Mike Klein Online

“Slim” Chance Georgia Will Meet No Child Left Behind Goal in 2014

Mike Klein

State schools superintendent John Barge believes chances are “slim” that Georgia will meet the federal government’s No Child Left Behind 100 percent proficiency requirement in three years.   The first-year superintendent made that clear Thursday when the Department of Education released 2011 AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – and graduation rate reports.

Notably, the state did not release 2011 AYP results for the Atlanta Public Schools system which is embroiled in a test cheating scandal.  The DOE website said results are being withheld until it “can determine which data are impacted by the investigation findings.”  Some 179 educators were identified as possible test cheaters after a ten-month special prosecutors’ investigation.

AYP is the national education measuring stick created by No Child Left Behind.  President George W. Bush signed controversial legislation into law nine years ago.  It mandates that schools nationwide improve math, languages and graduation percentage rates in successive years for schools to be judged as having met Adequate Yearly Progress expectations.

State School Superintendent John Barge

During the 2002-2003 academic year an elementary school could meet AYP if 60 percent of third graders passed reading and language arts standardized tests.  Today the minimum is 80 percent, next year 86.7 percent, one year later 93.3 percent, then 100 percent in 2014.  The formulas are similar for all elementary, middle and high school AYP standardized tests.

In a statement that accompanied the report, Barge said, “The goal of 100 percent proficiency for all of our students by 2014 is well meaning, but because there are so many variables in the lives of children that schools cannot control, the likelihood of achieving this goal is slim. There is so much more to a school’s and a child’s progress than one test score at a single point in time.”

The state DOE reported the 2011 initial high school graduation rate was 79.5 percent, nearly identical to last year, but that bears discussion later.  DOE said the percentage of schools statewide that made AYP declined to 63.2 percent from 71 percent last year.  The percentage of schools graded “Needs Improvement” increased to 17.5 percent from 15.4 percent last year. Continue reading

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July 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Khaatim El: Scandal Tests “Whether Soul of Atlanta Has Been Truly Stirred”

Mike Klein

Former Atlanta Public Schools board chairman Khaatim S. El released a statement Monday evening after his resignation from the APS board.  El presided over the board during its most controversial hours when the board was largely considered dysfunctional and the city found itself under a national microscope for one of the worst test cheating scandals on record.  Here is the complete text of the former board chairman’s statement:

“Dear neighbor and friend,

“I struggled tonight at the Board meeting to find the words to express how I feel. I take no solace in knowing that my beliefs have been confirmed by the recent report issues by the State of Georgia.  But in the end, whether right or wrong, the conclusion is the same – I failed to protect thousands of children (children who mostly come from homes similar to mine).

“I for one don’t want to see this Board go back to the so-called 2009 “Board of Excellence” because that Board failed to protect children who were cheated by this school district. That Board was told to stop asking questions and to stop visiting schools.

“In the end, that Board fell for a “micromanaging” ruse perpetrated upon it. Ultimately, it took civil disobedience to challenge the status quo and to get to this very uncomfortable, but necessary, day.  With that said, I’m confident that this Board under Brenda Muhammad’s leadership and its new Superintendent Erroll Davis will coalesce and do what’s best for children.

Khaatim S. El

“It remains to be seen, however, whether the soul of Atlanta has been truly stirred – Atlanta is facing a genuine crisis of character, character that is decaying because of fear, intimidation and retaliation.

“I believe three questions should haunt Atlanta for the foreseeable future:

“1)    Why was the cheating scandal so exclusively pronounced for some children and not for others (splitting sharply along racial lines) and yet equal in its mistreatment of the poor and disenfranchised? Why were these children – mostly low income and African-American – so cavalierly denied access to America’s promise?

“2)    How did we – the elected officials, business leaders, and the system itself – become complicit in, through our actions and in our silence, a deal with the Devil that sold out a generation of children for the sake of the city’s image and the district’s “perception of success?”

