Monthly Archives: April 2014

Ashley Bell, State Super candidate, Reveals Himself

GEORGIA – Tuesday morning Peach Pundit posted that Dr. Monica Henson, Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer at Provost Academy Georgia and charter school advocate, was hosting a conference call/ State Superintendent Forum with candidates Nancy Jester in the morning and Ashley Bell in the afternoon.  We weren’t notified in time to make the call with Ms. Jester, but we were able to attend the call with Mr. Bell.

The answers Mr. Bell provided were revealing.  The conference call reinforced our concerns about his understanding of educational issues in Georgia.  His perspective is limited and narrow.  He doesn’t seem to know much about education outside his world on the board at his local charter school.  While he is amicable and has a story for every question, Mr. Bell lacks solutions for the big problems that do not revolve around his experience.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation along with some of our critique:

Common Core
Ashley Bell said he is against federal involvement in education.  Mr. Bell goes on to say that Common Core is, however, “the law of the land” and his job is to implement the law of the land.  The problem with Common Core, according to Mr. Bell, has been the rollout.  “Parents are having a hard time understanding it.  Teachers are having a hard time teaching it.   My objective is to help teachers and parents [understand and teach] Common Core.”

That is not consistent with what Mr. Bell states on his own website.  Here’s a quote from his “issues” section:

“Common Core
I am opposed to this for the simple reason that one size does not fit all. This is especially true within our education system.  Georgia has a common core of values and expectations that is far higher than any standards dreamed up in Washington D.C. I believe we are doing the right thing any time we allow local leaders the freedom to make decisions that affect our children’s education.  No bureaucrat knows better than the parents and teachers who live in our communities.”

Metro Atlanta School Performance
As Mr. Bell points out, the performance of metro Atlanta schools is embarrassing.  The editors at Georgia SchoolWatch are disappointed that Mr. Bell’s only plan to help metro Atlanta schools is more charters.  Mr. Bell states that NCLB waivers and “shaming them into behaving” is all the state can do.

While Georgia SchoolWatch understands that charters are part of a solution, we were stunned to learn that Mr. Bell has no plan to address the chronic problems that ail some of the metro Atlanta’s school districts.  No state school superintendent will be successful if they do not address the problems in metro Atlanta.  Like it or not, what happens in Atlanta is seen nationally as being a problem for all of Georgia.  There are also other regions that face problems that deserve more thoughtful solutions.  This was where Mr. Bell’s inexperience and naiveté were exhibit A.  Our next state school superintendent should, at a minimum, have a plan to address the metro regions’ problems.

Mr. Bell didn’t demonstrate knowledge of how state education funding works.  When asked about what changes he would like made to QBE, he said the biggest problem school districts have with QBE is that they want more money (Thank you Captain Obvious).  He meandered around the funding formula without saying anything specific about the subject and went on to say that funding shouldn’t be wealth redistribution and that RESAs could help the problem by helping districts with teacher training and rewriting tests to be aligned with Common Core. (Again, helping to solidify Common Core is contradictory to the statement on his website and during multiple public appearances.)

The following is a summary of the notes I took during the phone call forum with Mr. Bell, Candidate for Georgia State Superintendent.

Dr. Monica Henson:  [Introductions] Why do you want to take a thankless job and run for State Superintendent?
Ashley Bell: Having served as Commissioner and on the board at the charter school, I’m used to thankless jobs and I’ll gladly take this position.  I have the experience to give the people what they want.

We started a nonprofit that focused on drop outs.  Many of these kids were minorities and from disadvantaged communities.  I got together with local business leaders and turned the tide around.  This is my approach.  I look at what’s the quickest angle.  I was asked to help 48 kids.  I put together a monitor and mentor program for these 48 kids.  With the help of the teachers, we got these parents engaged and these 48 failing kids passed.

I’ve been at the center of the charter school movement.  We’ve been the guinea pig for teacher evaluations and charter schools for the state.  So many changes are happening and we are at the forefront.  I have the day to day experiences dealing with these changes.

Q:  Atlanta is the hub for transient people.  What are your plans to address that?
Ashley Bell:  When I was on the county commission, we knew people asked two questions.  Is this the right neighborhood for us and how is the education here?  We need to give the local districts as many options as possible.
Q: Do you mean give the local school districts the flexibility to respond to the needs of their community?
Ashley Bell: Yes.  We don’t need to create hurdles for these school systems.

