Monthly Archives: December 2014

Charter Incubator Program

A first-of-its-kind initiative in Georgia aims to develop more higher-achieving charter schools.

A charter incubator program is being launched by the nonprofit advocacy group Georgia Charter Schools Association. It is not getting state funding, but the initiative has the support of the state Department of Education, and marks a key development in the evolution of charter schools in the state. Backers expect it to drive creation of such schools by training and preparing school administrators interested in establishing charters.

The charter school incubator, New Schools for Georgia, is designed to particularly assist charters in their infancy, often their most challenging time, by helping them establish effective governing boards, boost financial sustainability and develop clear missions.

“It’s (incubator) going to significantly help with the quality of our charter schools, which is good for kids,” said Lou Erste, associate superintendent for policy and charter schools at the Georgia Department of Education. “We need higher quality (charter school) applications if we want to have higher quality schools.”

Some teachers and education observers question, however, whether such an effort will detract from putting needed resources into traditional public schools.

State legislation in recent years has pushed for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional public school model, but state educators and others say they have not seen enough high-qualified groups applying for charter schools to fill the demand.

Georgia has 115 charter schools, close to 4 percent of the schools in the state; five years ago, the number was 110. Charter advocates and state education officials say the number of charter schools should be higher.

“I’ve seen a number of charter schools that have opened and run for a few years and then just basically faltered because they were unable to focus on their mission and vision,” said Allen Mueller, executive director of the new incubator, who previously was director of innovation for Atlanta Public Schools where he helped authorize the creation of charter schools in the district. “They were unable to … focus on serving kids because they were too busy trying to figure out how to deal with facilities or how to run a board meeting or how to deal with open records requests or how to hire good staff.”

State education leaders including Erste urged the Georgia Charter Schools Association to develop ways to boost charter development, and the incubator is a significant step in that direction, said Mueller. Education experts say similar incubators in other states including Tennessee and Louisiana have helped support charter school growth.

“How they (charter schools) perform in their first few years really sets the stage for how they’re going to perform,” and incubators can play a key role in helping, said Marisa Cannata, senior research associate at Vanderbilt University, who’s written extensively on charter schools. “If they get off to a strong start, they’re likely to continue on that trajectory. If they get off on a weak start, they usually continue to stumble.

“That startup year is a really hard time financially for schools. I think it’s also working through inabilities to access capital funding, funding for transportation, those are also key things that need to be in place for charter schools to really take hold in a community.”

Tracey-Ann Nelson, government relations director with the Georgia Association of Educators, said one concern with the incubator is that it could divide communities vying for limited money for schools. Both charters and traditional schools are funded by taxpayers, but charter schools manage themselves and have more flexibility over their academics.

“For me … that is the problem with the movement of charter schools is that it’s about fighting and dividing, not collaborating and strengthening public schools as a whole entity,” Nelson said. “No matter what, we’re all trying to make sure we deliver quality education to kids.”

One of the most recent examples of charter schools failing to make it in metro Atlanta involved Fulton County school board members denying the renewal of charters for a high school and elementary school in the district, citing weaknesses with governance and problematic finances.

Members decided to cut ties with Fulton Science Academy High and Fulton Sunshine Academy elementary by the end of this school year. Fulton school district staff cited poor governance that “resulted in the default on a $19 million bond, a self-perpetuating board membership structure that has been dominated by individuals who did not represent the community,” and a “general lack of transparency.” Leaders of the charter schools have denied any wrongdoing.

Superintendent Robert Avossa of Fulton schools said the incubator should help guide charter schools in their development.

“The state could use more high quality charter schools that are tending to the needs of the most at-risk kids. That’s the area we’ve not been able to do well in,” said Avossa. “I think charters play an important role in public education. I don’t see them as a silver bullet. It’s hard to run a charter school from scratch. That’s where the incubator will play a critical role. You’ve got plenty of charters doing good work and some that aren’t doing good work and can tarnish the effort of the other group.”

Ehab Jaleel, executive director for Amana Academy in Alpharetta, a K-8 Fulton charter school with close to 700 students, says the incubator should help bolster charter schools in Georgia, where “there’s been this kind of pent-up demand” for them. “People are very interested in school choice.”

Jaleel thinks the charter incubator “would have made a world of difference for us” when the school started nearly nine years ago. “We’ve kind of had to learn as we’ve grown, and the growth period is extremely difficult.”

“I think having an incubator would have exposed us to a more structured approach to learning these things very quickly so that from the beginning we would have been set up for success. I feel like we … kind of learned as we went. It’s a steep learning curve, and I think we could have benefited a lot from the incubator.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Is Education Just a Funding Mechanism?

“Are you saying public education is just a funding mechanism? … Is all education now public [and parents] can just choose?” asked Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice during oral arguments over the constitutionality of Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program.