“3)    Who, in the end, benefited from this collusion? Why did powerful people use their positions to punish those who dared to speak out? Why was legislation created to expressly limit the voice of the electorate, the people? What was behind the decision to place into law a provision to “restrict the powers of the Board” as outlined in the APS Charter?

“If Atlanta is lucky, these questions will force the community to confront a long overdue and difficult conversation about race, class and power. And while some people will proclaim that we must move forward now to put this episode behind us, for the sake of the kindergarten classes that starts next year and the year after that, Atlanta will have to be uncomfortable for a while before we can truly claim victory.

“It has been said that “A man should be able to find an education by taking the broad highway. He should not have to take by-roads through the woods and follow winding trails through sharp thickets, in constant tension because of the pitfalls and traps, and after years of effort, perhaps obtain the threshold of his goal when he is past caring about it.” A parent right here in this auditorium demanded such; I just hope she was heard.

“To my colleagues and for the courageous acts of Brenda Muhammad, Courtney English, Nancy Meister, and Yolanda Johnson you have demonstrated that against all odds, you will hold steadfast to your oath of office and act boldly when it comes to the welfare of children entrusted in your care. It is on your shoulders that this challenge now rests.

“To my neighbors, friends and supporters, thank you. You gave me the voice to speak out, even when it was unpopular to do so. You demanded that I stand when others suggested I sit. Thank you, for the chance to serve, to grow, to learn, and the opportunity to do what’s right.

“What I wasn’t able to do for children in Atlanta, I hope to accomplish in the city of Newark where I’ve been asked to help lead Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s contribution of $100M to turn around that city’s schools.

“With that, I am announcing my resignation as a member of the Atlanta Board of Education, effective immediately at the adjournment of this meeting. The general counsel is prepared to brief the Board on the process for naming my successor to serve until the November municipal election.

“Warmest regards, Khaatim S. El”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal Claims Four Area School Superintendents

Mike Klein

Vigorous reinvention of the scandal plagued Atlanta Public Schools system executive leadership team continued Monday evening when four area superintendents were replaced and the immediate past board of education president resigned.

All four area superintendents were named in a test cheating report released last week by Governor Nathan Deal and special prosecutors.  Four middle and elementary school principals will replace the ousted area superintendents.  At least 183 APS personnel were implicated in the report; all are being removed from classroom or teaching supervision assignments.

Atlanta interim superintendent Erroll Davis announced the changes during a board meeting just a few hours after his appearance before the Atlanta Rotary Club.  Davis was joined at Rotary by special prosecutors Mike Bowers and Bob Wilson whose test-cheating scandal team included dozens of Georgia Bureau of Investigations agents along with private law firm attorneys and other staff.

Ousted area superintendents Tamara Cotman, Robin Hall, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts were named in the report, which is the result of an investigation that began last August.  All four reported to APS system superintendent Beverly Hall, who is subject to possible criminal prosecution.  Hall retired at the end of June.

Former APS board chair Khaatim S. El released a lengthy statement upon his resignation.  In part, El said three questions “should haunt Atlanta for the foreseeable future.”  They include:

1)    “Why was the cheating scandal so exclusively pronounced for some children and not for others (splitting sharply along racial lines) and yet equal in its mistreatment of the poor and disenfranchised?  Why were these children – mostly low income and African – American – so cavalierly denied access to America’s promise?”

2)    “How did we – the elected officials, business leaders, and the system itself – become complicit in, through our actions and in our silence, a deal with the Devil that sold out a generation of children for the sake of the city’s image and the district’s “perception of success?”

3)    “Who, in the end, benefited from this collusion?  Why did powerful people use their positions to punish those who dared to speak out?  Why was legislation created to expressly limit the voice of the electorate, the people?  What was behind the decision to place into law a provision to “restrict the powers of the Board” as outlined in the APS Charter?”

The third series of questions refers to a new Georgia state law passed this year that would allow the Governor’s Office to remove members of the Atlanta Public Schools board of education.

El was a controversial board chairman.  He pushed questions about how the school district was responding to media reports about cheating on standardized tests.  Hall steadfastly insisted that no cheating occurred, but that was refuted by the ten-month special prosecutors’ investigation.

