Sunday, December 04, 2005

Time to Trim Some Fat From the Schools

Jim Thompson is not exactly pleased with the Clarke County School District, and with good reason.  We’ve known for some time that the CCSD has something of a discipline problem, and that our children are not being particularly well-served.  The big question is: Who do we blame?

Jim does a good job of highlighting the sociological factors that lead to problems in the schools; we would humbly refer you to this thread with reference to those factors.  But those problems are not unique to the CCSD by any means.  And there is one thing going on in the CCSD that, if it isn’t the primary cause of our local district’s problems, is certainly exacerbating them.  It’s also a pretty easy problem to fix.

Here at AthPo, we’ve pretty much had enough.  We’re big supporters of public education.  One of us used to teach, for Pete’s sake.  We’re also both proud to be graduates of public schools in Clarke County.  There’s no reason why, with what is probably the state’s best-educated citizenry, and with the State’s flagship university in our backyard, that our public schools should be this deplorable.

You might recall some months ago, when we put out an open call for folks in the CCSD, especially teachers, to get in touch with us and answer a few questions anonymously.  We were trying to track down the truth behind some persistent rumors that we keep hearing.  According to our sources, the administration of at least one middle school in Clarke County is actively encouraging its teachers to file less disciplinary reports on students (for instance, sending the kid to the principal’s office) in favor of handling most, if not all, discipline problems in the classroom.  

You see, if a teacher sends a student to the principal’s office for breaking the rules, that creates paperwork.  And said paperwork is a matter of public record.  It’s also one of the first things that is checked when a school is being evaluated for Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.  But, if you handle the problems in the classroom, without taking the administration’s time away from their busy schedules of surfing the internet, then – voila! – no pesky disciplinary referrals to show up when the authorities show up to check on AYP.

Call us naïve, but we’d prefer that teachers actually – oh gosh, we don’t know – teach.  The administrators’ job is to preserve discipline, so that teachers can actually do their jobs.  

As we mentioned earlier, we’ve had enough.  If you’ve had enough with the tailspin that is the Clarke County School District, then here’s what we suggest – a two-pronged approach.

First, throw the bums out.  That means the school board, initially, and with a new board, hopefully the superintendent and the top administration as well.  Sorry to sound draconian, but our schools have gotten worse on your watch, guys.  We appreciate your service, and don’t let the doorknob hit you where the Good Lord split you.  Next, with our new school board, we need to pass new local rules about accountability.  Not for teachers; we humbly believe that most of our Clarke County teachers are doing the best they can with what they’ve got to work with.  Accountability rules for the administrators of each school are the way to go.  Our new accountability rules shouldn’t be based on some contrived yardstick, like No Child Left Behind, but on measurable results based on previous years’ performance.  As an example, if 10% of the 9th graders at a school had to repeat, then the next year, anything more than 5% is unacceptable.  If a school reported an average of 50 disciplinary referrals per month in 2005, then anything more than an average of 40 per month is unacceptable in 2006.  

You want to get serious about education?  So do we.  But things aren’t going to get any better until we cut the tumor out of the system.  Throw the bums out.  


Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your sentiments but, do you know anybody who wants to be on the school board? Apparently, if you look at the last 2 elections for CCSD BOE, there really isn't anybody who wants to serve on it.

Correct me if I'm wrong but, isn't it true that there has been exactly one contested seat in the last two elections? I care a lot about public education (my wife is a teacher) but I wouldn't take a seat on that board - no way!

In fact, I think we're about to see that same trend with the Mayor and Commission - you can't get good people to serve any more. Just look at the announced candidates for Mayor - there's not a real Mayor in the whole bunch. Same for some of the Commission seats. In every election, you have to remind yourself that your choices are limited to those who running - not necessarily the best people for the job.

Publius said...

True enough. I think there was one contested seat last year (District 6), which was a three-way. However, the total number of votes cast was something like 75% of the the total cast for the District 6 Commission seat, which is a helluva dropoff even in a presidential year.

So, candidate recruitment. How do we make it happen?

hillary said...

So do y'all have a reason for wanting to throw out the school board other than that change must be good? I can't say that I know much about them, but this piece doesn't give me any more information, and without more information, I'm not going to blame them for having difficulty adhering to No Child Left Behind guidelines they have no control over.

Publius said...

Well, I'll start with a kind of rhetorical question. Do our schools in ACC earn an A grade from you? For me, even a D is pushing the bounds of credibility. We can do better than that.

I can't fault the school district for not falling in line with NCLB; those mandatory standards aren't approachable for a lot of schools. But, here is a short list of my problems with the CCSD.

