Posts Tagged ‘Muscogee County School District’

And YES it is!

March 18, 2015

I told Muscogeee County School District Superintendent Dr. David Lewis after today’s Rotary Club of Columbus meeting, “You did it!” He smiled and said, “We did it.” 

He’s right, and I’m proud  of Columbus’ once again showing it supports its children and public education by approving the latest SPLOST.

And to those who voted “no,” I know that doesn’t mean you don’t support our children and their teachers. I hope you’ll accept that the majority has spoken. Now let’s pull together to make our school district as good as it can be.

 

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WRBL News Investigates MCSD “No-bid Deal”

November 22, 2013

WRBL’s 11 p.m. News did not lead with a predictable list of wrecks, fires, and crimes last night. It led with a solid piece of investigative journalism, something that I am afraid gets little attention by a lot of local stations, not just in Columbus, but around the country.

Sydney Cameron’s digging paid off with a very informative report, “The No-bid Deal.”  It was a look at the controversial Muscogee County School Board’s practice of not using the bidding process in hiring a law firm.

It was a well-balanced report, giving time to both sides of the controversy.  To me, it is a very important controversy, because it involves the issues of  the way our tax dollars are being spent and transparency in government.

Last night’s report is one of the best investigative reports I have seen on local TV in a long time.  And it’s not over. More reports on this issue are promised.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this series win some broadcast journalism awards.

More on the Classroom Digital Revolution

October 26, 2011

CONNIE USSERY, RETIRED MUSCOGEE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT MEDIA SPECIALIST,  WHO NOW TEACHES CARVER HIGH TEACHERS TWO DAYS A WEEK HOW TO TEACH WITH ELECTRONIC MEDIA, SENT THIS CLARIFICATION OF THE PREVIOUS POST ON HER TALK LAST SUNDAY TO COLUMBUS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS.    

As far as I know, all core teachers at Carver utilize netbooks in instruction and I think most of the electives teachers do, when
appropriate, because tech support folks are bombarded when any networking problems arise. The students have to have their netbooks up and working during the school day and they make sure we keep them online. Teachers make sure their students bring them to class.  Paper textbooks will always be useful for classroom teachers as supplementary materials and especially for some types of special needs students.  Elective courses may rely on paper texts for a lot longer than core teachers because those courses are often taught using a variety of print and digital resources anyway.  I still think there are some teachers around the district who are “holdouts’ who prefer print textbooks, but I can’t imagine that they don’t utilize digital resources and software for projects.

Also, the researchers who talk about the differences in brain development among digital native children don’t make it sound like a bad thing: it’s just something that we teachers have to understand. Our students are as casual with technology as we used to be with doll houses and match box cars.  Their “learning curve” is way ahead of ours.

I hope I wasn’t too misleading during the Q & A yesterday.  I probably shouldn’t have tried to talk much about this since my talk was mainly about resources for UU, but I get excited and I find I have to reassure the people who aren’t comfortable with computer-based learning and project development, as some of the questions from parents and instructors indicated.

It’s very exciting seeing the teachers and the students working so hard to bring Carver into the 21st Century in instruction and in
facilities.The new building opens next fall and it’s going to be a showcase for technology and learning.

Article Tells How MCSD is Meeting the Poverty Challenge

September 7, 2011

I thought I’d let you know about an article I just wrote for Columbus and the  Valley magazine that shows how the Muscogee County School District is combatting the school poverty crisis.  It’s called “The Columbus School Poverty Challenge.” The challenge is very real and very large.  When 65 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunches, and 61 percent of the schools have poverty rates of 50 percent or more, the school system faces an enormous challenge in improving student achievement. Studies show that, overall,  poverty-class students do not perform as well in school as middle-class students.  

The system does have a plan in operation, and it relies heavily on the aHa! Process Inc. approach. That program is run by its founder Ruby Payne, who wrote the million-seller book A Framework for Understanding Poverty.  That book was supplied to MCSD teachers and administrators.

