Friday, December 28, 2012

Nancy Drew Jester Series Continues. The Case of Pretense of Accreditation in Georgia

Part 2 in the Nancy Drew Jester Mystery Series: The Case of Accreditation Gone Missing

Stay tuned for Monday's release, Nancy Meets the Hardy Boys of SACS County

The following is Part 2 of a Series from Nancy Jester, our local school board member.  Keep up the good work, Nancy. 

Process Versus Results – Accreditation by SACS

I thought it would be useful to provide some historical context to the whole accreditation issue.   Five years ago, if you had asked me what accreditation means, I probably would have told you that it meant something about the quality of the education that kids received; that it judged in some way the results of how well children were educated.
It does not.
Accreditation by SACS/AdvancED is big on “process” and “continuous improvement.”  It does not rate how well schools perform their mission to educate children.  Given the recent graduation rates that were released nationally one must wonder about the nature and efficacy of accreditation “processes” and to whom the benefits of “continuous improvement” accrue.
Click here to read the November 26th AJC article showing Georgia ranked 48th out of 50 states in graduation rate.  For even more detail, you can read my November 5th blog.
You will note that we are not graduating even 50% of our African American students in four years of high school instruction, even with an opportunity to take 32 credits on a block schedule of the 24 required to graduate.  Yet, we are in the top ten for money spent on education.   It appears to me that our emphasis on process is quite expensive, but ineffective.  How can we have such poor aggregate graduation rate results and have so many accredited schools and districts in our state?  Shouldn’t we be focused on honestly assessing the results?
State law requires that I must have 9 hours of training annually.  The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) holds large conferences where board members can attend seminars to meet the training requirements.  Your tax dollars pay for board members to attend these conferences.
I recently attended a GSBA conference to get my required training hours.  (I’ll have to blog in the future about how much of the seminar seemed designed as an infomercial for products that GSBA or their vendors sell.  Also, the seminars are largely conducted by educational bureaucrats that tell elected officials how to treat the educational bureaucrats in their district.  But I digress …)
During my seminar, two executives from AdvancED spoke to the group.  I learned that the concept of “district accreditation” is relatively new.  This accreditation product was rolled out from 2004-08.  Many districts in the state do not seek district accreditation. Instead, they have only their schools – or only their high schools — accredited.   State law requires students to graduate from an accredited school to qualify for the HOPE scholarship.  There is NO requirement that a district be accredited.  For Georgia public schools the law permits accreditation by either SACS or the Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC).  State law also provides methods for homeschoolers to qualify for HOPE scholarships.
During the Q&A at the GSBA conference, I asked AdvancED officials questions about how student achievement should factor into accreditation.  (I recorded this exchange and I’ll try to put it up on my website.)  I noted that our state does not compare well in the recently released graduation statistics.  I further asked:
If processes are used effectively, but achievement results are not improved, what does that say about accreditation?  What is it we’re accrediting?  If it doesn’t correlate strongly with, or have a causal relationship actually, to results for children in achievement then it is a …  the whole process seems to dichotomize there and I’m concerned about that.  Are we focused on process or are we focused on results?”
The response from the AdvancEd official was:
“As far as results … it is a process.  Going through this process, the school or district will go through and look at what is happening.  Accreditation is not based solely on student results.” 
So, there you have it.  And you pay for this process with your tax dollars and cede power over your property values to a concept administered by an unaccountable group, made up of educational bureaucrats.  In the end, the process does not guarantee, judge or rank the quality or results of the education provided to students in your school or district.
Our graduates – our frighteningly few graduates – cannot take “process” to the bank.
Additional reading on this subject:
–Stay tuned for more of my thoughts, including: the pronoun police, the circle of trust and solutions.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nancy Jester, DeKalb School System Board Member Critical of AdvancED

Nancy Jester, our DeKalb School Board Member from Dunwoody, puts forth the truth about SACS (aka AdvancEd) on her blog.  For years the State of Georgia and SACS has given their blessings to DeKalb Schools when it was time for financial audits and reviews.  The past few years AdvancED's Educrat-In-Chief Mark Elgart signed off on DeKalbSchools with an all okay.  No need for me to rant on the bureaucracy that is SACS at this time.  We can talk later on why Georgia and other states should move to the Texas model of accreditation for schools.  But for now, please take the time to read Nancy's 1st in a series of writings regarding the Dekalb School System.

The following is  an initial response to the recent SACS report placing DeKalb School System on probation.  In summary, SACS wants the school board members to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the financial corruption of central office staff members.