Q:  Getting into Charter Schools is a lottery.  Some charters are preferable over others.  Can they enroll up to the demanded number of seats?
Ashley Bell: It depends.

Q:  There aren’t guidelines or metrics around equitable discipline programs.  What’s the most appropriate role for the state to ensure there is an equitable discipline system?
Ashley Bell: Atlanta is not the best place to come up with ideas.  The best place is on the ground with people that are closest to the kids.  Atlanta can be a clearing house for these ideas.  When I was at KIPP, I asked a 3rd grader about discipline.  That 3rd grader told me they understood why they were being disciplined [long story about conversation with the 3rd grader].  We need to evaluate schools on how they’re doing.  The state needs to develop metrics using best practices.

Q: Would you be looking into a metric for discipline that would incorporate funding and flexibility?
Ashley Bell:  I don’t think we can incorporate that into the funding.  We can incorporate that into CCRPI.

Q: How are you going to address the quality of education in metro Atlanta schools?
Ashley Bell: This is one of the reasons I’m running.  Metro Atlanta schools are an embarrassment.  APS, however, has been very aggressive with providing schools of choice.  Charter schools are going to be the saving grace.
Q: What else can you do aside from charter schools?
Ashley Bell: We have NCLB waivers and we can shame them into behaving.  The state can’t do much else.

Dr. Monica Henson:  I’m an advocate for teacher evaluations and [did something with the current teacher evaluations system in Georgia].  How do you feel about it?
Ashley Bell: My sister was part of the trial roll out of teacher evaluations here in Georgia.  It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.  We have a problem with alignment.  For example, teachers in 9th grade classes are at a disadvantage because they aren’t aligned with 8th grade.  We need to evaluate in a way that promotes vertical alignment.

Second concern is administrators don’t understand how it works.  An administrator came to me [story about administrator having problems evaluating a teacher].

Q:  Everybody says that QBE is outdated and needs to be fixed.  What don’t you like about it and what changes will you make?

Ashley Bell: When it comes to QBE, the biggest complaint is that school systems want more money.  It’s never been fully funded and it never will be.  We have to find a realistic funding formula.  The legislature and Governor will make that call.  It’s their job to do that.  I’ve talked to the owner of SACS, Mark Elgart, and he says the school superintendents in the past haven’t understood their job.  The superintendent needs to support the Governor.

Q: What part of the formula do you want changed?
Ashley Bell:  I’m not a proponent of wealth transfer.  Funding should be based on need.  I would like to refactor and utilize various offices like RESA.  They should be more involved in teacher training.  The number one problem is student learning objectives.  Every district has to do it on their own.  Every school system is rewriting every test to be aligned with Common Core.  RESA should be more involved with that.

Q: Where do you stand on Common Core?
Ashley Bell:  Common Core is the law of the land.  Every district in the state has to create their tests based on Common Core.  I was talking to a math teacher about Common Core [story about a math teacher having problems teaching Common Core and the changing curriculum].  I understand not changing the curriculum.  Ideologically I’m against federal involvement, but my job is to implement the law of the land.  The implementation has been a disaster.

I was [somewhere], and there were no ideologues and nobody saying they’re against Common Core.  These parents told me that they don’t understand this new curriculum.  The parents told me they understand that 2+2=4, but now there are 8 steps to get there.  The problem is that parents are having a hard time understanding it.  Teachers are having a hard time teaching it.   My objective is to help teachers and parents in these efforts.

Dr. Monica Henson: [closing thank you and good bye]



Filed under Ashley Bell, Georgia State School Superintendent

Is There No Common Ground?

I sympathize with Peter DeWitt, the former K-5 principal who has morphed into a pundit/trainer. In his blog at EdWeek he can often be found trying to chart a course between the Scylla of the CCSS-based Reformsters and the Charybdis of rabid opposition to any changey things in school while sailing under the Pigpen’s Black Cloud of corporate deceitfulness with the Pebble of rhetorical purity tests in his shoe.

I get the desire to believe that surely we’re all adults here and we ought to be able to work things out like intelligent human beings. Much of his writing has been about finding middle ground, bridges between the two sides, and he most recently addressed the idea directly in a blog entitled Education: Is There No Common Ground.