In the article retired high school teacher and media specialist Connie Ussery gives us a first-hand look at what it is like for a middle-class teacher to connect with poverty-class children.  And she realized very quickly that if she didn’t connect with  them she would get nowhere. 

I hope you’ll get hold of a copy of the magazine and check this out, because it deals with a very basic crisis that our city, state, and country is facing, and how some educators are coping with this challenge.

MCSD Superintendent Andrews and Board Chair Cathy Williams Anwser “”Among the Worst” Tag

July 27, 2011

 Here is a letter released by the Muscogee County School District Communications Department combatting the description that the district is “among the worst” Georgia school systems.

The headlines in last week’s paper announced that Muscogee County Schools were “among the worst.” On behalf of the district’s educators, I must respond.

Under No Child Left Behind, states must set annual goals for schools to meet. The students in each school are then divided into subgroups: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and economically disadvantaged. Each subgroup must meet the goal in order for the school to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). If one subgroup of students fails to meet the goal, the whole school fails to make AYP. The overall goal is for all schools to have 100% of their students meet standards by 2014.

The Preliminary Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data is clear. The percentage of schools in the Muscogee County School District which met the new AYP goals on the preliminary report is in line with those Districts having the lowest percentage of their schools meeting the goals. We know that several more of our schools will make AYP on the final determination. Some of them missed the goal by fewer than ten students on a single indicator and, after retests are considered and appeals have been determined, more of our schools will make AYP.

Unless you live in this world of AYP with us, you cannot imagine the heartbreak when teachers literally have counted students all year as they have met their formative goals and have mastered standards, only to find that on the test, their school missed the goal by a single student, in a single subgroup. Principals face huge disappointment upon finding out that they needed three more of the students who began ninth grade four years ago to have graduated this year, causing their school to miss the graduation rate goal by less than one percent. A perfect example of this is at Muscogee Elementary School. Muscogee Elementary would have made AYP by reducing the number of students who did not pass the math test by 0.23 percent. That is fewer than one student.

Since there is not enough space here to go through every school and discuss their scores, I want to focus on the data of a few from all over the district which did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in the preliminary determination.

At Midland Middle, 86.8 percent of all students met the standard in math; 93.2 percent of all students met the standard in English/Language Arts. This is not among the worst.

At North Columbus Elementary, 81.9 percent of all students met the standard in math; 93.2 percent of all students met the standard in English/Language Arts. This is not among the worst.

Shaw High School met the bar in percentage of students meeting the standard in math and 92 percent of all students met the standard in English/Language Arts. With laser focus, the teachers and students worked on this goal. This resulted in Shaw making AYP in Academic Achievement but missed AYP on Graduation Rate by 3.5 percent. That is not among the worst.

Veterans Memorial Middle School had 82.9 percent of all students meeting the goal in math; 94.2 percent in English/Language Arts. That is not among the worst.

Fort Middle School had 88.5 percent of all students meeting the standard in English/Language Arts. That is not among the worst.

Gentian Elementary had 89.8 percent of students meeting the goal in English/Language Arts. That is not among the worst.

Carver High School met the standard in math and had 84.8 percent of all students meeting the standard in English/Language Arts, missing AYP by one subgroup. This is not among the worst.

In our twelve middle schools, let’s review the scores. In sixth grade: nine schools increased percentage of students meeting standards in reading; six schools increased in science; eight schools increased in social studies. In seventh grade, nine out of the twelve schools increased scores in reading; five increased in language arts; nine increased in math; ten increased in science; and nine increased in social studies. In eighth grade, eight out of twelve schools increased in reading; five increased in language arts; eleven increased in math; six increased in science and five increased in social studies. Is this not adequate progress?

Spencer High School has gone from having only 50 percent of the students meeting the standards in math in 2009 to 69.7 ercent meeting the standards this year. Is that not adequate progress?

