Opinion: Raising bar for students isn’t enough. Raise it for everyone in education.

Etienne R. LeGrand is an Atlanta-based writer and education strategist. In this essay, she responds to the new NAEP report on where Georgia sets its proficiency levels.

By Etienne R. LeGrand 

Georgia finds itself at the bottom of the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report card and instead of responding to this news with concrete actions the state is taking to improve its lot, state education leaders offered excuses about whether it is last or next to last in challenging the veracity of the report’s findings. 

Etienne R. LeGrand

Etienne R. LeGrand

The defensive response to the NAEP report by Georgia Deputy Superintendent for Assessment and Accountability Melissa Fincher isn’t entirely unexpected.  The enduring “gotcha,” “hurry up,” and highly politicized climate in which public education is delivered in Georgia and across the country has ripened the conditions for state education and school district leaders to think small, to set the bar low for kids because time is not on their side, confidence in talent is low, and externalities, such as persistent poverty and uneven parenting remain outside of their control.

Rather than lower the bar to account for what it doesn’t control, state leaders might do more to improve what it does control. Improving the quality of the overall talent pool in Georgia’s schools, not just teachers and principals, is key to delivering results. All workers in the system from bus drivers to receptionists represent the system’s largest asset, and more must be done to increase the return on this asset through coaching and feedback. 

 Likewise, eliminating operating inefficiencies through tighter alignment of people and processes can result in financial savings that might be reinvested back into school districts to respond to teacher compensation issues and the effects of poverty and academic unpreparedness on learning.

The urgency for more student growth is real; minority, poor and rural kids’ futures and Georgia’s future prosperity depend increasingly on the state’s capacity to deliver higher quality education for all of Georgia’s children.  But raising the bar without eradicating the cultural barriers found throughout Georgia’s education system such as excuse making and blaming, turf issues and “we-they attitudes,”  risk and conflict avoidance, bureaucracy and lack of innovation, lack of agility and the politicization of education will not lead to the results citizens crave.  

How employees in the system behave as they go about their work tends to be overlooked by education leaders.  These overlooked behaviors become normalized within the system’s culture to define “the way things are done.” Overtime, these dysfunctional habits form an invisible current that produces low morale and energy, distrust, misalignment, opaque communication, and a lack of personal accountability. 

If left unchecked these barriers “chew up” what otherwise might be effective programs and initiatives. Low results follow as few planned initiatives are enabled to be successfully executed. Instead of looking at the human issues underlying low results, structural changes are planned while initiatives and programs are written off as poorly designed when in fact, it’s the culture or behavior of the people in the system that upended expected results.

Georgia is on a merry-go-round of low results, with greater urgency and accountability defined as the on and off ramps.  But, its merry-go-round is predicated on a faulty premise: that an education system can change with newly produced Georgia Milestones tests, for example, without the people working in it changing, too.

Like any other organization, Georgia’s education system is made up of people who must come together as a higher performing team who make a whole system if it is to produce stronger results for kids. Consider the last time you succeeded in an organization – your family, church, or community group without the people in it acting with best intentions and in concert with one another.

As Georgia’s leaders continue to struggle to “make its numbers,” personal accountability for results,  a “can-do” attitude, and a growth-oriented mindset are crucial. Here’s hoping the bar is not only raised to expect more from Georgia’s kids, but that it is also raised to expect more from Georgia’s education leaders.

