Education: Why Buzz Words and Money Just Won’t Cut It This Time

July 7, 2014 11:30 am

by Scarlet Hawk · 49 comments

Education is such a lovely buzz word. It sounds so shiny, progressive and new. It elicits images of school children a la Norman Rockwell, school books, tassels and diplomas. The reality is it’s a much murkier and logistically demanding word than that. Over the weekend, Carter penned an op-ed in the AJC that discussed his education platform. He wants to create a separate budget for education, one that cannot be cut despite whatever other cuts may befall the state. He cites many budget cuts to education under the Deal administration. IMHO, these cuts were frankly unquestionably necessary in 2010 as Georgia’s budget was in free fall and literally every other state department and agency’s budget had already gone through 10% cuts at least once. At that time, the budget for education had sustained the least amount of cuts, with legislators leaving education as the last pillar to fall. Bravo for that, General Assembly- some of us haven’t forgotten.

However, Carter AND Deal are missing some larger points that I fear our state as a whole has not yet comprehensively addressed. To be forthright, I don’t know how to address them either, but rather than not talk about them and let the gubernatorial discussion continue to be about money, I will do what little I can to bring them to light. I would assert that while certain aspects of education demand more funding (I can’t wait to see how the Gov’nuh’s going to pay for internet in every school district), Georgia’s biggest challenges in education are cultural and structural and throwing money at school districts will not necessarily create a solution. The following points are items I would ask each candidate to consider in their platform, and would hope we have General Assembly members who are already pondering them.

We have a brain drain from the rural to the urban

Growing up in Social Circle, the aspect of moving from the farm on which I grew up to the “big city” of Atlanta was not only a dream, but it was necessary. In Walton County, the prospects of jobs and higher earnings are few and far between. Within the last decade, Publix considered building a store at the intersection of MLK Jr. Blvd and Spring Street in Monroe, but decided that Walton’s per capita income was too low to support one of their stores. This isn’t a unique story in the rural south, no matter what state. So what do kids do? They grow up and move out, to places with better jobs, better schools, and lower taxes. So how do you keep kids in their rural hometowns? I’m glad you asked.

We have a wealth of growing industries in financial data information, a banking resurgence, the solar industry (no thanks to Georgia Power), and women owned businesses. What are we doing education-wise to give human capital to these industries?

Georgia has always had a thriving banking business. Ask our legislators; many have profited from it. And why not? We have a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit in this state that is somehow fostered by our red clay, our wide open spaces, gravel roads, and blue skies. Those blue skies and wide open spaces have positioned our state to be the fifth best state for solar production- if we utilized it. However, our state is somewhat unique in that our power company creates a plan to be considered by the state governing authority (the PSC) rather than the governing authority creating a plan to be implemented by the power company. I’m normally in favor of the private market determining business behavior except for the fact that Georgia Power tends to write large checks to both state legislators and the PSC, setting up sort of a fox watching the hen house effect. A girl learns a lot while advocating for green energy issues, and HB 657 taught me to never doubt Georgia Power’s influence on our state’s economy and energy again. While Georgia Power is a benevolent parasite, contributing to little leagues and non-profits all over the state, it’s still a parasite that drains the state of money for its shareholders while forcing the state to pay for its nuclear power plants. Thanks for that bill.

And about being a girl in Georgia…Despite the stereotypical idea that Yankees have of Southern women, most of the ladies I know are more Scarlett O’Hara, less damsel in distress. These ladies are kicking serious ass with home grown businesses and are rising in the ranks of the high tech industries that are popping up all over the state. Georgia may be known for its agricultural industry, but we’re growing a diverse crop of businesses here and need the education background to make it expand. No matter who is the next Governor, the next wave of economic development in this state will ride on the shoulders of whoever can be the most responsive to what industry needs from education. Me, I got a degree in International Relations and French, but Agnes Scott College taught me to think on my feet and to ask questions until I understood clearly what was being discussed. Education cannot just be about a specific thought topic, but must teach Georgia children to think intuitively and ahead. This isn’t rocket science, so let’s get to it.

The education system must be structured to be responsive to changing stimuli. It is my personal opinion that charter schools can aid the flexibility challenge that our state education system otherwise faces.

Charter schools were a hot button issue and will be a central point to the state super race run-off in the Democratic primary. While the Republicans are clawing at each other over Common Core, Democrats are ripping one another over charter schools. Here’s my thought: it seems to be working.. Status quo public education in Georgia continues to be rather disappointing. That’s not just because it could use more money in some ways, but its inability to adjust to to what the job market needs. Not everyone fits in a traditional school, not every child needs to go to college, so our vocational and charter schools can satisfy the diverse needs of children in our state. Let’s create a reasonable evaluation system of charter schools, test the theory, rinse and repeat. If it doesn’t work, then try something new.  As always though, full disclosure: I have a charter school as a client.

