Moving beyond Amendment 1: Creating real opportunity for Georgia students

BARRIE MAGUIRE/NEWSART

Mark A. Elgart is the founding president and chief executive officer for Alpharetta-based AdvancED, which focuses on education improvement through research and innovation, policy and advocacy, technology and accreditation. The parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, AdvancED accredits schools in Georgia and nationwide.

In this column, Elgart discusses the “what now” of the Opportunity School District defeat this week.

By Mark A. Elgart

Now that Georgia voters have rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed a state takeover of the lowest-performing schools, we need to think about new ways to address the challenges faced by these schools and the students who attend them.

While the Opportunity School District would have changed the structure of how low-performing schools are managed, the reality is that the biggest factor for minority and low-income students is not how their schools are run. It is the zip code they are in.

An analysis of school data in 10 states, including Georgia, found that of the 832 schools identified as “low-performing,” more than 9 in 10—92.3 percent—are schools in which half the students live in poverty. Three quarters (74 percent) are the schools where students face the most extreme poverty.

AdvancED is in the business of school improvement. Based on our work with more than 34,000 institutions and 20 million students worldwide, we know that the root problem with low-performing schools is not simply about how they are managed and operated. It is that we do not systematically respond to the impact of poverty on a child’s readiness to learn or accelerate progress for low-income students who are behind their peers.

Our schools, and our entire system of education, are not set up to provide instruction that meets the individualized needs of every student. Nor are schools prepared to meet the social and emotional needs of students facing so many challenges outside of the classroom. Schools must regularly monitor their students’ progress to ensure that they are meeting these needs in the classroom and making efforts to improve when they do not. This is just the beginning.

To change low-performing schools across Georgia, we need to have the state and districts do a better job of addressing how resources are allocated. Today, at best, school funding provides roughly equal resources to address vastly unequal needs. More equitable public funding on its own will not solve the problem. No school—or governmental entity—has the resources to singlehandedly address all the challenges that poverty brings to the equation of helping young people learn.

This is not about just investing more money, but also reallocating existing public resources from the state and counties to coordinate services to schools, students, and families—services like counseling, housing and healthcare, and job training for parents.  Cultural agencies—museums, science centers, and libraries—that provide environments where students can learn and be engaged also have a significant role to play. Companies, which can provide mentoring, need to get involved; they can provide a vision for future careers that makes school more relevant to students living in poverty.

We need to bring together a much broader group of stakeholders—public and private—to find ways to support teaching and learning in high-poverty schools. Poverty is often concentrated in neighborhoods, and it’s the people, companies, and community groups in those neighborhoods that know those challenges best. Instead of creating another distant layer of oversight, we need to coordinate the resources of schools, businesses, community groups, human services organizations, parents, and the public together in ways that address the needs of each low-performing school—and improve the lives of the poor and minority students who attend them.

One possible way forward is to create—in our highest poverty areas—community coalitions of local businesses, community and education organizations, as well as foundations—that can coordinate these collective efforts in new ways. In many cities, local education foundations have marshaled resources beyond what schools are able to provide and drive meaningful change that’s rooted in the needs of their communities.

School reformers on all sides of the spectrum agree that students’ futures shouldn’t be determined by their zip code. Gov. Nathan Deal is correct that the lowest-performing schools have trapped poor and minority students in failing schools and helped perpetuate the cycle of poverty. This is our greatest challenge in education and in our economically disadvantaged communities. It is imperative that we discover and commit to new ways to bring all of our communities’ efforts together to address how to educate students living in poverty.

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The issue is lack of land use zoning in Georgia. For years Georgia just allowed developers to build huge apartment complexes with 250-1000 units. While not the high rise projects of Chicago's Cabrini Green or some of NYC infamous Ghetto buildings. They have now become Ghettos. These combined with the unyielding 100,000 plus school districts that only serve as Adult job centers are the problem.

We need to go back and do some Urban master planning. Our cities need to be redesigned like With the new Urbanism of Seaside or Reston, Va. No apartment complexes. Only some live work units in the center of town. Along with the schools being the center of town.

