Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DeKalb School System and AdvancED and Texas Education Agency

At a recent school board meeting we heard the financial problem with our county school system is even worse than expected.  The Board was prepared to deal with $60 million in cuts, but now they need to cut an additional $12 million.  The bad news was delivered by new Finance  Chief Michael Perrone.  So far I think Perrone has been a good hire.  I hope he sticks around.

The AJC has a story on the DeKalb financial situation HERE. That Ty guy at the AJC has it easy finding stories here in DeKalb.  What a juicy territory he has - keep the stories coming, Ty.

In the article we have a quote from State Senator Fran Millar:

"This is nuts," said state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody. "And next year’s not going to be any better. If they don’t rebuild the surplus, I’ll talk to SACS." Millar said the school system should cut teacher pay instead of raising taxes.
I like Fran, but I think this reaction is not the right one.  First off, SACS does not care about the taxpayer in DeKalb.  In fact, SACS, it seems at times, does not care about the students in DeKalb. SACS has accredited DeKalb Schools for many years now.  During these years we have seen student achievement decline rapidly, we've seen the number of failing schools increase, we've seen extreme fraud and waste of taxpayer money, and we've seen SACS continually encourage bad behavior in DeKalb by doing nothing.  Not to put all our problems on SACS, but the Senator's suggestion that an action by SACS can somehow correct years of financial mismanagement is inaccurate to say the least.

I'll take it a step further and say that I don't want SACS ( AdvancED ) to have any involvement in DeKalb.  Why does the State of Georgia continue to outsource school accreditation to this group?  Is it because the State does not really want a true analysis of student achievement.  Why do we need Mark Elgart?What has he (and SACS) done to improve education in DeKalb or anywhere in Georgia?  He is more concerned with school board member behavior than student learning. 

To give credit to the school board, they are now reacting to new projections from the county.  The school system has kept in touch with the tax office in Decatur, keeping tabs on tax collections. They were informed of an even bigger potential deficit and are taking action.

If we want to place blame somewhere, let's start with the State of Georgia.  You do know the State annually audits the DeKalb School System, right?  Obviously these audits were either not performed thoroughly or the corruption and mismanagement of funds was overlooked.  Either way, the State dropped the ball big time, year after year.

Speaking of State problems, did you know over $90 million in DeKalb tax dollars (roughly what we collect in SPLOST funds, the $.01 sales tax) is taken from us and distributed  to other school districts?  It happens under the Equalization Grant.  And guess who receives $ Millions in Equalization Grants?  Did you guess tiny Dade County? No, it is Gwinnett County Schools who milks the system. HB 824 will hopefully 'fix' some of the problems with this wealth distribution program.  The original intent was to help fund small rural districts, but place like Gwinnett abused the program. 

The problem in DeKalb is more than money - it's also student achievement.  So where is SACS on that front?  I think Fran and his colleagues need to strengthen Georgia's Board of Education, and staff it with professionals.  Georgia should kick out the SACS (AdvancED) monster and conduct its own school accreditation - accreditation based on student achievement, not on whatever it is AdancED claims to be important.  A non-profit with high salaries and big pensions is not something to help the children in DeKalb - it seems to many that AdvancEd, as it gobbles up its competition via "mergers") helps no one but AdvancED, its vendors, and its employees. 

Fran, instead of calling SACS, call Nathan Deal and ask him to send you and a few others to Austin, Texas and visit with the Texas Education Agency.

The mission of the Texas Education Agency is to provide leadership, guidance and resources to help schools meet the educational needs of all students.
More from Texas:
Statewide Vision, Mission, and Philosophy

Relevant Statewide Goals and Benchmarks

Priority Goal
To ensure that all students in the public education system acquire the knowledge and skills to be
responsible and independent Texans by:

•   Ensuring students graduate from high school and have the skills necessary to pursue any option
including attending a university, a two-year institution, other post-secondary training, military
or enter the workforce;
•   Ensuring students learn English, math, science and social studies skills at the appropriate
grade level through graduation; and
•   Demonstrating exemplary performance in foundation subjects.