Reader Comments 0

152 comments
EtienneGabby
EtienneGabby

There is no doubt that in an ideal political climate, the entire public education system would be restructured from its industrial model to one that could achieve four goals: economic (find a job), social (engage in processes in which the community is organized e.g. voting and civil discourse), cultural (diverse people understand values and why they believe what they do and why others believe what they do, and personal (different people are educated and driven by different motivations). In the face of no such restructure, a fed up populous rightly began demanding much needed change that is only happening at the margins for too few kids through increasingly home schooling and charter schools, which were intended as an experiment from which the insights and lessons were to integrated back into our public education system.  This regrettably did not happen as no infrastructure was put in place to capture what worked in charter education. With the current "us versus them mindset" between charters and traditional public schools, this integration of ideas will likely never happen; which is regrettable as 90% of American kids remain educated in traditional public schools. Most school districts and the state education offices that oversee them are not well operated to delivery education. Calling this out, in addition to continually calling for higher teacher quality informs the debate in a new way.  Blaming teachers hasn't been productive and who's to blame doesn't solve the problem.  Teachers can not do their jobs without the support of their colleagues and the community.  Taking it one step at a time, I think we can invite a higher level of community engagement when teachers and non teachers working in school districts and the schools that compose them become higher performing teams who work together to produce results.

Starik
Starik

@EtienneGabby I like your articles, but I'd love to hear what you think is the main problem in DeKalb County, where the decline in school quality across the board has changed the County for the worse. 

EtienneGabby
EtienneGabby

Good question. I haven't followed DeKalb most recently, but believe that it generally suffers from the same poor performing organizational culture that I witness in many other low performing districts. Shaping district cultures to enable people to perform at higher levels is a significant leadership challenge. Few district leaders are intentional about shifting how people work or in most cases don't work together. It's extremely challenging. But, image that the Spurs or Google worked in silos, blamed each other and made excuses when results didn't happen or didn't trust one another. Would either achieve the success they enjoy? I welcome your updating me with your point of view about DeKalb and as well, let me know in what area you work.

Starik
Starik

@EtienneGabby I'm a lawyer, retired...what's happened in DeKalb has shaken some of my fundamental beliefs and turned me into a pessimist regarding the future of the schools. My local high school has been transformed into a 10% white football factory which does a terrible job in preparing kids for college -  it's as if the mission has changed to securing a high school diploma as the ultimate goal for the students - except for the athletes.Somehow the area I lived in, fairly prosperous and nicely integrated, has a school that is neither.  I always was critical of white flight.  In the face of reality, I flew. 


The schools need to respect mainstream culture. When a system chases off all the white families except those who are too poor or mortgage underwater to leave it does not promote a healthy society.


30097
30097

Let's provide another option for parents who've realized their kid isn't college bound—and will achieve little with the standard K-12 curriculum. 

Charter schools that focus on teaching a trade along with lesser amounts of reading, math and science might have a better chance of getting the attention of problem students and leave them better prepared to lead productive lives.

Astropig
Astropig

@30097


Couldn't agree more. Astrowife told me today that her company just said goodbye to their last employee that has only a high school diploma before she went on vacation (she gave him a safety award).Her company requires no less than an associates degree to be a chemical operator nowadays.She says that the wild grade inflation/social promotion mania has made it impossible to employ someone with just a HS diploma these days. They simply can't follow the steps to make the products,which can be hazardous and/or explosive.Thus, our "everyone gets a trophy" policy will lock a lot of people out of middle class jobs because their diploma is a devalued currency that some employers won't accept.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Astropig @30097  Good for her!  Time to let the schools know that just cheating to get everybody a diploma doesn't mean anything!  I wish our company would start giving tests of basic skills that must be passed.  Can't count on that diploma meaning anything.

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog @Astropig @30097


Now to be fair,she didn't come up with the policy,but as the chief safety honcho,she had serious input.They're playing with some hazardous stuff and the liability for worker injuries and toxic releases is incalculable.

Starik
Starik

@Astropig @30097 But...if we tighten standards, our graduation rates will suffer and our racial performance gaps will grow.  Our white children will fall farther behind our Asian kids.

JTavegia
JTavegia

None of this will fix anything, yet this is the kind of rhetoric we hear all the time of "systemic change" that must take place. This kind of change has been taking place over the last 30-40 years with negative curriculum changes by the elitists and bloated administrations. Once we threw out the core requirements of elementary school of "The 3 R's" the slippery slope to doom is now before us. Social promotion and no student accountability has become the norm, yet the demand for giving out more diplomas has never been higher, even if they really don't know anything and are not really prepared for college. Graduation rates matter more than what a student knows. How else can you do that in 2015 but by lowering the bar? 