Backwash from the Atlanta scandal has reached all the way down into DeSoto, Texas.  Monday evening the Desoto Independent School Board placed its new superintendent on indefinite paid leave after one day on the job.  Kathy Augustine is a former APS deputy superintendent. Augustine was named in the special prosecutors report.  She has denied any wrongdoing.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Bowers: APS High School Graduation Rates “May Have Some Fallibility”

Mike Klein

When the Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal investigation was released last week one section implied some business community sectors were more interested in protecting the city’s brand than in getting out all the test-cheating facts.  Now the two special prosecutors who ran the investigation are saying the business community has no choice: It must stay involved.

“Just because something has gone wrong does not mean that the business community should back up and get out of the game,” former DeKalb County district attorney Bob Wilson said at a Monday luncheon.  “No.  It means you do what you do with your own business when there’s a setback.  You stay in the game (and) you work harder but do it with your eyes wide open.”

Wilson and former state Attorney General Mike Bowers took no questions last Tuesday when they joined Governor Nathan Deal at a news conference.  On Monday they said more than 183 persons who have been already identified were involved in cheating.  “I will guarantee you there are many more than that because we ran into a wall of silence,” said Bowers, “a wall of silence that grew out of an atmosphere of fear and retaliation.  That’s all you can call it.”

The test cheating scandal was launched by former Governor Sonny Perdue last August to investigate 2009 state competency tests given in Atlanta elementary and middle public schools.  There was no high school component, but during questions Monday a Rotary Club guest inquired about possible problems inside city high schools.

“There were things that came to our attention that gave us some concerns, yes,” Bowers said. “The high school graduation rates may have some fallibility.”  Atlanta public high schools posted a 39 percent graduation rate in spring 2002, according to state Department of Education data.  Three years later in 2005 the city claimed a 71.7 percentage rate.  It was 66.3 percent in 2010.

Erroll Davis, the former University System chancellor who has a one-year assignment to clean up Atlanta public schools, said Monday that graduation rate calculations “are works of art, quite frankly.  They keep changing processes and numbers,” Davis told the Rotary luncheon.  “I believe the state will be adopting a new standard and everybody’s graduation rate will be lower.”

Monday evening the Atlanta Public Schools board of education was scheduled to take action on 183 named APS educators in the Bowers-Wilson report.  Davis has said they will not be allowed to return to classrooms.  “They have forfeited the right to be in front of children,” Davis said.

District attorneys in Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas county district attorneys are making decisions on criminal charges.  Bowers said investigators conducted 2,100 interviews, including some people more than once.  “You never get the required information in the first interview,” he said. Several hundred subpoenas were issued and more than 800,000 documents reviewed.

“What caused it?”  Wilson rhetorically asked.  “We originally went in wondering how much the (salary) bonus incentives played in this process and we determined in the end, relatively little.”

Wilson added, “The pressure to keep one’s job, the pressure not to be publicly humiliated (at) teachers’ or principals’ meetings, the pressure to not be put on a professional development plan as if it were a weapon vs. an instructional tool weighed immensely heavy in the process and was without question, the overriding factor.”

Davis stepped into the frying pan, knowing full well what to expect, when he became Atlanta schools interim superintendent on July 1, just one day after his University system retirement.  A newly reconstituted city schools board gave him a one-year contract after the cheating report.

Davis has begun to dismantle the administration of retired superintendent Beverly Hall, who was blamed in the Bowers-Wilson report for creating a culture that led to classroom corruption.  On the elementary and middle school tests, that included teachers voicing answers, pointing out the answers, seeing the tests and then teaching the answers and allowing more than allotted time.  Hall and others from her administration could face criminal charges.

“Leadership is accountable,” Davis said.  “All problems are leadership problems.  All problems are management problems and that is where we will solve them.”  Atlanta year-round schools reopen this week and all public schools resume session next month.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Duped by Beverly Hall, Business Leaders Tried to Protect Atlanta “Brand”

Mike Klein

The next sound that you hear from the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal will likely be, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

Last August the Atlanta Public Schools Blue Ribbon Commission of very high profile corporate executives released its report that found no evidence of systemic cheating on 2009 school year state competency tests.  Now we know better and the story being told is absolutely repulsive.

