Fix or flee? Should parents devote energies to struggling neighborhood school or seek a charter alternative?

A local mother provoked a national debate with an essay on why she and her husband are among a handful of white parents in their southwest DeKalb County community sending their child to the local public school.

Celebrating her daughter’s DeKalb elementary school as a nurturing place with committed teachers and staff, Abby Norman wrote that many of her neighbors won’t consider it for their children, pouring their energy instead into winning approval from the school district to open a new charter school.

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Her neighbors offer lots of reasons for preferring a charter school, but Norman wrote, “Behind all the test score talk, the opportunity mumbo jumbo that people lead with, I feel like what is actually being said, and what is never being said, is this: That school is too black.’”

I don’t doubt some white parents, even after moving to neighborhoods for the racial mix, flee struggling neighborhood schools where their children would be in the minority. And it’s likely, as Norman contends, that if the motivated and organized parents behind the charter school petition would instead devote their “time and know-how” to the local school, it could be uplifted.

However, there’s a reason other than race that drives parents to look past the local school down the street and seek a charter alternative: Many public school parents in metro Atlanta don’t have faith their local schools can be transformed, in part because of bureaucracies they view as intransigent and hostile to change.

Such skepticism abounds in DeKalb, which has suffered a turnstile of leaders, all of whom introduced reforms that never quite gelled. Despite six superintendent in 13 years and a brand-new school board, DeKalb has seen little improvement in the academic standing of its high-poverty schools.

Parents believe it’s easier to start fresh with a new school than remake an existing school. The governor feels the same way; that’s the premise of Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District proposal, which goes before voters next year. If a school receives a failing grade for three years running, it becomes eligible for state takeover and possible reincarnation as a charter school. (DeKalb has about two dozen eligible schools, including Norman’s.)

Frustrated parents in Norman’s community proposed a dual-language immersion elementary school to the DeKalb school board. But the board rejected the petition for East Atlanta Charter School in September.

In the Facebook discussion of the board rejection, a neighborhood resident asked, “What if everyone here put this much effort into the school we do have? … Schools are as good as their community. Demand better resources for the school that is already here.”

Among the responses from parents in favor of the charter: “Sometimes it’s easier to start over where parents, teachers, community all have a place at the table.”

Over the years, I’ve witnessed an increasing disenchantment with the schools among DeKalb parents from across the county. I’ve listened to a half-dozen superintendents promise to bring more parents to the table and grant schools more flexibility, only to see those plans lost to politics, policy missteps and school board intrigues.

New DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green contends he can overcome the mistakes of his predecessors and improve the quality of the schools, saying, “We need to make sure what is expected is actually being delivered in the classroom.”

Green’s random visits to schools have shown academic delivery is “uneven,” he said. “I am not totally satisfied. I see glimmers. I see pockets of tremendously powerful teaching. I walked out of classrooms almost breathless at the caliber and level of engagement I saw. I also walked out not pleased with what I saw.”

Some parents aren’t pleased, either. But unlike Green, they lack faith DeKalb has the will or the capacity to change.

Reader Comments 0

139 comments
newsphile
newsphile

Has anyone ever noticed that schools with a lot of parent volunteers and parent participation are less likely to have poor performance and poor discipline?

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

Neighborhoods in the midst of gentrification need policies to ensure that long term residents as well as neighbors like teachers, fire fighters and police officers can make their homes there. One option is "carrots" like density bonuses for developers who include affordable housing. Unfortunately, those affordable housing carrots (which were quite generous - the biggest density bonuses available) have gone almost entirely uneaten in areas like Inman Park, even though they were written into the historic district ordinance.

Short of carrots, which seem to not work in Atlanta, the options left are things like inclusionary zoning ordinances, which I support.

