Ed Johnson: Atlanta Needs to Reconsider Its Choice for New Superintendent


Photo credit: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/greg_foster/

Photo credit: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/greg_foster/

Ed Johnson, an advocate for quality education in Atlanta, provides commentary and data questioning Atlanta’s decision to hire Austin’s current superintendent for Atlanta’s superintendency. According to Mr. Johnson, there is great controversy in the process, as well as the choice for superintendent.

According an email I received from Ed Johnson, on April 7th, members of the clergy and community, including parents and educators, held a press conference to voice concerns about the undemocratic process that the Atlanta Board of Education is using to hire Atlanta Public Schools next superintendent.

According to the press release, the district paid thousands of dollars to consultants and engaged a search committee for several months to present several finalists to the public. But in a surprising move, the district presented a “sole” finalist after stating that over 400 names were submitted for consideration. The district is moving rapidly to hire the “sole” finalist without respecting a more democratic and open process that would engage and allow citizens more choices along with a more publicized and inclusive vetting process. Sadly, the board’s actions have taken the “public” out of public education.

Using his unique understanding of systems theory, he provides comparative data on these two school systems in the context of reading and mathematics performance over the past ten years.   This is an analysis you will not see performed by the Atlanta Public School Board, but whose members know him, and should take note of his thinking and caring for the students in the APS.

His analysis,  Austin Independent School District and Atlanta Public Schools Viewed through NAEP TUDA 2005-2013, can be viewed at this link, and augments his comments, which follow.

He writes:

Every two years NAEP, commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card” and respected for being untainted by political ideologies and agenda, administers the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) to voluntarily participating urban school districts.  TUDA Reading was first administrated in 2002 in Grades 4 and 8 to six urban school districts, including Atlanta Public Schools (APS or “Atlanta”).  TUDA Math was first administered in 2003 in Grades 4 and 8 to ten urban school districts, again including Atlanta. By 2013, TUDA had twenty-one urban school districts participating.  The next TUDA administration will be in 2015.  Austin Independent School District (AISD or “Austin”) participated for the first time in 2005.

TUDA results are reported as average scale scores that range from zero (0) to 500, as with NAEP results.  Looked at over time, TUDA results may be put to simple elementary level arithmetic to extract powerful, holistic insight into the performance of all the participating urban school districts taken as a system.  The same can be done to extract such insight into the performance of any one urban school district taken as a system of Reading, Math, or other subject as assessed by TUDA.  The attachment does both; just be aware that its use of the requisite arithmetic is atypical of simplistically ranking data and of computing percentage change from two data points in time as done in business-style financial reports.  Such reports inherently fail to preserve context and give no rational basis for predicting future outcome.

The USS Urban School Reform Ship

Pages 4 and 5 in the attachment look at all TUDA participating urban school districts as a system and represents, by way of analogy, that since the first TUDA administration in 2002, all the districts, save possibly a few, have been on the same ship carrying them all in the same direction no matter the disricts’ ever changing relative positions aboard ship.  Insight, here, is that virtually no urban school district has improved or declined that would amount to having “jumped ship” for the better or for the worse.  Since the ship first set sail in 2002, the outcome has been status quo maintained; no improvement of urban school districts all taken as a system.

Similarly, pages 6 through 9 in the attachment look at Austin and Atlanta TUDA Reading and Math results put side-by-side for 2005 through 2013 and represent that Atlanta stands relatively more capable to experience systemic improvement in both Reading and Math than does Austin, although Austin would “rank” higher than Atlanta.  Any ranking, however, would be only from the standpoint of Austin and Atlanta being passengers aboard the ship, thus pointless.  So stay mindful that the ship has all passengers going in the same direction.  It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Figure 1. It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Figure 1. It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Interestingly, during 2005-2013, Atlanta TUDA Reading and Math results continuously increased, but Austin TUDA Reading and Math results continually increased.  And during 2009-2013, Austin TUDA Reading and Math results began to appear suppressed and flattened, even stalled.  Consequently, Atlanta is now port-side and has become much closer to Austin.  (Caution: Three more continuous increases in any TUDA subject and grade results by Atlanta will be a total of eight continuous increases since 2005. Eight continuous increases should prompt conducting a study to learn the root cause(s) of the increases, lest another Atlanta test cheating crisis be in the making.  The reason is simple to illustrate: Getting eight heads in row or eight snake eyes in a row is possible but improbable with a fair coin or dice.)

By the way, if the ship were to be given a name then “The USS Urban School Reform” seems reasonable.

Kindly consider the attachment.  Consider, too, that Atlanta school board members seem unanimously committed to vote the affirmative come April 14, 2014, to hire the sole superintendent finalist they selected to present to the public, a behavior that bespeaks disregard for effective public engagement.  The sole superintendent finalist is Austin’s current superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen.  Dr. Carstarphen has been Austin’s superintendent since 2009, since the time Austin’s TUDA results began to appear suppressed and flattened, even stalled.

Having considered the attachment, now kindly consider a few questions: Why does the ideology of “urban superintendent” persists when NAEP TUDA results make clear that the ideology’s transporter, the USS Urban School Reform, has provided and will in the future provide for its passengers, the urban school districts, to move around onboard ship but not improve?  Austin seems a case in point.  Will Atlanta become a case in point with Dr. Carstarphen as yet another “urban superintendent,” however well-trained by Harvard?

It will be my pleasure to have conversation about anything presented here that in any way interests you.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com
About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.