Education isn’t just about funding. It also isn’t just about what you teach, but how you teach it. They may not like it, but Deal and Carter are going to have to get down into the weeds to really address this issue before I’ll buy their buzz words. As a matter of fact, about 20 years ago there was another Southern gubernatorial race that hinged on education. The winning candidate said then that, “We need to be innovators and creative thinkers to achieve excellence”. I would say the same about Georgia. So get to it, gentlemen. Stop telling us it’s about “education” and “taxes” and that we need more “technology”. Get into the weeds and let’s tackle this challenge. It worked for George W. Bush. Really tackling education is the key to the Governor’s Mansion. Don’t miss the opportunity to get your hands dirty.  Our state is worth your toil.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ― Plutarch

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Huttman July 7, 2014 at 12:03 pm

The real issue with education funding is whether/how we fund QBE. QBE mandates certain levels of spending – growing out of I believe a lawsuit in the ’80’s about the unequal amounts of funding in rural Georgia school systems. At the time QBE was passed, the state made a commitment to their portion of the mandated spending and the counties took the rest.

So the problem is that starting with Gov Perdue each year the state reduced the amount it contributed to the QBE formula to local systems but yet QBE is a mandate and the systems are still required to spend the money. Essentially a backdoor tax increase (because the school boards must increase taxes to pay for the state’s reduced share).

Now the ultimate problem is many jurisdictions that don’t have a large tax base (pick almost any rural county) can literally only tax so much to make up for the cuts as there are statutory caps to how high the millage rates can be. A place like Cobb County with a large and broad tax base of large corporations and $500,000 houses can increase taxes to pay for QBE without hitting the caps. A place like Taliaferro County that has an average home value of $73k and if the census quickfacts are to be believed 21(!) nonfarm businesses can’t.

In reality, the Republicans don’t believe in (specifically) the QBE formula and (generally) minimum funding amounts/subsidizing poor rural counties. But instead of junking the QBE formula (which would require them to come up with some alternative which again they don’t actually support) they just underfund it each year. So far they’ve been getting away with it because many places in Georgia don’t actually value education and/or have already hit their cap and can’t raise taxes anymore, and in other places (like the aforementioned Cobb) the voters so far have blamed the locals instead of the state leaders.

To be fair the Democrats position isn’t perfect (QBE hasn’t achieved great results in a lot of places) but is at least consistent. If you’re going to have a mandated spending formula imposed by the state, the state should fund it.

Scarlet Hawk July 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I agree. I didn’t actually address QBE funding in this post b/c it is a more involved formula, one that I am frankly not informed enough about to write. You are completely correct that it is never fully funded, and you are also correct that it must be re-evaluated. I believe the last time it was addressed was in the 70s, maybe?

However, funding isn’t the only problem here. While proper funding is always requisite, there are cultural and structural problems here that could be addressed and those lead to longer term strategies and overall development of what we expect from our education.

I’m also not pie in the sky- not every kid should go to college, or expect to be a brain surgeon. Let’s meet kids where they are, and maximize their opportunities as much as we can.

joshmackey July 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm

The state has never fully funded the formula since its creation in the 1980’s under Joe Frank Harris and my former boss (Republican State Senator Don Thomas) was chair of the school board that initiated the lawsuit against the state that spurred QBE. So without Republicans, we wouldn’t even have QBE to start with (while not perfect, its an improvement upon its predecessor).

Also, the characterization that the problem is more rural and places like Cobb County are fine is incorrect. Cobb levels nearly 19 mills, meaning they are 1 mill away from the cap and a tax increase on the local level won’t solve their budget problems if they have a major deficit (like they recently have had).

In fact, if you look at metro-Atlanta, the larger and supposedly “wealthier” systems tax themselves at higher millage rates than their rural counterparts. During the last education finance study commission, this was a major sticking point as large systems would tax themselves at 18, 19 and 20 mills and some of their rural counterparts were between 10 and 15 mills. It’s absolutely correct that taxes levied in more rural communities won’t raise as much as suburban and urban areas, but it would make sense for them to first put more skin in the game if they are going to receive additional help.

I’d also disagree about Republicans not supporting subsidizing poorer/rural areas. During the last revision of QBE, a Republican legislature and administration shifted more funds to more rural and/or poor areas through several funding formulas than has been the case for two decades.

Scarlet Hawk July 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, Josh.

I would assert that while rural school systems aren’t the only ones with problems, Cobb is better than most. They’ve had their funding challenges, but Cobb frankly gets a lot of things right and I am generally impressed with it as a county overall. As a matter of fact, with the 17% tax increase in Fulton being considered, I wouldn’t mind moving there.

Putting “more skin in the game” is a nice thought, but the reality is they aren’t just putting skin, they’re in some areas putting in meat. For poorer areas of the state like Taliaferro, you can’t get blood from a turnip and so the state must then determine if the requirements that are mandated are even going to be met. What’s more, if they aren’t, and the one school there closed down, that means shipping those kids back to Greene County.

As for where the QBE funds go, I don’t care who last did it, I simply think the time to re-evaluate our funding formula is nigh. However, the assertion by both Governor Deal and Senator Carter that adjusting the funding formula will solve all education problems is assuming a fair amount of naivety of Georgians.