The case has brought forth a question that has been at the forefront of state and national debates over school choice: What is the definition of “public education,” anyway?

“It is important to distinguish between ‘schooling’ and ‘education.’ Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. “The proper subject of concern is education. The activities of government are mostly limited to schooling.”

School choice separates financing of education from delivery of services. Educational opportunity through school choice empowers parents with the ability to direct education funding toward a schooling option that best fits their child. Education is publicly funded, but parents can choose from a variety of delivery options.

School choice programs make sense: They operate with the conviction that every child is unique and has unique learning needs, and one-size-fits-all government-run schools have their limits and can’t always meet the needs of every student.

Although education choice is spreading rapidly–more than 300,000 children are now benefitting from private school-choice options–some states and school districts, such as Douglas County, Colo., are facing lawsuits over the constitutionality of school choice.

When the Douglas County Board of Education unanimously voted to create the Choice Scholarship Program in March 2011, it enacted the first district-level school choice program in the nation. Voucher programs are traditionally approved by state legislatures, but in Douglas County, the local district supports the funding and administration of the program. Subject to annual renewal, the program provides 500 tuition vouchers to students who are residents of Douglas County and have been enrolled in a Douglas County public school for at least one year. Eligible students can apply for the scholarships through a lottery system.

But in June 2011, the scholarships were rescinded when the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the National ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and others filed suit, claiming the scholarship program violated the Public School Finance Act and six provisions in the Colorado constitution, including the establishment clause.

The ACLU won a preliminary injunction in district court. But in March 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, rejecting the plaintiffs’ establishment clause claims. The appellate court applied the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, 534 F.3d 1245 (10th Cir. 2008) which held the First Amendment was infringed when financial aid was provided to students attending sectarian institutions but not to students attending “pervasively sectarian” institutions.

According to the decision, “In assessing facially neutral student aid laws, a court may not inquire into the extent to which religious teaching pervades a particular institution’s curriculum.” In other words, asking how “religious” a school is that receives funding is itself a form of anti-religious discrimination.

The Supreme Court of Colorado has a chance to uphold the first locally established school choice program in the country, but it also has a chance to reaffirm what the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld: that public education is about educating students, not the physical space in which that education takes place. Above all, it’s about parents being empowered to choose options that are right for their children.

Other courts have decided this question already.

In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohio’s Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, holding that a state-sponsored voucher program is not per se unconstitutional when the program is neutral with respect to religion and the “money follows the child.” This is so even where parents themselves choose to use the voucher monies to send their children to religious schools.

And in a landmark state ruling last year, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program stating that the program did not violate the state’s prohibition against using state funds to benefit religious institutions because the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers were the families who used them.

Hundreds of families in Douglas County, Colo., have waited three years to use their scholarships because of this suit. The Colorado Supreme Court has a chance to give those families the opportunity to direct their child’s education.

Brittany Corona
Brittany Corona is a research assistant in Domestic Policy Studies at The Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation. Read her research.

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High requirements for math, science spur drop-out rate, say school officials

Marietta Schools Superintendent Emily Lembeck is asking lawmakers to modify Georgia’s graduation requirements for math and science to decrease the state drop-out rate.

Lembeck said Georgia’s requirements are stricter than many others in the country, noting a student can graduate in California with just Algebra, far from the four years of math required in Georgia.

“Graduation requirements should align with requirements for admission into post-secondary opportunities and support the development of a skilled workforce,” Lembeck said, adding technical colleges do not usually require four years of rigorous math and science.

“We have students that are going to Chattahoochee Tech for cosmetology — they don’t need pre-calculus,” Lembeck told members of Cobb’s legislative delegation this week.

Lembeck said the requirements should be “flexible enough to assure students are either college, career or college and career ready.”

Cobb schools in 2014 had a 78.2 percent graduation rate, a 1.7 percent jump from 2013. Marietta High School’s rate went up about 5 points to 71.4. The state of Georgia’s graduation rate increased from 71.8 percent to 72.5 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average was 80 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Graduation requirements cannot be waived, except for a “limited number of students in exceptional circumstances who may have waivers approved by the state Board of Education regarding the high school graduation test criteria,” Lembeck said.

This is why she is petitioning the legislators to change the requirements at the state level.

Lembeck said the strict requirements are causing more students to drop out of school, which not only hurts the students but also the economic development of the state.

“Those who do not complete high school have relatively limited options for future success in the workforce,” she said. “Further, when businesses seek to relocate or open, the state that ranks comparatively low in the nation is not attractive.”

Chris Ragsdale, interim superintendent for Cobb County Schools, said he also thinks identifying the different career pathways for high school students is important.

