If We Vote Yes on Georgia’s Opportunity School District, We’re Doing the Wrong Thing

If We Vote Yes on Georgia’s Opportunity School District, We’re Doing the Wrong Thing

The Artofteachingscience.org blog is up and running.  All of my sites were hacked around October 5, and its taken quite awhile to get all the files cleaned and free of malicious content (malware) that attacked my sites.  This site is one of thousands that are compromised every day.  I spent more than 20 years traveling to Russia, maybe I was acted by some Russian cyber sleuths.  Or maybe, since I responded on Donald Trump’s Twitter account telling how incredibly awful his candidacy for President is, and that if anyone is corrupt, unlawful, a misogynist, or racist, it’s him. In any case, I’ve purchased protection against further incoming viruses, worms, adware, and any other malicious programs lurking in cyber space ready to attack at any time.

I thought it was important to continue with the campaign to defeat Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) by bringing Ed Johnson into the conversation.  Ed Johnson has been an active critic of the Governor’s OSD, which is Amendment 1 on the Georgia ballot on November 8.  Those voting yes will approve the Governor’s take over of so-called “chronically failing schools,” while those voting no will keep the integrity of community based education, and keep these schools away from the profiteers waiting on the boarders to stream into the state and set up charter schools.

So, here we begin.

I received a letter from Ed Johnson as a follow-up to a conversations he had with Rep. Joyce Chandler (GA) at an Opportunity School District issues public forum in Atlanta about three weeks ago.

Ed Johnson, who is not only an advocate for quality public education, but is a disciplined scholar on systems education, which has been championed by W. Edwards DemingRussell L. Ackoff and others.

Good day, Rep. Joyce Chandler.

Just a short follow-up to say it was a pleasure meeting and talking with you at last evening’s public forum on OSD issues hosted by BOOK, or Better Options for Our Kids.

As I mentioned, I hold a keen, long-standing interest in improving our public education systems and in inviting others to understand they can be improved and not merely changed, as the Opportunity School District would do (this link takes to an in-depth analysis of the OSD, and supports the views of Ed Johnson).

But, alas, some people conflate improvement and change. Whereas improvement requires the hard, complex work of learning and getting ever newer knowledge, change requires only the easy, simplistic work of doing something different, as OSD and charter school proponents so often assert. Do the wrong thing – and OSD is so obviously the wrong thing to do – will only make matters worse, much worse.

This is much the reason, earlier on, in an open letter, I informed Gov. Nathan Deal of several proven better ways than the known-to-fail Opportunity School District way. Of course, others know of better ways than the OSD way.

I invite you to my open letter to Gov. Deal and his reply, at the link below. The link will take you to the web site of Jack Hassard, Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Georgia State University and a former high school teacher.


If you would care to discuss further, it will be my pleasure.

With kind regards, I am

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

Atlanta Take Note: There is New Science Educator Intown!

Latest Story

Ed Johnson sent an email out a few days ago in which he described the kinds of experiences that students at a local elementary school might experience if the school took advantage of its place right next to an Atlanta system of Trails and Greenways that ultimately create miles of paved trails through forests and waterways that will connect to the Atlanta Beltline, a network of public parks, multi-use trails, and transit along a “historic 22-mile railroad corridor circling downtown and connecting many neighborhood directly to teach other.

Ed Johnson provides a glimpse into how the Atlanta Beltline and it associated green spaces and trails could be used to humanize and create an experiential and sensual approach to teaching and learning.

I’m Emeritus Professor of Science Education at Georgia State University, and have lived and worked in Atlanta for more than 45 years.  I’ve met lots of incredible science educators, researchers and science teachers, especially in the Atlanta Public Schools during this time.

However, there is new science educator in town!

Experiential learning.  Inquiry.  Finding out.  Asking questions.  Wondering.  No one could explain these ideas or say it better than Ed Johnson.

Here is what he had to say about learning.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 7.11.39 PM
A photo of part of the 1.15-mile long Southwest Connector Spur Trail that winds around beautiful woods and passes by Beecher Elementary School, Atlanta Public Schools

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen has blogged good news: Let’s Play! Every APS Elementary School Gets a Playground! She recaps that, as a consequence of the school board having decided to provide for schools to be more equitable operationally, nine of ten priority elementary schools now have a playground ready for back-to-school. In addition, she reports that a playground at the tenth priority elementary school, Beecher Hills Elementary, is under construction and that the planning process there includes working with a City of Atlanta arborist. Great!

