Michelle Rhee’s legacy

Latest Story: Reblogged from Mathbabe

Michelle Rhee’s legacy

Dr. O’Neil provides important comparisons between the Atlanta cheating scandal and the cheating scandal in Washington, D.C. under Michelle Rhee. The difference was the scandal in D.C. was buried.

Originally posted on mathbabe:

Lately, as background research for my book, I’ve been looking into the 2008 cheating scandal associated with Michelle Rhee’s high stakes Value-Added Model regime in the D.C. area, Specifically, I’m talking about the high erasure rates associated to certain standardized tests that had cash bonuses attached to large improvements, and the consequential investigation that was smothered

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Governor Deal’s Weather Task Force is More of a Mob Than a Problem Solving Team

To improve the state of Georgia’s response to severe weather, Governor Nathan Deal appointed a 28 member task force.  A few years ago, when Atlanta educators were accused of changing answers on student tests sheets, the Governor (Sonny Perdue) appointed a panel of three to investigate and prepare a report.  Why do we need 28 people, many of whom simply do not have the time to investigate the state’s natural disaster alert system.

Governor Deal has appointed 28 people to meet and has charged them with coming up with plans to improve the state’s ability to respond to severe weather.  They must report back to the Governor within 60 days of their first meeting.

The task force is made up senior level people from various organizations in the state, public and private.  Figure 1 is a break-down of the Task Force into various categories:

Georgia Severe Weather Task Force


Chamber of Commerce




Georgia Emergency Management Authority (GEMA)


Governor’s Office






Natural Resources Dept.


Police, Fire & Safety


School Superintendents




Weather TV Announcers and National Weather Service

Figure 1. Georgia Severe Weather Task Force, Feb. 3, 2014

The Task Force is more a mob, and not a group that can solve problems and make recommendations.  But more than this is the fact that many of the members of this Task Force contributed to the Atlanta Weather Fiasco on January 28 – 29, 2014. If you look over the list of categories, the fundamental reason the state did NOT respond to the severe weather forecasts that we clearly made public on all four Atlanta TV stations, as well as the National Weather Service, in Peachtree City, Georgia.

Investigate the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA)

The organization that should be investigated is GEMA.  GEMA has one mission, as stated on the GEMA website, and that is:

GEMA’s mission is to provide a comprehensive and aggressive all?hazards approach to homeland security initiatives, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and special events in order to protect life and property and prevent and/or reduce negative impacts of terrorism and natural disasters in Georgia.

The vision of GEMA is

Create a culture of preparedness by fostering partnerships between local, state and federal government, local business and industry, volunteer and faith-based organizations, and the citizens of Georgia.

And, according the Agency’s website, the Core Business is Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery.

GEMA failed in it mission, and one has to question its culture and core business ability.  Georgia’s ability to respond to natural disasters is dependent on GEMA’s competence to make decisions and take action based on information available to them from meteorologists, and other earth scientists.  It requires a mode of thinking that is ecological.  People who work at GEMA have to be schooled in systems thinking, and have the courage to make bold decisions based on available data.

The AJC uncovered and published emails sent to and from the Director of GEMA.  The emails do not support in any way boldness in decisions making, nor do they show that GEMA’s director has learned from earlier weather events in Atlanta.

If the Governor wants to improve the state’s ability to respond to natural disasters, it needs to go directly to the source of the problem, and that has to GEMA.

The Task Force should be disbanded before it meets, and instead, the Governor should appoint a smaller group of people who do not have the vested interests similar to the make up of the Severe Weather Task Force.  This committee should be charged with investigating the culture and operations of GEMA, and report back to the Governor on time.

Who would you recommend as members of a smaller committee to investigate GEMA?

More than 90% of Students Learned in Spite of the CRCT Erasure Scandal?

Are you surprised?

You probably know that Atlanta Schools are in the middle of a test cheating scandal in which student bubble answer sheets were changed by erasing wrong answers to right answers.  Did the students learn, in spite of some teachers’ and administrators’ behavior.  They did because the the teaching practices that were initiated, especially in reading and English/language arts, seem to hold as evidenced in CRCT test results the year AFTER the scandal.

Read ahead for more on this. You’ll find the results interesting…..

Parks Middle School. In the Atlanta bubble test erasure investigation, Parks Middle School was center-stage in the investigation.  According to the report, “cheating” occurred from 2005 – 2009. According to the report, the principal conspired with other administrators and some teachers to systematically changed answers on student bubble tests during these, and made an effort to keep this from the test coordinator.

But, during this period of time Parks was held up as a model of how to turn around an urban school. In fact a lengthy report in the form of a published paper (here) of Parks’ efforts and successes was included in the Governor’s Investigative report. Parks was involved in many innovative curriculum efforts designed to help students achieve success.

I examined the data at CRCT website (Georgia Department of Education) for a three year period, 2008 -2010. I wanted to find out how the scores changed (if at all) in 2010 in each subject area. As you can see in the areas of Reading and English/Language Arts Parks more than 90% of Park’s 8th graders met or exceeded the state target, even after the year when “cheating” was discovered.  In the areas of math, science and social studies, we do see an appreciable decline in CRCT results in 2010.

At Parks Middle School, the increase in reading scores rose dramatically from 2004 from 35% to 74%, and then to 98.5 in 2009.  According to the Governor’s investigative team, the scores in 2010 (the year in which we can be certain there was no cheating), students in the 8th grade at Parks still scored above 90%.  The same is true for English/Language Arts.