The graduation rate for students in the Muscogee County School District continues to improve. Last year we had 82.2 percent; this year we have 83.6 percent. The state average for this year is 79.5 percent. Is this not adequate progress?

Are there some schools in our district which need intensive care and improvement? Yes.

Do we have to review the data with renewed intensity and an increased sense of urgency? Yes.

Do we need to expand our efforts to assist students with disabilities in order to improve their academic achievement? Yes.

Do we have some schools which score significantly higher than others and we need to focus on replicating those promising practices throughout the district? Yes.

We accept that we have much work to do; we accept that our AYP determination at this point puts us in poor company. We accept that we have some great challenges. We do not accept that we are “among the worst.”

We know how important public education is to this community, to this State, and to this Nation. We do not take that obligation lightly. We will face the brutal facts, we will rework our plans for moving forward, and we will continue to make progress. The community should continue to hold us accountable for the work that we do.

In closing, I must ask one more question. Do we have many schools in the Muscogee County School District that are “among the best?” The answer to that question is a resounding YES!

School begins on August 8. We invite you to visit a public school in Muscogee County. You will be pleased with what you see.

Sincerely,

Susan C. Andrews, Ed.D.,Superintendent of Education

 Cathy Williams, Chair and Member at Large,  Muscogee County Board of Education

The Education Solution: Teacher Evaluation

March 6, 2011

OPTIONAL PAY FOR PERFORMANCE IS COMING

 

Northside High School classroom

  Ginger Starling used phrases like “value added,” or “teacher bonuses,” but finally agreed she was talking about a form of “pay for performance,” a term that a lot of teachers want nothing to do with.  Starling is the Muscogee County School District’s Race to the Top Grant Administrator. She and MCSD Superintendent Susan Andrews are on the state committee that is devising a new teacher evaluation program, which Georgia must have to get the  $400 million  supplied by the federal program. Muscogee County School District, which is one of the 26 Georgia districts participating in the program, is getting $11 million. It is keeping $4 million of that in reserve to pay bonuses in the fourth year of the program. To give those bonuses it must be determined which teachers are performing well enough to get them.

 Many teachers are not interested in getting paid bonuses connected to evaluation results.  They like things the way they are.  They like getting raises for seniority and obtaining advanced degrees.  So a lot of them are fighting the evaluation idea.

One of the people they have to fight is arguably the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who is now dedicating a lot of his life to education reform.  In a Washington Post op-ed he said,  “After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.

“Another standard feature of school budgets is a bump in pay for advanced degrees. Such raises have almost no impact on achievement, but every year they cost $15 billion that would help students more if spent in other ways.”

He is also for larger class sizes, saying that surveyed teachers have said they are willing to teach larger classes for more money.   While there is no evidence that I know of that supports the idea that smaller classes get better results, many educators scoff at the idea that larger classes are just as effective. 

 The Georgia Board of Education has already dropped class size limits for budgetary reasons, but no one has said that teachers will be paid more for the increase in students.

 As far as the new evaluation procedure is concerned, former Richards Middle School teacher Judson Patten asks, “How do you compare a math teacher to an English teacher or a geography teacher to a science teacher? They all have education degrees and they all have 4, 5, 6, 7 years of college degrees. That’s why a state-wide salary schedule was created. Pay for performance is NOT the way to go.”
 
But, it is the way it’s going for a lot of states, including Georgia.

 Neither Superintendent Susan Andrews nor Grant Administrator Ginger Starling has a problem with having a new evaluation system.  Both agree that the one used now is weak. They tell me that fifty percent of the teacher’s score is expected to be based be on student achievement based on test results.  The other fifty percent will be made up of a number of factors, perhaps including student and parental input, plus classroom observations.  Whereas only one observation is required now, there will a lot of them in the future.