So, speaking of Beecher Hills Elementary School…

One of several points of entry onto a system of greenway trails is right next to the gated entry to Beecher Hills Elementary. It is at that entry point to the trails that I sometimes start and end a walk-run. Being out there to emerge in the surroundings and to be open to The Universe always proves a way to more fully engage the senses, and to renew. What am I seeing? Hearing? Feeling? Smelling? Tasting? One the most engaging times out on the trails occurred during a torrential downpour, and I got soaking wet. Still, the rain provided a very different learning context and experience I had not before imagined.

The greenway trails effectively extend Beecher Hills Elementary School’s backyard. And because they do, I often think it would be magical to be a kid at Beecher with freedom to play and learn in and from that extended backyard.

The point of entry to the greenway trails at Beecher Hills Elementary lies adjacent to the school’s front driveway. From that entry point the greenway meanders northward and down the westward side of the hill upon which the school sits. Then the greenway curves eastward along a fence behind the school before curving northward and connecting with an east-west trail just beyond having crossed a creek.

Environments outside the classroom for students to explore and learn.
Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 7.36.39 PM
Environments for learning along the Southwest Connector Spur Trail

Out Beecher’s back doors and down the hill, the fence encloses an expansive green field just begging to be played on. The field catches my eye, every time. It always invites me to pause and wonder what would kids do if let loose upon it? What sort of games would they innovate and play? What sort of learning would they innovate and personalize and internalize for themselves? What sort of questions would the kids ask prompted by observations they would have made? Would they even ask questions, having been trained to give only answers à la standardized teaching, learning, and testing? Would teachers run themselves ragged trying to control the kids’ play? How would teachers deal with kids’ questions, especially questions lacking answers?

And then I think, hmm, nighttime. Hardly any surrounding light! Look up, “billions and billions!” –thanks, Carol Sagan! And, of course, thanks, too, to that astrophysicist guy Neil Degree Tyson who claims “All I did was drive the getaway car” when Pluto got knocked off. So, yep, a telescope, right in the center of the field out back Beecher Hills Elementary School. Can’t you just imagine?!

Now, in addition to the field, thoughts of experiencing something new at any random point along the greenway invite imagining there could come from being a kid at Beecher Hills Elementary School a magical mix-up of unconventional play and learning from inquiry kids tend to do innately until thought to do otherwise:

What kind of tree is this? How old is this tree? That tree? Why has that tree grown so tall and skinny? How long has that big old-looking tree over there been here? How long does a tree live? Will it live longer than me? Why do these three trees share the same trunk? Why have some trees fallen? What happens to a tree after it falls? Why do some trees have different shaped leaves? Why do tree leaves change color from time to time? Why do some trees drop all their leaves and some don’t? Do trees breathe? Do trees eat? How are people like trees?

What kind of grass is this? Why are its flowers blue? And why are the flowers on this grass yellow? Why does this flower smell sweet? This one yucky? This one no smell at all? Why do some grass have flowers and some don’t? What is a flower? Why do some plants grow tall and some grow close to the ground? Why is this plant a vine? Why do some vines grow berries? Why is it safe to eat some berries and not others? Why is this plant over here growing in the wet soil but not over here in the dry soil?

Where does the water in the creek come from? Where does the water go? Why is the water level in the creek sometimes high and sometimes low? Why is there a bank of sand in the creek? Where did the sand come from? Why are fish in the creek? What do the fish eat? Why are the fish so small? Look, over here! What kind of animal is that swimming? Why does it wiggle its tail like that when swimming? Why is trash in the creek? Where did the trash come from? What harm does the trash do?

How come manholes are out here in the woods? Who made the manholes? Who made the manhole iron covers? Why do the manholes make the sound of rushing water? How are the manholes and the covers on them connected to the history of Atlanta and the area around Beecher Hills Elementary?

What kind of birds are those hopping and taking short flights along the greenway? What do the birds eat? Do the birds live in the woods or fly in? What is that circling overhead? A hawk? A vulture? Why is it circling instead of flying straight ahead? Why is it soaring higher and higher yet not flapping its wings? Why are some birds a lot bigger than other birds? How come birds can fly? How are people like birds?