Our current schools and apartment complexes are gang infested. The new mixed use with 4-5 levels of apartments over and parking decks. Which rent for $2k. Have become targets for brazen gang robberies and murders.

AhmirHaddad
AhmirHaddad

As always, with questions like this, the answer is:  Fix the families, and you've fixed the schools.  Don't fix the families, and you can't fix the schools.

But of course, there's no way to forcibly "fix the families" short of draconian measures so strict that none of us would support them.



Astropig
Astropig

@AhmirHaddad


"But of course, there's no way to forcibly "fix the families" short of draconian measures so strict that none of us would support them."


True,oh,so true .I've been making this same point literally for years.The coercion that would be needed to "fix" these neighborhoods would never be accpeted on the left because there would have to be a new regime of accountability for public funds (drug testing for benefits,time limitations for benefits,work or community service requirements,parental support requirements,etc) nor on the right because of the civil liberties that would have to be abridged to enforce the will of the government to normalize these areas.The bottom line is that we don't have the stomach to do what really needs to be done to ameliorate the poverty and despair that surround these schools.


All of this may be a waste of our time anyway to even discuss this.The country is about to undergo a fundamental political change that will make long term planning for these communities a fools errand.I see a long trip into the truly unknown ahead and one thing's for sure-it won't look like the recent past.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I'm interested in the concept of "zip code schools."   Both here, and in the writing of others, there seems to be the idea that the USPO determines who lives where, and so determines how which schools serve poor kids, and thus, which schools are deemed "failing."


Perhaps one way to attack the problem is to get the USPO out of deciding where all the poor kids are regulated to 30316, and the wealthier get to live somewhere else in a different zip, or the PO redraws its zip codes.  


I am being facetious, but really why have these cute code words?  Why be afraid to just say, "Schools that serve primarily very poor kids?"


Perhaps we should aim to have housing mixed with poor and wealthy, and zone all the kids together.  Of course, that would make a lot of wealthier parents mad, and pull their kids out of public school.  Perhaps we can determine an optimal percentage of poor kids such that there is a critical mass of wealthier students to ensure parental involvement and community investment which might spread and benefit all?


Surely we have schools that serve wealthier families and very poor families and do well?  Can we learn from them?  I'd suggest the Drew schools but I think their results are extremely skewed by the massive resources put in by businesses and philanthropies, which seems to have drawn the wealthier students and their parents.  Perhaps someone who knows the situation far better than I could comment?

Teach-frustrated
Teach-frustrated

It is all about money, who has it and who does not.There are school systems in this state that still have furlough days, because those systems cannot afford to operate schools for a full 180 days. Yes, these are in poor areas of the state, where the school system is sometimes the largest employer in the district.I have also seen public schools in wealthy areas of the state that have their own endowment.Yes, it is about wealth and it is about the poor.Education is an economic driving force of this state. What to do? Schools have to have money to operate. The current funding program, QBE introduced in 1982, was never fully funded. We have to have equity in schools. Lower Teacher/Student ratios also make a difference. Do we as a state really value education? Then we need to pay for it across the board. I am a teacher and I see it everyday. 


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Teach-frustrated I recall a dear lady in northeastern Georgia who was prominent in pushing adult literacy.  She founded the adult learning center there, and advocated to local industry to stop hiring non-high school graduates.  On the other end, she sponsored visitors to go to the hospital and talk to new moms about finishing school while sharing information about resources that could help.  Sometimes it resulted in two new students at the ALC--the mother and the grandmother!  I recall one mother who was 15, and her mother was 30. Neither had a high school diploma,  and it was likely that in 15 years that baby girl would be in the same position unless someone turned it around.

Holly McCann Jones
Holly McCann Jones

Here's a thought. How about, in any given district, the superintendent goes to one of the chronically failing schools, has a meeting with the staff and the parents and ask, "Teachers, what is it that will help you make your students more successful? Parents, what do you need from the school to help your students be more successful?" Why does nobody ever go to the source? They just might be surprised at the answers that they hear. It may not be more money as everyone seems to assume.

Renee Lord
Renee Lord

More money is not the solution, parental/community involvement is essential to improve school performance.

wikileaks
wikileaks

A serious discussion of failing schools includes acknowledgement that most are in black neighborhoods dominated by homes where fathers aren't present. 

