These schools are losing the culture battle

Credit: Drew Hurst/SCAD-Atlanta

Credit: Drew Hurst/SCAD-Atlanta

When you talk to education reformers, you hear a lot about school culture. Part of turning low-achieving kids into high-achieving kids is making them think they can.

This is not “culture” in a political or demographic sense, but in the general sense of the word: the beliefs, customs and norms of a discrete group.

That’s why, when you walk through culturally transformed schools, you notice some commonalities. You see college pennants hanging on the walls and teachers wearing clothing from their alma maters. You hear students being addressed as “scholars,” reciting affirmative mottos and donning uniforms.

That isn’t how we did things at the public schools I attended. But then, there was already a culture of high expectations at my schools.

I’ve seen these signs of culture change in charter schools from Atlanta to New Orleans. But students’ attitude toward academics isn’t the only important aspect. Discipline is, too.

That’s why I was unsurprised this past week, when the Georgia Department of Education released its inaugural “school climate rankings,” to see much overlap between the schools at the bottom of that list and the state’s worst performers academically.

The schools that have received failing academic grades for three straight years — which would qualify them for Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District — represent just 6 percent of Georgia’s schools.

But they represent 34 percent of the schools that got the lowest rating in the school climate rankings.

Think about that: These failing schools were over five times more likely than the average Georgia school to score poorly on a measure weighing student attendance, bullying, discipline problems, drug use and a general sense of school safety.

You can argue about cause and effect. What’s inarguable is these schools are losing the culture battle.

One of the schools I visited in New Orleans was, despite an improved academic record, losing the culture battle as recently as last year. Sci Academy, a high school, had raised its graduation rate and was producing more first-generation college students.

But it also had the highest suspension and expulsion rates in New Orleans’ Recovery School District, said the district’s superintendent, Patrick Dobard. Civil-rights groups protested outside the school.

School leaders responded, putting an emphasis on the issue. As of my late February visit, Dobard said Sci Academy had zero expulsions this school year.

The RSD model gives principals the autonomy needed to change their schools’ cultures, among students and teachers alike. For school districts, though, this isn’t a matter of authority but of will.

That’s why a question raised at a House committee hearing on Deal’s proposal — why doesn’t the state emulate a successful local district like Gwinnett instead of Louisiana? — was a fair question. It was just pointed in the wrong direction.

How long has Gwinnett been a good system? A long time. How long have systems such as DeKalb, Atlanta, Bibb and Richmond struggled? A long time.

So why haven’t they followed the Gwinnett model, or its like?

Among other things, I submit it’s largely a matter of districts losing the culture battle on a wide scale.

And the question isn’t why the state should intervene as Deal has proposed. It’s why the state hasn’t stepped in before now.

Reader Comments 0

58 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Counties like Gwinnett benefit from the critical mass of kids whose parents ARE well educated and well heeled.  They set the tone in many of the schools.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Quick question regarding the State takeover of local "failing" school districts. 


For those who support this, would you also support a Federal takeover of "failing" state schools?   Say the President wanted to create special "Federal School Districts" that automatically takes over the bottom 5 state school systems. Would you support that step? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude Unlike the federal government, the state has a constitutional role in education. In fact, public education is a primary obligation of the state -- which arguably is enough on its own to give Deal the authority he seeks, although I understand his acting cautiously.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I entreaty every reader of this blog to read AJC educational journalist Maureen Downey's outstanding column this morning on what is happening to public education.  Wake up, before it is too late.


An excerpt from her just published column:


"The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results. . . .

The United States still has time to reverse course, to turn away from the scary language of crisis and the seductive language of choice and accountability used in educational reform, and turn toward a fully funded and protected public education for our nation."


http://getschooled.blog.ajc.com/2015/03/24/opinion-national-experiment-in-school-choice-market-solutions-produces-inequity/

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Be watchful for how many of these so-called failing schools in Georgia, after the state's take-over of them, may be turned into charter schools.  Be especially watchful for how the taxpayer's money will be distributed among these charter schools and if for-profit corporations will be running them (a Republican ideological goal).  I'm not saying this WILL happen; I am only saying this MAY happen, and that the public should be watchful and aware of what is happening in public education in Georgia, under Republican leadership, regarding the planned state take-over of failing schools.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Yesterday, the House Education Committee of Georgia's Legislature passed the Republican plan for the state takeover of failing schools.