What kind of spider is this? Why has it spun a web of circles high off the ground and between two trees? How did it manage to get from one tree to the other tree to anchor its web? Do all spiders spin the same kind of web? Are some spiders helpful to people? Are all spiders helpful to nature?

Look, a snail! Why does it move so slowly? Why does it have a shell? Why does it leave a trail of slime behind? Why do snails have antenna? Can snails see? Do they have eyes? How do snails eat? Do snails have a mouth? What do snails eat?

How come ants can walk so fast for their size? And carry so much for their size? Where are the ants going? Where are they coming from? Why are they trailing each other? Why do two ants stop to greet each other when passing in the opposite direction? Why do ants have antenna? What kind of eyes do ants have? Why do ants have six legs? How many parts to an ant’s leg? Why do ant bodies have three segments? Why do ants sting? What happens to me when an ant stings me? How many ants are in the world? How are ants helpful to people? How are people like ants?

Why is the dirt red? What lives in the dirt? What kind of rock is this?

And much, much and many, many more opportunities for magical play and learning in and from the extended backyard of Beecher Hills Elementary School!

So, a playground for Beecher Hills Elementary School being little more than an outdoor gym set?

Sure, but why just that? What reason could it be except adults’ deeply held need to exercise conventional command-and-control of children playing and learning what adults have been decided for the children to play and learn?

Well, the greenway trails offer a clear and present alternative, or at least a supplement, to the conventional. And the alternative is right there in Beecher Hills Elementary Schools’ extended backyard. Awesome!

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA

Is Georgia’s Opportunity School District Plan Immoral?

Latest Story

Is Georgia’s Opportunity School District Immoral?

From The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP, came a letter from The Nation that I think is crucial as we act on recent actions by the Georgia Legislature and Governor.

The Governor of Georgia, with the backing of both Democrats and Republicans in the Georgia Assembly approved a bill that would call for a change in the Georgia Constitution that would enable the Governor’s office to create a separate and centrally controlled school district composed of so-called “chronically failing schools,” based on an arbitrary score primarily based on student achievement test scores.  The new district would be called the Opportunity School District, which will be a copy of the Louisiana Recovery District, and the Tennessee Recovery District, each of which has resulted in failed attempts to improve education of students in schools, especially in New Orleans.

In Dr. Barber’s letter, he calls for a movement that isn’t liberal or conservative, but based on moral, fusion language (using his term). The Opportunity School District that voters in Georgia will vote on in the November 2016 election is not in the interests of students and parents that will be labeled as attending “chronically failing schools.”  You can read the bill here.

I believe that creating such a district is immoral, and lacks common sense for our students and their parents.  Twenty schools will be forced to become part of the Opportunity School District based solely on student achievement test scores.  After the first year, the Governor’s Office can force up to 20 more schools into the district, for five years.

The plan for the Opportunity School District is based on a “turnaround the lowest-achieving schools” philosophy that is outlined in Georgia Department of Education documents you can find here.  That philosophy is best described by Mr. Ed Johnson as “turnaround delusion.”

Turnaround delusion, according to Johnson, is promoted by reformsters who:

try and manage and control and ultimately standardize the “huge variety of value demand” that shows up at school every school day, mostly in the form of children. They know not to think to learn to absorb the value demand the children bring with them to school. After all, the children are the students, not them. Their delusive decision to turn APS into a Charter System exemplifies the genesis of the kind of failure demand they generate and then try to manage and control through standardized teaching and learning and performance (email correspondence from Ed Johnson, May 27, 2015).

Dr. Barber reports, that in North Carolina,  a movement had already reformed the voting laws before Obama was on the ballot—an interracial, intergenerational, anti-poverty, pro-labor fusion movement that was challenging even Democrats to be more committed to a moral vision.

It was unfortunate that Georgia Democrats in the Senate lacked the moral conviction to vote against the Governor’s bill (Senate Resolution 287).  Instead, some of cast a quid pro quo vote.  Where were the progressives among the state Democrats?

Barber goes on to explain the nature of a movement that needs to take root in Georgia if we are to affect the very nature of schooling for communities that is community based, and not controlled by administrators far from the center of the lives of Georgia students in “chronically failing schools.”