DerekGator
DerekGator

@ProHumanitate A better solution would be to tell all of the parents that are on Section 8 housing, welfare and food stamps that we will give them $10,000 per kid if they move out of the county and promise to stay out for at least 10 years.  Since it costs us over $15,000 per kid for education, this would save us a ton of money, the schools would get better, crime would go down and property values would go up, let someone else have to deal with them.  We need to stop thinking PC and start coming up with real answers.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Then you have the problem of BLACK parents fleeing a BLACK failing school system.  How do you deal with THAT? (you can't use your generic race card there)

gactzn2
gactzn2

@class80olddog Who gives a damn if they are purple- should not matter. They have every right to utilize any resource that their tax dollars subsidize.

thenoticer
thenoticer

@gactzn2 @class80olddog I don't think most people do care exclusively about color. I honestly believe that very few people care what color a child is as long as they can behave and have the work ethic to learn. I am mystified as to how there are zero high achieving black schools. We can't blame poverty (due to high achieving poor Asians), it just really seems past time for this to happen. We all know plenty of high achieving black people. What gives with the schools?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@thenoticer @gactzn2 @class80olddog There's a lot being written now about the myth of "the model minority."


Just read this on Asian Nation:


Again, we need to remember that not all Asian Americans are the same. For every Chinese American or South Asian who has a college degree, the same number of Southeast Asians are still struggling to adapt to their lives in the U.S. For example, as shown in the tables in the Socioeconomic Statistics & Demographics article, Vietnamese Americans only have a college degree attainment rate of 20%, less than half the rate for other Asian American ethnic groups. The rates for Laotians, Cambodians, and Hmong are even lower at less than 10%.


http://www.asian-nation.org/model-minority.shtml

Starik
Starik

@MaureenDowney @thenoticer @gactzn2 @class80olddog The struggling Asians just got here.  It takes generations for immigrants to assimilate completely - look at the Germans, the Italians and the Irish. The Southeast Asians arriving since the 1970s were displaced by war.  Their motivation wasn't success in a new country but to escape refugee camps or worse.  See how their kids do, and their kids' kids.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @MaureenDowney @thenoticer @gactzn2 @class80olddog It's class, not race. People who immigrate from India are generally educated people and entrepreneurs.  They come here to work hard and succeed and do. Vietnamese fishermen, Laotian farmers and the Hmong tribes come without education or advanced skills. Watch their kids. 


What are "strait-jacket results?" I'm confused.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I remember the white people who did not want to have black children in their schools in the 1950s and 1960s.  I must remind readers that people are not that different today.  Hopefully, the people of this nation and world will soon recognize the humanity in every human being and stop labeling others according to trite thinking, such as a "good" or "bad" person or parent.


When short-sighted human beings become more spiritually evolved, they will be able to empathize with all other human beings.  Those who constantly write about IQ levels are limited in their understanding of what being a human means, yet they do not know that of themselves. There are many kinds of intelligence. The higher one grows in spiritual consciousness, the less significant IQ level becomes in measuring the value of others.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings "I must remind readers that people are not that different today. "

I disagree with that statement.  I think we have "come a long way, baby".  My kids think nothing of having black kids in their classroom.  I work with black people and come in contact with blacks every day and I have no problem with them as a race.  If one of my kids came home with a black fiancé, I would not think twice.

I think you are confusing our railings against failing schools in Atlanta as a racial thing, when it is not (at least not for me).  I am just against the (as Wascatlady notes) the white trash that won't send their kids to school, who are on drugs and welfare, and whose kids are never disciplined. 