I understand the value of that question. A decade ago when we were on strike, one oft my oft-repeated sound bites was “This is not a contest for one side to win, but a problem for all of us to solve together.” DeWitt says he named his blog”Finding Common Ground because he “was hoping to meet in the middle on some tough issues.” I want to believe that’s possible, because in general I believe that where people are pursuing what appear to be different goals, they are often pursuing the same values, but in different ways.

But after wading through the swamp of current education debates, I’ve reluctantly come to believe that some of our biggest issues are the result of fundamentally different values– and that creates an unbridgeable gap.

We value the students, the young human beings who are trying to grow into their best selves. Reformsters value students only as cogs in the machine, a part of a system that is built to generate outputs and throughputs. When given a choice between what’s good for the system and what’s good for the students, reformsters pick the system. They say that they want the system to work well in order to insure students success, but they do not see a value for student success beyond using it to prove that the system is functioning well.

We value testing that helps us make more informed choices about how best to identify and meet the needs of individual students. Reformsters value testing that generates the numbers that prove how well the system is working.

We value standards that give us a guide for the direction student education should take. Reformsters value standards that keep the system trim and in line. We think good standards allow for human variety within teachers and students. Reformsters think good standards correct (i.e. wipe out) individual variations within the system.

We value the toughness and ingenuity to use limited resources to make a difference. Reformasters value the opportunity to make a buck.

We think teachers are the front line soldiers in education who have devoted their lives to the job. Reformsters think teachers are the main obstacle to education in this country.

We think people who are in trouble need help. Reformsters they need to be kicked in the butt and cast aside.

We believe that American public education is a system worth saving. Reformsters believe it is a system worth stripping for parts and destroying.

We believe in a process that allows all voices to be heard, that allows for discussion and revision and redirecting, open to all stakeholders. Reformsters believe that if you don’t have money or powerful friends, you don’t count and your voice is, at most, an annoyance.

That is perhaps the most frustrating part of these bridging discussions. While men of good faith like Peter DeWitt are really trying to keep the possibility of finding common ground open, reformsters like Duncan and Pearson and the Gates et al have no interest in even opening the door to such a conversation. They don’t need to talk to the little people, and they so no reason they should have to.

You know who fought tirelessly to maintain peace between the British government and their American colonies? Benjamin Franklin. Franklin desperately and repeatedly worked to do his very best to find common ground with Great Britain, believing fervently that there was more to unite us than separate us. It was one of the great disappointments of his life when he stood (by some accounts) in Parliament, listened to the British, and realized finally that there was no common ground, there would be no bridge, that the British government did not have peace or bridge-building or anything remotely resembling the best interests of the colonies in mind.

I’ve had my Ben Franklin moment, and I suspect, at some point, Peter DeWitt is going to have his. I admire him for his optimism. I just can’t share it any more. I still want to understand, and I still believe that there may be some people tucked in among the reformsters who are good faith and good intent, but I am no longer in the market to buy a bridge.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and
has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Filed under Common Core, Curmudgucation

Donors will pay for transition in Atlanta school leadership

Private donations will pay for incoming Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to begin working immediately, though she doesn’t officially take over the city school system for two more months.

The Atlanta Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution allowing Carstarphen to form a transition team and prepare for leadership of the 50,000-student district.

Board Chairman Courtney English said he plans to raise between $500,000 and $1 million from business and philanthropic organizations to compensate Carstarphen and her team for their interim work.

He said soliciting outside contributions will prevent draining money from Atlanta Public Schools’ $658 million general budget for next school year.

“We want to make sure that every taxpayer dollar possible is spent for student improvement,” English said after the vote.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure Carstarphen isn’t beholden to private donors, he said.

Donations would be held by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, an organization that supports philanthropic work in the region, before being distributed to Carstarphen and her team. About $40,000 in external money has been raised separately through the Community Foundation to fund the school board’s professional development, English has said previously.

“We definitely want to make sure folks know where the ultimate responsibility lies and that there are no strings attached,” he said.

Carstarphen will be paid a daily rate in line with her previous $283,000 salary as superintendent in Austin, Texas, English said. Her last day in Austin was April 22. The rest of the contributions will compensate her transition team for their work and expenses.