Here is what Dr. Barber says about “a different kind of movement”

Since the social, political, and economic system of slavery was defeated by progressive Northern white families aligning with hundreds of thousands of African slaves and freed people in the South in 1865, The Nation has fought to repair the deep breaches this system created in the human family of the nation. Today, when Southern legislatures have fallen to Tea Party zealots, the need for a Southern-oriented anti-racism mass movement is greater than ever. The Nation will continue to play an important role in building this movement in the South, and explaining it to the rest of the nation.

We need a transformative movement—state-based, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, pro-justice. We need to build for the long-term, not around one issue or campaign.

We need the kind of language that’s not left or right or conservative or liberal, but moral, fusion language that says:

  • It is extreme and immoral to suppress the right to vote.
  • It is extreme and immoral to deny Medicaid to millions of poor people, especially when denied by people who have been elected to office and receive their own insurance through that office.
  • It is extreme and immoral to raise taxes on the working poor and cut earned-income tax credits, especially in order to slash taxes for the wealthy.
  • It is extreme and immoral to shut off people’s water in Detroit.
  • It is extreme and immoral to end unemployment compensation for those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own.
  • It is extreme and immoral to resegregate and underfund our public schools.
  • It is mean, it is immoral, it is extreme to kick hardworking people when they are down.


The Governor’s plan is full of hypocrisy and lacks the moral vision that Dr. Barber calls for, and that a growing number of citizens of Georgia are setting the stage to act on.  On Monday, June 15, there will be a STOP OSD! Coalition Meeting at 1:00 P.M. at the Wheat Street Baptist Church, 359 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312.

Georgians need to unite to defeat the Opportunity School District, and insist that the Georgia Legislature fund schools a levels that will enable local school districts to carry out their own community based plans.


Governor Deal Exchanges Letters with Ed Johnson–Ships Passing in the Night

Latest Story

Governor Deal exchanges Letters with Ed Johnson–Ships Passing in the Night.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ed Johnson had a “ships passing in the night” experience sending a letter to Governor Nathan Deal.  Ed wrote a brief letter clearly stating that there is a better way to help Georgia’s struggling schools than imposing a state take over of “chronically failing” schools with the Governor’s Opportunity School District.  He even included examples of community-based programs that are working and could be implemented in Georgia.  Johnson’s letter was personal, and based on years of research on how organizations work.

The Governor’s reply came the same day.  Isn’t  that amazing.  A citizen can write a letter and get an immediate response from the governor?

Even though Ed was waving his hands, jumping up and down, and shining a spotlight on the Governor’s ship, his words were ignored.  He received nothing more than the talking points that the Governor and his office use to brainwash citizens of Georgia that a Louisiana Recovery School District type plan is just what the government ordered.

We simply do not agree with the Governor.  His plan is an overreach of government, and ignores the research on the New Orleans Recovery School District.

I’ve included each letter in this post for you to read and make your own decision.

What do you think?

Ed Johnson’s Letter to the Governor

Dear Governor Deal,

With all due respect, sir, you don’t have to do this. You really don’t. There is a better way.

Cincinnati Public Schools demonstrates a better way. Jack Hassard, Professor Emeritus, Science Education, Georgia State University, writes about the CPS better way on this blog [1].

Iredell-Statesville Schools [2], Statesville, NC, demonstrates a better way. It is important for you to know that Iredell-Statesville holds the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, having earned that privilege in 2008. You do know about Baldrige for Education [3], don’t you?

Iredell-Statesville eagerly shares with others their district’s ongoing journey with continual quality improvement. I am aware, and it is important for you to know, that AdvancED/SACS visited Iredell-Statesville to learn about that district’s journey with continual quality improvement. And you know what? AdvancED/SACS subsequently based much of its new AdvancED Standards for Quality [4] on what was learned from Iredell-Statesville. Imagine that.

Leander Independent School District [5], Leander, TX, very near Austin, demonstrates a better way. Leander has been on their ongoing journey with continual quality improvement for more than a decade. People there talk of the “Leander Way” and of being in “Happyville.” That’s because of their practice in the principles and teachings of the late, world-renowned Dr. W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) [6]. “The Deming Way” remains the basis of “The Leander Way” and that district’s ongoing journey with continual quality improvement. Like Iredell-Statesville, Leader eagerly shares with visitors what they do and why they do it.