I refuse to be a Pollyanna or to PC my speech.  Women who have three kids by three different baby daddies without a thought of getting married or even having a long-term relationship, then do drugs while their kids do without food, then send their kids unprepared to school (or let them stay home) - these are BAD parents.  I don't care if you like that word or not - it is accurate.  And that goes for white mothers just as well as black mothers.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog 

Your post is full of judgment and not of humanity, imo.  People are not convenient labels.
We must, at least, try to see others with depth and complexity.  That is what being truly educated will foster.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog One of the big problems with the United States right now is with a lack of judgment.  Criminals are let off the hook because "they had a poor upbringing in a bad home environment".  Look at the lack of serious repercussions to that girl who refused to obey orders. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog and the same for men of every race who flit from flower to flower "fathering" as many children as just happen to happen, don't support their families, and don't get the kids to school.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @class80olddog I 100% agree!  I am a supporter of a law to require that every birth name a father, if there is an objection, a paternity test is done, but that person is responsible for half of expenses and DUTIES until that child is 18.  These "men" need to start taking responsibility for their actions. Black or white!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaryElizabethSings

For some reason, the only thing I can imagine at the moment are shaved heads, orange robes, and finger cymbals.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2 

You have to see beyond externals to understand the humanity within every human being. Seeing mainly externals was the problem with judging others by skin color. Limited.
 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@jarvis1975 

When we exercise the moral imagination to "walk a mile in another person's shoes," we increase the fullness of our own humanity because we will be able to see others with clearer eyes, and, thus, we will not be as judgmental of the lives of others as we had been when we were less aware, ourselves.
We are all human beings, each loved by God.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @class80olddog But I am actually "judging" these men, am I not.  You should not be so judgmental, Wascatlady - there must be good reasons these young men father and abandon their children!

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @class80olddog @Wascatlady What about the white fathers who abandon?  Oops- I forgot- white  men don't leave their families- or children- or go to jail for that matter based on BOTH of your faulty assessments- your bigotry is ASTOUNDING- I am FLABBERGASTED

popcornular
popcornular

@MaryElizabethSings @Lee_CPA2

Humanity, fine. Intelligence? Not so much. It's very easy to think you 'see beyond externals' and see 'with clear eyes' when you're a dumb butt. Really smart people don't walk around telling everyone how cosmic they are. Don't blame them for not wanting to hang around delusional dumb people. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@popcornular 

Your post is full of personal insults.  What are you so afraid of, popcornular?  These words of mine have evidently struck discomfort in you, for you to attack:  (Ask yourself why. Are you afraid of seeing the barrenness within your own spirit?  You, like every human, could change, if you wished, and, then, you would know the "self-evident" truth that all people are created equal.)

"The higher one grows in spiritual consciousness, the less significant IQ level becomes in measuring the value of others."

DekalbInsideOut
DekalbInsideOut

Who's to blame for bad schools, the administrators or the community?  (Good question brought up earlier)  Good communities don't accept bad teachers or principals.  Good administrators weed out bad teachers and principals.


It's more difficult for the county to micro manage (meddle with) independent charters.  For example, Dekalb at a moments notice reassigned nurses at 10 schools.  Some of those nurses had been there 10+, 20+ years.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@DekalbInsideOut "Who's to blame for bad schools, the administrators or the community?"

It starts with the parents.  Bad parents = bad students = bad schools.

A good administration can HELP, but cannot cure the disease.

DekalbInsideOut
DekalbInsideOut

So, how do we break the cycle of poverty and crime in areas with predominantly "bad parents"?

straker
straker

class - "why would Republicans say this"


Because, even though they keep saying our Govt. should be smaller, in this case they would NOT want to do it themselves.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@straker It must have gone right over your head that my post was concerning the impossibility of changing the PARENTS, thus the school system as it stands is doomed to failure.  Charters would allow the parents who CARE (white or black) to get their kids out of the current failing schools. 

The "adopt five families" was never meant to be taken seriously.  I can see Abby Normal trying to take a parent's drugs away from her.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

About sixty years ago, the government decreed there are no more "neighborhood" schools.  Brown vs Board effectively wrested control of neighborhood schools away from the locals and gave it to the Feds.  Integration, busing, gerrymandered districts, majority to minority, IDEA, NCLB, and a laundry list of failed social experiments have all confirmed that the SYSTEM does not give a crap about your child or mine.

So, why should I care about a failed system that drove me to pay thousands of dollars to ensure my child received an adequate education at a private school?  Fact is, as long as the football team is doing okay and their child is bringing home A's and B's, most parents don't care and are not paying attention...... and the SYSTEM prefers it that way.