I keep hearing we need more money, less taxes, higher test scores, and more accountability. These all sound so nice, but I need the candidates to define exactly how they’re going to do that a bit better.

Dr. Monica Henson July 7, 2014 at 7:59 pm

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’ll never turn down GaDOE helicoptering over Edgewood Avenue and throwing a bag of money on my school’s headquarters. However, I’m not convinced that “fully funding QBE” makes sense until school districts make commitments to do some things differently. Yes, for example, there are furloughs and reductions in school calendars–primarily because districts prefer to maintain the same staffing levels they’ve had for years, forcing students into birthday cohorts, and frequently reserving online learning for only the best and brightest.

Until school system leadership begins demonstrating a commitment to making real, substantive change in how they deploy their financial resources, they will continue to face opposition from conservative elected officials who are reluctant to “throw money” at the problems of public schools.

South GA Bulldog July 8, 2014 at 9:02 am

I agree as stated before that the QBE Formula is broken. This formula has never been fully funded since it was created in 1985. In rural South GA, schools are so top heavy it is pathetic. Some schools are not furloughing teachers or raising taxes. Other schools are raising taxes and furloughing teachers despite getting more funding this year than in the past. I have heard recently that in Tift Co., the school has a Marketing Director. Now why would a public school need a Marketing Director? They also spend several $100,000 on attorneys every year. This is just one example that a friend told me about in Tift Co. I mean it does not make sense. Some schools are doing great and others are raising taxes and furloughing teachers. I can tell you, it is a lack of Leadership at the top. More money is not the answer.

George Chidi July 7, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Amen to this.

The QBE formula is badly broken. Gwinnett County is a net recipient of tax dollars under QBE, while DeKalb is a net donor. That’s because Gwinnett’s enrollment as a portion of the total student population has been increasing while its tax base has decreased.

But DeKalb’s tax base is also decreasing, and at a faster clip.

The net effect of this tax shifting has been to accelerate and reward adverse selection. Parents (who aren’t underwater on a mortgage and can move) choose Gwinnett for the schools. Gwinnett’s tax base can’t support the new students, so the state kicks in $250 a head or so.

But DeKalb’s schools then underperform — because the best students leave. And it’s hit with a disproportionate loss of education tax money as they leave, kicking school quality further down the chain … which depresses property values and lowers property tax receipts. And the vicious circle repeats.

To fix this, the minimum standard for a “quality” education must be raised. That would compel the state to balance funding rural schools — and poor urban systems like DeKalb and APS.

The real problem, of course, is tying school funding tightly to property taxes.

Chris Huttman July 7, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Excellent points. The real problem in Georgia the last few years is that the only education policy that’s even remotely been addressed or tackled is the statewide Charter school amendment which has produced a grand total of 1 approved school.

So pretty much no matter where you stand on the ideological (or whatever) spectrum when it comes to schools, the legislature has done basically nothing to make any changes or move forward.

Scarlet Hawk July 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Agree again, totally, Chris.

Also, to George’s point, you might both look at what has been done in Buford City Schools….the tax digest has like 60% businesses vs. 40% residential base. They also have awesome schools.

Phillip Beard didn’t play around with his school funding and presumably some of these newer Dekalb cities are going to have to seriously look at that issue as well.

As for asking the state to raise the standards- unfortunately, it seems the conservative answer is to pull their kids out of public schools and home school them. *sigh*

George Chidi July 7, 2014 at 1:43 pm

No one not named Phillip Beard has a 60-40 split in commercial to residential taxes to work with. No one. Dunwoody is 40-60. Most places run closer to 25-75. Buford is THE exception, a legacy predating the state’s constitutional prohibition on the creation of new school systems … and the presence of a city commission chairman watching development like a hunting hawk for about forty straight years. Buford has the tax balance it does simply because the city council has annexed industrial property near the city while offering nigh-parasitic tax exemptions to do so, and refused zoning to residential development.

My interactions with Beard — I wrote about Buford when I was with the AJC — have been professional and reasonably open, but I’m still of the opinion that he’s an irascible and wizened operator with a twinkle in his eye whenever the possibility of annexing the Mall of Georgia emerges.

Dr. Monica Henson July 7, 2014 at 7:53 pm

“[T]he statewide Charter school amendment which has produced a grand total of 1 approved school”?

Chris, there are currently sixteen schools authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission, of which I am superintendent of one. Why do you say the amendment produced only one school?

FranInAtlanta July 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I live in Dunwoody, a fairly affluent community. Almost all of our schools are charter schools and, under NCLB (which I understand is required if we reject Race to the Top/Common Core) almost none of our schools were making AYP. Therefore, I have difficulty understanding the magic of charter schools.
Until we acknowledge that our urban schools, suburban and exurban schools, and rural schools and some in between are all different environments and attempt to adapt, I am not sure we will make the kind or progress we need to be successful. We have the technology to have great on-line schooling at the high school level and can use local teachers as tutors.
I thought only supplemental funds were tied to property taxes and were there so that teachers could live in the more affluent communities where they taught – sounds like that has changed since I was keeping up with things – exactly how does it work now?
One more thing – I keep reading that many schools have such a disruptive atmosphere that no one can learn. Am curious about how that can be corrected.

