Georgia’s failing schools: The worst of the worst

Credit: Drew Hurst/SCAD-Atlanta

Credit: Drew Hurst/SCAD-Atlanta

A quick skim of the list of failing schools that would be eligible for state takeover under Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment will make you think you’re seeing double, or even triple.

Cedar Grove and Cedar Grove. Dooly County and Dooly County. Macon County, Macon County and Macon County. Glenn Hills, Glenn Hills and Glenn Hills.

But these are neither optical illusions nor typos. They represent elementary, middle and/or high schools of the same name in the same district, none of which managed to score 60 out of 110 in the state’s rating system even once in the past three years.

By my count, there are 25 elementary schools in Georgia that not only are themselves failing, but which feed students into failing middle schools and then into failing high schools as well. A kindergartner in one of those schools this year is, on the current trajectory, staring at 12 more years of attending failing schools — if he doesn’t become yet another of these schools’ dropouts, which of course is part of the problem.

All told, these examples of uninterrupted k-12 failure account for 48 of the 141 schools on the list. Dozens more schools, rising to well over half of the total, are in feeder patterns where kids will attend at least two failing schools.

But what we might call the total-failure feeder patterns are the most galling. Some of them represent the only public schools open in four poor, rural counties: Macon, Randolph, Talbot and Taliaferro. The others are located in one of five systems: Atlanta plus Bibb, DeKalb, Dougherty and Richmond counties.

The failed feeder patterns in those five systems are where we might expect Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District to begin its work. They serve lots of kids, they have been in bad shape for a long time, and each one represents a relatively tight geographic area.

So I took a closer look at those five districts, in light of two common excuses offered to justify their failure: poverty levels and funding amounts.

It’s true, all five serve poor populations. The share of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch (FRL) ranged from 82 percent in Dougherty to 71 percent in DeKalb.

Compared to Georgia’s other school systems, though, their poverty rates are unfortunately not exceptional. Twenty systems had higher FRL rates than Dougherty. DeKalb ranked only 78th.

What is exceptional is how much these systems spend per pupil.

Spending per pupil in those five systems, weighted for student populations, was 21 percent higher than what was spent in systems without any failing schools — a difference of almost $1,700 per child per year. For a class of 20 students, that’s almost $34,000 more.

They spent more on each child for instruction ($701), more on pupil services ($44) and staff services ($302), more on general administration ($225) and school administration ($76), more on transportation ($14), more on maintenance and operations ($329).

The question before legislators — and, I hope, before voters in 2016 — is whether the usual excuses justify leaving these schools and their students under the same management that let them get into this shape.

Reader Comments 0

72 comments
irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

NOT PC ..wonder if there are any studies done to see if the startling demise in our education system, started when government (state and local) started hiring so many 1st generation college grads and the affirmative action hiring quotas?

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

116 of the 141 schools (82%) are concentrated in only eight systems: Atlanta (27), DeKalb (26), Richmond (21), Bibb (14), Muscogee (10), Fulton (7), Dougherty (6), and Chatham (5).

These systems are in seven counties that are remaining strongholds of the Democratic Party.

The linkage is obvious.

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

A child in South Dekalb [the proposed City of Greenhaven, aka Dekalb County School Systems Region 5] spends her *ENTIRE* school career (K-12) in failing schools.

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Here is the Dekalb County School System's (DCSS) Dirty Little Secret:  ALL of DCSS's REGION FIVE needs to be taken over by the state.


Currently, only two Region 5 schools have College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores above 60…. and those two are just barely about 60: Cedar Grove HS has a 61.6 while Columbia MS has a 62.0.