3 out of 4 black children are now growing up without a father in the home. Skyrocketing crime rates and low emphasis on educational success are predictable results, as is the likelihood partisan Democrat newspapers such as the AJC will continue to willfully ignore all this.

redweather
redweather

@wikileaks A serious discussion would also have to include the acknowledgement that children have no control over their parents and, as a result, they should not be punished or "made to pay" for their parents' marital decisions.

wikileaks
wikileaks

@redweather @wikileaks 

Then should other children's families be squeezed for ever more tax dollars—to throw at a problem money can't fix? While at the same time placing obstacles in front of charter schools and more parental choice?

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@wikileaks @redweather

An interesting aspect of democratic practice, of course, is that one may be as selfish as one wishes, and never mind the public good, the common good, the common wealth.  The selfish good reigns supreme.

wikileaks
wikileaks

@EdJohnson 

Creating homes without fathers through counterproductive welfare schemes isn't for the common good. And robbing working families to pay for it is thus doubly immoral.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Moreover, I hope that Mark Elgart will be in contact with Stacey Abrams, Democratic Minority Chair in Georgia's legislature because many of his ideas are consistent with the Democratic Community-Based School Improvement Plan for public schools in need in Georgia. I hope he wil, also, contact School Superintendents throughout Georgia, especially the Superintendent of the DeKalb County School System, Dr Steven Green, who has ideas for educational improvement similar to those of Mark Elgart for improving.our traditional public schools.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaryElizabethSings Perhaps he could talk to you, too. He has been given quite a lot of power and could make things happen here in Georgia.

Astropig
Astropig

One possible way forward is to create—in our highest poverty areas—community coalitions of local businesses, community and education organizations, as well as foundations—that can coordinate these collective efforts in new ways. In many cities, local education foundations have marshaled resources beyond what schools are able to provide and drive meaningful change that’s rooted in the needs of their communities."


With oversight and accountability to who,exactly? Public dollars being directed to people that don't answer to the public? This all sounds good in the abstract,but when checks are cut,who decides where they go?Are there going to be even more six-figure jobs for people that will never set foot in a classroom? Will those six-figure people want a whole staff of five-figure people to "administer" all of their wisdom?


Sounds like crony capitalism and education are about to have an ugly love child.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig It sounds like the Drew idea, expanded.  However, it overlooks the fundamental fact that, in this year 2016, corporations are unlikely to give their people paid, donate-able time to work on behalf of the schools.  The shareholders would rise up!  And God forbid taking some of the corporation's profit and plowing it back into "those people."


"Public dollars being directed to people that don't answer to the public? "  Pig, a week ago you were all for this.  Why the change?

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig 


Shareholders do give some of their profit back! Its called taxation.Their employees are taxed,their fuel is taxed...Every damn thing they do is taxed.


""Public dollars being directed to people that don't answer to the public? "  Pig, a week ago you were all for this.  Why the change?"


Because NOBODY was going to be forced to attend bad schools without any choice.They would have had options.The above plan would just give up and say that we need to double down on what is not working.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady The OSD was going to provide a school--not an alternate, parallel school--for kids to go to.  An unaccountable replacement school, but not a competing school.  The kids would still have had to go where assigned--there would never have been a "old, bad school"  AND a "new, shiny good school nearby to choose from."


And as to those taxes shareholders pay--we all pay them.  AND on top, we pay for the dividends by our purchases.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig


Right. We all pay. (I'm writing property tax checks this week in several jurisdictions),so my concerns are just as important as his.


Mack68
Mack68

@Astropig  Sounds like private money to me, not taxpayer dollars: "local education foundations have marshaled resources beyond what schools are able to provide"

Astropig
Astropig

@Mack68 @Astropig


"Sounds like private money to me, not taxpayer dollars:"


And I'd be all for that-enthusiastically.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Mack68 Ok!  We have some agreement!  I wish you would admit that OSD was never going to provide "choice" between a new school structure and the old school structure.  There was NEVER going to be 2 schools where one had stood (figuratively) before.