Scarlet Hawk July 7, 2014 at 1:03 pm

FranInAtlanta, your assertions are good and your questions are even better.

Charter schools aren’t magic, nor may they be the best option for every child. My assertion is simply that they can be more flexible to change than regular public schools. They aren’t structured the same way, so have less federal regulations to adhere to and therefore have the ability to adapt faster to local jurisdictions (some do successfully, others do not). you might also be interested in knowing that the non-profit charter schools are typically the ones in our state that have better performed than the for-profit ones.

Part of school funding comes from the state (back in 2010 it was around $6,000/ student), other comes from local funding or property taxes. Also, your E-SPLOST money (local sales taxes that are devoted exclusively to education) are directly locally fed. The QBE formula to which Chris and George so astutely pointed was the movement from exclusively locally funding education to the state having a bigger part. Essentially, it’s the state filling in for the gaps that some local school districts may have. That funding is weighted by number of students, what type of students (are they Title I funded heavily? What are their testing scores? Are there a number of children with special education needs and if so, what type exactly?), and where the school is located. One size certainly can’t fit all, but people also tend to get up in arms when their tax money floats to another part of the state.

As for the disruption in the classroom…I don’t teach, never have and presumably never will, so I would be a poor source of info for that discussion.

Dr. Monica Henson July 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm

The only caveat I’d add to Scarlet Hawk’s characterization of charter schools’ flexibility is to note that there is NOTHING preventing any public school, district OR charter, from requesting flexibility and waivers of specific provisions of Title 20, O.C.G.A. Charter schools do not have special privileges that are not available to district public schools. Any public school district can go before the State Board of Education to request any of the same waivers that charter schools request in their charter applications. They simply choose not to do so, for a variety of reasons. There are some Title 20 waivers that are frequently requested by districts: class size is a notable example.

There are also certain provisions of Title 20 that are never waiveable. For instance the requirement for criminal background checks of public school employees (charter or district) is not waiveable.

pucillo.oscar July 7, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I mentioned this in a previous post made by Charlie Harper.

1. Charter schools are used to evade the fact that states with the highest performing students – (by this I mean all students, not just the public school subset) have more private schools and more students in private schools. If state – and city – governments work all the time to increase the number of people in private sector employment, why can’t the state do more to spur the growth and enrollment of private schools? As a matter of fact, the state does precisely that for private colleges and universities. Why does the government help subsidize private college education but not private K-12 education? The state even subsidizes private pre-K via Hope! Vouchers? Why not. Other methods than vouchers? Bring them on.

2. Most charter schools are little different from regular public schools. And many of the better charter schools (meaning that they actually offer a better or different education or meet a need) are not located where they are most needed. Or where they are, there is only one such school where there needs to be more. Example: the best charter high school in the state with a vocational/career emphasis is in an affluent area of Cobb County where most kids are college-bound. Example two: KIPP is nice, but often there is only one such school in a city, even in large ones. There needs to be some plan, some impetus, whether via state solicitations and even grants, to identify charter school models that A) are needed and B) actually work and recruit people or groups to start them. For example, there ought to be several Urban Prep Academy style charters in every, well, urban area (and looking at some worrying trends, in not a few suburban ones). It is a real problem: the areas that need the most charters tend to be the ones where most of the people with the expertise required to start and run charters are committed to the public school system. Meanwhile, the people most likely to start charters live in areas where they are often least needed. The Democratic candidates for school board actually represent this pretty well: pro-charter Morgan is from Cobb, anti-charter Wilson is from DeKalb. Further, some of the places most likely to start charter districts are high income/affluent. That is not going to change without state involvement.

3. The best way to gain real benefits from charter schools – especially the theme ones such as STEM charter schools – is to allow some of them to use merit-based and competitive-based admissions. No one wants to touch that issue – especially in Georgia – with a ten foot pole because of stuff like this: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/racial-gaps-remain-in-gifted-programs-ajc-analysis/ngSBq/#dd80ddab.257156.735421
However, I would argue that majority-minority areas like south Fulton, south DeKalb, east (and south) Cobb, Clayton etc. would be the ones to benefit the most from charter schools with a magnet school admissions policy.

It is easy to talk about the benefits of charter schools, but actually being willing to put the money and political muscle behind using charter schools to actually improve education – the way that it has been done in New Orleans and to a lesser extent in NYC – is the hard part. And where private education needs to be discussed, something that falls short of vouchers that can be done is to do more to solicit private and corporate donors to contribute towards getting actual new students in private schools, not the currently abused setup now where most of the money goes to kids in private school already (who only have to “enroll” in a public school and then “drop out” to get the money without even ever having attended a single class).