Here are the CCRPIs for all Dekalb County School System Region 5 schools:


Cedar Grove HS 61.6
Cedar Grove MS 54.3
Cedar Grove ES 57.5
Oak View ES 51.0


Columbia HS 55.8
Columbia MS 62
Columbia ES 49.1
Snapfinger ES 55.7
Toney ES 47.5


McNair HS 43.9
McNair MS 45.5
Clifton ES 46.2
Flat Shoals ES 49.5
Kelley Lake ES 55.4
Meadowview ES 52.9
McNair ES Dis. Ac. 42.2


Towers HS 55.8
Bethune MS 53.5
Canby Lane ES 47.4
Knollwood ES 53.8
Midway ES 47.4
Rowland ES 52.8


A list of the DCSS schools, grouped by region, is posted on this page:

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/superintendent/assistants

Cere
Cere

What happens in DeKalb is that these failing schools have gone unnoticed for a long time due to the system's highly touted "Open Transfer" or "Choice"  system. Essentially, it's a way to placate those squeaky wheel parents who have issues with their failing schools. Those parents transfer their children out and the schools plummet further. I once wrote a blog post about how many students have transferred out of those schools, leaving behind shuttered buildings, blight and increased poverty. This method of placating amounts to smoke and mirrors. Transfers for those who figured out how to ask for one is not the answer. Fixing poorly performing schools is the answer. I've always said that. 


North vs Central vs South - what's the deal?

http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/05/north-vs-central-vs-south-whats-deal.html


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

One of the causes of failure in schools is not teaching students on their correct instructional levels.  Those instructional levels will be varied in every grade level for the reasons I have already given.


Another reason for failure in schools is poverty.  I realize that some schools in impoverished areas are more successful than others because the reasons for the poverty vary and the needs are different in each poor community.


I support the Democratic legislators' idea of "community schools" to fight poverty and failure in these schools.  These legislators can foresee schools with satellite rooms in nearby church/public buildings in which afternoon activities are provided for these students, and adult mentoring, as well as individual tutoring.  They foresee these "community schools" as having nurses for healthcare, counselors for emotional care, and social workers all on hand.  Those ideas would be substantive ways to tackle poverty and to let the young people in those impoverished neighborhoods know they have value in the eyes of many people and that many resources are being placed in their communities to help them rise above generational poverty. 

JohnBuck2
JohnBuck2

Management???If you took each kid in these districts and swapped them with a kid in a high performing district, the failing district would succeed and the succeeding districts would fail.


Until the root of the problem is addressed, there will be little increase.  I believe the problem is cultural.  The value of family and it's role in education as well as the value of education.  

PinkoNeoConLibertarian
PinkoNeoConLibertarian

Rather than look at the entire county, what are the numbers in the actual failing schools? Sure Dekalb has some pockets of its population that are well off financially, but they also have large pockets of their population that are far from financially stable. Which part of Dekalb (and the other counties) are these failing schools in?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@PinkoNeoConLibertarian I will stipulate that the schools on this list are probably poorer than the average for each district. But I wanted to see how poor they are relative to schools in other parts of the state that aren't on the failing list, and I haven't found any such comparative data for individual schools. That is, you can find that figure for each school, but it tells you nothing about whether they are relatively better or worse off than other schools not on the failing list. Unless you want to look up the data for all 2,000 (or however many) schools in Georgia, one by one. I don't.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

As a follow-up to what I had written earlier, with more detail:


The only way to assess, with validity, if a given school has improved for the school year is to use the following criteria because every school's population of students will be different from every other school's population - whether those schools are traditional public, public charter, corporate-led charter, or private schools:
The only way to know if any given school has been successful is to compare it only with itself.  By that I mean that the assessment should be done on each individual student in a given school  at the beginning of the school year and again, using the same testing format, at the end of the school year on the same students.  Moreover, the IQ levels of each student, who has been pre- and post-tested in THAT school for THAT school year, must be weighed against the degree pf increase of the students' scores, individually, from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year.  Those students with lower IQs in THAT given school cannot be expected to have made equivalent progress in terms of months, or years, of growth as will be the degree of increase of students with higher IQ levels.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MarkVV 


Excellent thoughts, Mark.  My purpose in writing about educational principles is never to blame but to enlighten.