First of all, I'll mention what I referenced in my post. I've heard from a few folks that I trust that at at least one middle school, teachers are being told to handle discipline problems in the classroom, so that there's no paper trail when the AYP authorities come a callin'. Now, I'm not the most well-connected person on the block, and if I've heard this, chances are at least one person on the school board has heard it too. So my question is: Are the administrators at this school playing fast and loose with the rules to cover their asses? I trust my sources on this one; the CCSD, not so much.

Our schools are not as safe as they can be. Enough said about that.

Our teacher retention rate is perfectly normal. For "high-poverty" districts. Now we are a high-poverty district, there's no denying that. But how many high-poverty districts have their state's flagship university right next door? Again, we can do better.

So, for me, it's not that change will be better. It's that change just can't be much worse. Our schools have been in a steady decline for quite a few years now, and not coincidentally, the School Board is a somewhat long-lived group. 4 of the 9 members were elected to the board more than ten years ago. (Sosebee in District 7 orginally served starting in 1995, lost in 1998, returned a few years ago.)

I think we need some new blood, and I think we need a vision for our schools. I haven't seen one from the superintendant, and I haven't seen or heard one from any of the members of the board. We can't just keep plugging away and hoping that things will get better.

One other thing about NCLB. We can sit around and bitch about the unfunded mandates (and we should), and we can work as hard as we can to scrap NCLB and replace it with something sensible (and we should). But how about until we do get sensible legislation in place?

NCLB sucks hard, but our school districts can't use it as an excuse for not doing something.

So, throw the bums out. It's time for vison and committment to the schools, not the school board or the school administration.

hillary said...

NCLB sucks hard, but our school districts can't use it as an excuse for not doing something. Oh I call bullshit on that. It doesn't mean they couldn't be doing anything, but it's a pretty severe handicap. I'd grade our schools about the same as you would, but tossing people out who are willing to do the job because you don't like results that are influenced by a lot of factors those people have nothing to do with isn't fair. Especially when you don't have anyone stepping up to replace them, let alone anyone imbued with visionary leadership.

hillary said...

Telling teachers to handle discipline problems in the classroom so they don't affect AYP sucks, and they shouldn't be doing that, but it's a result of the system, isn't it? At least to some extent?

Publius said...

As mentioned before, we don't have a wealth of people stepping up to the plate, but "tossing people out who are willing to do the job because you don't like results that are influenced by a lot of factors" may not be fair, but it kind of is democracy. I'm not happy with what's going down in the schools I attended, and I think different leadership can do a better job.

There's no question that NCLB is a severe handicap on schools. I thought I pretty much said as much. But until we can do something about it, are we supposed to let the schools fester and get worse? Give someone else a chance to lead.

As far as your later post about covering up disciplinary stuff to influence AYP, sure it's a function of the system. So are a lot of other problems. Would you want it happening in your kid's classroom?

There's no excuse for that. We've got to let the teachers teach, attack NCLB as hard as we can, and get rid of some of the deadwood in the administration. And we've got to do something more than what's happening now until we can get a congress that will overturn NCLB.

hillary said...

And you think accountability rules are the way to go? Dude. We just disagree. This kind of rule is exactly what leads to the problem pointed out.

I understand the desire for change. But sometimes it's jumping the gun a little when you don't know what you're changing to. Alls I'm saying.

Publius said...

NCLB-style accountability rules are asinine, in the sense that they were pulled out of thin air by pointy-headed scholastics who think the real world is the perfect world. My ideas are a good bit different. As I said, "Our new accountability rules shouldn’t be based on some contrived yardstick, like No Child Left Behind, but on measurable results based on previous years’ performance."

If the school starts at zero, that's fine, but just get to one next year, ok? Show some improvement against what you've done in the past, not against some contrived yardstick created by folks who haven't set foot in an inner city public school classroom in their lives.

There's a world of difference.

Publius said...

But there's middle ground to be had for sure. So, what should we do? What can/should the school board and administration do?

Because the present situation ain't working, and I can't see waiting around until NCLB goes away. The localities have got to step up to the plate, do the best they can, and hold on until this particular roller coaster rolls into the station.

hillary said...

The localities have got to step up to the plate, do the best they can, and hold on until this particular roller coaster rolls into the station.

Agreed. And I'm freely admitting here that I don't have any proposals. But I bet someone in the Ed School does. Maybe we should be taking advantage of that resource, as y'all have pointed out repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

So which one of you guys is running for school board next time around (or both if you live in different districts)?

hillary said...

Woo! Free condoms for all kids! Vote for me!

Anonymous said...

Are your grammar schools courtesy of Clarke County? Surely you meant to say "... encouraging its teachers to file FEWER disciplinary reports ..."