John Konop July 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

This is a proposal I have put forth that goes beyond charter, home, public school or private school debate. The concept would increase quality, lower drop out rate , promote work ready graduates with skills or college prep. This would also lower cost materially. It could be a cornerstone to attrack business ie stimulate economy….This has appeared in numerous newspapers……

From Patch:

Sharing Resources Will Help Meet Education Challenges

……..Sharing resources across our higher education system (colleges, universities, community colleges, and vocational schools) and our high schools will substantially answer these challenges. The goal is to create clear and cohesive vocational and college prep paths starting as soon as the ninth grade.

New vocational tracks will allow high school students to attend local vocational schools to receive marketable job training and a high school diploma. The requirements for graduation/certification should be set by the current accepted vocational/community college system. Students that pass a state-approved vocational school program earn a high school diploma, regardless of whether they have or not they have met all of the high school’s other curriculum requirements

Transferring payments between high schools and higher education schools would be straight forward, requiring only a modest expansion of Georgia’s existing college-prep joint enrollment program payment sharing framework.

We should also expand the general public’s access to higher education by letting those schools offer night classes in high school facilities. It would increase higher education enrollment by making classes more geographically convenient to attend and would slow the need for higher education schools to build more space, ultimately saving taxpayers money. Coordinating college and vocational program requirements with the chamber of commerce will help ensure that employer needs are met and would foster the creation of valuable co-op and internship opportunities…….

http://canton-ga.patch.com/groups/schools/p/resident-sharing-resources-will-help-meet-education-challenges_14668d4d

UpHere July 7, 2014 at 8:27 pm

don’t we already have most of this with Move On When Ready and Dual-Enrollment?

John Konop July 7, 2014 at 9:06 pm

The frame work is thier…not the coordination, facility sharng, requirment changrs,…..but that is why implementation would be doable….not reinventing the wheel….

Harry July 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

It’s very frustrating to read this thread, because despite all the good information and best intentions contained in the above postings, no real improvements will occur due to the educational establishment’s resistance to meaningful reform.

Scarlet Hawk July 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for taking the time to read, Harry, and for the comment.

While I agree to a certain extent, I believe it is incumbent upon the electorate to hold the Senator’s and Governor’s feet to the fire. I have more faith in angry parents than in gubernatorial candidates :).

UpHere July 7, 2014 at 7:47 pm

You should be holding GAE, PAGE and the Superintendent’s Association’s feet to the fire. They are the ones that get parents in a tizzy and do their best to misinform parents on what the General Assembly is trying to do. They do not seem to like innovation, change or a threat to their kingdoms.

When I opted into my local PTA’s newsletter, it astounded me what they were passing off as fact.

Dr. Monica Henson July 7, 2014 at 8:27 pm

UpHere is correct that there is tremendous misinformation disseminated, often using public school dollars to disseminate it, as “fact” when it comes to education reform, particular with regard to charter schools.

John Konop July 8, 2014 at 7:02 am

In fairness some of the ideas from the state have been very misguided……Kathy Cox implementation of Math 123, war on vocational education, pro NCLB over use of end of year testing, cheating scandal ….have been a disaster. I give Fran Miller and Steve Davis credit for being loud voices against the above policies….Governor Deal has been very pro vocational education…We still need to look at as I proposed coordinating facilities, administration, jobs, over use of end of year testing and education more efficiently….We could increase quality while lowering cost.

Dr. Monica Henson July 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Harry’s comment = BINGO.

Howard Roark July 7, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Stephens County in NE Georgia will probably be topping out their property tax rate.

http://www.921wlhr.com/stephens-county-boe-considers-topping-off-millage-rate/

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 10:01 am

I have been teaching high school mathematics for 10 years. When GPS first rolled out, as a precursor to Common Core, the classroom teachers knew that there would be problems.

There are huge problems. In 2013, less than 25% of freshmen passed the Coordinate Algebra EOCT – and that is after the state curved the results! In 2014, it was a similar number.

This curriculum is damning a large part of the population to mathematical illiteracy. I don’t say that lightly. The pro Common Core crowd is using the false argument of “it’s not the standards, it’s the implementation of the standards.” Bull.

It’s not difficult. My colleagues and I, as soon as we were introduced to the concept, knew it would be a failure. Why don’t the leaders listen? How many complaints of parents of smart 3rd graders who say their kid doesn’t “get” this math do you have to hear? Or, when will the fact that 80% of the incoming freshman cannot graph a linear function or even subtract integers make an impact on the educational elite?

Are there concurrent problems? Heck, yes. Quite a few that are making it worse. But the standards are a large part of the problems. For instance, how the hell do you expect students to learn triangle congruency (first unit of Geometry in High School), when they don’t know the first thing about Geometry? They don’t know the vocabulary, they don’t know the notation. A large majority of the students don’t even know what an angle is! The deafness of the educational elite, that ignore the results, seem to be complete.

Charlie July 8, 2014 at 10:05 am

You state fairly clearly in your comment that the problems you encounter pre-date Common Core, yet you blame Common Core and the pro-Common Core crowd for a curriculum that predates your frustration.