Another reason I stated what I did was to show how invalid standardized testing, used for group analysis in comparing schools, or for making teacher evaluations, can be, and to demonstrate that a business model is not workable when our products are human beings.  Students will always have varied IQs. Therefore, students will always learn concepts at different rates. Thus, we will always have students who will be functioning on differing instructional levels in every grade level. If we do not address this critical issue with instructional precision and care, then we will always create an educational situation in which students will drop-out of school or scores less on standardized than their individual potential would allow them otherwise to score.  Students who drop out of school in frustration often, later, fill our prisons because the educational system, itself, has been ignorant of critical educational principles.


From my "Mastery Learning" blog entry, of which I provided the link earlier are the following educational truths stated:  (If our politicians want to make failing schools better, they will particularly notice the sentence that states, "Generational poverty can effect the ability of some students to learn," and address that fact more fervently than they have previous done, if they want to address one critical school failure problem which can be addressed in general.)


"All students do not master curriculum concepts at the same rate. This is the result of many factors. -Some students have higher IQs than others. -Some have dysfunctional family environments which may cause an inability to focus. -Some have learning disabilities. -Some have mental illness or emotional problems. -Some have physical impairments. -Generational poverty can effect the ability of some students to learn.


Students cannot master concepts unless they are taught on their correct instructional levels. The state’s curriculum requirements – although excellent in the ideal – do not address the myriad instructional levels of students within each grade level (which I have noted will always be true). Instead, a one-size-fits-all grade level excellent curriculum has been required of all students, irrespective of their varying functioning levels. This dichotomy has caused massive numbers of students, in Georgia, to fail grade level curriculum content. Eventually, students who are taught on their frustration levels will drop out of school."

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@MaryElizabethSings  The last refuge of embattled educators is statistics. I learned that when my educator relatives were pursuing master's degrees and took courses in educational research that were nothing more than statistical analysis of data often decades old. There was no research, just statistical analysis 101 for teachers.


One doesn't need an exhaustive statistical analysis to appreciate which schools are failing and which are not.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@MaryElizabethSings 


Even though I would agree with you that a very accurate assessment of the validity of the relative school improvement or lack of it would require such rigorous criteria, I believe that in the context of the debate about the proposed changes what is more important is to determine the causes of the lack of success of any school. How can we decide what changes to make, if we do not know the true causes of failures, better than the convenient blaming of the management?

MarkVV
MarkVV

In my opinion the important point in this debate here is that Kyle is making the argument for the proposed constitutional amendment without presenting evidence for why the schools are failing and why the changes would make a significant difference. He presents some evidence that funding alone would not do it, but not what would do it.

Kyle: “The idea is to make changes: new management, new curriculum, new flexibility from state red tape in exchange for new levels of accountability, etc.”

That sounds like a firing a shotgun in the dark – perhaps it will hit something, but maybe not. As mentioned already below, if the parents are an important factor in the equation, why would the state control change that?

eTalker
eTalker

I have a hard to buying anything to wear that is one size fits all.  I also have a hard time buying something I have no idea how to use or what to use it for.  My first question would be, what do we expect the children to do with their education once they graduate from high school?  Based on my observation, those graduating with the best high school education only qualify for entrance into college.  Then they go to college and graduate with a bachelor's degree and can't find employment in the field they studied.  So, they now have to get a master's degree to finally get employment.


More government control to achieve what?

WilJohnson
WilJohnson

Of course other states have better solutions. They spend more in poorer communities on Pre-K, daycare, food/ health initiatives and after-school programs. They spend more on teachers and teacher training so they are able to attract teachers from the top of the talent pool instead of the bottom. They spend more on technology in these under-performing schools as they know these students do not have that access at home.

They focus and invest heavily in improving local governance on a broader scale than  simply focusing on voucher/choice/charter school politics as we do here in Georgia.

Try Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire. All of these states have struggling inner-city and rural communities yet they are in the top 10 in education outcomes.

