Are Georgia elementary schools dropping the ball?

In APS and other districts around the state, elementary schools are most vulnerable to state takeover due to performance. (AJC File)

What’s happening — or not happening — in Georgia elementary schools?

During a recent visit to the AJC, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen called elementary schools the weakest link in her system. It perplexed her, given Georgia’s pioneering efforts in establishing universal pre-k.

Of the struggling APS schools eligible for state takeover, Carstarphen said most are elementary schools. Atlanta had 27 schools on the eligibility list released last year, and 20 were elementary schools. (The list will change based on how well schools fare on the state College and Career Ready Performance Index ratings, due out now in May.)

“I have never seen that — usually early childhood works. And, yet, that impact is not playing out in the way it should be. A lot of it may be around access, families knowing they can have these services. We are really trying to understand what is happening with early childhood education,” she said.

Acknowledging the research showing pre-k is a benefit that pays remarkable academic dividends, Carstarphen said, “Our elementary schools by and large are the lowest performing schools in the system and in the state. For what middle and high schools are receiving in terms of children being prepared, they are working miracles. We have kids coming all the way through the system, and they are still reading at a 4th grade level and they are in the 11th grade. It is amazing we are graduating students with this kind of lift that has to happen to get them to graduation.”

Voters will be asked in November to grant the state sweeping new powers to take over chronically underperforming schools, reconfigure them, close them or turn them over to charter operators. The state will absorb these schools into what Gov. Nathan Deal has dubbed the Opportunity School District.

If you look statewide at likely targets for the Opportunity School District, Atlanta is not alone in a preponderance of elementary schools. Of the 14 Bibb County schools eligible on the original state list, 9 were elementary schools.  Of the 26 DeKalb schools, 20 were elementary schools.

I talked to a longtime Fulton middle school teacher who told me kids were increasingly arriving from elementary school unprepared. She and her colleagues were spending more time catching students up than they once did.

Elementary school has long been assumed to be the smoothest segment in the education journey, the point where children still want to learn and please their teachers. Is that changing due to standards that pack more wallop into the elementary school curriculum?

Are children entering elementary school less equipped for the heightened demands even with pre-k?  Have we lost ground in our pioneering early childhood efforts?

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

62 comments
Tal Frett
Tal Frett

The class sizes in elementary schools are crazy, the max is 30 students and many elementary teachers have either that or close to it, thats 30 different learning levels, then at some schools the behavior in these schools are horrible, some teachers spend 70 to 80% of their time correcting behavior, we need more PARENT accountability. It all starts at the house with learning, discipline and respect. It saddens me that these higher up administrators cant see that.

Larry Hullander
Larry Hullander

And for the record how can teachers teach the test when the tests are sealed until the students start the test?

Larry Hullander
Larry Hullander

My problem is we teach kids to check over their work and when the students change wrong answers to right answers, the state accuses the teacher of cheating. This is why fewer and fewer college graduates are becoming teachers.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

The age/grade grouping coupled with an annual breakpoint as to whether the student is retained or moved on to the next age/grade grouping level is the primary reason you have kids years behind when they reach high school.

How much better could elementary grades be if they grouped by academic achievement level and taught at a level and pace commensurate with that level?  Additionally, instead of waiting until the end of the school year to decide if the student needs to be retained, what if they did an assessment at the end of each grading period (what is it, nine weeks?) and if the student was doing poorly, then loop them back and reteach that portion.  You could also break it down by subject area.

For example, at the end of nine weeks, a student is doing satisfactorily in language, but is struggling in math.  Allow the student to move on in language, but loop them back to the beginning in math.