If we can’t get educators to understand or articulate the differences between standards and curriculum, then how do you expect the general public to understand this, or more importantly, isolate the real problem so that there can be a solution?

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 10:28 am

In high school mathematics, Common Core is very similar to GPS. Since GPS was a problem, Common Core continues the problem. It’s not very difficult to understand. The standards: the order, the timing, the level of depth, etc. is a mess and needs to be totally changed.

I did mention that there are concurrent problems. But before handling those, let’s get back to standards and a curriculum that makes sense.

Less than 25% pass rate, after the curve, is good enough for you? 80% of freshman not being able to graph a linear function (given to them in slope-intercept form!) is good enough? You have a heckuva challenge on your hands to defend Common Core.

Charlie July 8, 2014 at 10:34 am

The problem is you have a group holding a jihad against Common Core that don’t even know (and actually deny) that they were based on GPS. The Ligon Bill that this group wanted specifically returned us to GPS. So when you decide to throw curriculum and standards into the same breath of frustration, you need to understand the practical effects of where your efforts are headed.

You have a platform here to educate folks about Integrated Math, which is the root of your frustration. Instead, you’re tilting at wildmills of standards that if the anti-standards side wins, you’ll likely still be stuck with integrated math. You can decide your strategy, I’m just telling you that even if successful, you’re still setting yourself up for failure.

As for the number failing, probably more should fail. That’s part of increasing rigor in curriculum. Harder tests mean more people fail. Then, perhaps, more parents and educators can drop the myth that all of our children are above average.

John Konop July 8, 2014 at 10:50 am

………..That’s part of increasing rigor in curriculum. Harder tests mean more people fail. Then, perhaps, more parents and educators can drop the myth that all of our children are above average…..

A good point…that is why the focus should be on connecting aptitude based education….rigor should be focused on which track one takes……

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 11:38 am

“A good point…that is why the focus should be on connecting aptitude based education….rigor should be focused on which track one takes……”

I can agree with this.

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 10:53 am

The last paragraph, given the standards, I can agree with. This goes into the heart of the concurrent problems. Believe me, my colleagues and I do not have believe the myth you stated.

As far as, “even if successful, you’re still setting yourself up for failure,” that is a hopeless outlook. For the sake of my students and the population of this state, I’ll take the first step. It’s all I can do for now. After that step, more will follow. Eventually, things have to go my way, because the path that we are on is damaging for the the future education of society. I’m just hoping we don’t go back two steps before going forward.

Charlie July 8, 2014 at 11:03 am

Then you need to choose your arguments, and those you side with, very carefully. Because most of the energy in this debate about getting rid of Common Core, even among those with well-intentioned motives, is demanding we take two steps backward with nothing specific in mind to replace what we’re doing.

John Konop July 8, 2014 at 11:06 am

I agree….many of the anti-core proposals are worse than the issues….We should focus on fixing the issues…not scrapping the idea….

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 11:27 am

I see no effort in the pro Common Core crowd interested in fixing education. Their hearts may (again, may) be in the right place, but everything I’ve seen has been counter-productive.

My problem with the anti Common Core crowd is that they seem to be stuck on the anti-federal government (which is valid) agenda. That argument, however, pales in comparison to the educational damage (I speak primarily to the damage done to mathematical literacy) done to about 10 years of students. Every year the students come into high school knowing less. The system is failing my students, and I am fed up.

You in the pro Common Core crowd needs to at least admit there are severe problems. Give me some hope that you aren’t willing to damn another decade of students to mathematical illiteracy. As of now, it seems you are willing for this to happen.

Charlie July 8, 2014 at 11:38 am

I’m admitting to problems. What you’re failing to realize is that you aren’t articulating what the problems are with respect to the policy changes you want made. By lopping about 5 different and unique problems together in your exasperation, you’re then leaving yourself open to getting a solution you’re not asking for, nor do you want.

You don’t expect politicians to have the expertise of an educator, but you can’t seem to grasp that demonstrating your anger and frustration doesn’t give the politicians and those that influence them the information needed to get to the end goal you want.

And with that, I shall leave you to your frustration.

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm

“You don’t expect politicians to have the expertise of an educator, but you can’t seem to grasp that demonstrating your anger and frustration doesn’t give the politicians and those that influence them the information needed to get to the end goal you want.”

I’m more than willing to sit down and discuss the problems. Did you expect me to detail all the problems I see? I’m attempting to start the process and you want to walk away? After 2 hours? I’ve tried to concentrate on 1 problem – the standards, as currently issued, are damning our students to mathematical illiteracy. Again, I don’t make that statement lightly. And, I’ve supported my statement with the state’s own test results.

“I’m admitting to problems.” I have not noticed. What are the problems that you see with the current system?

Continue to the dialogue, please. I’m not a politician and I don’t know the ways of politics. However, you seem to be dismissing the very person who sees the effects of what the politicians have done.

What do you want to hear from me? How to change the standards? What to go back to (Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, etc.)? What structural changes need to be made (there is no good way to handle failure in elementary and middle school – the students learn that they don’t have to learn to pass)? What philosophical problems need to be changed (currently the thought is that if the teacher is good, the students will pass)? How do best close the achievement gap? Other issues?

That’s a lot to deal with, first, let’s get standards and a curriculum that works.

beenthere July 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm

HLbart, I think what Charlie is saying, at least what I am saying to you is, when you make statements like “first, let’s get standards and a curriculum that works” you are unnecessarily muddying the waters for the vast majority of the public that doesn’t understand the difference between the two. I get that the entire situation is frustrating to you as an educator, but I don’t follow from your comments above that you know the difference between the two, either. Math courses 1,2,3/kids being told to start Geometry without knowing what an angle is/etc….NONE of that has anything to do with Common Core – you can disagree with the standards CC sets and/or you can think the curriculum implemented to achieve said standards is ineffective, but the point is that railing against CC doesn’t solve that problem, actually creates more problems in the vacuum left behind, and leaves Georgia kids trailing the rest of the country, again.

Social media is full of pretty incoherent rants from teachers (this is a great example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-greene/the-hardest-part-teaching_b_5554448.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063) and as a 100% supportive parent who was educated in public schools with 2 kids in public schools right now, to taxpayers all the feely feelings comes across as garbled at best and martyrdom at worst (as in the above piece from HP – you’re being told to do more with less? You don’t have enough resources to get the job done but still have to produce the same results? Welcome to everyone else’s job too? We get it, we all live it) PLEASE stop just saying NO NO NO NO all the time and start helping parents and taxpayers understand the SPECIFICS.

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 4:45 pm

“Math courses 1,2,3/kids being told to start Geometry without knowing what an angle is/etc….NONE of that has anything to do with Common Core”

That has everything to do with Common Core. Looking at the CCGPS Coordinate Algebra Standards (I didn’t teach it last semester and it looks like it has changed, yet again!).

https://picasso.cobbk12.org/Course2/Edit/71fc0c42-ab12-447b-be1c-50c68a8c024a

The first Geometry unit in the Coordinate Algebra (9th grade math) has the following standards (these are only part of the standards!):

Experiment with transformations in the plane
Performance Standard: MCC9-12.G.CO.1
Know precise definitions of angle, circle, perpendicular line, parallel line, and line segment, based on the undefined notions of point, line, distance along a line, and distance around a circular arc.
Performance Standard: MCC9-12.G.CO.2
Represent transformations in the plane using, e.g., transparencies and geometry software; describe transformations as functions that take points in the plane as inputs and give other points as outputs. Compare transformations that preserve distance and angle to those that do not (e.g., translation versus horizontal stretch).
Performance Standard: MCC9-12.G.CO.3
Given a rectangle, parallelogram, trapezoid, or regular polygon, describe the rotations and reflections that carry it onto itself.
Performance Standard: MCC9-12.G.CO.4
Develop definitions of rotations, reflections, and translations in terms of angles, circles, perpendicular lines, parallel lines, and line segments.
Performance Standard: MCC9-12.G.CO.5
Given a geometric figure and a rotation, reflection, or translation, draw the transformed figure using, e.g., graph paper, tracing paper, or geometry software. Specify a sequence of transformations that will carry a given figure onto another.

Oh, goodness. I’ve just spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to reasonably explain the problems with this. It would take too long. Better in person if you care to have a two hour chat (I’m willing)!

Different tack: Just look at the entire standards for the course. Let’s just say that you can expose the students to all these standards and master a few or you can actually teach the students so they can master the basics building blocks and never get to some of them. The end result of the first way is poor retention, low mastery, and grades that reflect short term retention rather than mastered learning.

The students struggle through the first two units – just solving equations. Unit 3 then hits them with exponential functions. Nice. Unit 4 topics are now being updated (changing the course again).

Finally, let me address this false argument of, “it’s not the standards, it’s the implementation of the standards.” What a crock of [........]. This is just a line of reasoning to throw “blame” onto someone else. Any time a failure shows up, this line is used. It’s not the implementation, it’s asking the average student to perform things way over their heads at a pace that is too fast.

hlbart July 8, 2014 at 5:15 pm

My solution:
1) Go back to Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, etc., so the math is coherent and makes sense. Work within these courses to increase rigor (which is\was a legitimate concern). Split Algebra into two classes for those who need it.
2) Continue to offer basic math classes like Money Management – make sure the concepts prepare students for the work place.
3) Increase vocational training.
4) Allow failure in elementary and middle schools and don’t judge a teacher by their failure rate. By not allowing failure the incoming freshmen have learned that they don’t have to learn the material to pass. Consequently, many, many students are several years behind in their math ability when the get to high school.

While I’m at it:
Elementary school: Focus on reading, math, and foreign language. Expose them to history, science, etc., not through formal classes but through their reading classes. No students move to middle school without being able to read at a decent level and understand basic math (includes fractions and decimals). All students should be bi-lingual as well.

Way too much to deal with – let’s get back to common core. Supporters, I have a question. What do you see as the problem and how do you address it?

John Konop July 8, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I wrote numerous articles about math 123….and the issues….I agree with what you wrote. But it still does not deal with the overwhelming amount of unneeded expensive end of year testing…a lot of it could be replaced with testing in place which is a better indicator… ie why does a AP student who takes end of year subject test need a CC test….Jr high kids taking high school credit classes and end of year credit test….Joint enrollment kids…. vo-tech and or 4 year college track….it would eliminate testing cost as well as administrative overhead.

We could exempt gym classes for high level travel sports students…..and they could take more classes and get ahead or eliminate cost.

We could cross utilize facilities, faculties and management between high schools and colleges… and consolidate high school and college oversight into one state agency not 2.

We could eliminate non core requirements for vo-tech students. Do you really care if your mechanic reads Shakespeare?

We could create more flexibility with classes vie online for home school students, students working…..and allow them to take some classes in school as well.

I could go on and on…

BTW Math 123 years ago….

http://www.peachpundit.com/2011/02/21/math-123-failed-policy-masquerading-as-progress/

hlbart July 9, 2014 at 9:18 am

I liked your Math123 editorial. Thanks!

Dave Bearse July 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm

I think school district size is a significant consideration in comparing Georgia urban and rural school district outcomes. Georgia’s largest metro Atlanta school districts are among the largest in nation. It’s rural districts the smallest.

Consider Cobb County with 100,000+ pupils and ~130 schools, and Taliaferro County with 225 K-12 pupils. Cobb’s average school size is three times the entire Taliaferro District total enrollment.

Lack of economy of scale and specialization hobbles small rural districts—imagine the loss of efficiency in a Cobb County carved into dozens of school districts. Not to disparage Taliaferro County school administrators and support staff, but is unlikely jack-of-all trades staff has the specialized knowledge and skills, and work efficiency of larger district counterparts.

Consider that the Taliaferro Schools Transportation Director (administrator) is also the School Bus Driver Supervisor (personnel manager), Shop/garage Manager (mechanic and materials manager and supervisor), and may also be a driver and/or mechanic. The Taliaferro Schools IT department may well be one person that also serves as facility supervisor and building custodian.

I think small rural districts would be better served by consolidating into larger districts—not necessarily advocating that individual schools be consolidated into larger schools. Larger school districts much better support specialized staff, including teaching staff, that are available to all schools. A district that stands to purchase a half dozen buses at a time, instead of one, is likely to negotiate a lower price per bus while simultaneously incurring less administrative expense per bus in making that decision and making the purchase, e.g. the decision making and purchase process requires say twice as much effort for six times as many buses.

(I advocate consolidation of small rural counties for the same economy of scale and specialization reasons.)

John Konop July 9, 2014 at 2:18 am

I agree….but if they also s ale into colleges and vo tech via cross utilization they would see material savings….also enhanced use of online education would be a major way to increase offerings and lower cost….

Dave Bearse July 9, 2014 at 10:13 am

More intensive use of existing educational facilities reduces capital and unit maintenance costs, proverbial free money. It would be ridiculous to construct a highway system to accommodate peak demand, yet we seem much more accommodating of doing so as regards educational facilities.

Mensa Dropout July 9, 2014 at 7:50 am

QBE is a mathematical labyrinth that no one without at masters in finance can understand. Not sure even those folks could explain it; however, it’s what we have, and when the governor went out and sought a different funding model, he came back with the fact that those models would cost more money. DOH!

Florida has an easy to read model, where the money follows the children. True school choice. True, public school choice, at that. I suggest we look to the Floridians.

There are a couple of practical issues that Georgia can implement that will help Georgia’s students without costing taxpayers a dime, but our candidates are not being practical; they are making it seem as if they can singlehandedly make education in Georgia all sunshine and fairy dust. They can’t.

If education is truly going to change in Georgia, folks need to put down their own issues with Mrs. Crabtree in 4th grade berating them for missing 4×4, and start working together for the children of Georgia. I know, I know. Mrs. Crabtree still haunts me.

The State Standards are fine. I would even say that they are good. The sequence in which we teach those standards is lacking, which is why the math people are all worked up. As an English person, I think teaching theme to a first grader is misguided (Theme is NOT moral, my friends), so I would suggest that we save that until later when kids know what moral is.

Standards are what we want kids to know.
Curriculum is what we teach the kids to reach the standards.
Instruction is how we teach the curriculum so that the students can reach the standards in a timely and effective way.

Dave Bearse July 9, 2014 at 10:16 am

A touch of what may be perceived as berating, in the proper manner and at the proper time, may be useful. An all carrot approach isn’t the best if resources are constrained.

Harry July 9, 2014 at 10:24 am

Do we not need more than one set of standards?

hlbart July 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

Yes, yes, we do. The fact that Common Core thinks all students are all rocket scientists or engineers is a problem.