agree with TFA that putting inexperienced cadets in the poorest classrooms with out student teaching type internships is disappointing.  So on the one hand, TFA and TNTP claim that traditional teacher education is too theoretical, but on the other hand, they are quick to ask the traditional provider of teachers to educate their recruits.

That said, the facts are that the directors of the Georgia Race to the Top advocate putting the most inexperienced teachers in some of the poorest schools in the state where the evidence is that more experienced teachers with advanced degrees would perform at higher levels.  Figure 1 is evidence that the RT3 favors rookies over experienced teachers.  The evidence is in Table 1, which includes four budget lines showing how $30,375,235 million will be spent on turning around the lowest achieving schools.

Figure 1. Turning Around the Lowest Achieving Schools Budget Items in Georgia's Race to the Top Grant. (Race to the Top Scope of Work)
Table 1. Turning Around the Lowest Achieving Schools Budget Items in Georgia’s Race to the Top Grant. Table was copied from www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/state-scope-of-work/gerogia.pdf

Teach for America has a $15.6 million contract with Georgia’s Race to the Top over four years, while The New Teacher Project has a $12 million contract with RT3 (the difference in the amount shown in the graph is to pay for supervisory teachers) .  Each of these projects is a fundamental part of the RT3 plan to turn around the lowest-achieving schools in Georgia.  The lowest-achieving schools in Georgia are closely monitored and put most of the resources into improving the achievement scores of students in mathematics and English/language arts.

Pipeline

The language used to describe this effort is tied up in the notion of increasing the pipeline of effective educators.

From the RT3 budget is this statement:

Increase the pipeline of effective teachers through partnership with Teach for America in Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett with the first class of new TFA recruits beginning in the school year 2011-2012.  Funding included in section E project 24: $15,6000,000).

A separate line in the budget points the same kind of arrangement with The New Teacher Project, which will provide new teachers in Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia, for $7,568,395 million.

RT3 mandates that if a school is considered a turn around school, typically the principal is replaced, and many of the teachers are replaced with new teachers.  There is also the possibility that the school will become a charter school managed by a charter corporation.

Where will the state find the teachers to fill the gaps in these schools?  Well, that’s easy to answer:

  • Teach for America
  • The New Teacher Project

So as we see, the effort to work with schools whose students do not do well on achievement tests boils down to replacing experienced teachers with new recruits who will only stay on for two years.  This is simply not a sustainable approach, and ignores the intention of experienced teachers who understand from their earlier work with children that there is more to school than getting kids to pass a test.

Yet, the plan is that TFA will provide between 900 – 1100 uncertified teachers for metro-Atlanta schools, while TNTP will train 200 – 300 uncertified teacher for Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia.

 What about “traditional” Teacher Education?

Does the RT3 have any interest in investing in colleges and universities who have been in the business of preparing teachers for decades, and quite effectively.  The short answer is yes, but at lower levels than for TFA and TNTP, and primarily in the fields of science and math.

The RT3 awarded grants to three Georgia universities, University of West Georgia, Southern Polytechnic University, and Valdosta University.  According to RT3, these programs replicate the teacher education program developed at the University of Texas, the Uteach program, which is a traditional science and mathematics teacher education program.  The Uteach program is very similar to the science and mathematics teacher education program at Georgia State University, the TEEMS program, which was developed in the early 1990s, and is still operating at GSU.

The RT3

The $4 billion Race to the Top contest was won by 11 states and the District of Columbia.  The goal of the RT3 is for states to make sure that student achievement scores increase according to performance standards which have no basis in science.  I have spent hours studying the Georgia Race to the Top budget and work plan.  I normally do not study budgets, but I’ve been a critic of the RT3 ever since it was announced, but in order to do this, it was paramount that I look into the details.

This post only exposes a tiny piece of the complexity of the RT3.  Millions are spent on testing and evaluation, creating instruments to measure the effectiveness of teachers, millions of dollars to set up a data warehouse to store a wide array of student and teacher data.