It seems to me that most of the programs of the Republican leaders in Georgia's legislature follow national Republican guidelines for their most newsworthy legislation.


I maintain that most of these programs are short-sighted and lack depth.  The Democratic plan for failing schools is much more substantive, imo, and, if followed, would have sustained improvement in these failing schools and their neighborhoods, over time.  That Democratic plan is to uplift the entire community in which the failing schools reside.  Their plan entails creating "community schools," which would provide additional trained personnel to provide emotional and academic support to the students and their parents or guardians, over the long haul.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

Maybe there's a lot of stupid children in these districts. If you want the truth and ways to correct it dont sugarcoat theories.

Starik
Starik

Gwinnett was a white flight success story;  now that includes black flight, Hispanic flight and Asian flight, the flight of parents who want to escape DeKalb.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Everything I've read indicates Gwinnett is implementing the PBIS, the (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support) model. A key element within? Parental education and collaboration. Without parental support no progress can be made. 

EdUktr
EdUktr

“Dollars should follow pupils, through a big expansion of voucher schemes or charter schools. In this way, good schools that attract more pupils will grow; bad ones will close or be taken over. Unions and their Democratic Party allies will howl, but experiments in cities such as battered New Orleans have shown that school choice works.”

—The Economist magazine, 1/24/15 http://tinyurl.com/o5xasle

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@EdUktr experiments in cities such as battered New Orleans have shown that school choice works.”


Only it hasn't. They just changed the way they grade them and then cried Success !!!!!

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

And, this extends directly into the respective communities. It is the product of and the result of a perpetuating cycle of pathology. The bad news is that it took liberalism almost 50 years to transform America from the world's educational gold standard into a dumbed down nation that can be easily led by it's government and falls for hoaxes like global warming. I say the sooner we put them in uniforms and instill some discipline, the sooner we can revert to being the most highly educated country on Earth. 


The proof stares you in the face, proggies.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@IReportYouWhine#1  falls for hoaxes like global warming.


I can see the Georgia textbooks now


And on the Seventh Day god rested.....so there can be no global warming. 


Let the good times roll. !!!!!

GaGirl53171875
GaGirl53171875

Children perform better when they have food in their bellies. Give these children a healthy increase in SNAP benefits and their grades will improve.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@GaGirl53171875 

Food stamp reform is under way. Now the healthy will have to go to work or go to school.

 


NorthAtlanta
NorthAtlanta

@GaGirl53171875

That's one of the dumbest posts of the day.  Are you really unaware of the vast number of free breakfasts and lunches already provided at school?  And their grades aren't bad because their bellies are empty.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@GaGirl53171875 You say they are hungry, Michelle O says they are obese, which is it?   The children complain that they aren't getting enough to eat in their "free" lunch, due to Michelle's calorie limiting lunches.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@GaGirl53171875

Children perform better when they have food in their bellies.

Children perform better when their parents aren't working for horrible wages and having whatever paltry social safety net the state/local governments deign to provide cut at the drop of a hat.

Messing around with schools and their "culture" is a classic right wing diversionary tactic; it's a deck-chair shuffle.


WilJohnson
WilJohnson

But of course Mr. Wingfield knows that Deal has already stepped in. He stepped in and slashed Georgia's education budgets which disproportionally affected these communities. His takeover of these under performing schools will further demonstrate that Georgia is unable and unwilling to tackle the underlying issues  which create and sustain these struggling communities. 


Aiming at Gwinnett is exactly where we should be aiming. Understanding that in Gwinnett there are few food deserts, few property tax deserts, few economic opportunity deserts and few culture deserts. Understanding that Gwinnett is a white flight success story.


Aiming at Louisiana is laughable. It is not acceptable that after years of effort a failing charter school in Louisiana is slightly less horrible and will be a little more slightly less horrible next year.


We need to see some shock and awe from Deal aimed at funding early childhood education, funding healthcare, funding food assistance, funding daycare, funding libraries , funding community centers, funding vocational schools, funding broadband, etc, etc, etc. That's how you attack culture deserts.