“I concur with Dr. Lembeck that recognizing various career pathways has implications for what we require of high school graduates,” he said. “While there are skill sets and acquired knowledge that all students need to be successful in life, there are also required courses currently in place that in reality benefit some career paths more than others.”

Marietta Board of Education Chairman Randy Weiner agrees with Lembeck on the need to relax the requirements.

“The current state graduation requirements are higher than most states, and that’s one of the main reasons why Georgia has such a high drop-out rate in high school,” Weiner said. “Some kids don’t need four years of math. For (those) going into a trade, it’s keeping kids moving forward in many instances and they drop out.”

Weiner also said Georgia should have a separate diploma for students with disabilities like other states, such as Colorado, New York and Tennessee.

“If special ed students receive a special ed diploma in Georgia, they are counted as a drop out,” he said.

Lembeck said she believes in high expectations, but high expectations do not always align with reality.

“While expectations should remain high for all students and all coursework required, there is the reality that the current requirements are a disincentive and inhibit graduates and the future productivity of a good number of students who could otherwise be made career-ready,” she said.

Yet Randy Scamihorn, vice chairman of the Cobb Board of Education, said he wasn’t completely sure relaxing graduation requirements was a good idea because of Georgia education’s already low standing in the nation.

“We are constantly being criticized unjustly for being at the bottom of the national test scores,” Scamihorn said.

Scamihorn said he didn’t entirely disagree with Lembeck’s comments. He said while he can’t speak directly to whether or not the math requirements should be relaxed, he does agree with Lembeck on flexibility.

“Dr. Lembeck is a well-respected educator, so I don’t disagree with her — but I can say we need to be as flexible as possible so that people can get productive jobs when they get out of high school,” he said.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of Senate Education Committee, was among those in attendance at Tuesday’s forum when Lembeck made her comments. Tippins said he also thinks the state’s graduation requirements are out of step with the rest of the country.

“I believe that the high math requirements are all — regardless of the field they choose to follow — is one reason we have such a high drop-out rate,” Tippins said.

Tippins said he is in favor of taking a “hard look” at the graduation requirements to see how they can be modified to better prepare students for the post-high school path they plan to pursue.

“I think all education ought to be tailored to a student’s needs in terms of the profession they intend to follow,” he said. “I think we need to train them at what the requirements are for their intended profession instead of having a one-size-fits-all.”

As for the next legislative session, which will start Jan. 12, Tippins said he’s heard legislation will be introduced to address the requirements and the drop-out rate.

“I look forward to seeing it,” he said.

He also said if the legislation is not introduced, he will do so himself.

However, he did caution against thinking there is one quick fix to the issues surrounding education in Georgia.

“If anybody’s looking for a silver bullet to solve the education dilemma in the state, I don’t think you’re going to find a silver bullet,” he said. “They look at the problem areas and try to address them — and I think this is one of the problem areas.”

by Philip Clements

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Filed under Curriculum, Georgia Education, Graduation Rates, High School Graduation

APS Comments About Class Size

Superintendent Carstarphen speaks to class size waiver issue – also announces multi-year plan to cut central administration cost

Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen published a lengthy note at her blog – @Atlsuper – updating the community on the recent controversy regarding the approval of class size waiver of +5 for grades K-8 and +3 for high school.

In addition, Carstaphen indicated that the administration had started an analysis of central administration expenditures and was working on a multi-year “central administration budget reduction strategy” to free up additional resources.

For more background on the class size issues, see links to prior posts at the bottom of this page.

In her post, Carstarphen provides an overview of why the issue was brought before the Board and why the passage of the waiver was important to the to the upcoming budget process. In her statement she said,

My recommendation to continue these waivers was so that our schools, as well as the district, would have maximum flexibility going into the budgeting process. For example, this would give the Board time to thoughtfully consider future Board-approved options and plans, including, but not limited to, findings in our recent equity audit, Board-approved budget parameters, and the upcoming flexibility and operating models application.

In effect, the approved waivers now become a Board approved budget parameter for FY16 and, unless the Board provides further guidance on the matter, the initial budget will likely be prepared using the maximum class size to determine school level resource allocations – just as it was this past year.

Carstarphen also focuses on the need for flexibility in preparing the upcoming budget so that any discretionary dollars can be allocated to programs or priorities established by the administration and the Board.

When I went to the Board… with the recommendation for continuing the class-size waivers that have been in place since 2011, I did so with the understanding that we all knew that this was simply granting us the same flexibility we currently have as we go into the budgeting process to make recommendations on where these discretionary dollars should be used. 

Having a class size waiver grants us this flexibility to consider all options, but discontinuing this waiver would effectively mean that a significant percentage, if not all, of our discretionary dollars would be required to go towards smaller class sizes without the opportunity to weigh other needs.