I once offered our Atlanta Superintendent and Board of Education a fee-paid initial consultation with a leading, internationally practiced educator in helping schools and school districts onto a journey of continual quality improvement. Well, the APS superintendent and board rejected the offer. Dare guess why? I was informed they rejected the offer because – now get this – because “Deming is not applicable to the ‘Black culture’.”

Gov. Deal, sir, there is but one rational reason you will persist with your intention to impose upon the State of Georgia your “Opportunity School District” designs. And that reason is the same reason Atlanta superintendent and school board rejected being willing to learn about and from Dr. Deming’s principles and teachings. And that, sir, is unforgivable.

It was my pleasure for six years to serve as President, Atlanta Area Deming Study. During that time, the study group’s programming centered on introducing educators throughout Georgia and elsewhere and especially Atlanta Public School educators to the “Deming Way.” Only once did we have APS participation. Though no longer active, the study group met monthly or quarterly on the Georgia Tech Campus. Our Deming Study Group was honored to have as guest presenters such persons that ranged from Dr. Stephen Porch, then-Chancellor, University System of Georgia, and two Atlanta Therrell High School students who had stood to teach that Atlanta Superintendent’s and Board of Education’s decision to “reconstitute” their school would come to naught. The students were right, reconstituting Therrell High School did indeed come to naught.

Sir, your “Opportunity School District” will also come to naught. If you would genuinely and honestly care to learn why your OSD will come to naught, it will be my pleasure to meet to talk about it.


Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

[1] http://www.artofteachingscience.org/dear-governor-deal-here-is-an-ahttpwww-cps-k12-orgcommunityclclternative-to-your-opportunity-school-district/
[2] http://www.iss.k12.nc.us/
[3] http://www.baldrigeforeducation.org/
[4] http://www.advanc-ed.org/services/advanced-standards-quality
[5] http://www.leanderisd.org/
[6] https://deming.org/theman/overview

The Governor’s Letter to Mr. Johnson

ATLANTA 30334-0900
Nathan Deal

Dear Mr. Johnson:

Thank you for taking the time to write my office and share your thoughts about the Opportunity School District with me. I appreciate the chance to hear your opinion and consider your point of view.

As the governor of Georgia, I am committed to giving our students access to a world-class education that will train them for the jobs of tomorrow. The education of Georgia’s children is my top priority, and I take very seriously the need to improve education opportunities for all students. The Opportunity School District that I am proposing will provide a safety-net for Georgia’s children who are assigned to attend chronically failing schools. The economic health of these schools and communities suffers when the students and parents have limited or no choice in their education.

My proposal defines chronically failing schools as those earning an “F” on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI) for three consecutive years. There will be no more than 20 schools added to the Opportunity School District (OSD) per year and no more than 100 schools in the OSD at any given time. This will allow the district to be effective in providing support to the students for their success. Unless their performance improves significantly for three consecutive years, the selected schools will remain in the state-wide district for a minimum of five years and a maximum of ten years before returning to the authority of the local school district or continuing to operate as an independent public charter school. I will appoint the Opportunity School District superintendent, who will report directly to me.

In every potential OSD school, parents, teachers, education leaders, business leaders, faith leaders, and other school community stakeholders will have opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions during the decision-making processes to select schools to include in the OSD and to select the intervention model that will provide the greatest improvement and success for that school. The interventions to be considered when meeting with stakeholders in each school will include direct management by the OSD, management by contract between the OSD and the local school board that requires certain changes and improvements, becoming an OSD charter school with a non-profit governing board of community members, and school closure, which would be a last resort likely used only in a select few situations. The final decision, after receiving and carefully considering all stakeholder input, will be made by the OSD superintendent.

Currently, 96 percent of the districts that have Opportunity School District-eligible schools spend at or above the state average of $8,400 per student each year. While all of the schools currently identified as potentially eligible for the Opportunity School District have high rates of poverty among the student bodies, this level of per pupil funding directed to the school is expected to provide adequate funding for effective operation.  Schools in the Opportunity School District would receive a per student share of all local, state, and federal funds coming into the school districts in which the OSD schools are located. It is also important for you to know that there are quite a number of schools in Georgia that consist of 80% or more students of poverty and 80% or more minority students that have earned a CCRPI score of 80 or more for the last three years, and there are even more schools with the same demographics that earned a CCRPI score greater than or equal to the state average of 74 for the last three years. 74% of these schools are located in school districts that spent less than the state average per pupil amount in 2014 – a telling statistic.