She’ll work with Superintendent Erroll Davis during the transition period before she becomes superintendent July 7. Once she’s solely in charge, she’ll earn a $375,000 base salary.

Until then, Carstarphen will recruit her senior leadership team, work with Davis to hire school principals, learn about Atlanta Public Schools and collaborate with existing staff, board members said.

“We are talking about transforming Atlanta Public Schools,” said board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown. “She is ready to work and ready to make positive changes for kids.”

Carstarphen met with the board Monday and Tuesday during a retreat at the High Museum of Art, where they discussed their goals and working relationships. They didn’t set priorities, but they talked about efforts such as raising the city’s 59 percent graduation rate, improving pathways toward college and giving school principals more authority, English said.

“I’ve never been around someone who thinks so deeply about what can happen,” said board member Leslie Grant.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Filed under Atlanta Public Schools

Reward Programs that Produce Good Teachers. Bad idea.

The Obama Administration Wants to Reward Programs that Produce Good Teachers. Here’s Why That’s a Lousy Idea.


Who should manage teacher preparation programs at universities? According to the Department of Education, the right person for the job is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Politico reported Friday that the Obama administration plans to provide millions in federal funding to reward teacher training programs that demonstrably impact student test scores:

The teacher training industry is already moving toward higher standards: Beginning in 2016, all institutions must meet new guidelines laid out by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The accreditation process will require teacher prep programs to gather information on how their graduates affect student achievement, whether principals are satisfied with their performance and whether the newly minted teachers feel prepared when they enter the classroom, among other metrics. The regulations sketched out by Duncan would cover much of the same ground, but would go further by withholding federal aid from those institutions that fail to measure up.

The proposal is problematic for two reasons: 1) it is at odds with what we know about the effectiveness of paper credentials conferred by colleges of education, and 2) it’s not a job for the secretary of education.

What we know about paper credentials is that they are a poor indicator of future teacher performance. “The current system, which focuses on credentials at the time of hire and grants tenure as a matter of course, is at odds with decades of evidence on teacher effectiveness,” argue economists Douglas O. Staiger and Jonah E. Rockoff in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Moreover, “…some programs may appear stronger not because they provider better opportunities for students to learn to teach but because they are able to attract better teacher candidates,” caution scholars Donald J. Boyd, Pamela L. Grossman, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff in the Journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. It is important to control for teachers’ entering characteristics when making determinations about the effectiveness of a particular teacher preparation program. For instance, if one program is attracting candidates with high GPAs and another program is not, it is possibly the first programs’ students—not the education they receive in the program—that leads to that program producing better teachers than the second program does.

Research from the Brookings Institution has demonstrated that there is no correlation on teacher impacts on student math performance and initial teacher certification. “To put it simply, teachers vary considerably in the extent to which they promote student learning, but whether a teacher is certi?ed or not is largely irrelevant to predicting his or her effectiveness.”

Chart: Brookings Institution

In other words, paper credentials cannot predict how effective a teacher will be.

While the roughly $180 billion in annual federal student aid for colleges has mingled the federal government with higher education policy, improving the teacher workforce requires state and local-level policy changes. States and local school districts should remove many of the barriers to entering the classroom—namely requirements for certification—but should demand excellent performance of teachers (as measured in part by student growth on assessments) once a teacher enters the classroom.

Enabling aspiring teachers and mid-career professionals an easier route to the classroom— but rigorously measuring teacher performance once hired—holds far more promise for improving the teacher workforce than throwing additional federal funding at schools of education.

Lindsey BurkeBy Lindsey Burke

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Filed under Heritage Foundation, Teacher Evaluations

Steve Jobs’ Death Inspired Goal To Get Kids Coding

Many public schools do not offer computer science classes, even though tech workers are in high demand. Now 30 public school districts have partnered with the nonprofit to get kids coding.


I’m Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. In a few minutes, we are going to tell you more about former Texas governor Ann Richards. There’s a new HBO documentary about her, and we are going to speak with her daughter. But first, something we like to focus on a lot on this program, which is efforts to open up tech careers and education to young people. Computer programming is one of the most sought after skills in the job market.