She also addressed the issue that different cluster have different needs and the flexibility granted by the waiver would allow each cluster to allocate resource in a manner that most suited the specific requirements of the students.

To the extent that we are able to push new (because we will not be able to just cut our way to excellence) and redirected resources into the schools with this increased flexibility, which I am committed to doing, I suspect that some clusters may decide to invest in smaller class sizes.  But in other clusters where class size is not the pressing concern, they will likely prioritize other needs. 

What I have learned about Atlanta is that a solution for one school is not always the right solution for another school, and imposing the same solutions across the board with one big brush stroke only further exacerbates the inequities that exist within our school communities, which are well-documented in the extensive equity audit.

I would note that while there are many issues documented in the equity audit, the allocation of school level resources is not one of them, as the equity audit failed to address how financial resources are allocated in the district (except for playgrounds, science labs and some limited information on PTA resources). In fact, until this past October APS issued the comprehensive FY15 Budget Book (with no public notice that it had done so), the district has never previously presented school level budgets. Additionally, the information presented was insufficient to determine if the resource allocations were equitable based on student needs.

However, in the regular Board meeting on December 1st, the administration did present information on the class size issue that pointed to some very significant differences in class sizes in the district (see presentation here). As an example, the school with the smallest average class size has 17.3 students per class in grades 1-3. At the other end of the spectrum, the school with the highest average class size has 23.6 or an average of 6.3 more students in a classroom. And in grades 4-5, the differential is an average of 8.7 more students. That is a pretty big difference – and may be why Carstarphen reached the following conclusion,

I suspect that some clusters may decide to invest in smaller class sizes.  But in other clusters where class size is not the pressing concern, they will likely prioritize other needs. 

While this sounds good, I am still unclear where the additional dollars will come from to give the schools that want to prioritize class sizes the ability to do so. The Board has approved the revenue parameter for FY16 at $658 million which is at the same level as FY15 (see here). So there is no new incremental revenues (unless the Board approves an increase in taxes).  As such, the budget allocation for schools will likely be at similar levels as in FY15.

Carstarphen did announce a potential source for increasing discretionary funds that might be allocated to the schools. In her blog post, she stated,

… In addition, we began the analysis of our central administration expenses.  We have laid the groundwork for a multi-year central administration budget reduction strategy, all with the goal of identifying as many discretionary dollars for our schools as possible. 

But at the same time she indicated that,

…we will not be able to just cut our way to excellence…

So while this effort to cut central administration costs is important – and long past due – I question whether the effort in the near term will substantially increase the resources available to a school in sufficient amounts to make reductions in class sizes. I hope I am proven wrong on this, but the numbers and other approved budget parameters do not leave much room for a substantial amount of additional resources being redirected to the schools to address class sizes, even if that is a priority for specific schools.

There is also still one nagging question that Carstarphen did not address.

Why was this waiver passed in advance of a full and complete assessment within the context of a thorough FY16 budget discussion?

She notes that “flexibility” is needed to allocate discretionary resources in a manner that most benefits the clusters and student needs. Not passing the waiver until after the FY16 budget is tentatively set does not hamper the administration ability to propose a budget that is consistent with the administration’s priorities (it also does not constrain the administration ability to begin the hiring process for new teachers). It also does not constrain the Board from making or changing priorities for resource allocations consistent with its overall policy objectives.

However, passing the waiver now does constrain the Board from using the class size waiver policy approval as leverage to push for a re-allocation of resources from administrative functions to in-school functions.

We will see how this develops.

Robert Stockwell is the financial watchdog for APS and posts at Financial Deconstruction

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Guidance to Help Reduce the Spread of Seasonal Influenza in K-12 Schools

This document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides guidance to help reduce the spread of seasonal influenza (flu) among students and staff in K-12 schools. Recommendations are based on CDC’s current knowledge of flu in the United States. CDC will continue to monitor flu activity and update this guidance as needed.

For the purpose of this guidance, “schools” will refer to both public and private institutions providing grades K-12 education to children and adolescents in group settings.

Supplemental Interim Guidance for School Administrators Associated with Possible Outbreaks of H3N2 Variant Influenza Virus (“H3N2v”)


Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways. Although widespread flu activity occurs every year, the timing, severity, and duration of it depend on many factors, including which flu viruses are spreading, the number of people who are susceptible to the circulating flu viruses, and how well the flu vaccine is matched to the flu viruses that are causing illness. The timing of flu can vary from season to season. In the United States, seasonal flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. between December and February, but flu viruses can cause illness from early October to late May. Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through coughs and sneezes of infected people. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.

Many respiratory infections spread from person to person and cause symptoms similar to those of flu. Therefore, the nonpharmaceutical recommendations in this document might help reduce the spread of not only flu, but also respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus, enterovirus D68 and other viruses and bacteria that can cause illness.