This would be similar to the way colleges approach instruction.  A student must pass the prerequisites before they are allowed to move to the next class in the sequence.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2


What you have described is somewhat like the process of continuous progress/mastery learning, for which I have advocated for years in building a better k - 12 model for public schools in Georgia.

class80olddog
class80olddog

As some have mentioned on here, part of the problem is the increase in "rigor" of the elementary curriculum.  They did this because of comparisons of the US with other countries' best and brightest (a lot of other countries ship the lesser intelligent off to the farm at age 12).  We are also comparing our students against students in countries where they attend school 220+ days a year.  So our answer is just to cram more material into the already packed schedule.  And it works in affluent communities because the parents take up the slack.  My son had three years of "schooling" before ever entering the first grade - pre-k 3, pre-K 4, and then kindergarten.  As these students progress, if the teacher cannot cover the material adequately, the parents help out in the evening or even hire tutors.  I also saw this in upper grades when they switched to block scheduling.  Suddenly, courses that took a year were covered in one semester (just longer classes).  Of course, the old system you completed 6 courses in one year.  With the new 4X block schedule you completed 8 (four per semester).  Now when you move to APS and DeKalb County where the students arrive not knowing ANYTHING on the first day of school, then you try to cram all this material into them, it doesn't work.  Then when they don't master the required material, you go ahead and socially promote them.  The next year they fall even further behind.  That is how you get an 11th grader reading at a 4th grade level.  Add in discipline problems and attendance problems (see next blog) and you have a "failing school". 

ttajohn
ttajohn

It's interesting to me and I think it's been proven, students learn and retain much more when the curriculum is multi-sensory. Career Tech in Middle and High Schools have saved countless students from failure. Hands on learning is critical to workforce development. So why haven't we employed this type of approach with our youngest learners? Elementary school teachers are forced to do so much more with very few resources. California has implemented CTE coordinators at the primary level and have actually given them funding to be successful. We can do better.

goat diddler
goat diddler

Maybe students should actually be able fail? As it is, a child has to actually work harder to fail than to succeed in Georgia Schools.

The schools will chase them down and cajole them into doing and redoing assignments over and over again until they get a passing grade.

Without learning how to overcome failure, how does one learn to really succeed?

Kathy Davis Toreno
Kathy Davis Toreno

Try working as an elementary teacher for one week and you will see where all the hard work is done in their classrooms. What about the parents shouldn't they be held accountable for something? I agree with Amy Telenko Steele find something positive in the elementary schools you won't have to search far

Amy Telenko Steele
Amy Telenko Steele

This depresses me as a very hard working elementary teacher. Your numbers fail to mention that elementary schools have much smaller populations. If you are going to say that most schools in list are elementary then you should take into account that there are at least double and possibly triple the number of elementary schools in any given system in comparison to the number of middle or high schools. Find something positive to report. There is so much good going on in public education in our state.

dreeves2004
dreeves2004

There are several reasons. The curriculum is not age appropriate and doesn't focus on basic skills. The current philosophy puts a stronger emphasis on data collection rather than teaching. Testing takes priority over teaching. Administrators push too many useless strategies. There is no teacher input in policy. There is little help available for struggling students.

Think about this, if a teacher knows a student cannot read, he or she still has to teach and test that student the same curriculum, just as though they could read. You have to teach the standard, regardless of student ability. It is a failed, broken system.

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

"Are Georgia elementary schools dropping the ball?"

IS WATER WET?? 

Nina Williams
Nina Williams

Exactly..then when they dont teach the test and the student fails the test..they get failed and are behind.

NikoleA
NikoleA

Has she walked through any of her elementary schools? Did she ask the teachers what the problem was? If she did, she'd have clarity on what the issues are.

Carol Payne
Carol Payne

Wouldn't be surprised! Teachers need to teach the test to keep a job!

MauryL
MauryL

if the average GA student is reading at a 4th grade level in the 11th grade, how do they pass high school classes and graduate??

niecey678
niecey678

@MaxMose my question exactly. i had to read that twice. my suspicion is it happens just like we think it does.

Starik
Starik

@niecey678 @MaxMose Yes. Higher graduation rates are one of the least useful statistics in the public schools.  If the kids didn't learn, what's the meaning of a diploma?  There used to be a test...