A few more important facts about the schools in the Opportunity School District are below.

OSD schools will have the same attendance zones and student populations as they had under the local board of education.
OSD schools will be operated in the existing school buildings, with arrangements made between the OSD and the local board of education for facilities use and other services such as transportation, food service, and broadband capability.
Student records for OSD school students will be transferred from the local board of education to the OSD school so that student education is not interrupted.
OSD schools that choose to become charter schools will operate with non-profit governing boards made up of community members with specific skills and abilities needed to support a successful charter.

In preparing for this initiative, I have studied similar efforts in Louisiana and Tennessee. In Louisiana, the Recovery School District (RSD) was implemented first in New Orleans in 2005. The percentage of students performing at or above grade level increased by 34 percentage points between 2005 and 2013, while the state average increase was only nine percentage points during that same time period. During that same time period, the graduation rate increased by 19 percentage points for students in the New Orleans RSD. The percentage of failing schools in the Recovery School District has decreased by 45 percent from 2008 to 2013. Student and parent surveys also yielded positive ratings for school culture and effectiveness after implementation.

Schools that are successful in preparing students for postsecondary opportunities and the work force are critical to the future of Georgia’s children and the communities in which they live. I view the Opportunity School District as a strategy to fulfill the obligation of the state to provide hope for the families, students, and communities where schools have historically struggled.

The educational success of every child is important to me. Thank you again for writing. If my office can be of any further assistance to you, please let me know.


Atlanta Public Schools’ Equity Audit Finds Differences! by Ed Johnson

Guest Letter by Mr. Ed Johnson, Advocate for Education, Atlanta, GA

Creative Commons "I Come In Peace" by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons “I Come In Peace” by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Ed Johnson wrote a letter in response to the Atlanta Public Schools Equity Audit which was prepared by researchers at Georgia State University to look at differences in the characteristics across schools in the APS district.  As you will see in Ed Johnson’s letter, he uses a form of thinking that looks at the APS as a whole, and not as separate schools, and applies the work of W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Bernard to investigate equity in the context of systems thinking.

This is an important letter written by a person who for years has explored how to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.  It is hoped that the new Atlanta Public Schools superintendent will seek his advice, and in so doing challenge the “turn around” and “urban” mentality that dominates educational reform.

June 26, 2014

Well, of course, Atlanta Public Schools’ equity audit would find differences. Differences always exist. No two of anything are exactly the same. So the discerning question always is, what do differences mean?

In its upfront Executive Summary, the APS Equity Audit Report proclaims:

Equity audits are a relatively new tool for school systems and there are large variations in their thresholds for determining whether or not characteristics are substantially different across schools. Simple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful. This report finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics, but leaves questions of whether and how to address these differences to the broad group of stakeholders concerned with educational outcomes for the students of APS.

On the one hand, the APS Equity Audit Report responsibly cautions against using “[s]imple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both [of which] avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is fortunate. Such figures are usually presented in business-style financial reports that often prompt reacting to and holding people “accountable” for past performance while typically providing no rational basis for predicting performance and learning into the future.

Equity from the Standpoint of Random Variation v Non-Random Variation

On the other hand, without question, although it “finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics,” the APS Equity Audit Report clearly forgoes addressing “whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is unfortunate.

It other words, the APS Equity Audit Report does not address the very important question of what do differences mean. Do differences with respect to a particular characteristic mean something or mean nothing? To answer the question requires detecting and distinguishing differences that arise from random variation and differences that arise from non-random variation.

Random Variation Means…

Detection of differences that arise from random variation would indicate differences that mean nothing, that are not “practically meaningful.” Such differences would be due to common, ever-present systemic causes, any or all of which may be known, knowable, and unknowable.