Each day, about 55 million students and 7 million staff attend the more than 130,000 public and private schools in the United States. By implementing the recommendations in this document, schools can help protect one-fifth of the country’s population from flu. Collaboration is essential; CDC, the U.S. Department of Education, state/local public health and education agencies, schools, staff, students, families, businesses, and communities should work together to reduce the spread of flu and other respiratory infections.

See Current Flu Season Information and Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) and Flu Vaccine.

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High-Risk Groups

People of all ages get sick with flu. School-aged children are a  group with a high rate of flu illness.

Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. See People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications for a full list of age and health factors that confer increased risk.

See People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.

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Symptoms and Emergency Warning Signs

The symptoms of flu can include:

  • Fever (although not everyone with flu has a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

Emergency warning signs that indicate a person should get medical care right away include:

  • In children:
    • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    • Bluish skin color
    • Not drinking enough fluids
    • Not waking up or not interacting
    • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
    • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
    • Fever with rash
  • In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
    • Being unable to eat
    • Has trouble breathing
    • Has no tears when crying
    • Has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
  • In adults:
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Severe or persistent vomiting
    • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

See The Flu: What to Do If You Get Sick.

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Below are recommendations to help reduce the spread of flu in schools.

  • Encourage students, parents, and staff to get a yearly flu vaccine.
    • Teach students, parents, and staff that the single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each flu season. See Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.
      • Seasonal flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older unless they have a specific contraindication to flu vaccine. See Vaccination: Who Should Do It, Who Should Not, and Who Should Take Precautions. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three or four influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The vaccine viruses are reviewed each year and changed as needed based on international surveillance and scientists’ estimations about which viruses will predominate during the upcoming season.
      • A number of different manufacturers produce trivalent (three component) influenza vaccines for the U.S. market, including intramuscular (IM), intradermal, and nasal spray vaccines. Some seasonal flu vaccines will be formulated to protect against four flu viruses (quadrivalent flu vaccines). See Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine and How Flu Vaccines Are Made for more information.
      • Flu vaccines have a very good safety record. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines. The most common side effects following flu vaccinations are mild, such as soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot was given. See Adverse Events after Receipt of TIV (Flu Shot)and Adverse Events after Receipt of LAIV (Nasal Spray Vaccine).
      • Flu vaccination efforts should begin soon after vaccine becomes available, ideally by October. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even in January or later.
    • Consider offering seasonal flu vaccination to students at school. School vaccination clinics, which are often led by local public health department staff in partnership with schools, are an option for vaccinating school-aged children against flu. Vaccination of other groups (e.g., staff, home-schooled students, students attending nearby schools, family members, and other community members) may also be considered. Contact your local public health department for more information. See Influenza School-Located Vaccination (SLV): Information for Planners).

See Preventing Seasonal Flu with Vaccination.

  • Encourage students, parents, and staff to take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
    • Encourage students and staff to stay home when sick.
      • Teach students, parents, and staff the importance of staying home when sick until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius, measured by mouth) or signs of a fever (chills, feeling very warm, flushed appearance, or sweating) without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
      • Review school policies, and consider revising those that make it difficult for students and staff to stay home when sick or when caring for others who are sick.
        • Implement flexible sick leave policies for students and staff.
        • Avoid the use of perfect attendance awards.
        • Cross-train staff so that others can cover for co-workers who need to stay home.
    • Encourage respiratory etiquette among students and staff through education and the provision of supplies. SeeCover Your Cough.
      • Teach students and staff to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or their arm. If they use a tissue, they should put the used tissue in a trash can and wash their hands.
      • Provide adequate supplies within easy reach, including tissues and no-touch trash cans.
    • Encourage hand hygiene among students and staff through education, scheduled time for handwashing, and the provision of supplies. See Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives.
      • Teach students and staff to wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, dry hands with a paper towel, and use the paper towel to turn off the faucet. If soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol may be used.
      • Include handwashing time in student schedules.
      • Provide adequate supplies, including clean and functional handwashing stations, soap, paper towels, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Encourage students and staff to keep their hands away from their nose, mouth, and eyes.
    • Encourage routine surface cleaning through education, policy, and the provision of supplies. See How To Clean and Disinfect Schools To Help Slow the Spread of Flu.
      • Routinely clean surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands-on learning items, faucet handles, and phones. Empty trash cans as needed.
      • Use general cleaning products that you normally use. Always follow product label directions. Additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended.
      • Provide adequate supplies, such as general EPA-registered cleaning products, gloves, disinfecting wipes, and no-touch trash cans.
      • Match your cleaning activities to the types of germs you want to remove or kill.
        • Flu viruses are relatively fragile, so standard practices, such as cleaning with soap and water, can help remove and kill them.
        • Studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for only 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on a surface. Therefore, special sanitizing processes beyond routine cleaning, including closing schools to clean every surface in the building, are not necessary or recommended to slow the spread of flu, even during a flu outbreak.
        • Some schools may include other cleaning and disinfecting practices in their standard procedures to address germs that are not removed or killed by soap and water alone.