Instead we have Gov. Deal and Mr. Winfield waving their charter/choice sugarplum fairy wands without addressing reality. Some progress.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@WilJohnson OK, so why haven't these districts tried to adopt the Gwinnett model on their own? What are they waiting for? And perhaps you should look at Gwinnett's demographics if you think it is, or has been in some time, a "white flight success story."

WilJohnson
WilJohnson

@Kyle_Wingfield @WilJohnson In order to be able to adopt the model you have to be able to afford the model. In order to govern the model you have to have a history of governance which these districts don't have. Gwinnett as you know it did not exist not too long ago. It was farm country. Ditto Alpharetta and Sandy Springs and so on. If you don't think white flight has anything to do with creating culture deserts you are part of the problem.



HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@GaGirl53171875 @WilJohnson It is not acceptable that after years of effort a failing charter school in Louisiana is slightly less horrible and will be a little more slightly less horrible next year.


They aren't even doing that. They just changed the way they grade the schools to make them appear that way


its all smoke and mirrors. 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@WilJohnson @Kyle_Wingfield WilJohnson: You realize Gwinnett has an incredibly diverse hispanic and asian population, right? 

It was number one in the country in hispanic growth for a number of years. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude Further to your point:


Gwinnett is a majority-minority district: 69.4% non-white*. But surely race alone isn't the real factor here, unless Mr. Johnson is saying minority kids can't learn.


Gwinnett has more English-language learners than the other four districts -- much higher in all cases except DeKalb:

Gwinnett: 14.7%

DeKalb: 10.5%

Atlanta: 3.2%

Bibb: 1.7%

Richmond: 0.4%


It also has a higher percentage of students wtih disabilities:

Gwinnett: 12.9%

Bibb: 12%

Atlanta: 11.3%

Richmond: 9.9%

DeKalb: 9.2%


The only area the others are significantly worse off is in percentage of economically disadvantaged students, where the other four range from 72.1% to 77.6% and Gwinnett is at 56.3%. Still, that's a majority of kids in Gwinnett and the system is doing better by them despite spending less money per pupil.


---

* This and all stats in this comment come from the latest AYP report published by the Georgia DOE, which covered FY11. They are for the grades covered by standardized tests.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Wascatlady That may be true, but if they are ELLs -- the only indicator related to ethnicity I've given any credence to -- they are still a challenge to educate.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @WilJohnson Great stats, Kyle!  


Multiple claims of two-parent households have been made, though.  Are there stats on single parent households versus two-parents county by county? 



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@WilJohnson "In order to be able to adopt the model you have to be able to afford the model."

Per pupil spending, FY14

Atlanta: $13,530

Bibb: $8,739

DeKalb: $8,527

Richmond: $8,502

Gwinnett: $7,745


But maybe the other systems are wasting the money? What does each spend on instruction?

Atlanta: $8,053 (that's right; more than Gwinnett spends on everything)

DeKalb: $5,597

Bibb: $5,470

Richmond: $5,445

Gwinnett: $5,091


LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude That economically disadvantaged metric seems to be the one that makes the most sense. 


Economic disadvantage means educational disadvantage.  Yes, that's simplistic, but the data is pointing that direction. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude Gotta wonder about this. Gwinnett has 56% free lunch, but only 15% ELL.  My county has 75% free lunch, and 20% ELL.  Why does Gwinnett do so much better?  Because the Non-free lunch crowd plus the ELL crowd (quite frequently highly motivated) make up 59% of Gwinnett's student body--again, a critical mass in many schools.  Perhaps?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Kyle_Wingfield @Wascatlady If they are beginning ELLs, a challenge?  Somewhat.  But not the challenge that our "native" kids are--white or black.  The kind of a challenge that is a pleasure to watch, as they generally WANT to learn and their parents EXPECT them to learn and their parents support the school and its teachers.  I think I can speak to this, as an ESOL teacher for 16 years, and a classroom teacher with ELLs before that.

DontTread
DontTread

@WilJohnson "Georgia is unable and unwilling to tackle the underlying issues which create and sustain these struggling communities..."


It's not "Georgia's" responsibility...it's the PARENTS' responsibility.  All the funding in the world won't fix the lack of a moral compass, and people who are doing the right thing shouldn't be forced to pay for people that aren't.