Non-Random Variation Means…

On the other hand, detection of differences that arise from non-random variation would indicate differences that mean something, that are “practically meaningful.” In this latter case, for better or worse, such differences would be due to special causes powerful enough to dominate and stand apart from all differences due to common causes. Special causes may occur continually, irregularly, or temporarily and are generally known or knowable.

So, there are differences due to common causes that may be referred to simply as “common cause variation.” And there are differences due to special causes that may be referred to simply as “special cause variation.” Hence, there exist two kinds of variation.

Signals and Noise in the Data

Now, considering any characteristic’s data in the APS Equity Audit Report, can something be done with those data to detect and distinguish the two kinds of variation the data may contain? Asked differently, is there a way to filter the data to separate “signals” the data may contain from the “noise” the data do contain?

To do so is important so as to:

  1. avoid responding to a signal as if it were noise and
  2. avoid responding to noise as if it were a signal

To fail at either 1) or 2) is to drive up costs and generate excessive waste, unnecessarily.

Is there a Way to Detect Signals from Noise?

Indeed there is a way to detect and distinguish common cause variation and special cause variation. And it is a way even some elementary school children have learned to use in the process of continually improving their own learning. The way is to make a “process behavior chart” from the data. (The process behavior chart is much like an EKG (electrocardiogram) made to tell a story about the behavior of a patient’s heart.)

Now, from actually having made a process behavior chart for a fair number of characteristics the APS Equity Audit Report covers, none revealed any special cause variation, save a few where Forest Hill Academy was detected to represent a special cause matter, which is to be expected of APS’ alternative school.

The Inexperienced Teacher Category

For example, the process behavior chart in Figure 1 below takes a district-level look at the characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years),” in the category “Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students” (APS Equity Audit Report, pages 179-183). The APS Equity Audit Report explains this characteristic means the proportion of students’ time spent with a teacher that has less than three years experience, and that the proportion can be expressed as a percent by multiplying by 100, which the process behavior chart in Figure 1 does.

Figure 1: District-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson


The process behavior chart in Figure 1 detects only differences due to common causes, or common cause variation, or noise. All the variation ranges around the center-line average of 26 percent (26.26%) and between the lower control limit, at zero percent (0.00%), and the upper control limit, at 55 percent (54.55%). No variation exceeds the upper control limit. This means academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter among all APS elementary schools and not a matter for any individual schools. It would be top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out Centennial Place, or Hutchinson, or M. Agnes Jones so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter.

Again, Figure 1 is district-level, with all APS elementary schools taken as a system. But what about APS Region-level, with each Region taken as a system? What might process behavior charts say about how the North, East, South, and West regions of APS compare on the example characteristic being considered here?

Consider Figure 2, below. The figure comprises four process behavior charts, one for the East Region, North Region, South Region, and West Region of APS. Figure 2 makes it easy to compare the APS Regions holistically and rather straightforwardly and much at a glance. Like the district-level process behavior chart in Figure 1, each Region-level process behavior chart in Figure 2 detects no evidence of special cause variation; all differences are due to common cause variation, to noise. No differences are “practically meaningful.”

It is also quite easy to see in Figure 2 that common cause variation appears the least “spread out” around the North Region center-line average compared to the spread of variation around the other Regions’ center-line averages. Even so, if extended to the right, the North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all West Region schools as well as all South Region schools. And if extended to the left, North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all East Region schools, save Centennial Place. Thus Figure 2, like Figure 1, says differences among all APS elementary schools with respect to the example characteristic are systemic, and equitable.

Moreover, it is also quite easy to see from Figure 2 that each APS Region’s center-line average compares favorably to the district-level center-line average in Figure 1. In Figure 1, the district-level center-line average is 26.26%; in Figure 2, the four Regions’ center-lines average to 26.37%. The difference is a mere 0.11%, or roughly one-tenth of one percent.

The observations made from Figure 2 support and now extend the observation made from Figure 1. Now it can be said that academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter for all APS elementary schools, and is not a matter for any individual school or APS Region.

Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)
Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson

Implication for Administrators, Especially Those at the Top

In addition, and much like already concluded, it would be APS top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out any school or Region so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter. Leadership from the top, from both the school board and the superintendency, is required. Only they can be held “accountable” in any rational way. And no manner of “accountability” pushed down from the top can substitute for the requisite leadership needed to foster collaboration with and among affected stakeholders, as a system.