What about the comparisons that Judson referred to, things like comparing a science teacher to a math teacher,  or a teacher whose class is made up of affluent kids with one made up of children who in live poverty?  Starling admitted, “It is very complicated.”  She said, however,  those problems are not being ignored and ways to be fair are being studied.
 
None of this is set in stone. It’s a work in progress.  I couldn’t get an answer on when it goes into effect.  But, it will have to be ready three years from now because that’s when the district will start paying $4 million in bonuses to teachers who qualify. 
 
To be considered for a bonus a teacher will have to agree to participate in the bonus program.  What happens if they don’t?  They can’t get a bonus.  They can, however, continue to teach.   However, they will be evaluated under the new system whether they opt for a bonus or not.  .

 My evidence is anecdotal, but I have yet to run into a classroom teacher or retired classroom teacher who buys into pay for performance. Still, when one of the richest men in the world calls for pay for performance for teachers a lot of people are going to listen. 

In the Washington Post Op-ed he also wrote, “We know that of all the variables under a school’s control, the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching. It is astonishing what great teachers can do for their students.
 
‘Yet compared with the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop and reward excellent teaching. We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training.”
 
Changing an established order is never easy. However, anyone who doesn’t realize that America’s education system needs upgrading in order for the country to remain economically competitive globally, is, in my view, in a state of colossal denial.
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Education Solution: Is it Really the Teacher’s Fault?

February 21, 2011

IS IT REALLY FAIR TO COMPARE OUTCOMES FOR A TEACHER IN A CLASS FULL OF KIDS WHO LIVE IN POVERTY TO A TEACHER WHO HAS A CLASSROOM FULL OF AFFLUENT KIDS?

 
 
 

While taking pictures at North Columbus Elementary, a school with mostly middle-class kids that are not at the poverty level, I noticed that it had something else in common with the world's highest ranked school system, Finland, a relaxed atmosphere. And the students perform well in 4th grade reading, with 92% passing the state's standardized reading test, which is higher than both the state average of 87%, and the MCSD average of 82 %. It scores lower in math, with a 74% passing rate, which ties with the state average. South Columbus Elementary School, which has a high percentage of children who live in poverty, has a 4th grade reading passing rate of 55%, and a 4th grade math passing rate of 33%.

 

A lot of my teacher friends are getting hot and bothered by teachers being blamed for the country’s allegedly poor education performance.  I use the word “allegedly” because some claim the rankings are unfair. 

For instance, they say it is unfair to compare the Finland system, which is ranked number one in the world at this time, with ours because Finland doesn’t have a diverse population, few students are not native speakers.  And Finland has almost no children living in poverty. 

Not only does the United States have great diversity, it also has the highest poverty level of any of the world’s rich nations.  If it is agreed that Mexico is a rich country, it would edge out the United States for number one.  

According to a UNICEF study, the child poverty rate in Finland in 2005 was 2.8 percent. The United States child poverty rate is 21.9 percent. And, yes indeed, a child raised in poverty is far more likely to perform poorly than one raised in affluence.

Now, if you live in a place like my home town, Columbus, Georgia, the poverty problem is much larger than the national average.  This is often true in urban areas. Overall, schools in suburban districts  score better on standardized tests.

In the Muscogee County School District sixty-five percent of the students come from families who live in poverty, based on how many qualify for free and reduce-priced lunches.  The rate in some schools goes as high as 95 percent. I asked Muscogee County School District Superintendent Susan Andrews to explain the extent of the poverty problem and how the MCSD is coping with it.  This is what she told me.

“Sixty-five percent of our students receive free and/or reduced price lunch.  Many other children are on the borderline of this poverty line.  Generational poverty is a persistent problem and a formidable foe.  In order to work on the issue and ensure that children who live in poverty receive a quality education, we begin by serving as many students as the State will provide us slots in the prekindergarten program and by partnering with programs such as Head Start.  Early childhood education is a key in developing children’s vocabulary at an early age.  Children who live in poverty have significantly smaller vocabularies than students from middle class families.  The gap in achievement between students from poverty and other students is present when students enter our doors.  Schools with high levels of poverty are provided more support in the form of personnel (family service coordinators, more assistant principals, more academic coaches) than schools without a high level of poverty.  The purpose of the federal ESEA is to provide funding for additional support for schools with high poverty so these schools (we refer to them as Title I eligible schools) receive additional funds for supplies, equipment, and professional development.  This funding cannot supplant other local and state funding but must supplement the local and state funding.