Because the model of learning that is advocated by the RT3 is behavioral, and not constructivist, the drive is to produce teachers who can get results on achievement tests.  And so it doesn’t matter how experienced the teachers are, according to the RT3, they only need to be able to teach to the test, and hope that students score high enough so they won’t contribute to their school being labeled, “needs improvement.”

Well, there you have it.  Is the nearly $400 million that Georgia received to improve education being used in ways that you think will improve schooling?

 

Powerful Reasons Why the DeKalb School Board Should Oppose the Druid Hills Charter Cluster

Guest Post by Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, Professor at Morehouse College

This letter first appeared on Maureen Downey’s AJC blog, Get Schooled.  The letter is published with the permission of Dr. Lutenbacher.

My name is Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, and I am a single, white, full-time working mother of two children in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) district, as well as a DeKalb property owner and taxpayer.  One daughter just graduated from Druid Hills High School and my other daughter is a current student at Druid Hills Middle School.

I have been a teacher for almost three decades and a parent for 18 years.  I have served on the board of the DeKalb charter school the International Community School and on the Board of the tuition-free, private school the Global Village School.

I am writing to express my deep opposition to the possibility of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.

Brazenness

mailAt long last, I have been able to attain information about this conversion charter petition, and I am quite honestly appalled at its brazen attempt to create a privately-run school that is funded with taxpayer dollars.  And, at long last, I have taken the hours and hours and hours necessary to review the petition, as well as the 235 requests and rationales for waivers from DCSD standards and policies.  I am told that some of this information was made available three weeks before the vote was taken in August.  I did not know of that availability and probably would not have been able to review it in time; neither was I able to vote during the narrow voting window.  I can only wonder about parents or teachers who have even more limited access to and time for such investigation or voting.

Since that time, I have also learned that the “vote” taken the second day of school was not in violation of the law, but was certainly in violation of ethics.  Those running the voting were wearing tee shirts sporting the logo of the DHCC.  And I understand that the votes were counted by supporters of the charter.  Furthermore, the location of voting was the site most convenient to the supporters of the charter.

The petition “talks the talk” of accountability and adherence to guidelines, laws, and policies, but its absurd list of waiver requests speaks otherwise.  It places all power in the hands of its own, self-selected governing body, a body that was theoretically “elected” in that incredibly flawed voting process on the second day of school at Druid Hills High School.

I would like to address only a handful of my concerns.

Falsehoods

First of all, the petition contains outright falsehoods.  For example, the petition claims that only 5.4% of the students of McLendon Elementary School are ELLs, or English Language Learners.  However, the McLendon Elementary website reveals that 46% of its students are in ESOL classes.  I wonder what definition the DHCC uses to categorize students as ELLs.  Those favoring the charter claim that they used DeKalb County statistics.

The petition also claims that it will follow state and federal laws concerning special needs learners, but its waiver requests demand “flexibility” in fulfilling the needs of students with disabilities.  The petition and waiver documents speak to various methods to best serve students with disabilities, but all of the language allows so much “flexibility” that students with special needs could end up warehoused, or pushed into classes of typical learners (which may be a terrible choice for some), or ousted from the school because of “disciplinary issues.”    Furthermore, if DHCC can somehow mis-categorize English Language Learners at a school, how can anyone trust it to honestly and authentically label and serve students with special needs?

The DHCC waiver requests include waivers for discipline, claiming to use “positive” disciplinary tactics.  That language is all well and good, but when I review the petition and waiver requests, I have deep concern that the DHCC will use its waiver to oust students who do not fit its particular bent, which is clearly toward gifted students.  I am concerned that students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who are ELLs will disproportionately find themselves labeled as “discipline problems,” rather than as children who are true gifts to the world.  They will be removed, so that DHCC can boast of its success.  The process is called “push-out” and it has a venerable history, especially here in the south.  I speak as a lifelong southerner and as a product of public schools in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

The DHCC requests a waiver in terms of class size in order to be “fiscally sustainable.”  This waiver request is an absurdly slippery slope, for once the DHCC realizes the inadequacy of its budget, the class sizes for classes that are not gifted, advanced placement, or otherwise geared toward students with higher test scores—will quite likely balloon, in order to allow the gifted programs to remain small and intimate.

