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posted by Nancy Jester in Charter Schools,Georgia Education and have No Comments

Do City School Districts Perform Better?

The cityhood movement is in full swing in DeKalb.  There’s plenty of news, discussion, controversy and conflict surrounding the topic.  I live in an already incorporated area.  I understand the motivation to form new cities.  But this post is not about the pros and cons of cityhood.  This post is about city school districts in Georgia.  Our last constitution, ratified in 1983 is Georgia’s 10th constitution and our nation’s youngest.  Article VIII of that constitution sets out the parameters for public education and its governance.  Section V, paragraph I of Article VIII, allows all existing school districts (county and city) to remain but prohibits any new independent (city) school systems from forming.  Georgia was left with 21 city districts, 159 county districts and no new districts allowed to form.

The motivation behind the prohibition on new districts was mostly economic in nature.  The result consolidated bureaucratic power and effectively eliminated competition in education for the next 30 years.  But was this prohibition a wise choice?  If we measure the implications in student achievement, the answer is no.

2013 CRCT Scores Analysis (Google Docs)

I have compiled and reviewed the 2013 CRCT scores.  As with my analysis of the 2011 CRCT scores, my first comparison was to review DeKalb’s status relative to the other metro districts.  Out of the eight metro districts (APS, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Decatur City, and Marietta City), DeKalb has the last or next to last achievement scores in 28 out of 30 categories.  The thirty categories are a matrix of six grades that are tested (3rd through 8th) in five subject areas (reading, English language arts, Math, science and social studies).  There has been growth in DeKalb’s scores but relative to the metro area, DeKalb remains in poor position.

As I noted above, cityhood movements are a current topic as are recent discussions and legislation to allow for the formation of new city/independent school districts.  Additionally, thanks to the wisdom of Georgia’s voters, some clusters of schools within districts are pursuing “Charter Cluster” status that empowers them with autonomy.  This would essentially allow the “cluster” of schools (consisting of a high school and its feeder schools) to act independently (pursuant to its charter) of a district in all areas except setting the millage rate.

With the recent interest in forming new school districts and independent charter clusters, I decided to examine the results of the 21 city school districts in Georgia and compare their results with the state averages, the averages of the 8 metro districts and DeKalb’s averages(1).  In every category, the city districts’ averages outperformed the state averages, the metro averages and DeKalb’s averages.  What was shocking was how much better the city districts performed relative to DeKalb.  The city districts’ averages outperformed DeKalb by a minimum of 5.2% to a maximum of 18.81%.  I note that among the city districts, 12 of the 21 have a higher percentage of “economically disadvantaged” students (those students receiving free or reduced lunch) than the state as a whole; 7 have percentages at or above the level of DeKalb.  Ten of the twenty-one city districts are majority-minority districts with as much as one-third of their students listed as having Limited English Proficiency (LEP).  The city districts reflect the diversity and challenges in educating Georgia’s children every bit as much as our larger metro districts.  I also noted that our black students seem to have better achievement numbers if they are in smaller districts.  I am researching this more and will post my results at a later date.  Some of the larger metro districts are going through demographic and political transformations.  Allowing independent districts to form could stave off the degradation of achievement across the economic and demographic spectrum and let all of our children flourish.

No longer are we in the era where we are simply trying to create economies of scale by consolidation in an effort to contain costs.  Georgia spends in the top ten on education in the nation but achievement metrics remain in the bottom ten; often the bottom three.  Georgia’s education struggles hurt our children and our economic viability.  One of the variables that hinders Georgia’s educational outcomes may be the prohibition on forming new independent districts.  The recent charter school amendment passed, in part, because many of our school district frameworks have outlived their usefulness.  Under our current framework, citizens of some large districts are alienated from the expensive system they maintain.  At every turn there’s an excuse, a bureaucrat and a policy that prevent districts from being nimble, responsive and innovative.  Consolidation and the prohibition on new districts have been quite lucrative for Georgia’s educational bureaucrats and consultants.  A 2013 study by Georgia College’s Ben Scafidi, Ph.D., showed how the growth in administrators has far outpaced the growth of students.  In Georgia, from 1992-2009, we saw a 41% increase in students but a 74% increase in administrators.

The better average performance of city districts relative to DeKalb, the metro area and the state as a whole, is important and striking.  If our state is to improve the educational lives of our children and have a robust economy, we must allow independent/city school districts to form.  To continue the arbitrary freeze on new districts is a disservice to our children, particularly our most vulnerable children, and impairs our economic viability.