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @niecey678 @ModeDollar Yes, there used to be a test, but some students failed it (multiple times) so they had to get rid of it.  My kids described it as "ridiculously easy".  So now we have "graduates" walking around who cannot pass this simple test.  Makes employers feel real good when they depend on their employees to be able to read and understand in order not to kill themselves and others.  Some employers are starting to test prospective employees.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@ModeDollar She said "some students", not the average student in Georgia or even the average student in APS.

teachermom4
teachermom4

We see this happening in the elementary school, too. I teach fifth graders who are unprepared, not because teachers aren't teaching but because there is too much to teach. We teach for exposure, not mastery. It's the only way to cover it all. We want kids to think deep and be problem solvers, but our curriculum calls for such fast progression that they don't have time to learn the basic skills and information that prepares them for deep thinking. 


If we could focus on sentence construction, complete with capitalization and punctuation early, the upper grades teachers can focus on essays. I have kids who don't use mechanics successfully but who are now expected to write constructive essays comparing and contrasting multiple texts. When they could have been learning more about basic writing in K-2, they were being taught about writing genres and how to identify them.


We have kids who can't multiply or remember long division steps who are expected to multiply and divide fractions and show understanding through models. They had no time to master multiplication and division because they were too busy "learning" other, more abstract concepts in 3rd grade that were beyond most of their capabilities.


There is too much curriculum and not enough focus on basics that can be mastered by everyone.

Starik
Starik

@xxxzzz @teachermom4 I don't know how long you've been around, but I recall being taught about the canal systems on Mars.  Math and science have advanced, and the successful kids have to keep up.

Starik
Starik

@teachermom4 No, if we focus on basics that can be mastered by anyone aren't we cheating the bright kids who can handle the material?  Is segregation by ability that undesirable?

cbclark
cbclark

@Starik @teachermom4  Every parent thinks his kid is the bright kid. Sometimes he/she is. Sometimes not. Regardless, even the bright kid needs to learn the basics first. If he masters the basics, then put him in an advanced course where he can achieve more. First the students need to master the 3 R's.


bu22
bu22

@teachermom4 It is amazing how much earlier the kids are getting advanced math and science concepts than when I was a kid.  It makes me wonder if the educational curriculum specialists and child development specialists interact.  I find it hard to believe all of this is age appropriate.

teachermom4
teachermom4

@Starik @teachermom4 No. It is easy to enrich kids who need enriching and give them more complex material than the others need. They will learn the basics easily and have time to spare in which to do special projects and advanced learning. It is much more difficult to teach an entire population gifted level skills that are a curriculum expectation and then have to constantly remediate 3/4 of the class while simultaneously teaching the new skill of the day.

Starik
Starik

@teachermom4 @Starik And it's very boring for the bright kids, and A grades are too easy to get.  When these kids get to college they may have to compete with kids who were properly taught all the material they could handle.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

I believe there are a number of factors at play:


1.  The curriculum is STILL too dense.  The younger students have SO many skills to master, there is no time to learn any of them thoroughly, even if you integrate curriculum.  It is all we can do to get through the standards, and with only 9 months to do it (testing is in April), it is nearly impossible.


2.  We lose instructional time to test preparation and any number of interruptions throughout the day and week.


3.  Behaviors are getting worse and worse in elementary school.  I don't have a reason for that, but the constant interruptions and the limited way some schools are able to address behaviors impedes instruction.


There are other factors, but these are biggies.

bu22
bu22

I seem to recall APS falling further behind on standardized tests in middle school while only being a little behind in elementary school.  Of course the obvious question is how many elementary schools are there relative to MS and HS.  If there are 5 on average, then that 20 of 27 is just about right.  If there are 4, then its not THAT far off as it s/b 20 of 30.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“Of course the obvious question is how many elementary schools are there relative to MS and HS.”

You beat me to making that point that should be obvious, yet the point seems to escape Carstarphen.

Moreover, 2015 Georgia Milestone End of Grade results show Carstarphen’s “Our elementary schools by and large are the lowest performing schools in the system and in the state” is not the case, at all.

The broad brush dystopian narrative with which Carstarpphen paints APS elementary schools glosses over that all APS elementary schools, save two, fall within natural limits of variation among all elementary schools, statewide.  The two APS elementary schools that do fall outside such natural variation do so for the “better” and no APS elementary school falls outside that variation for the “worse.”