Lacking subpoena powers, two companies hired to create the investigatory work produced a 22-page report that substantially failed to answer questions that include:  What did Beverly Hall know and when did she know it?  Perhaps it was always too much to expect that a Blue Ribbon Commission created by the APS Board would conclude that the superintendent and officials close to her office had roles in a test cheating scandal that has showered disgrace on Atlanta.

The Blue Ribbon Commission report stated:  “The investigative team did not find any data or other evidence, nor were there qualified allegations made, that there was any district-wide or centrally coordinated effort to manipulate the 2009 CRCT scores and outcomes of students in the 58 APS schools.”

The Key Findings section continued, “There were no self-admissions by any central office staff, district office staff or school staff of any wrongdoing in connection with the 2009 CRCT.  The investigative team did not uncover any other direct evidence of test irregularities in the form of video or audio recordings or similar evidence.”

Beverly Hall, Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent

To be fair, Caveon Test Security and KPMG investigators had no authority to compel anyone to answer questions.  They could not subpoena cell phone records, administer polygraph tests or initiate legal action.  Their report referred 108 educators for further investigation by APS which did no such thing.  APS sent the names on down the road to the Professional Standards Commission.  Superintendent Hall said the report was “vindication” that there was no widespread cheating scandal.

The Blue Ribbon Commission process itself was further flawed.  Caveon and KPMG conducted 292 interviews with APS central office, district level and school level staff.  One hundred thirty interviews were conducted with an APS observer present, monitoring the discussion.  APS tried to discredit test erasure analysis from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.  Also, the Commission investigators did not have access to the 2009 school tests erasure analysis.

A Blue Ribbon Commission of leading executives would have a lot to fear from such a report.  It would not serve the business community well to have Atlanta schools in screaming headlines such as this on Tuesday from CNN:  “Dozens of Atlanta Educators Falsified Tests.”  Or this on Thursday from USA Today:  “Atlanta Joins Growing List of School Exam Scandals.”  You cannot sell corporate relocation to a city whose education system is suspect.

Governor Nathan Deal released a very different report Tuesday, one of 428 pages.  Well down inside those hundreds of pages is a section labeled The Business Community.  It states:

Governor Nathan Deal Announces Results of Atlanta Public Schools Test Cheating Investigation

“Dr. Hall had the support of community leaders after becoming superintendent.  She courted philanthropic and business leaders rather than spend her days in the schools, working the ‘trenches’ and speaking one-on-one with teachers to know what was happening in her district.

“In many ways, the community was duped by Dr. Hall.  While the district had rampant cheating, community leaders were unaware of the misconduct in the district.  She abused the trust they placed in her.  Hall became a subject of adoration and made herself the focus rather than the children.  Her image became more important than reality.

“What began as a minor cheating scandal at Deerwood Academy, led to an investigation by a then-obscure state agency, headed by a former elementary school teacher.  This was the first CRCT cheating by APS uncovered by a governmental agency, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.   Questions began about Dr. Hall’s leadership.

“When the 2009 results were published, they were startling.  Governor (Sonny) Perdue ordered an erasure analysis.  There were concerns that the high scores were the result of cheating.

“Many of Dr. Hall’s supporters defended her and the district.  The possibility of a negative reflection on the Atlanta ‘brand’ caused some to protect Dr. Hall and attack the messengers.  Image was more important than the truth.”

There was also reference made that the Blue Ribbon Commission report should be “finessed” past then Governor Purdue.  The business section concludes, “Somewhere in the process the truth got lost, and so did the children.”

In the report released this week, special prosecutors and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation identified 178 principals and other educators who confessed or allegedly participated in the testing scandal.  Cheating was confirmed in 44 of 56 investigated schools.  Thirty-eight principals were responsible for or directly involved in cheating.  The report concluded Hall knew or should have known, implying that it was impossible to have not known.