“Our Partners in Education program, as well as other community involvement projects, assist our students who live in poverty to have the opportunities and mentoring they need.  Columbus Scholars is another program designed to reach out to students who need additional support.” 

But, you may say, there are children who start out in poverty, but do quite well,  ending up with college educations, thanks to the work of excellent, dedicated, caring teachers. I believe that is true.  But, there are those who say reports about that can be misleading. We’ll look at that in a future post in our The Education Solution  series.

If you would like to find out how a school performs anywhere in the United States,  just click on this link to NBC’s Education Nation Scorecard.   

The Education Solution: Charter Schools are Not the Magic Bullet

February 14, 2011

Despite the hue and cry for more local control to make establishing charter schools easier, there is also the admonition that they are not the solution to the education crisis.  The idea of allowing schools to be partially exempt from school board control so they can be innovative in improving instruction and student achievement outcomes is getting a lot of coin these days.  But, a study by Stanford University has found that charter schools are not better overall than traditional schools.

Based on the CREDO study, Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States

  According to Wikipedia the research showed  that 17% of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46% showed no difference from public schools; and 37% were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts.  This based 70 percent of demographically matched charter schools in the United States.

Still, there are those who want more charter schools, and more magnate schools. Former Muscogee County School District board member Fife Whiteside has this to say about it:

Fife Whiteside

  “The school district has only two dedicated magnets, where all the children are there by choice, of the sort described in Waiting. [He is referring to the documentary Waiting for Superman.] These are Columbus High and Britt David. Both are extraordinarily successful and have traditionally had twice, or more, as many applications as seats. When I was on the school board I periodically reviewed school costs for these schools and they were never more expensive than others.

“Why not have more such schools, particularly a dedicated magnet middle school? The reason most often articulated, when I asked that question, was that it would be unfair to other schools, to take away the “other school’s good students.” The fear was that taking away the good students would hurt test scores in the other schools and make them look bad. I thought the parents owned the child not the school. The school is the resource for the benefit of the child and not the child the resource for the benefit of the school. The question should be what is best for the child, not for the staff of the school.

“Three other examples come to mind as well.

“The school district, with one exception, has always resisted charter school applications, sometimes at great expense. The publically articulated reason was that the charter proponents could not be trusted, had bad ideas, would fail, etc. Hard to understand in view of the performance in some of our regular schools. But the real reason is that the charter schools would pull students out of regular schools and pull away the state FTE earned money, I believe over $5000 per child, which is a loss to the school district. It is about keeping money to protect positions and salaries.”

Magnate and charter schools also bring up in the issue of two-track schools, an upper track for the better performing students and a lower track for the rest. Is that a good idea? Is it fair? We’ll look at that in a future Education Solution report.

 

The Education Solution: Are More Local Control and Charter Schools Really Better?

February 7, 2011

Sen. Josh McKoon, (Rep) Georgia 29th District

There is a hue and cry by some for more “local control” in Georgia’s public school system.  Newly elected Georgia 29th District Senator Josh McKoon tells me he is going to introduce a bill to provide more local control.

In an email he said, “First and foremost is to make it easier for local school districts to elect charter system status. This status allows local school districts to reassert control over their district and frees them from one size fits all state mandates. Every education success story I’ve read about involves heightened local control. So I intend to propose legislation that will allow local boards of education to elect charter system status provided they are meeting or exceeding the state average on the CRCT test.”