You can read Nancy's blog HERE

My Thoughts on the AdvancED SACS Report

First, I would like to explain that I have been delayed in communicating to you about the AdvancED/SACS report because I have been out of the country since December 15th.  I returned this past Saturday evening (December 22nd).  While I was away I had limited access to the Internet, email and phone.  I had time to quietly reflect on my (almost) two years of service on the board and the AdvancED/SACS Report.  I’m writing to you now in the first of a series of blog posts I have written and plan to post over the next several days.  The opinions I express here are mine alone and I express them as an individual citizen.
No one knows better than I do, that the board as a whole can be very frustrating to watch.  As the board member who most often votes “no”, I endure this frustration more than most.  I am the board member who identified and publically discussed the financial issues that were cited in this report.  For almost two years, I have publically inquired during the presentation of the monthly financial report about the discrepancies that I uncovered.  My public statements at board meetings span two administrations.  I have written that it appears to me that our budgets for the past six years were, at best, a weak suggestion of how to spend money and, at worst, a document based on deception.  I received support for my analysis from only Don McChesney and Pam Speaks.  I was publically misled by administration officials who stated at board meetings that our budgeting issues with electricity (one of the many areas I cited as problematic) were due to (1) unseasonably hot/cold summers/winters and (2) increases in electricity rates.  These statements were demonstrably false.
No agency, government department or official was interested in my findings.  Eventually I posted them on my website (here’s the link to my September 13th entry: ).  My public statements at Board meetings go back to almost the beginning of my service.
Additionally, I discovered that “general administration salaries” have been the only salary category that has increased over six years; including the current budget.  I inquired into this matter at two board meetings but did not receive a response.  Here is the link t0 my analysis:
While I’m flattered by AdvancED’s extensive use of my research and statements; their conclusions, required actions, indeed, their paradigm for “team governance” would prevent me or any other board member from discovering and properly alerting the public to these misdeeds (see required action #5).
The report also states, “The board members’ questions to the staff displayed a suspicion and lack of trust for any information provided by the staff.”  As I stated above, I have been misled and stonewalled when uncovering some of the very financial malfeasance that AdvancED now has decided to recognize.  Suspicion and lack of trust, at this point, is clearly justified as I and my fellow board members are legally accountable as stewards of tax dollars.
I’m also curious as to why, with all of their teams of professional educational bureaucrats visiting and researching DSCD (at our expense),  AdvancED never discovered the financial malfeasance that I brought to light.  I’m just one mom with a calculator.  Given the record of misleading statements and nonresponsive behavior I have dealt with from administrators around the financial issues that AdvancED has now chosen to present as evidence to warrant placing DeKalb on probation, it seems odd that they would then simultaneously hold the position that Board members just need to be less suspicious and more trusting of staff members.
If I were an employee, I would most likely be protected under whistleblower laws.  How ironic that I may be removed from office exactly because I discovered and made public the financial misdeeds of the third largest school district in our state.  What message does this send to board members around the state or to future board members in DeKalb?  Given that the majority of our state budget goes to education, I would think that the state would incentivize and welcome local board members to be watchdogs over these finite resources.  To do otherwise is to steal from the educational lives of children.
Stay tuned – tomorrow, I’ll post my thoughts on the education bureaucrats’ construct of “the governance team” and what that means for your children and tax dollars.

Keep The Dekalb School Board

Not quite what many of you expected to read here, but I think removal of the DeKalb School Board is short-sighted and not what needs to happen in DeKalb.

First off, if the governor removes the Board, expect many attorneys to join the fight to keep them.  Removing elected office holders is a tricky subject.  The voters voted for these people, and removing elected people from office is a major topic.  The State of Georgia has rules in place to recall elected persons, and this recall process is done by registered voters (a lot of them), not by a single person.  Although I do feel that a few of the current Board members need removed, having the governor remove them is not the way to do this.

Secondly, I am convinced that if the Board were to be removed, and the removed members ran for the same Board positions when eligible (after the terms of the appointed members expire), the same exact people would be elected by their constituents.  In just a couple of years, we are right back in the same position.

So what needs done instead of removing the Board?  First, DeKalb County Schools should NOT have a county-wide accreditation.  Blame Crawford Lewis for us having county-wide SACS accreditation instead of each high school being accredited.  Most districts in Georgia do not have county-wide accreditation as we do in DeKalb.  We should have SACS or a different agency accrediting our high schools (and eventually middle schools), not the district as a whole. Can any sane person really think to punish a student at Chamblee High School because of something happening at Miller Grove High School, for example?  If a certain high school continues to fail, maybe then the voters in that area elect Board members they think can make a difference.

Next, we need a new superintendent.  Superintendent Atkinson has shown to be following the same path as Crawford Lewis and Ramona Tyson.  And that path leads to total failure for all stakeholders.  This new text scandal with Atkinson is corruption at its best/worst.  If the allegations are true (that the superintendent intentionally destroyed a phone and deleted text messages) then our Superintendent may be in some hot water soon.  Look for the FBI or GBI to join the party soon since the DeKalb DA thinks the DeKalb Board can police itself.

The Board's selection of Atkinson as superintendent was obviously a bad decision.  I think the Board should vote to remove her now, before the Governor removes the Board.  I don't care if we pay her for five years of salary to get rid of her.  It would be money well spent.  There were a couple of candidates in the last search process that would be good to run our district.  Above all, we need an honest person - someone with integrity.  If the governor wants to do us a favor, appoint a new superintendent.

A new superintendent would need to have the word "no' in his/her vocabulary.  Say 'no' to Board members asking for favors.  Say 'no' to the special interest groups.  The new superintendent needs to clean house at the central office and at the local schools, ridding us of corrupt and poor-performing employees.  The new superintendent needs to run the system like a business, not like a jobs program.

But let's not stop with one superintendent - we need at least two.  We need a superintendent for curriculum and one for administration.  Perhaps we have a DeKalb School System CEO take care of the financial side of things, and a superintendent to implement academic strategies.

Of course, the overall goal is to have the DeKalb School System divided into no less than three separate systems.  But that takes time, and no one outside of DeKalb actually cares about us.  The surrounding systems see a DeKalb failure as a win to them.  As DeKalb Schools fails, people and businesses move to  Fulton and Cobb.  As DeKalb Schools fail, private schools flourish.  As DeKalb Schools fail, property values decrease.

Removing the Board empowers the current superintendent. Mark Elgart (leader of SACS / AdvancED) is protecting the superintendent.  Mark Elgart and SACS are in business to make money and protect superintendents.  AdvancED is not the fix, it is part of the problem.