Likewise, the DHCC wants to have full authority and autonomy in transportation issues, including salaries of bus drivers, routes, and accessibility.  I hear the phrase of “fiscal sustainability” in the background there, and I am acutely aware that transportation could easily suffer from budget concerns and become an issue that excludes working class children from attending schools in the DHCC, even though the children would be zoned into a particular school.

Budgetary Ethics

arrow-downIn the same breath that the DHCC requests waivers of all policies relevant to salaries, budget, and personnel, it requests waivers from the DeKalb County School District Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest policies in order to create its own code of ethics.  One need only have his/her eyes open to see that his scenario is clearly a field that is fertile for abuse.

I was not able to find the DHCC budget on its website, for certain links were not functional.  But a friend with access to a hard copy read aloud certain sections, and we realized that there are enormous gaps in the budget—gaps such as guidance counselors and other essential personnel.  We can only conclude that the DHCC intends such budgetary requirements to come from the DeKalb County School District’s budget.

Odd Demographics

I find it also instructive that even though the student body of the cluster is comprised of 80% students of color, the governing body of the DHCC has only three members of color, two of whom do not live in the cluster district and one of whom lives in Gwinnett County; the DHCC claims that these members have a vested interest in the charter by virtue of students who are in the schools “by choice.”  I cannot help but wonder why the DHCC had to go so far afield to find people of color to support its mission.

The petition also clearly states that only faculty and staff members will be hired or remain in their positions if they support the charter petition.  This requirement is abusive and completely contradictory to the ability and rights of teachers and staff members to have open discussion about this important petition.  Employees at the affected schools have already reported intimidation and silencing.

All of the waiver requests and the descriptions in the petition rely upon one central idea: trust us.  The wording of both documents sounds professional, but the waivers and petition are in fact a sieve of loopholes through which children who do not fit the upper class norm will be excluded and harmed.  If the conduct of the DHCC thus far—with its voting procedures that would have been shameful in the worst dictatorships in the world—is any indication of its trustworthiness, then this petition should be quickly and powerfully denied.

The DHCC talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

Filching Taxpayers

This attempt by a primarily upper class group of people to filch taxpayer dollars for an ultimately exclusionary private school endeavor is reprehensible.  For the sake of all our children, I urge you to deny this petition.

Why Should Mr. Ed Johnson Be Elected to the Atlanta School Board?

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The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King

Mr. Ed Johnson is one of the candidates running for Atlanta Board of Education (Board) District 9 At Large. His candidacy is just the opposite of the title of this post. His views on charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), and the Race to the Top (RT3) run counter to most of the other men and woman running for the Board. I’ll come back to Mr. Johnson a bit later in the post.

Atlanta is under siege from corporations who see the possibility of helping pick board members who are not only sympathetic to the corporate reform model, but will be bound by their acceptance of money and other resources in their campaign to grab one of the seats on the APS School Board. Even the mayor of Atlanta has teemed up with “élite businesspeople” to set up the political action committee, Continue Atlanta’s Progress. The mayor will support those candidates that backed his ideas over the past several years.

dollar-256x256What we see happening in the Atlanta School Board elections is an influx of special interest groups with money and influence that occurred last year when the Georgia Legislature passed a bill to change the State Constitution so that a Central Committee (State Charter Schools Committee) could be resurrected from the ashes. Remember. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled the Central Committee to approve the establishment of schools in local school districts unconstitutional. Our state legislature wouldn’t have it. They came to town and wrote a bill to change the constitution. The byline of the Georgia legislature was, “give us charter schools or we’ll amend the Georgia Constitution.”  And they did. The funds poured into support the legislation, and most of the money came from corporate special interests and people outside of Georgia.

And it’s happening again.  But this time it is to influence who gets elected to the Atlanta School Board.  Special interest groups are hard at work trying to get their candidates elected, and one special interest group has four candidates.

Funds are pouring in again. Sitting here in Georgia is a large urban school district that has suffered one of the biggest school scandals of all time. And the fundamental reasons that created the environment leading to the test scandal are still here. An education environment where students are pawns in a corporate led reform environment based on competition, sanctions, punishments and rewards.