TicTacs
TicTacs

You folks don't want to fix the problem, you just don't want to have a problem for you. 


There are bad students, bad teachers and bad parents.  Running from them is no solution.

MANGLER
MANGLER

Rural schools have higher costs per student for the same reasons anything in rural areas do - they are in rural areas.  Low density, lower incomes, and greater distances to services equates to higher operating costs.  It costs more to bus 20 students from 20 miles out than it does 45 students in a 5 mile radius.


So let's say we go with Deal's plan and the State takes over.  OK.  Then what?  Same school.  Same students.  Same teachers.  What exactly changes?  They close the school if it continues to fail?  OK, then that makes the students have to travel that much further to another school, increasing costs yet again. There is already a dearth of teachers, doctors, all sorts of professionals in rural areas.  So where is new staff going to come from?


Vouchers?  Same problem.  Distance, open seats at that school, ability to get students there if they are outside of their home school's area.  


It's OK to try to make change.  But reducing funding and closing schools hurts student in the process.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Kyle_Wingfield @Point Kyle is right on this point. The same waivers that Georgia charter schools receive are available to every single public school district in this state. However, it's up to the district to seek the waivers--and most don't. Most districts are loath to grant any individual school the degree of autonomy that an independent charter school has--and therein lies the problem. It doesn't matter how good an administrator is put into a failing district school. If s/he doesn't have the freedom to hire/fire, make necessary changes in the school, and institute real reform, it's just window dressing.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MANGLER "Rural schools have higher costs per student"

The per-pupil costs I wrote about were for urban systems, not rural ones.

"Same school.  Same students.  Same teachers."

No, that's not the idea at all. The idea is to make changes: new management, new curriculum, new flexibility from state red tape in exchange for new levels of accountability, etc. In many cases, I suspect a charter operator will be brought in to change the way the school operates. 

As for this: "reducing funding and closing schools" -- who is talking about reducing funding? And any schools that are closed would, most likely, be to make way for new schools.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Point Well, they tried that in Louisiana. They offered the same flexibility the RSD schools got, in exchange for the same accountability they had to show. According to the reps from Louisiana who spoke to House and Senate Education Committee members last week, no school outside the RSD has accepted that offer. They don't want the accountability.

Point
Point

@Kyle_Wingfield So why not give the local system more flexibility from state red tape before creating a new level of oversight that doesn't have a real clear plan or any data that shows the state takeover will improve next year's data?

Likewise
Likewise

Just another attempt to support the charter school business. 

WilJohnson
WilJohnson

What happened to my last comment? It was pending and now it has disappeared.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@WilJohnson I don't see any pending comments from you. I did just approve the one you just submitted, which perhaps was a repeat.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Another solution that is not likely in the near future: 


Combine a bunch of counties into single counties.  Reduce the number of counties in Georgia to about 30-45.  There is absolutely no reason Georgia should have so many counties nowadays.  Inertia keeps Georgia from moving ahead and consolidating counties, which most people know would be good for the state.  (well, and people in power in those counties don't want to let go of any power - evidently people like power and control over other people.) 

Starik
Starik

@LogicalDude Each of these tiny counties requires a full slate of county officials; not just school administrators, but Sheriffs, Judges, District Attorneys, etc., who are often the most powerful politicians and some of the best-paid people in these little counties. 


Not just the little counties are illogical.  Why do the big counties have elected Sheriffs?  A professional jail administrator would be preferable.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Can we look at the Principals?  County administrators? Other factors? 


You have a great article on what is NOT the problem, but not an actual answer to why there are failures.  And the only possible solution might be a state takeover.

What would the Governor's team do that should not ALREADY be a plan of action by these counties? 


Otherwise, if the state knows best, shouldn't the state already be taking over all Georgia schools and not leave decisions to local lawmakers? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude The principals and county administrators are exactly what the new program would be looking at first. The idea is to ensure the school has a good principal in place, and then give him/her more autonomy over how the school operates.