There is already a law on the books that addresses charter schools, according to Muscogee County School District Superintendent Susan Andrews.  There is a big problem with it for Columbus, she says, because it rules out admission requirements for any school.  She emailed this to me: “By 2014 local school districts must decide to operate under what is described in Georgia Law as IE2 (I,E squared) or become a Charter System.  If systems decide not to select one of these umbrellas under which to operate the Board of Education and Superintendent must sign an affidavit that they will accept the “Status Quo.” Of course, who wants to do that with the negative connotations that brings with it? To operate as an IE2 district, the school district must develop a Strategic Plan which outlines the student achievement improvements which will be made in exchange for flexibility or exemption from State Board rules and/or State laws.  The district in its plan can request the specific rules and/or laws from which it wants to be exempt. 

“To become a charter system, all schools in the district operate under a district charter but there can be no admission requirements for any school in the district.  Currently, we have admission requirements for Columbus High, Britt David Elementary, Hardaway’s, Richards’, and Clubview’s International Baccalaureate Programs, Arnold’s Magnet Program.  Unless we are willing to dismantle those programs, we would not be eligible for Charter System Status. 

“I believe IE2 offers the most flexibility and that is the one we will most likely pursue.” 

Josh tells me that IE2 allows local school boards to apply for charter status.  He promises to give me a fuller  explanation. When he does, I’ll pass it along.  He also has some other interesting plans for public education in Georgia.  More on that, too, later.

Some think the charter school concept is the magic bullet in making schools better. Some think they are overrated.  I’ll deal more with that in my next  The Education Solution series.

The Education Solution: NCLB and Race to the Top

January 31, 2011

International ranking of the world’s education systems has the United States lagging behind other developed nations.  When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, President Eisenhower called for a crusade to improve American schools in math and science.  It worked. But it didn’t last. Now, other developed nation’s better school systems are threatening America’s place in global economies.

  So a new crusade is underway. President Bush started it with No Child Left Behind. President Obama is continuing it with Race to the Top.  I asked Dr. Susan Andrews, Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District, to explain how those two programs affect the District.   

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)is the generic name of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  (Note:  President Bush began calling this law NCLB and the name stuck.  President Obama and his administration want to get away from calling it NCLB and therefore, you will see it referred to by its appropriate name ESEA by the current  administration.) 

MCSD Superintedent Susan Andrews

   

 

This federal law is past due for reauthorization and we are hoping that the new Congress will address the fundamental flaws in the current NCLB act.  The positive about NCLB is that the mandates have forced school districts to look at the performance of subgroups of children by ethnicity, socioeconomic levels, and to look at the performance of students with disabilities.  In the past, districts could look at their average achievement levels and feel good about how students were achieving.  When you look at subgroups of children, however, you see that many children in public schools in America are performing well, but there is a great disparity in the achievement of white students and students of color and there is an even greater disparity when you look at middle class students (regardless of ethnicity) and economically disadvantaged students.  This has increased our awareness and our efforts to teach all children with increased rigor in order to close these gaps.

The negatives of NCLB are in the requirements in regard to students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners (ELL).  NCLB is in direct conflict with another federal law, IDEA, which requires an individual education plan with individual goals for each student with a disability.  NCLB sets an academic bar for students with disabilities at each grade level that schools must obtain without regard to the individual disabilities of the student and requires the SWD students (except the most severely disabled) to take standardized tests on their age appropriate grade level regardless of their functioning level.  For example, a student with a disability who is ten years old and functions on a third grade level must take the fifth grade test because he is assigned to that grade.  His IEP, however, states that he is learning third grade objectives and is delayed due to his disability.  Educators around the nation are hoping that these issues will be addressed in the reauthorization and base school progress on the growth of students from year to year and not on whether or not students meet an artificially set standard.  Students who are ELL must take the test in English even when they are not yet proficient in the language.

In my next report, Dr. Andrews explains what Race to the Top will do for the Muscogee County School District.