There is a lot of money to be made by groups itching to influence which Board of Education candidates gets elected. There are so many conflicts of interest that one wonders if compassion, morals, ethics, and civility are at play.

What do the following have in common: Race to the Top, Teach for America and Charter Management Companies?

The simple answer is that, in combination, these three entities are part of a corporate-led model that pushes professional and highly qualified teachers to the side, and instead uses the Federal program, Race to the Top, to create a data-driven system of education in reduces learning to teaching to the test.

The Atlanta Public Schools is one of 26 Georgia school districts participating in Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top program.  In this program, Teach for America (TFA) and charter school conversions are significant factors in the state’s efforts to punish students and teachers who do not meet the absurd performance standards that are highly questionable.   The education model that many of the candidates embrace labels schools based on high-stakes tests and then measuring the results against performance levels that are not based on sound science, evaluates a school’s worth.   And here’s another thing: these tests measure the narrowest and possibly the least important aspects of schooling, namely the ability to answer multiple choice questions on the lowest level of content in math, or science, social studies or English language arts.

Many of  the labeled “failing” schools end up being closed, in others the principal and at least half the teachers are replaced by unlicensed teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Closing or labeling schools alters the ecology of these communities, and instead of providing resources, and creating opportunities for curriculum innovation and advanced staff development, these plans fail to discuss the real problems–poverty, recreating uninteresting curricula, and using punishments and rewards to control the system.

But Atlanta and the RT3 program in Georgia have a solution.  Turn around our lowest-achieving schools by either replacing the principal and half the faculty, convert it a charter management organization, close the school, or transform the school (replace the principal and use mysterious combination of reform strategies.  Follow this link to RT3 page which describes these choices.

Special Interests and the Election

There are many special interest groups that are working hard to influence the Atlanta school board election.  Two of them stand out.

  • Teach for America
  • EMOs and CMOs

In a recent investigative report, Stephanie Simon at Politico, uncovered a form of political control perpetrated by Teach For America.  In an audacious move, TFA lobbied to support a change in the law that would define teachers still in training, including TFA recruits, as “highly qualified” to take charge of classrooms.  Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig discussed this development on his website, and the conclusion that TFA is a special interest group with political as well as education ambitions is of great importance to the Atlanta School Board election.  According to Simon, TFA has an endowment of $100 million and annual revenues of over $300 million.

I did an investigation of the Georgia Race to the Top budget, and if you follow the money, you will see that my contention that the formula for reforming low achieving schools is a combination of charter conversions and hiring cadets from either Teach for America or The New Teacher Project. TFA will be paid nearly $16 million and TNTP will earn nearly $10 million to supply teachers with no experience nor a teaching license to teach in our lowest achieving schools.  And they only sign a two-year contract.

According to Simon, TFA is “embedding” TFA “graduates” in congressional offices and high ranking jobs in major school districts.  TFA graduates (cadets, really) have five weeks of training.

According to a report by one TFAer,

TFA is at least as enamored of numerical “data points” of success as APS is. TFA strongly encourages its teachers to base their classes’ “big goals” around standardized-test scores. Past and present corps members are asked to stand to thunderous applause if their students have achieved some objectively impressive measure of achievement, and everyone knows that the best way to work for and rise through TFA ranks is to have a great elevator pitch about how your students’ scores improved by X percent. (Olivia Blanchard on Get-Schooled by Maureen Downey)

Yet, Atlanta hires TFA cadets and places them schools that are often classified by the state as failing.

And one more thing, four of the candidates for the school board are TFA graduates.  They are Courtney English, Matt Westmoreland, Eshe Collins and Jason Esteves.  TFA has a strong connection to the charter school movement, so if these four are elected to the board, they’ll represent a near-majority, four of nine.  In a report on the Washington Post education blog, Valerie Strauss, listed the amounts of money these four received from powerful people and groups outside of Georgia.

What will this mean to the APS?