But you might be surprised to know that a majority of public schools don’t offer any computer science classes. Today, we want to hear about a campaign to change that and bring coding instruction to students in middle school. Hadi Partovi is the founder of the nonprofit That organization recently announced a new partnership program with public school districts around the country to provide computer science classes to more than 2 million students starting this fall. Hadi, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

HADI PARTOVI: Thank you for having me on the show.

MARTIN: And for additional perspective, we’ve called Brenda Wilkerson. She’s a program manager for Chicago Public Schools, which is one of the districts partnering with Brenda, welcome to you. Thank you for joining us also.

BRENDA WILKERSON: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: So, Hadi, let me start with you. Why should this be a priority?

PARTOVI: Well, you mentioned the shortage and the sort of – the difficulty of hiring people into computer programming jobs, and that’s certainly one reason. You know, the country has unfilled positions in computer programming in every single state and in every single industry. And the gap over 10 years is expected to reach 1 million jobs more than there are students graduating from our schools.

But the reason I’m doing this is because I believe no matter what job you want to pursue in the 21st century, understanding how software and technology works and how to make it is something that every student needs to be prepared for their future careers.

MARTIN: Brenda, you’ve been working on this. You’ve been working on initiatives for the Chicago Public Schools. What do you think this partnership will allow you to do that you could not now do or that you haven’t been able to do so far?

WILKERSON: Well, this partnership will allow us to move much quicker and reach much – a much broader audience in our school district. We’re excited. We’ve got 400,000 students, and I really believe that this effort – and we’re very thankful to for their support – will allow us to reach those students much faster and on a much grander scale than we could have before.

MARTIN: Now, you’re offering computer science now in 25 high schools. That’s out of 187. Do I have that right?

WILKERSON: That’s correct.

MARTIN: So what will this allow you to do? I think it’ll at least – what would you – let me ask it this way. What would you like to be able to do – offer this in every high school even below high school level?

WILKERSON: Oh, that’s absolutely the goal. Our goals are to saturate every high school within three years, to add a graduation requirement around computer science within five years and also to introduce computer science as early as kindergarten in our elementary schools, 25 percent of them, within five years. So we have very aggressive goals, and we’re very excited to be able to reach them.

MARTIN: Hadi, tell me about that. Coding in kindergarten – is that realistic? Is that a good idea?

PARTOVI: Well, it’s totally realistic. There’s lots of kids who can try apps that basically teach you the basics and the fundamental concepts even before they learn reading. You know, people’s impressions of coding are set by things in the mass media where you see somebody in a basement typing away in a dark room. And the reality is that the model of coding these days is using drag-and-drop and a mouse. A 5-year-old or a 6-year-old or a 7-year-old can get started.

MARTIN: So they’re probably already doing it. Kids who have access to certain kinds of computers are in a way kind of already coding. Is that what you’re telling me?

PARTOVI: Absolutely. In families where the parents care about this stuff there’s kids already trying this out. But the vast majority don’t know to do it.

MARTIN: Well, Hadi, stick with me, though, on the resource question. I mean, ’cause I’m sure there are a lot of people listening to this and saying, you know, our schools, you know, teachers love them but, you know – God love them, everybody’s doing the best that they can. But with the kinds of resource problems that a lot of local jurisdictions are having now, they’re struggling just to provide, you know, the basics. How do you add something like this or how do you even begin to think about something like this as a matter of scale when people are already feeling like they’re struggling just to do the basic reading, writing and math?

PARTOVI: So at the elementary or middle-school level, I think learning computer science and writing computer programs actually helps emphasize learning in math because solving a math problem just on a piece of paper isn’t nearly as fun as solving a math problem in the context of building a game or creating an animation, especially if you’re young and you want to see the results of your work.

At the high-school level, you know, we’re not requiring – isn’t saying that every student should be required to learn this work, decided that Chicago’s doing that. But we think at the high-school level, you know, students get to choose between biology and chemistry and physics. We don’t drop those courses because we want to focus on reading and writing and math. We give kids the choice. And the fact that in 90 percent of schools they don’t have a choice in studying computer science, to me, seems a problem.

MARTIN: Brenda, talk to me about what kind of reaction – in the schools where students already have access to computer science courses, how are students reacting to them?