Benchmarks
•   High school graduation rate
•   Percentage of graduates earning recommended high school diploma
•   Percentage of graduates earning distinguished achievement diploma
•   Percentage of recent high school graduates enrolled at a Texas college or university
•   Percentage of high school graduates receiving other post-secondary training
•   Percentage of students who demonstrate college and career ready performance on the annual    state assessments
•   Percentage of students who demonstrate satisfactory performance on the annual state assessments
•   Percentage of students earning commended performance on the annual state assessments
•   Percentage of students who attend schools or districts rated as recognized or exemplary
•   Percentage of Texas high school students who need remediation
•   Percentage of eligible juniors and seniors taking Advanced
Placement/International Baccalaureate exams
•   Percentage of students from third grade and above who are able to read at or above grade level
•   Percentage of students from third grade and above who perform at or above grade level in math
•   Number of students served under local governance or choice options (e.g., charter schools,
open-enrollment charters, home-rule districts, intra-district transfers, etc.)
•   Number of teachers certified through alternative programs
•   Number of prekindergarten age students served through Texas School Ready!™ (TSR) program
•   Percentage of Texas population age 25 and older with a high school diploma
•   Percentage of Texas high school students graduating with six hours or more of dual credit
 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here are words from SACS

School Improvement Life Cycle

Our goal at AdvancED is to provide guiding principles and effective practices for school improvement that help schools advance the level of education they provide.  Perspectives vary on what the life cycle of school improvement looks like; however, we realize that school improvement is both strategic and operational and essential components must be in place for a school to truly address comprehensive school improvement. A school must be able to collect and analyze data, set goals, plan, implement, and evaluate. The realization that none of these components are independent of each other along with the continuous review and evaluation of activities leading to improved results is what leads to authentic school improvement.
Improvement Lifecycle
Each component of the life cycle contains several activities. To be successful, a school must commit to a disciplined process for tackling the various activities that define continuous improvement.  This includes assigning staff to accomplish the tasks, establishing timelines, and allocating equitable resources.

Whatever process a school employs for its continuous improvement cycle, it’s important that the whole school is engaged in the discussion and is accountable for the results. School improvement isn’t the sole responsibility of the principal or the School Improvement Team. It is an initiative and a process that is owned by everyone involved in the life of the school.

More from SACS

Why Does Accreditation Matter?

Accreditation is designed to help educational institutions boost their ongoing performance efforts for the benefit of their students.  AdvancED insists on a relentless pursuit of excellence – for itself and for the institutions it accredits. This ethic of excellence ensures that institutions will find rich benefits from accreditation and that parents can confidently make informed decisions about their children’s education, knowing their child’s school is accredited. Accreditation matters because our students deserve the highest level of educational excellence possible.
Educational institutions that engage in AdvancED Accreditation will:
  • Unite with a global network committed to standards of educational excellence.
  • Earn the distinction of quality through the recognized seal of AdvancED accreditation.
  • Experience a unified, clear, and powerful accreditation process with a scalable and sustainable evaluation of education  quality.
  • Receive external and objective validation of the areas in which they’re doing well, and the areas for continuous improvement.
  • Benefit from AdvancED research that shapes educational policy and improves learning practices.
  • Experience a state-of-the-art web-based accreditation system that is continuously being upgraded and improved.
  • Hear the best available ideas and thinking on education practices and trends through innovative products, educational  technologies, and the collective knowledge of peers.
  • Benefit from shared expertise and powerful professional learning through local and global workshops, training,  conferences, and personalized service.
Students and their parents will:
  • Experience ease in transferring credits from one school to  another.
  • Gain greater access to federal loans, scholarships,  postsecondary education and military programs that require  students attend an accredited institution.
  • Benefit from their institution or educational system’s commitment to raising student performance and accountability.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 See the difference?  The Texas model is goal oriented - student achievement is what matters most.  Texas is not interested in a "global network"and hearing about "available ideas and thinking on education practices".  Texas wants results in student achievement.  I'm not sure what SACS wants, besides money, power and the Improvement Life Cycle. 

Back to DeKalb.  First, let Fernbank Science Center revert back to the Fernbank Museum.  Those of you in the Fernbank area can then donate your discretionary funds to the one and only Fernbank and control it, officially.

Next the district needs to eliminate all transportation except to those attending their home school.  Also, perhaps DeKalb could charge a $100 fee for EVERY student who needs to ride a DeKalb bus to school.

Our Superintendent already made position re-classifications across the system, narrowing job classifications down to 17.  That saved some money.

The notion that the school board can simply cut salaries across the entire system is not something that can legally be done.  There are State rules in place regarding minimum salaries.  You can't just reduce every one's pay by 20%.  It sounds easy, but you can't do that. The Georgia Dept. of Education dictates minimum teacher pay based on years of service and their earned degree(s).

Teacher pay is the next-to-last place I'd go to cut pay (tax increase is last).  The teachers are this army's foot soldiers, and we need the best teachers we can get.  Continue to cut pay and DeKalb will not attract the best teachers, and we'll lose the good ones we still have teaching our kids.  The district needs to sell off unused properties, eliminate more positions at the central office, and eliminate 'protected' programs like Fernbank and others.