This means APS elementary schools make up so-called failing schools no more than all Georgia elementary schools do.

gapeach101
gapeach101

Maybe the reason we have HS students reading at the 4th grade level is because the CRCT lowest passing grade for 8th grade, was reading at the 4th grade level.    It's all the state required.

jerryeads
jerryeads

PT, thought I was reading one of my own posts :-)

We know Pre-K particularly helps poor kids WHEN IT'S DONE WELL. We're still watching former Perry Preschool kids more than 40 years later being far more successful on all sorts of dimensions. And there may well be curricula other than High/Scope that are just as effective. But Perry was done for TWO years using highly-trained certified early childhood teachers (NOT elementary teachers, which we in this state erroneously call "early childhood"). Much of our "pre-k" is done by poorly paid and not at all necessarily decently-trained staff following - or not even following - a wide range of not necessarily well-developed curricula. And it's only done for one year. 

Too often, pre-k is just more sitdownshutupandcounttoahundred trying to get kids ready for TESTING in sitdownshutupandcounttoahundred kindergartens where principals have cancelled recess and even nap-time in order to make kids prepare for tests longer. Et cetera for the rest of elementary.

What are these programs best at? Teaching kids how to hate learning and school so they drop out.

ParentTeacher
ParentTeacher

A mile wide and an inch deep.  Our curriculum has become too broad and students don't have time to truly develop deep understanding.


More "rigor" has pushed schools to introduce material that is beyond a student's ability/instructional level.  


Shifting demographics in Atlanta and the metro area have brought new challenges.  The increase in poverty has exacerbated the problems in many of our schools.


Over testing is taking time from instruction.  Testing begins this week in GA.  That means that school in 3-5 is essentially over.  There will be little to no instruction for the remainder of the year.  Not to mention the weeks already used to review/prepare for the test.  Elementary school is tested much more than high school.  Further other benchmark testing, SLO's (Student Learning Objectives) and CFA's (Common Formative Assessments) steel weeks of time throughout the year.


Like everything in education, there is not one answer.  There are many reasons why students have problems learning.  Usually the least of the problem is the teacher.

insideview
insideview

@EdJohnson  if you had the solution to improving APS schools prior to  Carstarphen's arrival, why haven't you done it? Excuses are tools for building monuments of nothingness..... 

Astropig
Astropig

@insideview @EdJohnson


Inside-


Brilliant point. Ed can't get elected to the school board and undermine Carstarphen from within,so he does it here. The voters in his little corner of the world should keep his hatred and bile far,far away from any real power or decision making.

insideview
insideview

@EdJohnson Perhaps if you  stop complaining and ask how you can help you might get somewhere. Publicly  flogging someone is rarely a good way to get them to cooperate with you. What makes you so sure you are right? Have you worked as a teacher, administrator or superintendent? Too often in the African-American community,we are quick to criticize but not cooperate. 

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

You might want to heed that adage about “never read a book by its cover,” especially if you think I am “complaining” and being “quick to criticize” only because your lens is a narrow and limited “African American” racialist one.  I suggest it was people like you who, when as early as 2002 I (and a few others) warned that Beverly Hall was driving APS into crisis, said in response I was complaining and criticizing and not cooperating and not offering solutions and not helping.  I have over the years spent a lot of time and thousands of my own dimes offering APS leadership to learn about successful “solutions” to no avail.  By the way, I also recently offered Gov. Deal the same in response to his wrongheaded OSD plan (read about it here).

Also, have I ever worked as a teacher?  Yep.  An administrator?  Of a sort.  A superintendent?  Nope, but tell you want, I did submit my name for the APS job.  So understand, I am not particularly inclined to help anyone drag any children over the brink just because of your seeming confront with having a person who professes to be an “African American” from Salma AL leading the charge.  And yes that includes not helping Barack Obama, probably to your dislike.  God only knows the crises the country will experience a ways down the road on account of his brutal frontal assaults on the country’s institutions of public education via Arne Duncan and now Obama’s new EdSec, the arrogant “African American” John King Jr who NYC parents ran out of town much like folks in Austin ran Carstarphen out of town.  I am encouraged that US Sen. Lamar Alexander took John King Jr to the woodshed yesterday (read about that here).

insideview
insideview

Why is it we always seek to blame the students when we look answers for their lack of progress in school? I agree that poverty is a huge factor when students arrive in Kindergarten unexposed. 