    See Good Health Habits for Preventing Seasonal Flu and
    Everyday Preventive Actions That Can Help Fight Germs, Like Flu[1.5 MB, 2 pages, 8 ½” x 11”] .

  • Educate students, parents, and staff on what to do if someone gets sick.
    • Teach students, parents, and staff the signs and symptoms of flu, emergency warning signs, and high risk groups. See lists at the beginning of this document.
      • Those who get flu-like symptoms at school should go home and stay home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine. Those who have emergency warning signs should get immediate medical care. See The Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick.
      • Those who get flu-like symptoms and are at high risk of severe flu illness should ask a health care professional if they should be examined. See People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications.
    • Separate sick students and staff from others until they can be picked up to go home. When feasible, identify a “sick room” through which others do not regularly pass. The sick room should be separated from areas used by well students for routine health activities, such as picking up medications. Sick room staff should be limited in number and should not be at high risk for severe illness if they get sick.
    • Encourage students, parents, and staff to take antiviral drugs if their health care professional prescribes them. SeeTreatment – Antiviral Drugs.
      • Antiviral drugs, called Relenza® and Tamiflu®, are prescription drugs that can treat the flu. These drugs can reduce the number of days that a person is sick and prevent serious flu complications, but not everyone needs to be treated.
      • Antiviral drugs work best when started within the first 2 days of illness, but they may also help reduce the risk of severe illness even if started 2 or more days after onset of illness for persons who are very sick.
      • Although most people will recover from flu without treatment, antiviral drugs are recommended for people with flu who require treatment in the hospital; have a progressive, severe, or complicated illness; or are at high risk of severe flu because of an underlying medical condition or their age.
  • Establish relationships with state and local health officials for ongoing communication.
    • Follow your local flu situation through close communication with state and local health officials.
    • Update emergency plans so that they are in place before an outbreak occurs.

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PolitiFact: High school diplomas will be new under prison partnership

“It has been many years, if ever, since an inmate has completed his or her high school diploma while incarcerated in a state correctional facility for adults.” – L.C. “Buster” Evans on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 in in a press release.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced in November that the state Department of Corrections will be partnering with a charter school to help inmates at one state prison receive their high school diplomas.

Deal said the program should allow inmates at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Habersham County to “change the direction of their lives” and have “a greater chance of avoiding relapse” once they are back in society.

Seven out of 10 inmates in Georgia’s state prisons lack a high school diploma or GED, the governor said.

“It has been many years, if ever, since an inmate has completed his or her high school diploma while incarcerated in a state correctional facility for adults,” L.C. “Buster” Evans, assistant commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, said in a Nov. 12 press release.

The statement by Evans, a former Forsyth County school superintendent, piqued our interest.

Hadn’t policymakers in Georgia and nationally been talking on and off for years about the high rate of recidivism among released prisoners? And hadn’t most concluded that the solutions are complex but include addressing systemic barriers to success, such as insufficient job skills and education?

We began by contacting Susan Megahee, a spokeswoman at the Georgia Department of Corrections, which runs one of the nation’s largest prison systems with nearly 55,000 inmates, more than 160,000 probationers and 12,000 employees.

We asked about Evans’ statement.

“We have no historical data of any offender receiving a high school diploma,” Megahee told PolitiFact.

That doesn’t mean that some inmates who have entered the prison system as high school dropouts haven’t become more marketable — from an educational standpoint — while behind bars.

Indeed, thousands have.

But until now, the avenue they had was the GED, a four-subject high school equivalency test that measures skills required by high schools and expected by colleges and employers. The four subjects are science, social studies, mathematical reasoning and reasoning through language arts.

GED programs are available to offenders in state prisons, private prisons, transitional centers and the Bainbridge Substance Abuse Treatment Center, Megahee told PolitiFact.

Inmates at those facilities earned 1,557 GEDs in fiscal 2009, 1,510 in 2010, 1,620 in 2011, 1,260 in 2012, 1,290 in 2013 and 1,167 in 2014, according to the Technical College System of Georgia, the agency that administers the GED program.

The Department of Corrections in the past has assessed offenders’ level of education by three standards — Literacy Remedial Reading, below the fifth-grade level; Adult Basic Education between the fifth-grade and eighth-grade levels; and General Educational Development (GED), testing at or above the eighth-grade level with the potential to earn a high school equivalency diploma.