WILKERSON: Well, they’re very excited. And that’s the thing that makes this project even that much more important and timely. We’ve seen that students who get the opportunity to do programming find more relevance in all of their learning. There’s a maturity that we have seen come across our students in a rapid development when they get to create and they get to understand what it means to be the innovator. We know that students learn how to use technology from a very early age. What we’re trying to do is move them into a place where they can choose to be the innovators of technology. And doing so makes it just that much more exciting to be at school. And that’s something everyone should be excited about.

MARTIN: So, Hadi, before we let you go, how did you come up with this idea?

PARTOVI: Well, I’ve been in the tech industry for almost 20 years, and it’s always been a mysterious challenge to me why there’s not more people getting into the industry. And, you know, the idea came to me literally the day Steve Jobs died. I remember thinking, what am I going to be – what’s my footprint going to be in 15 years from now? He was about 15 years older than me. And this is what I settled on at that point.

MARTIN: Well, did you have, like, a eureka moment? I mean, did you – was this one of those things that was data driven, as so much of tech is. You kind of thought, wait a minute. Why do we not have enough computer science graduates? Or was it just a – did it just kind of come to you in a dream? I mean, tell me about that.

PARTOVI: No, it was more just sort of a gut feeling that, you know, I studied this. It helped make my career what it is. I’ve been very successful as a entrepreneur. And I realized that, you know, this is the land of opportunity. And the American dream is broken if kids don’t even have access to the first course that gets you onto the path towards the most successful jobs in the country.

MARTIN: Also, I guess, opens up a whole new universe of idea – innovators and, you know, employees for the industry that is to come. And it’s almost like – it’s almost like swimming, right, Brenda, that if you don’t have access to a pool, how are you ever going to learn, right?

WILKERSON: That’s absolutely right. And the earlier students get access to it, the more likely they are to persist and understand their choices and gain confidence in the future.

MARTIN: Brenda Wilkerson is a program manager for Chicago Public Schools. She was kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ. Hadi Partovi is the founder of And he was kind enough to join us from member station KUOW in Seattle. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

WILKERSON: Thank you.

PARTOVI: Thank you.

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Filed under Education

Should Parents REFUSE to Allow Their Children to be Given the Georgia CRCT Test?

Marietta City Schools

It seems as if one Georgia couple says yes.

In Marietta, a Georgia a couple has refused to allow their children at the West Side Elementary school to take the high-stakes Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). These parents informed the school’s principal two days before the testing period that their third and fifth graders would not be taking the CRCT. When they arrived at school to meet with the principal at a prearranged meeting to discuss what activities were planned for their students in lieu of the CRCT, they were instead met by a Marietta police officer who asked them if their kids were going to take the CRCT. When they said no, the officer told them they would have to leave the school property otherwise they could be arrested for trespassing.

After the police warning, the parents went home to find an email response to their email letter in which they informed the school their children would not be taking the CRCT.

In that reply to the parents, the Associate Superintendent of Marietta Schools said, in part,

The District must deny your request that your students be exempt from participation in the CRCT or other standardized testing as well as reporting and recording of such scores. Federal and state law mandate the administration of these assessments. It is important for you to understand the potential consequences of electing not to participate in such nationally and state-required assessments. These may include but not be limited to effects on students’ on-time graduation, promotion to next grade level, placement and final subject grades.

It is true that the CRCT must be administered.  But it says nothing about what might happen if parents refuse to let their students take the test.  However, if a child were to “fail” the CRCT, they could be retained.  But the parents have the right to appeal, and when the do this, the school must set up an assessment committee.  Here is a quote from United Opt Out website which relates to any case in Georgia:

According to state law (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-282, 283, 284, and 285) if a child does not take the CRCT or fails it they can be retained. This is mandatory in grades 3,5 & 8 only. There is no specific wording in the law for refusal to take the test. IF a child is to be retained there is a procedure the school must go through, including parent notification.

This procedure also offers a procedure for parental appeal of the retention. If the parent appeals the retention a placement committee consisting of the principal, all teachers and parents is formed. The parents must be notified, by the school, in writing, about the committee meeting. Based on the student’s academic achievement the committee will decide if promotion is warranted. The decision must be unanimous. If your child is performing at or above grade level this should not be an issue. If the child is not, the committee can promote the child with the understanding that additional help will be put in place the following year.