High school students who have no proficiency in basic math skills and can't even pass coordinate algebra in 9th grade because of it. Parents who don't what to be parents, but their child's advocate when they do no work. Fathers who are absent. Cell phones and tablets  in high school are killing attentiveness, but banning them will always be out of the question. Teenagers who have no signature and print everything they do, and many reading below the 6th grade level. 


If you don't fix elementary school there will be no hope. We must get back to basic skills and teaching how to act properly in a group setting. If behavior suffers it will only get worse in middle school and high school.  I don't think our educational leadership in Washington has the stomach for fixing what is really wrong. Our society has a behavioral problem and yet most have been through public education. Many are not being taught how to behave at home.  But,  we will keep getting essays like this one.   Sad. 

elle3t
elle3t

I could not have said it better myself. Teachers and administrators are the most informed, knowledgeable, educated, censored, agile and efficient they have been in the last 100 years. The consistency in talent is the best it has been. What has changed are the values of the children, parents and communities! We are expected to overflow vessels with holes. I'm not yet hopeless but after five years... each day wears me thin. Thus the exodus of the 2-5 year teachers.

Starik
Starik

@elle3t The difficulty is that making babies is, for many people, really easy.  Some even produce them without any intention to do so. Unfortunately human babies take a long time to grow up, are expensive, and a lot of trouble (especially after age 14 for males, 12 or so for females) and parents, or more often mama, can't handle the job of raising them. The schools will always have a critical role to play

BitterEXdemocrackkk
BitterEXdemocrackkk

America suffers now of 3-4 generations of dumbed down people who were indoctrinated in GOVERNMENT SCREWLS!


Get YOUR children OUT of GOVERNMENT SCREWLS as FAST as you CAN !!!


 the national educational agenda is abhorrent with TOO much 'federal' control ... shut down Dept of 'education' ...

elle3t
elle3t

I love the minimally educated people who vow their pitiful education holds a candle to my 22 years of schooling to be the best secondary science educator I can be! Good luck with that! Not everyone can/should homeschool!

Starik
Starik

@elle3t Nobody should homeschool.  People generally homeschool to perpetuate ignorance, not to educate their kids.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Astropig @Starik @elle3t


Some people do a great job of homeschooling. Others, not so much.  Around here, claiming to homeschool is one way to get the truant officer off your back.

Starik
Starik

@Astropig @Starik @elle3t I'd agree, I'm sure some people homeschool for good reasons and do a good job with it. I am, however enough of a bigot about the subject to send my kids for professional schooling public or private.

bu2
bu2

@Starik @Astropig @elle3t 

A lot of homeschoolers are former teachers.  Go to one of the local museums on one of the homeschool days and you would have a very different opinion of homeschoolers.


Parents who aren't teachers can do a good job as well.  Its a lot different and easier teaching one or two than trying to teach a whole class like a regular teacher. 

Starik
Starik

@popacorn @bu2 @Starik @Astropig @elle3t I don't buy it.  Very few professional teachers would be qualified to teach the skills kids learn in K-12. As for museums,  the crazy Creation Museum in Kentucky is, I'm sure, full of homeschooled kids. Do homeschool parents have standards? Any standards? College degrees? High school diplomas even?

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Astropig @ScienceTeacher671 @Starik @elle3t


I agree about the absolutes.  Some of my best former students were homeschooled until they reached high school. Top of the class, studious, polite - couldn't ask for better!  I've also known some great homeschooling families socially.


But I've also had formerly homeschooled students who were woefully behind and/or terrible behavior problems, and I've had students who were frequently absent who were withdrawn to be "homeschooled" so that their parents wouldn't have to continue to fight the attendance battle.  


