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Archive for May, 2013

Relinquish

We’re all familiar with the old adage about doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.  So why are we hiring District School Superintendents the same way and “governing” large school districts the same way?

Yes, we’ve seen Superintendents being hired from outside of the educational establishment, but it has become commonplace and is no longer an innovation. Most significantly, Superintendents with non-traditional backgrounds perform similarly to Superintendents that come from within the educational establishment.

Could it be that the structure of what is managed and governed by Superintendents and Boards is the heart of the problem?

Neerav Kingsland, chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans, recently published a letter on this very issue in EdWeek. Mr. Kingsland argues that we need superintendents who are the “Great Relinquishers.” Under “No Child Left Behind” and other accountability measures, the knee-jerk reaction of administrators has been to strengthen their grip on districts and schools.  It’s an understandable response to the demands of accountability, but it’s the opposite of what will produce results for children and taxpayers.  Tight administrative grip stifles and chokes out real progress and innovation.  When central authority imposes what it determines to be a successful strategy on all schools, uniformity and regimented reporting become the management tools.

While this approach seems rational from the outside, it lacks the agility to address the unique issues that occur within each school and classroom.  It entangles the school level and classroom level professionals and is an obstacle to doing what works best for their communities.

Modern district administration has clung to almost every management fad business schools have spewed over the last decade.  The truth is these management techniques, so carefully codified in management literature, are often themselves unreproducible and yield poor results for businesses who implement them. Click here for a brief review of failed business fads, some of which we still see being tried in school districts today.  If these management fads weren’t successful at producing results for businesses why do Superintendents and their training courses rely so heavily on them?

What we do know from the time of Adam Smith until today, is that the invisible hand works.  No Superintendent or central office bureaucrat can engineer an outcome as optimal as allowing the producers and consumers in the marketplace of education to simply operate as they see fit.  If command and control systems worked to produce the best possible outcomes for society, we would all be speaking Russian today!  Sadly, the educational establishment is trying to make us all speak edu-babble and the business jargon du jour.  When will they learn?

Mr. Kingsland is spot on.  We need The Great Relinquishers.  We need more independent charter schools.  The last 100 years has been the era of The Great Consolidators.  We have gone from more than 100,000 school districts nationwide to less than 15,000 today.  An ever growing percentage of school funding is paid to administrators.  The reformation of education in our state and nation will occur when we move in the opposite direction.

We must free schools and communities from the iron grip of bureaucracies.  No matter how well intentioned, a centrally directed policy, method or program, will fail to maximize educational outcomes for our children.  We need to look for Relinquishers to lead school districts now.  They need to be aggressive in seeking to divest districts of their centrally coordinated practices.  I look forward to the day when philanthropic money rewards the Relinquisher and foundations incentivize leaders to see themselves as the purveyors of educational freedom.

posted by Nancy Jester in Charter Schools,Georgia Education and have Comments (5)

DCSS Budget

The DeKalb budget has been in the news lately.

The Superintendent is projecting more revenue will be available for the FY14 budget.  Specifically, the Superintendent is projecting DCSS will end FY13 with revenues exceeding expenses.  The primary source is accumulated money in the after school program accounts for various schools.

The after school programs accumulate money for the individual schools they serve.  These funds are to be used at the discretion of the school leadership for purchasing resources for their school; much like fundraising money.  It appears the accumulated money in these accounts is being appropriated to make the overall budget scenario rosier than it otherwise would be.  The majority of the other funds cited as recently found, are “potential” or “estimated”.  I most definitely oppose the use of after school program funds to be pooled into the general fund for budgeting purposes.   It is a complete breach of trust.  As for the other “potential” and “estimated” revenues, I have two thoughts: (1) DeKalb citizens should be vigilant so DCSS does not return to its previously, overly optimistic and spendthrift ways and (2) Will DCSS fire the individuals responsible for grant administration that, allegedly, failed to collect on grant administration money due the district?  The failure to collect this revenue for years cannot be placed on a CFO that served approximately one year and came to the district in the middle of developing the last budget.  Furthermore, this past fiscal year is one of the few we can point to that showed fiscal restraint and will end without seeing expenses exceed revenue.  Had DeKalb been as prudent with past budgets, we would not have found ourselves in deficit.  I have not seen the financial statement for FY12 (the state is currently auditing that year) but DCSS may have exceeded its budgeted expenditures by over $30 million.  One simply cannot run a school district like that.

