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:
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:
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]