ErnestB
ErnestB

@Lee_CPA2


Actually the Brown decision found that separate public schools for black and white children were unconstitutional.  It did not decree that there should not be neighborhood schools.  Linda Brown (the plantiff in this case) walked past a white school that was closer to where she lived and was bused to a segregated school that was further away.


Your issue is probably with some of the remedies tried to accomplish integration but I believe the Brown decision was correct as it also addressed the inequities in funding for public schools as black schools at that time did not receive equitable resources.

redweather
redweather

@ErnestB @Lee_CPA2 That is the crux of the issue, how to remedy inequality, which is virtually impossible if the parents must be "fixed" before the children will be accepted.  Classic Catch-22. Perhaps we should expand the public school systems in this country to include a place for the parents.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @ErnestB @Lee_CPA2 Public schools CANNOT fix the parents, nor should they try.  But you need to realize that if the parents are flawed, the children will be flawed, and not all of them are savable.  If the parent doesn't care, then most likely the child will not care, and if the child does not care, there is no way to force them to care.  But in amongst the majority of bad students are students whose mother DOES care, and they are trapped in the hellhole of a failing school, because the status quo people don't want to give them a separate route out.  That could be tracking in an existing school or a new start-up charter school. 

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog @redweather @ErnestB @Lee_CPA2 But the premise of public education is based on the idea that our country derives great benefits from seeing that each and every one of us gets an education. Although it isn't expressly stated in the Bill of Rights, it is certainly contemplated by Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @class80olddog @ErnestB @Lee_CPA2 Of course not!  It will be obvious when a student is "not savable".  When a student has been retained three years and is now in a alternative school because of behavior problems and has not responded to the numerous chances you have given him to improve, then you can pretty much write him off.  Go concentrate on the ones you CAN save.  Perform triage - quit wasting your time trying to achieve the unachievable "no child left behind".  If they WANT to be "left behind", then you sometimes just have to let them be.

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog @redweather @ErnestB @Lee_CPA2 You say "perform triage." My understanding of triage is that we have three options:  do nothing for those who will survive without medical assistance; do nothing for those who will die even if we provide medical assistance; and take care of those who will survive, but only if we give them medical assistance.  So are you saying that we should just let these problem children die?

Belinda51
Belinda51

It will become obvious soon enough. No need to call anyone.

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

It's usually easier to begin anew than to change an existing, entrenched culture within a failing organization.  This is as true within a business enterprise as it is within a school. 


Maureen would have to document it, but I recollect hearing on WABE that one of the few areas where "No Child Left Behind" has succeeded has been in the area of decapitating a failing school's admministraiton and starting over.  That's the next best thing to starting up a greenfiled site. 


The point of bankruptcy laws is to close failed businesses, so that the former businesses' assets can be reassigned to organizations that are succeeding.   Why is this so alienating a concept when we apply it to the public schools?


One thing that we need to understand, though, is that just because an organization has failed, the people working within a closed institution are not individually failures.   Individual performance is profoundly determined by that person's environment, which in the case of some schools is close to armed combat.   When we place that administrator or teacher into a new environment after some reorientation, they may do very well.  The same for the students.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaryElizabethSings

Read it.  The same politically correct pathology that has been spouted for the past sixty years.  Until the education socialists acknowledge the racial IQ hierarchy, they are merely rearranging chairs on the Titanic.

DekalbInsideOut
DekalbInsideOut

I'm with you Maureen.  Decatur needs more Section 8 housing.

popcornular
popcornular

@Lee_CPA2 @MaryElizabethSings

The lower IQ bunch are unable to comprehend the Science/Genetics which makes this obvious. Oh the irony. Too dumb to comprehend just how dumb they are and why. 

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings How do the DeKalb schools benefit from racially and ethnically diverse schools when they fail to reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods they're located in?