“Now, that our partnership with (Mountain Education Charter School) has been established, we will offer an additional opportunity for education, which is a true high school diploma,” Megahee said. “These options will help prepare returning citizens for successful re-entry.”

This is possible under a state law that designates the Department of Corrections as a “special school” district, she said.

Beginning in January, teachers from the Mountain Education Charter School — a collaboration between the school districts in Elbert, Fannin, Forsyth, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens, Rabun, Towns, Union and White counties — are expected to use online and self-paced instructional programming to work with suitable inmates from Arrendale.

These teachers already work with nontraditional students, and this program with the Department of Corrections will pair them with some of Arrendale’s 1,400 female inmates — 200 of whom are under age 22.

“This will have a long-term impact on recidivism by graduating more inmates with a high school credential,” said Mike Light, a spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia and a former spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

He said it reflects positively “on the governor on down” and marks a major shift in philosophy from the days when prisoners were released with $25 and a bus ticket and told “hope you don’t come back.”

The prison system will still have GED programs, and it announced in August that it is fast-tracking GED programs for inmates at Arrendale and two other medium-security prisons.

Inmates at these facilities will be able to prepare for their GEDs in 10 to 12 weeks — rather than the normal 16 to 18 months — and then be eligible for further vocational and job training, state officials said.

“With over 27,000 offenders that have self-reported as not having a high school diploma, offering this additional programming will allow for more offenders to earn their GED,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said in August. “Offender education is a top priority in our departmental efforts toward criminal justice reform.”

GEDs are recognized nationwide and accepted by more than 95 percent of U.S. employers, colleges and universities, the Technical College System of Georgia website states.

Our conclusion: L.C.”Buster” Evans, assistant commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, said: “It has been many years, if ever, since an inmate has completed his or her high school diploma while incarcerated in a state correctional facility for adults.”

He is technically correct that Georgia prisons have not had a high school program such as the one that is being launched in January. And in a prison system where seven out of 10 inmates lack a diploma or GED, this could be the start of major improvements.

But the GED is a high school equivalency, recognized by the vast majority of employers, colleges and universities. And that’s something the state has been helping some inmates attain for years.

That’s important context. For this reason, we rate Evans’ statement Mostly True.

By Nancy Badertscher

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Filed under High School Graduation, Nathan Deal

[Class] Size Matters

The Atlanta Board of Education reversed an earlier vote this week rejecting a waiver of state rules on the maximum number of students in a class. Jarod Apperson, a forensic auditor now working on a doctorate in economics at Georgia State, has made APS a focus and blogs about the district at Grading Atlanta. Jarod Apperson sent this note of caution to Dr. Carstarphen about allowing class sizes to rise.

By Jarod Apperson

I am writing in hopes of influencing your priorities with respect to class size as you continue to formulate a vision for our district’s schools.  From my understanding of the class-size research and knowledge of the Atlanta schools, I have become persuaded that a substantial reduction in class size would be the easiest action you could take to improve student learning.

Understanding that the district faces a number of challenges and competing priorities, I write not to make demands, but with confidence that if you have a thorough understanding of the issue, the appeal of class-size reductions will be evident.

Below, I present a series of relevant questions and attempt to provide informative answers.

  1. Are smaller class sizes an effective means to raise student achievement?

Yes. As most Georgians are aware, APS lags behind the state in student achievement. What fewer realize is that the size of this gap is not insurmountably large.  The average APS student scores about 0.25 standard deviations below the state average.  I begin with this information to provide context that will help you evaluate the research on class size in terms of its implications for the district.

Credible research design is essential to developing good causal estimates, and both randomized experiments and quasi-experimental research indicates that class size reductions positively impact student achievement.

Evidence from the Tennessee STAR experiment shows that students assigned to classes with a maximum of 17 students scored 0.15 to 0.20 standard deviations above students assigned to classes with a maximum of 25 students.

Thus, the experiment’s results suggest by reducing its maximum class size by 8 students, APS could close between 60% and 80% of its achievement gap with the state.

Quasi-experimental designs, which are more common because they can be conduced with observational data, have found similar results.  The most famous of these is an Angrist and Lavy (1999) study using Israeli data.  The authors use a fuzzy regression discontinuity design to evaluate differences in achievement for schools just above and below a maximum class size threshold.  They find results consistent with the STAR study.

Importantly, both studies indicate that the positive effects are even larger for disadvantaged students, a significant fact in a district were approximately 80% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Unfortunately, the debate on class size was muddied by a number of ill-designed studies in the 1980’s and 1990’s that purported to show no effect, but in fact did not employ empirical designs that would allow the researchers to isolate the effect of class size on student achievement.  Though the academic literature has moved toward more credible designs, these studies continue to influence popular culture and were most recently featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath.  Northwestern economist Diane Whitmore describes additional research in her 2014 summary of the class-size literature.