Now, let’s be clear on this point: Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 present process behavior charts that evidence only equity; neither evidences inequity.

Where is the Inequity?

So, if inequity exists, then where does it exist?

Well, actually, knowing where the inequity exists comes through the story the process behavior charts in Figures 1 and 2 tell. The charts tell the story that the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)” has been optimized among APS elementary schools only about that singular teacher characteristic. It is a story with telltale signs of strictly systematic analytical thinking operating to the exclusion of systemic synthetical thinking. It is a story with telltale signs of believing that the whole is the sum of its parts, and that the whole can do its best only if each part does it individual best, that each part “executes with fidelity.” It is a story where teachers that have less than three years experience have been assigned quite equitably throughout APS elementary schools and to academically disadvantaged students.

And that is the rub, the genesis of the inequity, though it may seem counterintuitive.

Standardized test results have for more than a decade shown APS to be, in effect, “two systems in one,” White-Black, with Black greatly lagging. More recently, standardized test results have begun to show APS’ devolution into becoming “three systems in one,” White-Hispanic-Black, with Black still lagging.

Therefore, the inequity comes not from placing less experienced and unremarkable teachers with especially “Black” students in the APS West Region and South Region. Again, the process behavior charts in Figure 1 and Figure 2 say equity exists among all APS elementary schools with respect to the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years).” Rather, the inequity comes from “Black” students being without greatly experienced and remarkable teachers! For example, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “White” students would constitute equity. However, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “Black” students would constitute inequity. Why? Simply because none can possibly be a greatly experienced and remarkable teacher.

Why the Inequity?

Now, why might this inequity exist? What might be its root?

Consider that the Atlanta Board of Education Policy Manual offers understanding. Specifically, Policy Number BBBC, titled “Board Member Development Opportunities,” states, in part:

The Atlanta Board of Education places a high priority on the importance of a planned and continuing program of professional development of its members. … The board considers participation in the following activities consistent with the professional development of its members: Conferences, workshops, conventions, and training and information sessions held by the state and national school boards associations and other conferences sponsored by local, state, and national educational organizations. … The list shall include, but need not be limited to, the following organizations:

  • National School Boards Association
  • Georgia School Boards Association
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Alliance of Black School Educators

This policy has inequity built-in. How? First, it restricts “professional development” (PD), which goes policy-wise undefined, to school board procedural matters vis-à-vis the school board associations listed. Then it more narrowly restricts PD to thinking and treating APS as an “urban” school district in need of “urban school reform” or “transformation” vis-à-vis Council of Great City Schools and similar other organizations. Then more narrowly still, the policy restricts PD to a “racialist ideology” (Fredrick Douglass) vis-à-vis National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Regressive Policy

The policy is regressive, and acts much like a funnel to direct APS into associations with persons and organizations committed to disrupting public education as a common good or who have not the wisdom to understand and value public education as a common good. The aim is the transformation of public education in especially “urban” school districts into a profit-making, free-market commodity all the while opportunistically and unashamedly co-opting Civil Rights struggles. This inequity built into school board policy and steeped in urbanism effectively keeps APS stuck in stasis and incapable of learning to continually improve, unlike the global community that is continually learning to improve.

A consequence of such inequity rooted in Atlanta Board of Education policy is the thinking that “it takes a black educator to educate a black child” made a prominent operational aspect of APS culture, and with it APS never going beyond urbanism’s boundary to seek greatly experienced and remarkable teachers to place with especially “Black” students! The inequity is such a deep, self-imposed operational aspect of APS culture that it goes virtually unspoken and unchallenged among stakeholders until it becomes convenient to use to insinuate, excoriate, or defend against allegations of maltreatment or oppression, or to conduct an equity audit.

Fortunately or unfortunately – take your pick – wisdom teaches that the problem is in here, with us, not out there, with them. But then, wisdom comes from learning, not from achievement and certainly not from merely performing.

So, isn’t it time for Atlanta Public Schools to leapfrog City of Atlanta’s modern day “Atlanta Compromise” and turn to embracing humanness more so than “race?” Isn’t it clear by now that especially “Black” children’s quality of education depend on doing so?

Kind regards,

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
O: (404) 691-9656 | C: (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 – c. 323 BCE)