Former Pelham City school chief Jim Arnold always impresses me with his willingness to challenge the political rhetoric around education. He’s written several guest pieces for the AJC Get Schooled blog and has his own blog.
Here is his most recent effort.
By Jim Arnold
Gov. Nathan Deal’s suggestion that Georgia “look at” a recovery school district modeled after the one in New Orleans has raised more than a few eyebrows in our state.
Louisiana, where Advanced Placement exam results for 2013 are ahead of only Mississippi, is known more for LSU football and Duck Dynasty than public education. Higher National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in 2013 still leave the state at the bottom of the national scorecard, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report in 2014 gave the state educational system an A for choice but a D or F for academic achievement, international competitiveness and workforce preparation.
Less than 20 percent of Louisiana students met Programme for International Student Assessment requirements for reading and math standards, and recent gains in LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) and iLEAP (integrated Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) state tests were due to Louisiana Department of Education manipulation of cut scores and not actual academic achievement.
The number of correct answers on those tests required for a level of “basic” proficiency was reduced in 3 of 4 categories in LEAP testing. The LDOE said the grading scale was “equated.” This means the grading scale was adjusted to make it appear that student performance held steady with Common Core aligned tests instead of the dramatic reduction that would have shown up without “equating.”
The vast majority of charters in Louisiana, except for those with a selective admission process, are rated D or F by their own state. The New Orleans Recovery School District that Nathan Deal suggested we emulate was rated as one of the lowest performing districts in the state.
This plan was part of the “bait and switch” campaign in Louisiana to increase the number of charter schools in that state after Hurricane Katrina. Their method was simple: if evidence for the success of charters is required, simply lower test scores, apply charters wherever possible then raise the scores back through whatever test manipulation is needed to “prove” the case.
The RSD efforts in Louisiana are a miserable failure by any measure. In spite of the promise to return schools to the public after the initial takeover in 2006, not one school in the RSD has been returned to local control after 8 years.
The governor’s suggestion of studying the implementation of such a model in Georgia speaks more to his lack of a coherent educational policy than to his ideas for educational progress. The governor stated “I am willing to listen to anybody’s idea.”
OK, governor, here it goes:
Believe in and support teachers: Poverty is the cause of achievement gaps and the number one obstacle to educational success. Stop the culture of blaming teachers for poverty. Teachers don’t cause poverty any more than law enforcement causes crime or doctors create disease.
Invest in teachers: Restore professional development funds. Professional development should be experienced teachers working with less experienced teachers. Pay great teachers to share their knowledge and ideas in ways that allow them to stay in the classroom. One great teacher working with 3 or 4 others is a powerful tool. Large groups of teachers listening to one “expert” in an auditorium is not.
Pay great teachers more to work in high poverty schools: Working in these schools is difficult. Make it worth the effort for teachers that want to increase their salaries and stay in the classroom. Want to attract great teachers to high poverty areas? Pay them to travel and teach there. Want to identify high poverty schools? Simply look at standardized test scores. They don’t tell you anything about teaching and learning but do serve wonderfully to point out the zip code effect of the level of poverty in a given area.
Eliminate standardized testing for other than diagnostic purposes: The money saved would be more beneficial invested in teaching and learning than in the autopsy reports generated at the insistence of accountabullies in the name of accountabalism. Allow teachers the opportunity to teach without having to teach to the test.
Don’t believe in magic bullets: The answer is not in canned programs guaranteed to produce higher test scores. The answer is in the power of great teachers. Invest in people and not in programs. Success through standardization is a myth. Every student needs and deserves individualized learning at all levels. Educational achievement, like excellence, cannot be legislated.
Technology is a tool for teachers and not an answer unto itself: For every child that learns through technology alone there are more that fail miserably without the intervention and guidance of a teacher. Lower class sizes, eliminate furlough days and give teachers the time and tools to teach.
Help prevent legislative meddling in teaching and learning: Unfunded mandates and legislative attempts at applying statewide solutions to local educational issues have done more to hurt public education than to help. Standardization is not a solution unless your goal is to help Bill Gates sell a lot of technology. Georgia teachers can also find a better way than age level to determine educational placement. Children learn at different rates and in different ways. If a child cannot jump a bar 4 feet high, raising the bar to 6 feet does not encourage continued learning and effort. Expecting every child to achieve at the same rate at the same level ignores fundamental differences in human development…sort of like Arnie’s plan to test special education students out of special education through higher expectations.
Top down implementation does not work in education any more than it does in government: Issuing a decree that all children will succeed does not automatically mean that all children will succeed.
My dad told me you can always see what people believe in by observing how they spend their money and how they spend their time. The same is true for politicians. Talking about the importance of education is useless unless you actually do something that positively affects teaching and learning.
Reducing the size of the cuts to public education is not an increase any more than the $100 gift cards to teachers were anything but a political ploy to give the appearance of support to teachers. Talk to teachers, listen to teachers and allow teachers to tell you what really counts in education. If you truly want to help students in Georgia, there are no shortcuts and no magic bullets.
Teachers are not the problem but the answer. Have the courage to ask them and follow their advice.