For more local and (admittedly) anecdotal evidence, we can turn to an APS charter school that explicitly prioritizes class size.  I serve on the Board of Directors for the Kindezi School, an Atlanta charter that sets a maximum class size of eight students across all grades.

The average Kindezi student scores about 0.31 standard deviations above the state average, and according to the state’s Beating the Odds measure the school ranks in the 99th percentile statewide when benchmarked against schools serving similar students.

So, yes, reducing class size is an effective means to raise student achievement.  Credibly designed research supports the importance of class size and anecdotal evidence in our own back yard confirms this body of work.  If APS were to substantially reduce class size, it could decrease or potentially even eliminate the gap between its achievement and the state average.

  1. Are smaller class sizes easier to implement than other initiatives?

Yes. For reasons that are not always clear to me, class-size discussions in the district often meander into a territory where class size is pitted against effective teachers.  In response to a suggestion that the district prioritize class size, it is not uncommon to hear “the most important thing for student achievement is placing an effective teacher in every classroom.”  This is a flawed argument for two reasons.

First, it is a false choice.  Reductions in class size need not come at the expense hiring effective teachers. The district’s historical struggles to attract top talent are not the result of financial constraints. APS offers one of the most competitive compensation packages of any district in the nation.

Instead, a perceived culture of incompetence is what has long dissuaded talented people from joining the district.  Under your leadership, the district can work to improve this culture while prioritizing class size.

Second, reducing class size is easy while placing an effective teacher in every classroom is easier said than done.  A recent Education Week report showed that New York City has been able to turn around its first-year teaching pool, but it took a very long time.

In 1985, 42% of the city’s teachers came from the bottom 1/3 of the SAT distribution.  Today, only 24% come from the bottom third, while 40% come from the top third.  That transition took 30 years.

By developing a pipeline at higher-caliber universities and continuing its partnership with alternative recruitment programs, APS can and should raise the bar for teacher selection, but results will undoubtedly be incremental.  Class size reductions are an effective policy that can be implemented immediately, and there is no credible reason they should come at the expense of prioritizing effective teaching hires.

  1. Does the return on investment for class size reduction make it worthwhile?

Yes. When APS publishes estimates of what it would cost to reduce class size, the district typically uses a cost per teacher of $80,000.  While this may be accurate from a cash-flow perspective it is not appropriate for long-term decision making because state funding the following year is a function of the number and experience level of teacher employed by APS in the prior year.

Here’s the reality: for every incremental dollar APS invests in class size reductions, the state reimburses it 32 cents, and it gets to keep another 30 cents of local property tax revenue.  So when the finance department presents you a proposal with a $20M price tag, if you are willing to set short-term cash flow issues aside, the real incremental cost is about $8M.

I will attempt to explain the basics of this without getting too wonky on the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula.  QBE is designed to incentivize the prioritization of teacher hires over alternative uses of district money.  The way the formula works, districts are responsible for paying the base salary of certified teachers, payroll taxes, and contributions to the Teacher’s Retirement System. The state then reimburses districts $11k for health insurance.

Additionally, the following year, the state pays the district the incremental salary earned by the employee as a result of having years of experience and/or any advanced degrees.  Both of these payments (T&E/HI) impact the share of local property taxes the district distributes to charter schools.  When all three sources are combined, APS ends up net down about $30,000 per teacher rather than $80,000.

The short story is this: investing in smaller classes makes solid financial sense because a significant portion of the expenditure ultimately comes back to the district in the form of higher revenue the following year.

  1. Do smaller class sizes disproportionately benefit non Title 1 schools?

No. The final topic I want to address is the notion that class sizes are a “Northside issue,” and students in the district’s Title 1 schools have no stake in the class size discussion.  It is frustrating that some misappropriate the language of social justice to buttress opinions that reinforce the status quo.

As I explained above, the class size research indicates disadvantaged students actually benefit more from small classes than middle-class students.  It is true that a number of Title 1 schools in APS already reduce class sizes by using their Title 1 earnings and/or supplemental resources such as EIP teachers.

However, we must acknowledge the limitations that choice poses on their educational program.  If supplemental resources are being dedicated to class size reduction, they aren’t being used for other interventions.  They aren’t funding individualized after-school tutoring.  They aren’t funding small group pullouts.

If APS allocates additional teachers to all its schools, including Title 1 schools, that frees up supplemental resources. It returns those resources for use in targeted interventions aimed at the students most in need.

I hope that this information proves useful as you evaluate ways to raise student achievement in the district.  The financial benefits and proven effectiveness of class size reductions suggest you should find ways to make it a priority in your plans.

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Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Class Size