Chartering is a growing enterprise in Georgia, in Atlanta, and in particular the metro-Atlanta area.  According to the Georgia DOE charter schools annual report, there are 11 Educational Management Organizations (EMOs-for profit) or Charter Management Organizations (CMO-not-for profit) operating in Georgia, 2011 – 2012.  Leading the way are KIPP, Edison Learning, Charter Schools USA,  & Academica.

Although the state will have you believe that charters do better than non-charters, the data do not support this contention.  There is no significant difference, such as, in reading scores over the past five years.  Both have improved, but there are no differences.   The same is true in mathematics, although non-charters scored a bit higher, but not significantly.  Charter schools have been unleashed on public schools with false claims and lost of money.

Even when we look at the data here in Georgia to see that there are not significant differences in charters vs non charters, and when we couple that with data nationally, in the end regular public schools out perform charter schools significantly, we still are convinced by corporate interests, and individuals with financial backing that charters and charter clusters is the way to reform schooling.

According to an AJC article (Charter debate shapes races), six of the candidates have received contributions from charter school supporters and TFA.

The reform that many candidates will support is a standards-based, high-stakes testing model that hasn’t worked in the past, yet policy makers—who are far removed from the work of classroom educators—continue to lean on models that are more political than they are realistic.  Teaching is a human endeavor that requires a kind of dedication and knowledge that one does not garner in one or two years.  To think that we will affect the learning of our students by turning schools over to charter companies who have a penchant for hiring the elite college graduates to work in schools that need high quality education is unfortunate.

Unconvential Possibilities

The candidates for the Atlanta School Board are well meaning and qualified citizens of Atlanta.  There is one candidate, however, who holds the opinion that K-12 public education should  embody the zeal for sustaining and advancing democratic ideals in service to the public good.  He also unequivocally rejects education for the purpose of engineering a workforce.  He would say that a workforce must be allowed to emerge as a consequence of education, not by explicit demands placed on education to produce a workforce.

Many of the claims that American education graduates are not nor will be able to compete in a global environment simply are not based on facts.  To suggest that student’s achievement test scores are a significant factor in a country’s competitiveness is not supported in research.  If you look at Iris C. Rotberg’s research on global education, student achievement test scores are not factored into the 12 pillars of a country’s competitiveness.  Business ethics, lack of trust in political leaders, how institutions are audited, and public indebtedness are on the list, not student achievement scores.

An unconventional possibility would be to ban high-stakes testing, and return the decision making into the hands of educators (not policy makers).  We should also stop grading schools on the basis of test scores, and get rid of the A-F assessment of schools.  If APS really wants to improve education for its students, it would need to think differently about the goals of education, and think carefully about the purpose of education in a democratic society.

Which candidates running for the Atlanta School Board would support these kinds of changes?  There may be several.  But I know for certain that there is one, and his name is Mr. Ed Johnson, who is a candidate for the Atlanta Board of Education (Board) District 9 At Large seat.

I met Ed Johnson online, and have carried on a close collaboration with him over the past several years.  I have referenced and quoted his ideas in many of my posts, and he published several guest posts on this blog, here and here.

In one of his published posts, which was a letter to Ann Cramer, Chair of the ABE Superintendent Search Committee, he describes some of his ideas for education. To understand the kind of thinking that would move the APS away from the current test mania, here is part of that letter.  Mr. Ed Johnson says:

Recent news that two Bunch Middle School students were honored in the “” Essay Contest underscores why your service, Ann, as SSC Chairperson represents for you, as well as for the committee members, a formidable challenge.

You, and they, may ask: “How come?” Kindly allow me to explain, or at least try to explain.

Certainly, applaud Do the Write Thing’s aim to help stop youth violence. But why would DtWT make it a contest when the aim of a contest and the aim of an act of violence usually are one and the same, which is to “win” at somebody else’s expense?

More importantly, why does such a pathological win-lose culture continue to persist within our Atlanta Public Schools as if APS’ massively systemic CRCT cheating scandal of 2009 offered no lessons to learn?

Why would anyone believe the APS win-lose culture does not transfer to other aspects of students’ lives and, in some instances, show up as youth violence?

Why does APS seem to embrace inculcating within children competition and adversarialism more so than cooperation and collaboration?