(1)    In formulating the city averages I removed APS from the 21 districts due to (a) their large size relative to the majority of city schools districts, (b) their unusually large per pupil expenditures and (c) their recent history of testing irregularities.  This exclusion of APS generally only changes the µ less than one point.

posted by Nancy Jester in Georgia Education and have Comments (6)

The Bill of Rights

Like most of you, I have been reading about the recent discussions, criticisms and school board squabbles (see Cobb County) about “Common Core”.  This is not a blog about Common Core.  I’ve got many a bone to pick with it, as I often do with most of the ideas-du-jour of the educational industrial complex.  The usual outcome from their ideas, no matter how noble or misguided the intention, usually end with money being stuffed into the pockets of the textbook publishers, testing companies and the various parasitic classes.  So, let’s set that aside as a topic for another day.  This blog is about the Bill of Rights.

I want to draw your attention to what happened many years ago when our state’s educational apparatchiks developed the “Georgia Performance Standards” (GPS).  Within our own state, the educrats decided on a terribly flawed roadmap to guide the teaching of social studies (why can’t we call it history and embrace that term?)  to our elementary school children.  As the Mom of three children in elementary school I experience the flaws of the “social studies” GPS first hand.  What are my biggest beefs?  The Bill of Rights and biographies.

I invite you to review the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) for social studies in elementary school.  Look for the references to The Bill of Rights.  You will find that The Bill of Rights is first mentioned in 4th grade and then again in 5th grade.  Yet, in second grade the educational establishment in Georgia believes we should first use the term “rights” in the discussion of “civil rights” under the unit labeled “SS2H1” and in reference to Jackie Robinson and MLK.  These two gentlemen are important to the discussion of The Bill of Rights and how our rights should be applied.  But, should not we first set the stage and put forth The Bill of Rights and define what these rights are before we discuss to whom they should apply?  As a woman and mother of a daughter, it is interesting that the very first discussion of “rights” (in 2nd grade) has no connection made with rights for women?  Again, I think that could be avoided if we simply explained the rights as defined by our wise Founding Fathers, without making it a polarizing issue.

Georgians should closely examine what “social studies” teaches in third grade.  This is a year before our children are exposed to “The Bill of Rights”.  In 3rd grade our 7 and 8 year olds are taught about “rights” via the “9 important people”.  These 9 are:  Paul Revere (independence), Frederick Douglass (civil rights), Susan B. Anthony (women’s rights), Mary McLeod Bethune (education), Franklin D. Roosevelt (New Deal and World War II), Eleanor Roosevelt (United Nations and human rights), Thurgood Marshall (civil rights), Lyndon B. Johnson (Great Society and voting rights), and César Chávez (workers’ rights).  Let me give you clarity – before The Bill of Rights is taught to your children, our public schools first teach “rights” through the biographies of these “9 important people”.  In 4th grade our children will examine The Bill of Rights after they examine the “cooperation and conflict” of European settlers and Native Americans.    Then they learn about King George III, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Benedict Arnold, Patrick Henry, and John Adams.  Fifth graders examine the Civil War and then study “modern history”.

Why are our children not taught of the signers of the Declaration of Independence?  Why are they not taught about the signers of the Constitution?  Should there not be a mention of The Federalist Papers?  The role of economic freedom is not fully expanded in the curriculum while icons of liberal social philosophy are given special attention.  The K-5 curriculum of Georgia certainly does not instill the values of liberty and self-reliance.  It perpetuates a social agenda of guilt, judgment and entitlement based on an ambiguous and incorrect assessment of history.

The birth of our nation, the brave and wise men who breathed life into it with their words, our founding documents – these topics should be taught and refined throughout our children’s elementary school years.  We should be passing along the wisdom of our civilization to the children who are to inherit it.  It is a travesty that we are wasting these precious years to advance political agendas and cultural sensitivities.  As a woman I have no need to inject more female perspectives and biographies into the study of history from the 1700s forward.  My daughter’s self-esteem and growth potential is not predicated on being provided 18th century female role models.  My daughter and my sons deserve a full and rich understanding of the greatness of the Founding Fathers.  Their wisdom is a gift to all no matter one’s color, ethnicity, gender or religious preference.   In fact their gift was and remains the basis upon which all have attained freedom and dignity.  Their wisdom, as codified in our founding documents, is more profoundly relevant to those who have struggled to obtain their freedom through the use of their noble design than to the men who created and lived under their protection in our nations earliest days.  It is deeply disturbing that we are disenfranchising our citizens from understanding the power of their birthright.

posted by Nancy Jester in Georgia Education and have Comments (4)


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)

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.


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