The highly compensated Hall retired last week, ending a 12-year tenure during which she became celebrated for learning improvements that are now suspected to be a fraud.  Hall was paid $425,173 last year in salary, bonus and travel reimbursement.  Her bonus was tied in part to student achievement.  Hall earned $399,545 in 2009 and $355,993 in 2008.  Late Wednesday afternoon Hall’s attorney said she didn’t know anything about cheating.

This will be interesting to watch when folks are under oath.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Supreme Court Decision Soon in Charter Schools Commission Showdown

Mike Klein

The future of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission will be decided soon in one of the most highly anticipated decisions from the current state Supreme Court term.

A source close to the case said Monday, March 28 is when the Court is likely to decide whether the Commission and its funding authority are constitutional.  The Court has not announced an opinion date, but a spokesperson said the ruling could come “at any time” before the end of this month.

The ramifications are large for schools, students and also state legislators who might need to scramble to re-address the charter schools commission concept before the General Assembly adjourns. One observer who has skin in this game said Friday, “I am nervous, very nervous.”

Here’s the background. Three years ago the General Assembly created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission as a tiny island inside the state Department of Education.  It can approve charter school applications that were rejected by local boards and determine funding levels.

Seven public school systems filed suit in Fulton County. They asked the trial court to decide first, did the General Assembly overreach in 2008 when it created the state Charter Schools Commission; and, second, did legislators overreach when they gave the Commission authority to divert federal and state dollars from school systems to new state-authorized charter schools?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob heard three hours of arguments last May 7. Shoob delivered an immediate decision on behalf of the Commission.   Her ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court. The seven public school systems who filed suit to shut down the Commission are Atlanta, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Bulloch, Candler, Griffin-Spalding and Henry.

The case went before the Supreme Court on October 12.  Attorneys for the seven districts said the charter schools funding formula deprives them of local tax revenue dollars that should be allocated to traditional public schools.   A deputy attorney general who argued on behalf of the state and the Commission countered that the districts were not being deprived of local tax dollars.

An attorney familiar with the case said the Supreme Court has essentially four options. First; affirm the Commission and the funding concept. Second; strike down the Commission and the funding model. Third; affirm the Commission but reject the funding model.   Fourth; affirm the funding model but reject the Commission. The fourth option is considered the least likely.

Complete rejection by the Supreme Court could place some 16,500 elementary, middle and high school students in jeopardy this fall. That is next year’s anticipated enrollment at 17 traditional and virtual schools that will operate under the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

“Obviously, worst case, if they rule the entire concept unconstitutional, I’m hopeful legislators and the state superintendent would find a way for schools like GCA and the others to continue to serve these students and not throw them out on the streets,” said Matt Arkin, head of school at Georgia Cyber Academy which has 6,500 students and expects 8,500 next fall.

The highest courts in other states have ruled in several similar cases. Missouri justices decided against the Kansas City school district challenge to the state charter schools act.  Colorado justices refused to hear a challenge brought by the Boulder Valley school district.  A challenge to the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission succeeded and the Commission closed.

Attorney Bruce Brown represents the charter schools. Brown emphasized that rulings by other state courts are not a good predictor for Georgia. “The thing about this kind of issue is that it is extremely specific to the state,” Brown said. “Unlike cases in the federal system, what Missouri or Florida does with its systems is not of much interest here and our Court knows that.  It’s not that they would be inclined to follow Missouri or Florida or anybody else.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atlanta Schools Black Eye: Report Claims Educators Cheated

This article was published by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

An independent investigation under the direction of a blue ribbon commission has cited 109 Atlanta Public School principals, assistant principals and others for alleged cheating on student standardized tests.  Cheating evidence was cited in 58 of Atlanta’s 84 public schools.

Investigators focused on 2009 tests that had abnormally high numbers of erasures and changed answers.  The most serious violations were identified in one dozen schools where 78 educators were cited, though not by name because of possible legal action.  The panel did not have authority to impose discipline that could range from reprimands to loss of teaching license. Continue reading

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment