Atlanta Charter Schools

Atlanta: Don’t Blame the Parents, Fix the System

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Edward Johnson, a Deming adherent who believes in system reform, challenges the policymakers in Atlanta: stop blaming the parents, stop tinkering, stop the disruption: instead, fix the system.

Johnson writes:

Georgia administered its standardized tests, the Criterion-referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), from spring, 1999, though spring, 2014, to elementary and middle school children. At just about every year along the way, APS leadership could have taken CRCT results as an assessment of the district as a system. Had they done that, then maybe APS leadership would have realized long ago that entering first graders were always ready for APS but APS was always not ready for the entering first graders, with respect to the district having the capability to sustain, let alone the capability to advance, the first graders’ learning competencies.

CRCT results showed time and again that APS lacks the capability to sustain students’ learning competencies beyond first grade, relative to the state. APS first grade as a system generally performed better than the state. (Note: systems perform, children learn.) Absent interpreting CRCT results as systemic assessment, APS leadership and many others make the leap to “supposing” the problem is “out there” with the parents of the children that lack early childhood education. Consequently, APS leadership continues to harry certain parents of young children to step up to the plate when those very parents are already at the plate. APS just can’t see that they are, in spite of their data-driven decision making. CRCT results held the opportunity for APS leadership to see, and to use, the results as assessment of the district as a system and not of the children and not of their parents and not of the teachers. CRCT results showed year after year that first graders were ready for APS but APS was not ready for first graders. And in that situation was a higher leverage point from which to move toward improving APS as a system.

But having missed that opportunity, we now have APS leadership that thinks turning the district into a Charter System will do the trick. It will not. It will not simply because turning APS into a Charter System epitomizes the very meaning of failure to understand what a system is. Worse, the whole school-reform and charter school garb clocking efforts to privatize public education epitomizes the “blame game” institutionalized especially in so-called urban districts, where ultimately great social harm will emerge because of it. Turning APS into a Charter System is a lower leverage point that can only aim for change — disruptive change, at that — but not improvement. Change inherently is nonaligned, but improvement inherently is aligned.

The kind of reductive, failure to understand what a system is thinking that has decided to turn APS into a Charter System is the very same kind of reductive thinking that has decided that Georgia needs a statewide “Opportunity School District” (OSD) like that of New Orleans’ post-Katrina Recovery School District (RSD).

And it is the kind of reductive thinking that, on the one hand, sees no contradiction in striving to “offer better opportunities for ‘historically underserved’ children” and, on the other hand, subjecting those children to a computer-adaptive assessment system that “allows students and teachers to better predict performance on high stakes tests.” Why would APS leadership want to do that, but for mistakenly believing doing so embodies normal ethics and mores? “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole” (Mahatma Gandhi).

APS leadership has yet to realize, let alone to understand, that the problem is “in here, with us” and not “out there,” with the parents. So, please APS, enough with the harrying of parents of children supposedly lacking early childhood education. It’s the children’s job to harry their parents, not yours.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 | [email protected]

“There is no difference in culture between the things that actually count.”
–W. Edwards Deming

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