IHarris
IHarris

What about raising the bar for parents as well?  I have taught in Georgia Public Schools for the past 15 years, and additional years in another state.  This year has been one of the worst for parental involvement in the classroom.  Years ago, parents took more of an active role in their child's education.  As a teacher, I was able to contact parents with updates regarding their students' academic and social progress.  Now, many parents avoid telephone calls for any reason, and some will tell the teacher not to call them at all.  The attitude is, "my child is your problem, do your job and teach."  Really?  Discipline accounts for a large part of the instructional day.  This is not to say that discipline issues are not the responsibility of the certified teacher in charge of that classroom.  But where is the help when discipline issues impede upon the rights of all children to learn?  The bar must be raised not just for the faculty and staff of a school district, but also for the most important role model in the child's life...the parent.

Astropig
Astropig

@IHarris


Most if not all charter schools require a high degree of parental engagement.Their harshest critics can be found commenting below.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig


As I said in my comment...The harshest critics are the people threatened with real educational improvement and parental empowerment.


Reformers' education plan is to improve schools. The status quo education plan is to criticize reformers.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig


"and the students who are successful will inherit a world filled with undereducated, troubled young people who cannot get jobs.  What does everyone think is going to happen then?"


Get out of the bubble. It's happening now.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig 


I realize we already are facing difficulties ... or haven't you been bothering to read all the posts I have been writing on here for the past year or more.  Seems I have mentioned the problems with our current system a time or two.. or three... or four...


However, certain "reform" plans will only make the situation worse.


Do you care to actually address my points or are you satisfied with a generic attack trope which really does nothing to further the discussion?



Did I simply "criticize reformers"?  No.  In fact, I challenge you to point out where I did so anywhere in my post.


Instead, I pointed out the potential difficulties in requiring "parental involvement" as a stipulation for enrollment of a child in any system.  Then I actually put forth a potential plan for assisting in solving some of our educational problems which involves addressing the needs of troubled students as well as successful students.  And I suggested the opening of charter type schools to meet the needs of those troubled students.  If you really are interested in doing what is best to help all students, then why not address my suggestion?


If, however, it is all about using public taxpayer money for the benefit of the upper echelon, then I can see why you might avoid a deeper discussion.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig


I would be in favor of any charter school that puts every student's name in the district lottery and takes all students who choose to accept their spot. Provide transportation and special ed. services. Then we could really have an experiment to see what changes charter schools can implement to instruct TPS. How about it Astro? Reform, choice, charter - it's all there. You on board for all kids to have an equal opportunity to attend charter schools?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig 


How about the record of the state commission charter schools that are performing worse than their districts? I don't fault the schools - some of them have students who were not performing well when they entered and they have the same problems as TPS. I fault the state leadership who skirts over the performance problems and hides financial data from the public.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig 



Requiring a "high degree of parental involvement" is a great idea...but how does one enforce that?  Traditional schools would love more parental involvement as well.  The problem is there is no way to enforce such a requirement and *if* charter schools use a lack of parental involvement as a reason to dismiss a student from their population, then they are self-selecting for a more engaged students body - which is also fine except that the charter proponents then go on to suggest that Charter schools are the same as traditional public schools even though they obviously play by different rules.    Not to mention those parents who cannot be as involved due to trying to work two to three jobs to keep a roof over their heads.


I do think that we need "alternative" schools, but I would focus more upon removing troubled students from classrooms and targeting them with strong interventions. In my opinion this would actually help solve the underlying problems. Removing all the strongest students and sending them off to charters and private schools still leaves you with all the students without means as well as the discipline issues while also removing a lot of the monetary resources from the schools.  So you still have the problems, you have less money to deal with it, you have a higher concentration of troubled youth and the underlying problems just get worse.  This will only weaken society overall... and the students who are successful will inherit a world filled with undereducated, troubled young people who cannot get jobs.  What does everyone think is going to happen then?