While I am pleased to hear the Superintendent say he will be cutting central office staffing, I will reserve judgment until I see and can verify the cuts.  One item we have not seen on the chopping block is transportation to magnet programs over and above what is legally required by the district.  Last year, had we cut this, we could have saved almost $3 million dollars.  That money could buy back one furlough day or hire almost 50 teachers.  Has the Board asked the Superintendent to look into these types of trade-offs within the budget?

The next budget hearing has been postponed until June 3rd.  I hope the administration is working on these issues.  Stay vigilant because, with citizens’ attention focused elsewhere, the Spring and Summer months often bring questionable votes with negative consequences.  Remember cell towers?

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments Off

Teaching the Constitution and Bill of Rights

It is ironic that our nation, founded on a Constitution and given life by the Sons of Liberty – organizers of the tax protest known as the Boston Tea Party – finds the modern tax collector targeting groups that seek to educate people about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is outrageous that the IRS would target groups based on ideology but this goes so much further. It is deeply unsettling that anyone is targeted for educating Americans about their founding document and their rights.

Should not this be an important subject throughout K-12 public education? My experience as a parent of three elementary school children has proved to me their formal learning about history is deficient when it comes to understanding the Constitution and Bill of Rights. This is not a deficiency in the teachers. Some teachers bolster their lessons on this topic but our state leaders in education have let us down by not fully investing in teaching our children about their own history and rights. It should be noted that this deficiency exists with Georgia’s current standards for learning and the Common Core does not appear to fix this. My own opinion is that our elementary schools should have far more focus on the philosophical origins of our nation and the documents that bind us to them. By the end of 5th grade, our children should be able to enumerate their rights, with full understanding as to their meaning. If our children are not fully educated about the origins of our Republic, we should all worry about the continuity of their rights and freedom in the future. I want our children to inherit a world where they are secure in their rights and freedom. This latest scandal gives me pause to wonder if those in government bureaucracies are now either uneducated about our history or truly believe that our rights and freedoms are an existential threat to them, or some of both. Whatever the case may be, it is Leviathan Government, which is antithetical to government of the people, by the people, for the people.

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/irs-investigation-groups-targets-91243.html?hp=l1_b1

posted by Nancy Jester in Georgia Education and have Comments (2)

05/06/2013 – Realtime Blog – May DeKalb Board Meeting

DeKalb County School District
Board Meeting
2pm – Work Session (Agenda)
5:45pm – Public Comments
7pm – Business Meeting (Agenda)

There are a number of important agenda items today. As always, I encourage everyone to closely examine the financial report. There is a sharp increase in legal fees for March. In the last fiscal year (FY12) YTD legal fees were $3.78 million and this fiscal year (FY13) the YTD fees are $6.3 million. I routinely voted against incurring additional legal fees and rejected accepting financial and HR reports with discrepancies. Unfortunately I was not joined in my dissent by most members of the board.

The board is going to approve several policies tonight, including one addressing nepotism. From what I read, I don’t think the new language offers a substantive change. What remains my main concern is the enforcement of the policy. The administration must vigorously enforce the policy.

At the 7pm Business Meeting the CFO will give a FY14 budget update.
In the most recent reports available on the GA DOE websites (FY11), if DeKalb reduced its per pupil general administration costs ($206) to the levels of Cobb County ($83), it could save the district approximately $12 million. I thought it was interesting that Gwinnett’s last report showed that they spent $240 per pupil on general administration. I’m disappointed that these numbers aren’t the most current but they can give insight into budget decisions.

I have long been an advocate for restructuring compensation. Outside of the Superintendent, no central office employee should make more money than the average principal. Highly effective teachers should receive compensation that incentivizes them to remain in the classroom.

Book Recommendations:
I recently read How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. I recommend it and think it helps direct the conversation about education in a results-oriented direction while avoiding the clichés of much of the “reform” discussion. Another book that also focuses on results and compliments the discussion is Toxic Charity. The author writes about experiences with his urban ministry in Atlanta. I’ll do a blog post in the future discussing these books. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on them as well.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comment (1)
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