As for what would be done that "should not ALREADY be a plan of action" -- well, maybe nothing. The point, though, is that these things are not already a plan of action. Why not? Ask the people who run the districts.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

You can't teach people who are willfully ignorant and choose to remain that way. For whatever reason, there are simply thousands of Georgia families who seem to revel in ignorance, from one generation to the next. I am a native born Georgian, so I think I know whereof I speak. Until that culture is changed (and it affects many whites, blacks and Latinos) no state program will make any headway. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

One factor often missing in educational assessment is knowing the IQ levels of students in failing schools.  School populations cannot be compared because each student population will be varied and different from every other school.


However, I wish to emphasize that having IQ levels charted on students has the potential to set a very dangerous precedent. Nevertheless, because the nation seems to have veered in motivation toward an excessive use of standardized test scores to ascertain whether given schools and school systems are adequate or not, and as to whether given teachers are adequate or not, we must counterbalance that fallacious faith in standardized test scores with knowing the potential (IQ) of the given students being tested to determine if those students are equipped to advance with the norm for his/her age group.


In truth, teachers have always known, without administering IQ tests, which students had more potential than others and they have known that that individual potential was often reflected in the grades the students earned.  I equate the way I see standardized tests and IQ tests best used in schools is for diagnostic purposes for individual students, similar to the manner in which a doctor uses medical tests to analyze well the difficulties of individual patients, and not to compare different school populations with one another. Standardized test results, as well as IQ tests, must be used only for individual.diagnostic purposes. Furthermore, after the teacher uses the private information, perhaps she should delete what she has assessed from the computer and from the public arena, just as a doctor will not share a patient's private medical tests with others, by law. 


Teachers and schools must be assessed using a human component not found in a business model because teachers and students and schools function within a human environment, essentially.  Schools were never meant to follow a strict business model which can end up doing more harm to education than help, from my standpoint as an educational leader for 25 years and as a teacher for 35 years.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MaryElizabethSings Are you really suggesting that entire swaths of counties have lower IQs in the aggregate than in other places? I can only imagine what the reaction would have been had I suggested such a thing.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Kyle_Wingfield 


Of course not.  What I am trying to communicate is that each student is unique and that the fact of IQ must be addressed because IQ will determine how rapidly an individual student can absorb concepts.  It is educationally foolish to put one's head in the sand regarding a student's innate potential (IQ). Ignoring that factor is what has created so many students to decide to drop out of school because their individual instructional levels time will have not been addressed, correctly with precision, for years.


Race and ethnic group has nothing to do with innate IQ.  There are brilliant and slow students in every race and ethnic group, and every degree of intellect in between those extremes.


When one does not care to know the potential of given students, one is sloppy in analysis of growth of a student, of a teacher's performance, and of a school, itself.  A given school's standardized test scores' should not be compared with another school's scores because each school will have a different and varied student population, and IQ potential, analyzed individually for every student is one of those differences.  One does not KNOW unless one dives into records and diagnoses in  great detail.


I earned an M.Ed. as a Reading Specialist from GSU and saw what I learned in practice, particularly as an Instructional Lead Teacher in which I monitored daily the progress of 700 students, grades 1 - 7, in reading and mathematics.  If a student failed to keep up with his group, I did an Academic Developmental History (which form I created so I could see all the data on one page only) on that student so that I could analyze, visually, all the factors which may have affected that student's academic development (from birth on, I might add, by conference with his/her parents).  IQ was ONE of those significant factors.  Education is not diagnostic enough in detail and that is why hundreds of students drop out of school yearly. We are not addressing individual academic performance and how instruction must be delivered with as much sophisticated educational knowledge as doctors use to diagnose and prescribe for "failing" patients.  See this link to my blog, which incorporates much of what I learned in grad school and which I practiced for 35 years in the field of education with precision.  (Most laypeople and politicians do not have the kind of detailed knowledge that many educators, such as myself, have accrued over the years, and that is why educators should have much more input into reform movements in education.)


https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/about-education-essay-1-mastery-learning/








MarkVV
MarkVV

The most noticeable feature about Kyle’s piece is that it offers statistics without any effort of interpretation. OK, many failing schools get more money than average. So why are they still failing? No attempt to answer that.

