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Common Core Is No Path To Prosperity

By: Nancy Jester
Marietta Daily Journal (October 10, 2013)

Depending on who you ask, Common Core is described as something from voluntary national standards to a federal takeover of education. So, what is it and what’s really going on?

Common Core is an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn … reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

No one would argue with these groups developing a set of voluntary standards that are rigorous and helpful for students as they prepare for college or the workforce.

The NGA and CCSSO may have had the best intentions, but as the process unfolded, political motivations and agendas took over. A recessionary economy and falling property values created budget crises in school districts across the country.

In the category of “never let a crisis go to waste,” those with agendas saw an opportunity to leverage school districts’ need for money with their vision for education.

Into this situation, President Obama’s Race to the Top grants offered a much needed infusion of federal money conditioned on adopting Common Core. At that point, Common Core ceased being voluntary and was no longer an effort to define rigorous standards with broad acceptance.

Once linked to grant money, the power over education standards shifted from states and districts to the federal level. Even though the NGA and CCSSO were responsible for the initiation of common standards, the use of federal grant money changed the nature of this effort.

Those who favor Common Core in Georgia still see it through the original lens of good intentions and dismiss or ignore the political appropriation of their efforts. Their reticence to acknowledge the usurpation of Common Core by the federal government is understandable given that most of the advocates invested their time and reputation into the initiative.

With states adopting Common Core under the lure of federal money, groups with political agendas regarding K-12 curriculum can target and obtain influence or control over the standards.

For example, Common Core displaces some traditional literature with informational texts to prepare students for workplace and technical writing.

That sounds innocuous enough, but what informational texts will they read? Perhaps they will be given EPA regulations on carbon emissions, DOJ writings on hate crimes or Department of Labor surveys on workplace diversity.

The politicization of learning is embedded in this standard. Centralized control also curtails innovation. It’s like going back to Ma Bell and doing away with the communications revolution brought to us by a competitive marketplace.

With Common Core in Georgia, we’re told that the standards are closely aligned with Georgia’s existing standards, as if that should make us all feel better.

In the early 2000s, the Georgia Department of Education adopted a social studies curriculum that is almost completely devoid of education on The Bill of Rights in elementary school. Yet, in third grade, we teach our children about the nine important people who “expanded rights.” Those nine people are: Paul Revere, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Mary McLeod Bethune, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Lyndon B. Johnson, and César Chávez.

The same Georgia Department of Education asks us to trust them on adopting Common Core standards. The Georgia DOE that has been at the helm as we performed so poorly as a state on most education metrics. When some of our elected officials say they are being informed about Common Core by the experts from our DOE, I’m concerned about the advice they are receiving.

Our state spends in the top 10 nationally on education, yet, most of our education metrics hover in the bottom five. We have to admit that we need a change in leadership on educational issues in Georgia. Rigorous standards need to be adopted, but they must be part of a process that continues to innovate and is not beholden to a central authority. Georgia has a long road ahead but Common Core is not a path to prosperity.

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Optimal School District Size

We had some fascinating education headlines last week.  Perhaps none more interesting than the report of comments made by Mark Elgart, CEO of AdvancED, the accreditation conglomerate that owns many regional accreditors including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Here’s some background – Georgia is constitutionally limited in the number of school districts to 159 county districts and 21 city district.  Last year, Rep. Tom Taylor filed HR 486; a bill calling for a statewide vote to amend the constitution to allow new school districts to form under certain conditions.  A feasibility study was commissioned for the City of Dunwoody to determine if an independent school district was viable from a revenue standpoint.  The study’s results indicate that a city school district would be financially feasible and, at current millage rates, would produce a healthy surplus.

Speaking before the Buckhead Business Association days after the feasibility study was made public, Dr. Elgart stated the current 180 school districts in Georgia are “far too many.” According to The Reporter Newspaper, he went on to state, “Georgia does not need to expand the number of school systems it has in the state, … It needs to contract it so it can use its resources differently than it currently does.”

I’m puzzled why the head of an international accrediting agency would comment on a state political subdivision matter.  The organization of school districts is a self-determination made by the good citizens of our state.  Notwithstanding that fact, the suggestion that Georgia has “far too many” school districts is not supported by the research on the topic of optimal school district size.

Here are just a few quotes from scholarly articles on the subject of school district size that support the need for Georgia to break-up its large districts.

