If you’ve read my series of blogs beginning on December 26th, “My Thoughts On The AdvancED SACS Report“, you’ve heard me lament the fact accreditation isn’t based on results for children. Its focus is on “process”, pronouns and sweeping in late into the game after financial incompetence was already discussed and publicly stated by me for almost two years. Apparently, regular accreditation reviews just didn’t catch what this mom with a calculator quickly realized was a deceptive budgeting practice. My advice to the accreditors – (1) rethink the financial “standards and indicators” you review and (2) send in financial professionals, not just educrats, to look at the books.
My blog posts covered the tortured logic of “The Circle of Trust”. It showed no matter the mistakes or misinformation of the educrats in writing, reviewing and implementing policy, it is always the board’s fault. If I ask too many questions, it’s pestering, suspicious or distrustful. If I am misled by staff, that’s on me too. Rigid policy is extremely important in accreditation and, as it turns out, in insulating bureaucracies from real accountability and responsiveness. It has the added bureaucratic benefit of sanitizing the bad decisions made every day. Remember, “it’s policy”. Unfortunately, policy is no replacement for human discernment in the life of a child or a community. We have been victims of policy.
I understand your frustration with the board. As the most consistent “no” vote, I experience this frustration more than most. For what it’s worth, if the board cannot agree to a drastically new approach to the delivery of education and governance of our district, the board should be removed. I believe all the members of the board and most of the DCSD administration want better results for children. But, they want other things more. Board members and administrators can be removed and the game remains. Rearranging or replacing the chess pieces won’t result in improved outcomes. The game itself is rigged.
The only way to truly affect change is to change the game.
My fellow citizens, along with the challenges presented by probation, comes opportunity. We can either leverage that opportunity to fundamentally change and reinvent education in DeKalb or things will remain the same. The board or administration can be removed but the deep systemic problems will continue, and possibly worsen in the short term, despite the false hope this action might give. The persistent and intractable problems that have plagued DeKalb for more than a decade will erupt again. Look at the outcomes where accreditation and various state actions have temporarily given relief and hope; only to see the systems plunge right back into the same quicksand. But there is a way out.
Here are my solutions:
- Consent Decree – The current or newly appointed DeKalb Board must enter into a consent decree with the State that contains provisions for addressing the “required actions” in the AdvancED report. This decree must do more than offer a weak promise to implement yet another plan and another round of stakeholder engagement meetings. It must demand that DeKalb reinvent the way public education is delivered and governed. The consent decree must demand that we push governance and autonomy to each individual school or cluster of schools. This approach is called The Portfolio Strategy. Using the Portfolio Strategy approach:
• The district can meet the required actions listed in the AdvancED report and ensure that the district retains accreditation;
• Design a new governance system that minimizes the risk and footprint of financial malfeasance;
• Eliminates the governance, policy and advocacy conflicts that entangle all layers of the district and;
• Provides a robust and authentic community engagement process that yields results to meet the unique demands of a diverse set of communities.
- Georgia needs to adopt a model for accrediting schools and/or districts based on the merits of their work. Accreditation should not be linked to anything but results for children and prudent financial management for the taxpayers. The state of Texas does this and we can too. Check out the value the Texas Education Agency adds to their systems. The state continually monitors and works with their systems and does not cede their oversight role. It is a transparent system based on student results and financial stability. Read how Texas determines accreditation for schools and districts. And, it has generated results. Read the news on their graduation rates.
The Texas model has worked.
• Number 1 with Asian students with a graduation rate of 95 percent. (Georgia 79%)
• Number 1 for white students with a graduation rate of 92 percent. (Georgia 76%)
• Tied for 1 with a graduation rate of 81 percent for African-American students. (Georgia 60%)
• Has the 3rd highest graduation rate for all students with a rate of 86 percent. (Georgia 67%)
• Number 2 for Hispanic students with a graduation rate of 82 percent, behind only Maine. (Georgia 58%)
• Number 2 for children with disabilities who graduate at a rate of 77 percent. Only South Dakota had a higher rate. (Georgia 30%)
• Number 2 for economically-disadvantaged students who graduate at a rate of 84 percent, behind only South Dakota. (Georgia 59%)
• Number 26 for limited English proficient students who have a graduation rate of 58 percent. Those who become proficient in English are removed from the limited English proficient category. (Georgia 32%)
The Portfolio District
According to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, “A growing number of urban districts including New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, Hartford, and Baltimore are pursuing the portfolio strategy. The portfolio strategy is a continuous improvement model for districts that aims to dramatically affect student outcomes at scale. The strategy, built around 7 key components, creates diverse options for families in disadvantaged neighborhoods by opening new high-performing, autonomous schools; giving all schools control of budgeting and hiring; and holding schools accountable to common performance standards.” Most recently, the Cleveland Plan has been set in motion to reimagine and improve public education. Click here to read about their plan.
The Portfolio District strategy acknowledges the realities and complexities of a large, diverse community. The strategy allows the district to jettison the notions of “one size fits all” and “top down” implementation of policy, procedures, curriculum, hiring and more. This model removes the intractable governance issues by changing the function of the district from a unit responsible for all policy, budgeting, curriculum, HR decisions, etc. to a purely supportive role. Schools and communities around the district are given autonomy and then held accountable for their results. The district would simply be a conduit for funding and could provide other services at the request of individual schools. Innovative districts around the nation are using this strategy. You can read more about it by visiting the website of The Center on Reinventing Public Education.
The Portfolio District strategy also establishes a partnership with the community, business leaders and foundations. This public-private partnership helps guide the implementation of the strategy; ensuring that all communities receive the choices and support they need. This partnership is critical to reestablishing credibility with the citizens and parents. It will provide for authentic stakeholder engagement that will yield the results each community wants; rather than the false hope of surveys, task forces and commissions long ignored.
Parents, teachers, citizens, I hope that you will join with me in asserting your ownership of the school district. For too long, the bureaucrats have controlled and affected your communities while your voice carried little authority to demand change. The mantra of accountability sadly has held almost no one to account. Don’t let this opportunity leave us with false hope. Let’s leverage this situation to bring about meaningful reform in DeKalb and our state.
Please join me in asking The State Board of Education and Governor Deal to return power to the parents and the school communities. If we don’t make this structural change now, I fear that we’ll limp along with ambiguous plans to “do better” or with a new board that either plays the same game or gets rolled by the educrats. You deserve a seat at the table that determines how your school is run. You know what is best for your child and you should have a governance system that allows you to use the tools, strategy, calendar, schedules, budgets and staffing models that work best for your specific community.
Please request that the State Board and Governor decree that DCSD must take immediate steps to begin converting our district into a Portfolio District. Ask them to study the Texas model for accreditation. If you agree with my approach, let them know. Let’s use this opportunity to take back our schools, empower parents and give every child in DeKalb the education they deserve.