And then, the solution: state control. Interesting. This from conservatives, from which we are used to hear slogans like


Local control!
The government that governs least governs best!
Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.


Why do conservatives like Kyle believe that the state will suddenly do better in this case?

William1952
William1952

In many cases, the state certainly can't do any worse. When local control is removed, the locals just might wake up and work to get control again. The proposed state take over is certainly one way, maybe the only way, for students to get a decent education, not locked into local control politics.

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@MarkVV A significant majority of failures can be traced directly back to the cause of the problem, the parents.

Elvez
Elvez

@MarkVV Local control is not a slogan, it's the law.  In these cases, the locals have failed miserably.  I think a new approach is warranted; however, I would rather see this on an experimental basis to see how it may work.  It would be much better if the community were to buy into the proposal rather than have it forced upon them though. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@William1952 Arguably, there is no control more local than the educators and parents at a given school. "Local control" is a slogan being wielded by people who want control to be a little less local than that.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@MarkVV There is a difference between giving government specific power to make changes to a failed school (which you people seem to oppose - surprise) and giving government more power for the sake of giving it more power (which you people wholeheartedly support).


Your false equivalency is noted.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@InTheMiddle2 @MarkVV 

Exactly. And I have seen no explanation why the parents would react better to the state bureaucrats than to the current school administration.

BuzzG
BuzzG

Vouchers!  Give parents a voucher and let them send their kid to any school of their choosing.  Schools can cash the vouchers for money.  The good schools would thrive and prosper.  Bad schools would wither and die.  Most parents would make good decisions.  Why should they have to send their kid to the school nearest their house no matter how bad it is?

dg417s
dg417s

@BuzzG Two things - 1) basic supply and demand will show that vouchers will not work - increased income (the voucher) leads to increased demand leads to higher price for the service (education) - thus, the voucher will not cover tuition anymore (too few slots).  Besides, parents already have choice - it's just a matter of deciding that you don't need that grande latte with soy milk every day and the new car every 2 years.  2) Parents in New Orleans who do have "choice" are choosing their neighborhood schools over better performing schools in large numbers (see an earlier piece that Maureen Downey posted regarding this) due to 1) location - they can't get the children to the other schools or 2) sports reputation over academic reputation.  I'm not saying that parents don't want better, but vouchers will not put Marist in the reach of many parents or they just don't have any way to get their child to a different school.  

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@dg417s Your supply/demand analysis ignores the fact that this "income" currently cannot be spent anywhere but with the incumbent. I would argue the opposite is more likely: that if suppliers know more people demanding the product can now afford something other than public schools, we will see more private schools open, at more price points.

dg417s
dg417s

@Kyle_Wingfield @dg417s I will concede that more schools may open, but again, the major issue will be limited number of seats - new schools cannot pop up over night, it is a long-run change and transportation to get the children to these new schools.  It does no good to open a new school if the children cannot get there.  Let's be honest - there won't be a huge rush to create new schools in North Fulton, most of Gwinnett, Cobb, or even North DeKalb - the schools there are not "failing" and there isn't a demand for them.  Even if there was demand for more options in these areas, those parents could afford to transport the children to the new schools.  Not so if you look at the southwest corner of DeKalb (not Southwest DeKalb High area, but west of that) where many of DeKalb's "failing" schools are.  There is extreme poverty there - children have one way to get to school - school bus or walk.  New schools won't solve that issue.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@dg417s The folks with New Orleans' recovery district told lawmakers last week they spend more on transportation than most districts precisely to overcome that problem. That will be something Georgia's program would have to look at and take into account.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@dg417s Sorry, got confused here. Thought we were talking about Opportunity School District, but this thread was about vouchers.