Why Parks’ Students Scores Increased Dramatically.  In a paper describing the Parks’ story of success, the dramatic gains in student test scores was attributed to effective leadership, data-driven planning and instruction, high expectations, strategic partners (corporate sponsors), increased student discipline, and more professional development.  There is evidence that all of these did indeed occur, although some might argue with the “effective leadership” attribute.

These dramatic increases in student performance were lauded, locally and nationally, and Parks received many awards, and enormous financial support during this period.  Superintendent Hall praised the work of the principal, Christoper Waller, and both were recognized for creating conditions that made learning successful for poor children.  Specialists in reading, special education and other areas were hired to provide staff development and instruction for students. Waller launched Project GRAD at Parks Middle School, a reform model that included professional development for teachers, on going support, coaching and re-training.  Twenty-five Atlanta elementary, middle and high schools currently participate in Project GRAD.   Project GRAD is a national program, and is in place in more than ten cities around the country.

Georgia State Department Involvement. The Georgia Department of Education was involved with Parks Middle through the NCLB “Needs Improvement” schools support.  The state assigned Dr. Cheryl Hunley to serve with Parks and six other area schools.  Working closely with the principal, she provided professional development, and worked very closely with the entire staff at Parks.

In addition to these two major sources of professional development, Parks was also part of the SRT 2 (School Reform Team 2), an initiative begun by Dr. Hall which was led by an executive director who oversaw several schools.  Training, support, and assistance was localized with in the district through SRTeams.

There is no doubt Parks was involved in innovative school improvement.  And given, the data that is shown in the Figure 1, we can conclude that these efforts must have contributed to some of the gains shown in student CRCT test results, especially in Reading and English/Language Arts.

Test Results. The results in Math, which did decrease in 2010, are disappointing.  The scores in science and social studies show the greatest losses.  But I remember several years ago that Dr. Hall was quoted as saying that there is no way that students will do well on the NAEP Science Test with out Reading and Math.  She indirectly was saying that schools should emphasize reading and math to the exclusion of science, and perhaps social studies.

The data reported by the Investigative Team of the Governor’s Office, and the CRCT data for these three years does not answer all of the questions.  Teachers may have cheated in changing student scores, but students did learn and improve, and they need to be informed that all of their gain was not due to teacher’s changing their papers.

Parks Middle School Reading English Language Arts Math Science Social Studies
2008 93.5 94.4 81.5 49.2 79
2009 98.5 96.9 85.4 58.5 66.9
2010 94 89.4 70.2 35 28
Average 95.3 93.5 79.0 47.5 57.9
Figure 1. Percent of Students Who Met or Exceeded the CRCT State Mandated Standard by Subject, 2008 – 2010 at Parks Middle School.  Note: 2009 was the year the Governor’s Office investigated excessive erasures in the APS.  In 2010, there were few, if any, erasures on bubble tests. 

Why did this happen?  What happened in Atlanta is still an open question. The interim Superintendent is moving swiftly to replace administrators and staff mentioned in the Governor’s Report, including the administrators at Parks Middle, and STR2. It is important to note that not only was the Superintendant of Atlanta aware of the dramatic increase in test scores at Parks, so was the Georgia Department of Education.

In whose interest? But it was in their interest to perhaps look the other way, and not ask the question that was asked by an Atlanta reporter. As I have said in this blog, the scrutiny of this scandal should stop at the Superintendent’s office in Atlanta, but should also include the Twin Towers, home of the Georgia Department of Education. Did they contribute to the culture of fear that the Governor has alluded to in the investigative report?

Finally, the data shows that student did improve their Reading and English/Language Arts scores over the years. Not to admit so is a diservice to the teachers at Parks, and more importantly to the students and their parents.

It’s Getting Hotter in Atlanta

Well, hot temperatures are arriving in the Atlanta area; but its been hot in Texas. What’s the fuss. It’s summer. Well last year, 2005, was the hottest year during a period of temperature measurements from 1860 to today. These measurements include combined annual land, air and sea surface temperatures. Take a look at the graph below.


High temperature records were set in Reno, Nevada (10 days >100 degrees F; Las Vegas, one day >117 degrees F; Tucson, AZ (39 days)>100 degrees F, and list goes on in the U.S. and around the world.

One of the issues that makes statements of global warming controversial is that people simply say that these high temperatures are just part of a larger cycle, where temperatures go up, and go down. That’s true. But when we look at the big picture with data, we see that the trend, since we started putting lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (around the beginning of the industrial revolution), temperatures around the world began to take off and rise.

There are several projects that have helped students learn how to monitor the environment and share data with students in other parts of the world. Historically, the Global Lab, the Global Thinking Project, and EnviroNet have done this. Currently, The Globe Program involves thousands of schools around the world in collecting data, not only on temperature, but many other variables as well including cloud cover, water vapor, air pressure, relative humidity, precipitation. The project also involves students in hydrology, soil and land cover/biology. In my experience working with middle and secondary school students with their teachers, especially in the U.S., Russia, and Spain, their dedication and involvement in collaborative environmental projects was amazing. They took the work they were doing seriously, and felt as if they were involved in important work. It’s that same level of dedication, and involvement that is needed to deal seriously with global warming.