I also disagree with Wascatlady regarding her comments about "civilizing" students. I was also a kindergarten teacher, and a certain amount of socialization is expected, especially if a student didn't attend pre-school. These types of behavior typically don't impair a student's ability to learn, unless poor classroom management allows this type of behavior to go on every day. 


There are myriad reasons why students don't do well in elementary school. Academic expectations have changed tremendously, along with parenting styles. I never met a student who didn't want to learn, but I have worked with my share of students whose learning was interrupted by poor home conditions, violence, trauma ,poor parenting and yes poor teaching. I also agree that many times teachers believe it is easier to  pass the student to the next  grade to avoid all the hoopla that goes  along with trying to retain a student. I also agree that there needs to be  a process for meeting the needs of students who  fall behind, including retention. Parents and students have to be responsible for their learning. Bring back summer school!


EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Wascatlady asks: “Has the APS superintendent taught young children from poor homes recently?  Has she TALKED with their teachers?

Early on my purpose for meeting with Carstarphen was to politely encourage her to not bring to Atlanta matters that drove folks in Austin to want to non-renew her contract – matters such as imposing behavioristic practices upon young children (much as Success Academy charter schools do) and driving to impose IDEA charter operations upon elementary schools over community objections that instead wanted to improve schools.

My purpose also included sharing information about successful continual school improvement – for example, Leander ISD, just 20 miles outside Austin, yet unknown to Carstarphen – and to avoid getting back into bed with the “Atlanta business and civic community” in ways that had helped bring about Beverly Hall’s massively systemic test cheating scandal.

And because Hall had so thoroughly beaten down teachers, I also wanted to encourage Carstarphen to “go talk to the teachers” and learn from them by probing with at least these two leading questions:

What are you getting that you don’t need?

What do you need that you are not getting?

But what have we today?  Carstarphen’s plans – initial plans, mind you – to disrupt APS as a public institution by turning over some initial few APS schools to charter operators to experiment on.

Clearly, Carstarphen is being more successful disrupting APS as a public institution than she was with disrupting Austin ISD as a public institution simply because Atlanta is, as she said, the “Black Mecca” that meshes with her professing to be a Black woman from Selma, AL, and all that implies about both Black and White folk in Atlanta who are concerned more so with educating Black children than educating human children.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

I think we should consider one major point - kids are not retained if they have not mastered the skills they should.  The main reason for this is parents who will not allow teachers to fail kids and administrators who heap so much paperwork on teachers who have failing students.  My last year in the classroom, we had a young lady who we knew immediately was in academic trouble.  We couldn't find out her elementary school grades until mid-year (they were "lost"!).  That's when we found out the child failed 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, but here she was in my 6th grade classroom. 

In the system from which I retired, you could not retain a child without parent approval and letters, academic contracts, meetings, etc.  It's just easier to pass them on with their minimal grades to someone else and make it their problem. 

L_D
L_D

The OSD amendment will NOT "...grant the state sweeping new powers."  State law already allows for the interventions outlined in the amendment (http://law.onecle.com/georgia/20/20-14-41.html).  The amendment transfers these powers, local property tax dollars, and local school buildings under the control of the governor's office forever. Utilize the law that is already in place!   If the amendment passes in November, it will diminish the power of your vote and accountability to tax-payers!   VOTE NO to the OSD!

Legong
Legong

The portion of black children living without a father present in the home has gone from around 25% in the 1960s to 72% today.

When will we care enough to confront that disastrous situation and its only too predictable consequence?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Legong Where I live, the percentage of white kids in that same boat is almost as high.  Thank God for the Latinos, who tend to be devoted to their families, at least around here.