In the West Side Elementary School case, the parents are in a place in which the school will have to form a committee to assess each of their children to make a decision about their retention, or moving on to the next grade.

Indeed, the parents made it clear what they were doing, and were not going have any threats by the district.  In a reply to the Associate Superintendent,the parents wrote:

I believe that there was a MAJOR misunderstanding in what I communicated in my email Sunday night/Monday morning.  In no way, shape, or form, did either my wife or I ask for anyone to give us permission.

What I said was that WE REFUSE to allow our children to be given the CRCT Test. I do not require permission to refuse something.  Yet the response stated that, “The District must deny your request that your students be exempt from participation in the CRCT or other standardized testing…”

Once again… I did not “request” anything. I told you that my children would not take part.  I have read most of the Federal and State laws about this test, and there is nothing in the verbiage that states that the Rights of the Parents are declared void in the process of implementing the CRCT Testing. If I missed the point where we stop to be parents, I would like you to point those out to me. You also did not specify the direct State and Federal Laws that say that the parents are not allowed to REFUSE their child’s participation in the CRCT Testing.

The fact is that the laws do not tell us we can not refuse the testing. We actually have that right.

There is growing support around the country supporting parents who decide to either opt their children out-of-state testing, or simply refuse to allow their students to take high-stakes tests.  There is no Federal Law prohibiting or allowing opting out of tests.  In fact, schools only have to show that 95% of students took the test to comply with Federal regulations.

Not only are the tests not a very good measure of student learning, the tests are more of a punishment than anything else.  For nearly a school year, teachers have planned and carried out instruction plans with their students involving a range of activities including projects, inquiries, homework, quizzes, unit tests, class discussions, one-on-ones, collaborative activities, and more.

In its infinite wisdom the state mandates that the true measure of learning is a sit-down, solitary paper and pencil fill in the bubble test.

Why would parents allow their students to take part in an activity that does not enhance their students academic growth, but does enhance the bottom line for a few big testing companies (see ahead for the facts). For their students, the test results are not used to help them improve learning, nor do the tests give teachers any meaningful feedback on their own instruction, let alone help their students.

Is this Test Envy?

Could our obsession with testing be national envy?

When the Soviets put the first satellite into orbit in 1957, the U.S. went into orbit, too. We wondered, what happened?  How did the Soviets get into space first?  What are kids learning in school?  Why isn’t our science and technology better than the U.S.S.R?  Pressure was put on the U.S. space program directors, and they finally got it up a year later. Money poured into the National Science Foundation (NSF) for curriculum improvement projects and summer Institutes for math and science teachers.

Disclaimer: I attended and was supported an NSF summer institute in physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology and an NSF Academic Year Institute at Ohio State University).

But, NSF funding didn’t settle it.  Politicians turned on the schools.  They laid the problem on doorsteps of our schools.  How are we as a nation going to be able to go forward if we have inferior schools? Our nation is at risk, and it’s squarely on the shoulders of teachers to improve, or get fired.  Thus, the origins of test-based accountability had its beginnings with the launch of a 183.9 pound-22 inch sphere.

The assault on teachers began here, too, but has accelerated since the No Child Left Behind act mandated national testing.  This meant that masses of data were made available not only to the state, but to private companies. Outrageously, this data is being used to test not only the students, but their schools and teachers as well.  The Race to Top Fund put the nail into the coffin when it required states that wanted some of the $4.5 billion to use student test scores as a measure of teacher value or performance. In Georgia, our esteemed legislature enacted a law requiring test scores to be used for 50% of teacher evaluation.  And today, Georgia will release it new rating system (2011-2012 and 2012-2013)  of schools based on 110 points, with more than 50% of the points based on student test scores.

This double dose was like a tornado hitting the schools.  The frenzy of annual springtime testing is operating now in millions of homes around the country. It puts teachers and students at risk. And I should also mention parents.

When the results are reported, normally in the summer, comparing one another in this competition will become a game played by departments of education and especially the media.

According to a Brookings Institute report, the cost of testing in the U.S. exceeds $1.7 billion.  But according to the report, that is only for payments to testing vendors who also score the tests.  But what is the cost for lost instructional time.  In Georgia, the CRCT exams began last week for many schools, and if you include high-school end-of-course exams, the testing period runs into mid-May.  So for about 4 weeks or about 12% of the school year, high-stakes exams dominate the school experience.  What’s the cost of 4 weeks of testing?  Well according to the Brookings Institute, about $600 billion is spent on education in the U.S. per year.

