Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fun with the Public School System: School districts in Georgia are going nuts

Schools in my hometown of Atlanta, GA and across the metro Atlanta area seem to be losing it completely.  I know I may complain about my school district sometimes, but reading about the stuff going on in Georgia makes me glad the people running our schools seem to be operating with full mental capacity and a set of morals.

Apparently, many districts in Georgia have decided to take the Gary Busey approach to logical thinking when it comes to day to day school operations.

Computers!  Computers and Ipads for EVERYONE!


Furloughs, for those that have not experienced them, are work days that are taken off the calendar...along with their subsequent pay.  While it's nice having an extra day off, it definitely hurts to have some cheese taken out of each paycheck.

My school district decided to do as much as it could to not hurt teachers; they furloughed administrators, classified staff, and central office personnel first and for as long as they could.  

Georgia schools did pretty much the same thing, except Clayton County schools took it one insane step further.  They have instituted a retroactive furlough, which essentially means that the teachers need to pay back 1 week's worth of salary to the school district.

Once again, that is not a furlough for future earnings that will reduce their future paychecks; this is money that they had already been paid as part of their salary for the prior school year.

You may also want to put this somewhere 
that you can easily locate it.

As you can imagine, the teachers fought it in court and won...initially.  A judge later overturned the ruling, declaring it legal.

The judge then claimed that teachers could likely reclaim their pay by filing breach of contract lawsuits, which works out great; everyone loves soul/time sucking litigation and legal fees!

...and I just wanted to see your beautiful smile again.

Administrative Costs

I am always wary of people that want to work in public education, but do not want to work with kids. Fortunately, I have seen many people in these central office positions that really do want to make the schools that they work for better.

Our school district superintendent is paid a 6 figure salary, but she runs the second largest school district in the state--it's basically like being the CEO of a corporation, only along with employees, you have to deal with the needs to thousands of children and their parents.  

She also actually shows up to schools and events all over the county and interacts with teachers, principals, parents, and students.

She also makes sure that teachers are looked out for; administrators' salaries were cut to try to protect teacher salaries from budget reductions, along with the aforementioned extra furlough days that administrators took on well before anyone in a classroom did.

That's probably not all that was taken...

...and then there's what goes on in Georgia. The Dekalb County school district  is one of the lowest performing school districts in the metro Atlanta area.  

Despite having such poor results, in 2010 the district had more employees (an overwhelming majority of them administrators and central office staff) making over $100,00 a year than in any other school district.

That same year, Dekalb County Schools decided to give a $15,000 dollar raise to their superintendent (raising his total salary that year to $255,00) and advertised an opening for a $163,900 salaried administrator position.  

All this was being done while the district was proposing to cut teachers' pay and school programs to balance the budget.

Associate Superintendent Scrooge McDuck then proceeded to make it rain

Perhaps the most outrageous example out of all this is the Atlanta Public Schools, which is one of the smallest school districts in the metro area.

In Georgia, a school district's central office takes up an average of 5% of the budget (6% in the metro Atlanta area). The Atlanta Public School's central office took up 10% of the budget in 2010.

Beverly Hall, the district's superintendent, pulled in a whopping $344,331 in 2010 and over $580,000 in bonuses from 1999-2009.

What did she get all that bonus money for?  It was for all the great work she did making Atlanta Public Schools' test scores jump dramatically during her tenure and being named the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year!

...except for the fact that she presided over the largest teacher and principal cheating/test score altering scandal in history.


Cheating on tests by the teachers and administrators

There is an entire blog entry (or series of blogs) that I could write regarding my feelings on standardized testing, but that's another matter.  Whether we like it or not, standardized tests are what we used to track and assess student achievement and how much federal funding you receive or get taken away.

Basically, you have a system where the schools that do poorly are punished with sanctions, stripped of funding, and people lose their jobs.  Schools that do well receive increased funding and program opportunities.

Pretty much like this, only even more depressing.

Whenever we prepare to administer our state standardized test, the entire staff at my school (and from what I hear, every school in the district), is drilled repeatedly on proper testing procedures and ethics.  We are told that any deviation from the assigned testing format and environment is a serious offense.

We are warned that even the hint of any of us helping students with questions or changing test answers will result in the loss of our job, possible jail time, and shame throughout the state.

Also, this sits on the podium the entire 
time without mention; but we all know it's there...

In Atlanta Public Schools, teachers were told and sometimes threatened to change student test scores.

Whistle blowers that tried to report what was going on were harassed into silence or were fired.

At Fain Elementary, a teacher was forced to crawl under a desk during a faculty meeting as punishment for having poor class test scores.

  Do I still get to play on the faculty basketball team?

After an inquiry by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution was validated by an official investigation, things began to unravel.

It was discovered that 44 our of 56 schools that were investigated had actively cheated to alter student test scores.

178 teachers were told to resign or be fired.

4 top level administrators and 2 principals were fired (after being put on paid leave).

Battle lines began being drawn; a principal at one school allegedly told teachers that if any of them spoke ill of her to investigators, she would "sue them out the ass."   Many teachers felt they had no choice but to cheat, or end up like the aforementioned whistle blowers; unemployed and with a black mark on their record

During all this, Beverly Hall...was out the door.  She had already planned to resign in June; right before everything hit the fan.

                                                                        curtis compton,
Peace out, suckas!

Beverly Hall claimed to have no knowledge of any cheating going on in her school district, despite ignoring or dismissing multiple reports of it happening from employees within her district.  She was described by multiple employees as aloof and unapproachable, waving off repeated warnings of corruption throughout the district.

She was kind enough, however, to post an apology for not knowing anything at all about the scandal and having nothing to do with the implementation of altered test scores...on her facebook page.

...along with a request to be her neighbor in Farmville.

Perhaps the most ironic part of her "apology" came when she dared to mention accountability:

"I do not apologize for the reforms my staff and I implemented during my tenure as superintendent. The public has a right to hold educators — and administrators — accountable if they fail to teach children what they need to learn."

To date, Beverly Hall has not payed back the $580,000 in bonuses she received for fraudulent test score gains and shows no signs of being inclined to do so.

At least Beverly Hall is out as superintendent and the violations under her watch have come to light, but a lot of questions remain.  If this type of thing can go unchecked for nearly a decade, and the person presiding over it is getting national awards and huge bonus payouts, how many other places is this occurring?

And as far as holding Beverly Hall accountable, it looks like legally, she will get to keep her bonus pay unless more evidence comes to light; and even then, it may be a battle in which the legal fees would outweigh the rewards of litigation.

For now, I guess we just have to express our disdain and disappointment on her facebook page.

Facebook, I think the time has come.