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Astropig @IHarris The KIPP schools require parental involvement, stricter discipline, and longer hours.  All of those things would improve public school, but it would be difficult to implement those things in a traditional public school, and arguably, the students who most need them would be least likely to participate.  

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig


Really hard to address any of your suggestions when you plant enough poison pills in your approach to ensure that nothing ever happens in a million,gajillion years.Just like a lot of politicians,you want to put off real solutions until they are somebody else's problem.


For instance- "Services" that "address poverty". We do that now until people are taxed dizzy and parents still send their kids to school without being fed,with no school supplies and without paying them any attention.Yet, when a school model is built that addresses such things, who's standing in the way? We could learn some valuable things by letting the charter movement flourish and adopting their best practices and discarding the bad ones,but its hard to gain that knowledge when the status quo won't countenance any approach that doesn't buy them off on every little issue.Hard to trust the failing system we have now when they don't trust us enough to pick the best schools for our kids individual situation.Rich folk get to pick their kids schools and they do okay.Why is that taboo for the middle and lower class?



Astropig
Astropig

@ScienceTeacher671 @Astropig @IHarris


I'm almost to the point of wanting negligent parents to pay an impact fee to some taxing authority when they don't adequately feed,clothe or school their child.Just about everybody agrees that an inadequate education costs society a lot of money over the long pull.Excessive absences,failure to attend mandatory tutoring/enrichment ,excessive disciplinary requirements and basic neglect should hit these people in the pocketbook like it does the rest of us.Start grabbing some of that annual tax refund or cutting bennies might make better parents out of some of these people that don't give a toss about their kids and use schools for day care.

traderjoe9
traderjoe9

@IHarris Maybe the parental involvement requirement is not as difficult to achieve as you imagine. Here's how it might work.


The state requires that all kids must be in school.


Parents are given vouchers and the responsibility to find an educational service for their child.


Educational services are allowed to set their own standards regarding behavior and achievement. If a student violates its rules, they have the authority to kick the student out. The institution/service has total authority to make that decision.


This is where the state steps in. The state is on the parent's back demanding they get their kid into another program/service. If the kid has a serious emotional/behavioral problem, then the state can use legal means to coerce the parent into seeking appropriate treatment so that the kid becomes 'teachable'.


This changes the dynamic between parent, child, and learning institution, or should I say, returns it to what it resembled back before the Federal Law 94-142 was passed which placed most of the responsibility onto public schools to entice the disenchanted and under socialized into wanting to behave and achieve. We can see how well this notion has worked. As has been reported here, too many parents demand that schools teach their anti-social kids and if the schools push back, well the parent(s) show up with legal council backed by a host of federal and state laws that demand that the school develop an appropriate curriculum for their thug. These kids and this adversarial relationship between irresponsible parents and schools has poisoned the school climate in ways too pervasive and too complex to describe here.


As many are catching on, there is no way to fix public schools. The vested interests of government bureaucracies, textbook publishers, college training programs, teacher associations are way too strong to allow little more than torqueing an already twisted system. Many are asking, how it became so difficult to teach competency in the 3Rs. That's the right question and a corollary is 'you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink'. Even Jesus couldn't teach some of the 'devils' that are dumped on the doorsteps of public schools these days. The contention that more talented teachers is all we need to fix the problem is just more hopium we get from the liberal establishment these days. It's time to get back to an era where the institutions represent the core values of civilized society and are given the authority to back them up. It's time to return to parents the responsibilities of being a parent which means socializing their children and teaching them the behaviors requisite to success in school and society. If parents fail to do this, then the state should act like an authority and do what it takes to ensure parents are doing their job. If word gets around that it's tough being a parent, then maybe this will change the behavior of want-a-be parents.