Therefore, the cost of testing in the U.S. is closer to $72 billion.

We spend $72 billion on tests because we are envious of other nations.  We spend $72 billion on tests to test teachers using the unscientific VAM modeling.  We spend $72 billion on tests that do not provide meaningful feedback to students and their parents about learning.  And we spend $72 billion on tests that in an increasingly narrow curriculum.

Should parents refuse to allow their children to take high-stakes tests, such as Georgia’s CRCT?

If your answer is yes, go the United Opt Out site.  There you will find resources to support the refusal to have students take high-stakes tests.

Jack Hassard
Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordinator of science education, and was involved in the development of several science teacher education programs, including the design and…

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Filed under Common Core, Marietta City Schools

Gov. Deal: Budget includes half a billion dollars in k-12 education

Gov. Nathan Deal today signed into law the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which takes effect upon the start of the fiscal year on July 1 and includes the largest single year increase in k-12 funding in seven years. The FY 2015 budget expects the economic growth Georgia has seen since emerging from the Great Recession to accelerate and includes an estimated revenue increase of 3 percent, or $602.5 million, over the Amended FY 2014 budget. This marks the fourth year in a row the governor has successfully and conservatively balanced the state’s budget without raising taxes and while providing for long-term strategic investments necessary to keep Georgia competitive in the global economy.

“Since taking office I have budgeted conservatively, downsized state government, implemented real tax reform and created jobs as we rebounded from the Great Recession,” Deal said. “It is through these measures that we now have the opportunity to fund our state’s top priorities. This year, more than 80 percent of new revenue receipts are dedicated to education, with 66 percent of those new revenues going to K-12 alone. Our schools are the front line in our effort to create prosperity. It is here we make our most strategic investment in the future.”

The additional funds for k-12 education will provide local school systems with both the resources and flexibility to address the most critical needs of their students and teachers. The budget also includes funding for a number of postsecondary education programs.

“We are putting our education where our economy is,” Deal said. “In order to fill the needs of a growing economy, Georgia needs more of our citizens to acquire education and skills beyond high school. The postsecondary degree programs included in this year’s budget will play a critical role in creating a trained and reliable workforce and attracting new investment. I commend the General Assembly for enacting a budget that will help keep us the No. 1 place in the country to do business and create jobs.”

FY 2015 Investments and Highlights:

k-12 Education
· $514.3 million in additional funds for the Quality Basic Education programs to fund enrollment growth and teacher training and experience while also allowing local systems additional resources to increase instructional days, reduce teacher furloughs, or enhance teacher salaries.

· $16.5 million in bonds for local school systems and the University System to expand PeachNet and provide the technology infrastructure needed for internet access in public school classrooms, as outlined in recommendations of the Digital Learning Task Force.

· $5 million to establish the Georgia Innovation Fund to award grants to local school systems to implement and disseminate innovative programs in public education.

Higher Education
Expands affordable access to quality higher education by providing:

· $22.5 million for a 3 percent increase in the award amount for HOPE scholarships and grants over FY 2014;

· $5 million for the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant to provide additional financial assistance above what is covered by the traditional HOPE Grant for students pursuing high demand certificate or diploma programs;

· $7.3 million to establish the new Zell Miller Grant award as part of the HOPE grant to cover full tuition costs for Technical College students who achieve and maintain a 3.5 GPA;

· $2 million for the REACH Georgia Scholarship to provide needs-based scholarships to selected students in the public-private REACH Georgia mentorship and scholarship program; and

· $10 million to establish a new Low Interest Loan Program to assist Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) students with the affordability of a technical college education.

· $23.2 million for resident instruction and $204.3 million in bonds for capital projects for University System of Georgia institutions.

· $6.7 million for technical education and $39 million in bonds for capital projects for TCSG institutions.

· $2 million in additional funds to increase the number of health professionals practicing in the state by developing new graduate medical education programs to train residents.

· $2.6 million for the Complete College Georgia initiative to identify TCSG students at risk of dropping out and provide interventions aimed at assisting these students in completing their post-secondary education.

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Filed under Georgia Education