It seems the more the mostly “Black” ABE and APS top administration perceive a particular population of children to be mostly “Black,” the more likely they are to believe and provide for subjecting those children to competition as if competition offers the children salvation. It does not; it only offers more competition.

In the letter to Ms. Crammer, he also suggests that the moral compass that should guide education is one born of cooperation and collaboration, something that cannot possibly happen with competition and adversarialism where it truly matters.  And, in his words, “it truly matters for educating today’s children with the aim of sustaining democratic ideals in service to the public good.”

Ed also wrote a letter to President Obama, which I published here, and as part of the letter, he asked the President,

Has our emphasis on competition and winning races, titles and medals, created a culture that is conducive to an uncivil, undemocratic, and violent society?

An Advocate for Education

Mr. Ed Johnson, an education advocate in Atlanta, and a student of W. Edwards Deming, has worked for at least a decade to raise questions about the kind of education that is being put upon the children and youth of Atlanta, and the district’s policy of closing schools in poor neighborhoods.

In an interview posted on YouTube in 2012, Mr. Johnson discussed the Atlanta Public School (APS) closing proposed by Superintendent Dr. Errol Davis.  Ed Johnson opposes the closing of any of the schools in the system.  His interest is in how to improve Atlanta schools, rather than the effort to turn the schools over to private charter organizations.

Public schools should be sustained and improved, not closed.  Simply closing schools to save money (and Mr. Johnson agrees that the APS is in financial need) is a shallow way of thinking about school improvement.  Johnson, from his work professionally as a student of Deming explains that a school is part of a community, and to simply cut or close schools will result in consequences to the entire community.  Closing a school disrupts a community to such an extent that even though the district might save $5 million over a ten-year period, the real effect will be losing money.  Not only do parents depend on the neighborhood school as a public place to educate their children, but the school itself, being part of a community, is connected to many entities that make up the community.  Johnson recommends that instead of operating a school at full capacity, we might consider a variable capacity school that makes adjustments to the student population.  By keeping the schools intact, and reducing the overall costs to run the school based on enrollment, the school remains a vibrant part of the community, and with community leadership can begin to rebuild and improve the school.

Johnson explains that a system (such as a community) is more than a sum of its parts.  He says that if we get the parts (of a school & its community) working together, it will result in much more than the sum of the parts.  Narrow thinking will lead to the closing of schools because the central office looks only at short-term savings of money, where the kind of deep thinking that Johnson is advocating might create an environment for school improvement, rather than closure.

And one more thing.  Mr. Johnson tasks the school board with telling us what they think is the purpose of schooling in Atlanta.  As he points out, asking nine school board members this question several years ago resulted in nine different answers. As Johnson says, if they can’t agree on the purpose of schools, how can they function to improve the district.  Why do have public schools?  What is the purpose of school?  If we can not answer such basic questions, how can we possibly make serious decisions about people’s lives such as shutting down their children’s schools.  And indeed Mr. Johnson’s ideas about purpose of schooling are in sync with Edward Deming’s ideas when he says:

People are asking for better schools, with no clear idea how to improve education, nor even how to define improvement of education (Deming 1994).

I think you might find it valuable to watch Mr. Johnson’s interview which appears in this video. View the second part of his video interview here.

checkI am Asking You to Vote for Mr. Johnson

I worked in downtown Atlanta for 32 years as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, and lived in Atlanta for a decade.  During those years as professor I had the privilege of working with educators in the Atlanta Public School district from 1969 – 2003.  If I were still living in Atlanta (I live now in Marietta) I would not only vote for Ed Johnson, but I would feel unusually well represented by a man of integrity and creative ideas.  Parents and students will be not only protected from outside forces by Mr. Johnson, but he will forge a discussion among the Board that will bring civility and care into the room.  He also will be a champion of experienced educators, and will make sure that the views of experienced teachers are integral to reforming education in Atlanta based on the ideals of a democratic society.

If you are a citizen of Atlanta, I urge you to vote for Ed Johnson.

 

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.  John Adams as quoted in  Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 30-32). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.