  • In a study to examine if consolidating smaller school districts in Michigan would save taxpayers money, Andrew Coulson estimated the most cost-effective school district size in Michigan and the cost savings that would result from merging small districts and breaking up excessively large districts. From his analysis, Coulson found that the most cost-effective district size for schools in Michigan was 2,900 students. Districts that were either larger or smaller in size would generate higher per-pupil costs (Coulson, 2007). Consolidating smaller school districts to achieve this optimal size was estimated to result in a cost savings for the state of Michigan and local governments of approximately $31 million annually. In comparison, breaking up large school districts would produce an annual savings of $363 million. The savings from breaking up large districts is estimated to be 12 times greater than the savings that would be generated from merging small districts.



Center for Evaluation and Education Policy
Education Policy Brief
VOLUME 8, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 2010
Revisiting School District Consolidation Issues
Terry E. Spradlin, Fatima R. Carson, Sara E. Hess, and Jonathan A. Plucker

  • Small size is good for the performance of impoverished schools, but it now seems as well that small district size is also good for the performance of such schools



The Influence of Scale on School Performance: A Multi-Level Extension of the Matthew Principle
Robert Bickel, Marshall University; Craig Howley, Ohio University and AEL, Inc.

  • A study of Pennsylvania districts found that the lowest costs per student were in districts enrolling between 2,500 and 2,999 students (Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, 2007).
  • A North Carolina report compared the district sizes of the five states with the best and worst SAT and ACT scores, high school graduation rates, dropout rates and retention rates. The study found that the states performing at higher levels on these performance indicators had smaller average district sizes (Sher & Schaller, 1986).
  • A Nebraska study demonstrated that smaller school systems academically outperformed larger ones within the state (Johnson, 2004). Researchers in Maine found that their 15 smallest districts produced higher graduation and post secondary enrollment rates than their 15 largest districts (Bowen, as cited in Driscoll, 2008). In Massachusetts, a task force found that smaller districts had lower average dropout rates, higher attendance rates, greater extra-curricular participation, and were more likely to meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets than the state average (Driscoll, 2008). A study of small rural districts in New York found that students in these small districts tended to learn the basics at average or above average levels, when compared to students in other districts (Monk & Haller, 1986). In a series of five studies, researchers found that smaller districts and schools had greater achievement equity than larger districts and schools (Howley, 1996; Bickel & Howley, 2000).



An Exploration of District Consolidation:
By:Kathryn Rooney and John Augenblick
Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, Inc.
May, 2009

The abundance of research indicates that the optimal district size is certainly much smaller than DeKalb’s current enrollment.  That research shows us that per-pupil costs are minimized in much smaller districts; completely negating the argument of economies of scale with large districts.  Furthermore, academic achievement measurements are better in smaller districts, particularly for the economically disadvantaged.  In the face of this type of evidence it is difficult to understand any defense of the status quo or advocacy for even larger districts.  The evidence is clear and compelling that our students and taxpayers would benefit from breaking up large districts.

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Healthy Start Weekend October 19-20

Organizers of two significant, family-friendly community events invite the Dunwoody community to come together for a “Healthy Start Weekend” October 19-20.  First up is Dunwoody Elementary School’s October 19 Tour de Dunwoody – Family Bike Event followed on October 20 by the Rotary Club of Dunwoody’s  RunDunwoody – 5K/1 Mile Fun Run/Tot Trot.

The fun begins Saturday, October 19 with three ride options featured in the 3rd annual Tour de Dunwoody.  Registration and check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. and the main ride begins at 8:30 am sharp in the parking lot of Dunwoody Elementary School. The main “Tiger” route is a 3-Mile, police escorted ride starting and ending at DES and riding through Dunwoody with your family.  There will also be two shorter, on-campus “Cub” routes for new or younger riders beginning at 8:45 a.m.

Connecting families, DES and the community, this unique family biking event features fun and challenge for biking enthusiasts of all levels while offering reminders about bike safety and awareness.  Register today for this family bike event at www.dunwoodypto.com.  Please contact Katie Scharf at klewis00@yahoo.com for more information or to inquire about event sponsorship.  Proceeds benefit Dunwoody Elementary’s Tiger Fund.