Starik
Starik

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig If we place our troubled and needy kids in separate schools we will find ourselves racially segregated, and that would be politically incorrect.

elle3t
elle3t

LEARNING FIRST BEGINS AT HOME! The parental involvement needed doesn't happen on school turf. It should happen at home. And it looks like teaching abcs & 123s, reading, library visits, checking homework, communicating with teachers, quality assurance of projects, papers, spelling,and grammar, regular routines, healthy meals, proper amount of sleep, technology restrictions, active play, minimal extracurriculars and goal setting! If parents did these things, we are more than equipped to do our jobs and the children are ready to continue learning.

elle3t
elle3t

I agree!or revoked tax credits!

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Starik


I did not say "needy"... I have plenty of needy or low SES students in my classes who do fine.  I am talking about the consistently disruptive behavioral problems who disrupt the learning for ALL students.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig


"Really hard to address any of your suggestions when you plant enough poison pills in your approach to ensure that nothing ever happens in a million,gajillion years."


Please list SPECIFICALLY which "poison pills" were included in my proposal.  


Where did I mention services to "address poverty"?  I didn't...so why are you using that as an excuse not to engage what I actually did say?  


So fail to address what I said.  You accuse me of bringing up issues which I didn't.  You then suggest you cannot discuss the problems with me because of some.... broad generalized argument about not being able to solve any problems because the status quo "won't countenance any approach that doesn't buy them off on every little issue" - in other words, you deflect, deflect, deflect and then accuse me of being close minded.


Amazing.



Starik
Starik

@Quidocetdiscit @Starik Sorry about that; If we place our troubled kids in separate schools we will find ourselves racially segregated, and that would be politically incorrect.

Astropig
Astropig

@elle3t


It is inarguable that these students will cost society more in social services,corrections and healthcare.They should have to pay more because they demand/receive more.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Starik 


Unfortunately, you likely have a point there... even if those schools were able to try and address the behavioral issues with counseling and targeted intervention, I am sure some would decide the process was discriminatory in some way.

Starik
Starik

@elle3t Aha! a solution at last!  Establish a licensing system for human reproduction!  Make sure everybody who has a kid can properly take care of it, to include holding up the parental end in the education process. What do we do with the illegally created kids?

bu2
bu2

@AvgGeorgian @Quidocetdiscit @Astropig 

Most charter schools in DeKalb take anyone who wins the lottery.  Now you have to enter, but its open to all residents.


On a few DeKalb provides transportation.


In most there are special ed services.



ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Astropig @ScienceTeacher671 @IHarris


I have had students who only attended because of the government check or because the judge gave them a choice of school or YDC.  I suggest that along with the attendance requirement, there should be an achievement requirement.  

One of those kids was the one who filled out the EOC answer sheet without ever opening the test booklet.  Another ended the year with an average of 4 (four) in my class, because s/he refused to do any work, but did ATTEND school.

EtienneGabby
EtienneGabby

Couldn't agree more. Parents are kids' first teachers and kids learn in and out of school. Regrettably, too many parents believe education is the schools purview and this must change, too. Perhaps, schools can get better at "inviting" parents' participation by changing the experience parents have with their kids' school. As a parent of 3 adult children, I can recall many occasions when I was treated rudely and my participation was dismissed. Concurrent, with schools changing their approach, perhaps engaging others with whom parents interact, such as healthcare providers or social service workers to message to parents the importance of nurturing their kids educational attainment - going beyond asking " how's school going" might offer a counter narrative to the wrong headed belief that once kids head to school, it's the school's job alone to educate them. Unfortunately, all of these pieces have to be firing on all cylinders.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I welcome knowing in what industry you work.

EtienneGabby
EtienneGabby

Couldn't agree more. Parents are kids' first teachers. It's regrettable that too many believe that once kids reach school age they can be handed off to educators. Both parents and schools must function at higher levels.

Perhaps, school might innovate on how they engage parents and healthcare workers and social service providers with whom many parents interact might be enlisted to message in their encounter the significance of parents nurturing their kids educational attainment. Remaining silent is not an option. It's time for key actors in families lives to go beyond "how's school going?."