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

Unfortunately, the failing counties are too politically correct in their approach.  They give too many chances after the second chance fails.  They are more concerned about being liked than respected.  An example was shown recently in Atlanta where many students were given another chance to graduate despite the fact that they missed the deadline on the graduation test.  If they cannot meet a simple deadline, how successful do you think they are going to be?


Another was the change from giving kids zeros on tests for cheating.  No penalty equals no progress.

TGT88
TGT88

For the most part, a school's "culture" is a reflection of the culture of the community in which it exists. For the most part, the culture of a community is determined by the culture that exists within the families that make up these communities. And of course, a strong and healthy culture within a family is largely the result of a strong and healthy marriage between a husband and a wife. In other words, strong and healthy marriages make strong and healthy families make strong and healthy communities make strong and healthy schools. As George Will put it a few years ago, "the best predictor of a school’s performance is family performance." (http://townhall.com/columnists/georgewill/2010/03/21/mrs_jellyby,_stuck_in_the_sixties/page/full) (Also: http://www.trevorgrantthomas.com/2012/07/bursting-college-bubble.html)


Until our culture addresses the sad and destructive decline of the traditional (biblical) family, school and student performance will merely reflect this decline. Thus, good government should do all it can to promote such families. Otherwise, any type of government reform in government schools will be mere window dressing. 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@TGT88 Do you have any comparisons of "traditional family" structures in Gwinnett versus other "failing" school districts? 


Let me know of any evidence of huge variations in family dynamics between these, and then maybe we can begin discussion. 

TGT88
TGT88

@LogicalDude @TGT88 I said nothing specifically about Gwinnett, and obviously you didn't bother to click on the links. The link between family structure and academic success is true for Gwinnett, Dekalb, Fulton, as well as Galveston, Detroit, and Fresno. (And do you really need data to support what common sense--or what used to be common sense--and sound morality have always revealed? Nevertheless...) 


"Subsequent research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home -- and the presence of two parents in the home.'' Additionally, "Family structure is pertinent to the 9/91 factor -- between their births and their 19th birthdays, children spend 9 percent of their time in school and 91 percent elsewhere. For many children, elsewhere is not an intact family." 


And as Will points out, government can do next to nothing about family structure. But I would point out, it can certainly abide by one of the fundamental principles that guide physicians, and "do no harm."

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

"It’s why the state hasn’t stepped in before now."


Oh, you know, power struggles of locals versus state.  Locals HATE letting go of any power, no matter how terrible they perform.  

Will the threat of a possible state take-over cause those power-hungry to let go of some power "to do it their way" move toward "how Gwinnett is doing it"?   I doubt it.  


Is there an answer to what Gwinnett is doing but those other districts are not?   What IS Gwinnett doing?  How are they winning a "culture" battle when other are still struggling? 

Are families in Gwinnett that much different than families elsewhere? (where many try to place the blame).  Or are there school leaders who know what they're doing and how to get good results with the students they have? 

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Social, religious, political and ECONOMIC  .....  there's your sign.

Numenor
Numenor

It's not all on the schools. "Culture" starts at home, before students enter the school building. Education should be emphasized and supported by parents before students even meet their teachers. In a supportive environment where kids are taught by their parents to value learning and are encouraged to do so, kids will be ready to thrive in an academic setting. If a child's education is neglected by his/her parents and the main influence in their life is the street or pop culture, they start school with 2 strikes against them and will probably never complete a formal education. Pouring more money into the system is not the answer. Providing a stable, supportive, and nurturing home environment is the first step to successful education. Teachers can rarely make up for "parents" who fail to set their kids feet on the path toward success.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Numenor Do you have a comparison between parents of Gwinnett schools and other "failing" schools?  

bu2
bu2

@LogicalDude @Numenor 

But culture is in the districts as well.  Gwinnett has been changing dramatically over the last 30 years and is still very good.


Rockdale doesn't look that much different demographically than DeKalb and Clayton, but does much better.

EdUktr
EdUktr

Children from two-parent households have an undeniable advantage over those from homes with no father. 

But where is there any media discussion of that?

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@EdUktr You have stats regarding two-parent households in Gwinnett versus other counties that have wide differences in school performance? 


Need evidence of it before discussion can go anywhere.