On Sunday, October 20, the Rotary Club of Dunwoody presents the 4th annual RunDunwoody – 5K/1 Mile Fun Run/Tot Trot.  Registration and runner check-in begins at 7:00am in the Target parking lot at 100 Perimeter Center Place, Atlanta, GA 30346.  The 5K is certified as a Peachtree Road Race Qualifier and follows a fast and scenic route, spanning the Perimeter Flyover Bridge with spectacular view of Perimeter Summit.  The 1 Mile Fun Walk/Run offers fun for all ages with prizes for the top male and female age 12 and under. Young children (ages 2 – 5) are invited to participate in the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Tot Trot.

As a special treat kids of all ages will enjoy the opportunity to visit with our members of the Dunwoody police force and firefighters and explore equipment and vehicles on display.  To register and for information about a fun-filled morning – live music, prizes, awards, great food, Kid’s Zone activities and more – for a good cause go to www.rundunwoody.net or contact Kathy Brandt or Kelly Hundley at info@rundunwoody.net.  Proceeds benefit the service focus of the Rotary Club of Dunwoody – education, public health, public safety, locally and globally.

Make a Healthy Start with your family and friends this fall.  Whether you enjoy biking or running, plan to participate in Dunwoody’s first Healthy Start Weekend, October 19-20, 2013.

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09/09/2013 Realtime Blog DeKalb Schools Board Meeting

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

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“Strategic” Churn

The DeKalb Board of Education recently approved a new strategic planning process. I use the word “new” purposefully. In 2011, DeKalb engaged the GSBA (Georgia School Boards Association) to assist in the development of a strategic plan. As Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again,” because DeKalb has once again asked the GSBA to perform the same task.

You can read all about the 2011 effort online. Click here to read about the community engagement sessions that were held. The district formulated a strategic plan for 2012-2017 entitled the Excellence in Education Plan.

So here we go again. Given the GSBA’s political stances, it is highly unlikely they’ll build in autonomy or innovative governance structures for schools in DeKalb. The GSBA lobbied against the Charter School Amendment that was overwhelmingly passed statewide and in DeKalb. The GSBA routinely advocates against legislative measures that put more power in the hands of parents and taxpayers. Wonder what they think of the charter cluster idea? I say this to illuminate that the entity, tasked with helping DeKalb (yet again) build a strategic plan, holds positions that are at odds with the majority of citizens in our county. So, back to that strategic plan…

The current DeKalb BOE voted to approve this work at their August 5th meeting. The bid review sheet that awarded the contract to GSBA indicated their proposal would cost the taxpayers $300,000. However, the “action item” read to the board and the public listed the cost at $250,000. If one can get past this discrepancy and the political leanings of this organization, one would still wonder, why the need to jettison the plan that the district adopted in 2012. Was the board made aware that there was a fairly new plan? Why wouldn’t they review it, possibly amend/edit it and see to it that it was implemented with fidelity? Why reinvent the wheel; hiring and paying the same entity to do this all over again?

Better yet, perhaps they should read up on “strategic planning”. I wrote this article, Strategic Planning, about it in June. Here’s a paragraph I wrote about what an expert in the field said about strategic planning:

“In his critique of strategic planning, Mintzberg tells us that, “Because analysis is not synthesis, strategic planning is not strategy formulation.” He adds that, “Ultimately, the term `strategic planning’ has proved to be an oxymoron.” … “…..strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality.” Indeed.”

Even more important, read what I uncovered about the relationship between student achievement and strategic planning.

“…Vicki Basham and Fred Lunenburg found an ‘inconsistent and weak’ association between district participation in strategic planning and student achievement, as measured by standardized test scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics in grades 3, 5, 7, and 10. Basham and Lunenburg wrote in their review of prior research that ‘no other study shows a direct tie-in between strategic planning in school districts and school district performance on standardized achievement tests,’ and they can add their own work to the list.” So, as I stated earlier, I want results and strategic planning does not drive results.”

So why are we paying $250k or $300k (which is it?) for a product we already have that will likely do little to nothing to improve the educational lives of our children?

If we are looking for a mission statement, I suggest we look to Hall County. I had the pleasure of meeting the Hall County Superintendent this summer. He’s a different breed of superintendent – more on that in another blog. He told me that the best organizations have simple mission statements – no more than 5 words – that every employee knows from the custodial staff up to the CEO. Hall County’s mission statement: Character, Competency, Rigor For All.

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