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Empowering Teachers

Empowering Teachers

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education identified teacher recruitment and retention as a serious challenge for Georgia’s schools systems.  Nationally, there is plenty of news media coverage documenting the attacks on public education and the teaching profession.  In Georgia, billions of dollars have been cut from the state budget over the last decade, and this has happened as the numbers of students living in poverty have increased.  Teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less.

 

In an article by Wynn Godbold entitled “Empowered teachers will change the world” he wrote:

 

“You can feel the energy of the room as soon as you enter. You notice three things immediately: the environment is orderly, the children are engaged, and the teacher is joyful. Your heart leaps in your chest. You’ve entered the room of an empowered teacher. This is the place where authentic learning is taking place. You wish you could stay all day.”

 

These are the kind of classrooms our children deserve. 

Beyond Standardized Testing

Last year, a group of concerned parents known as Opt-Out Georgia (with the help of Representative Joyce Chandler of Grayson) managed to get a testing opt-out bill through the Georgia Assembly.  Although Governor Deal ultimately vetoed House Bill 425, its passage through the legislature shows the growing strength of a movement of parents who are concerned about the negative effects of high-stakes standardized testing on their children and our schools. I am convinced that we would do well to listen to their concerns.

 

A large body of evidence argues against using standardized tests to make important educational decisions about students or schools. Students from low-income and minority-group backgrounds, English language learners, and students with disabilities, are more likely to be denied diplomas, retained in grade, placed in a lower track, or unnecessarily put in remedial education programs. They are more likely to receive a “dumbed-down” curriculum, based heavily on rote drill and test practice. This ensures they will fall further and further behind their peers. Many drop out, some ending up in the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Some parents report their children have exhibited high levels of stress and anxiety around testing periods.  Additionally, parents in the Opt-Out movement suggest they are often bullied by school officials who are under increased pressure to produce improved test results.

 

The U.S. is the only economically advanced nation to rely heavily on multiple-choice tests. Other nations use performance-based assessment to evaluate students on the basis of real work such as essays, projects, and activities. Ironically, because these nations do not focus on teaching to multiple-choice and short-answer tests, they score higher on international exams.  If we want to provide our children with a world-class education, we need to move beyond standardized testing.  GCPS needs to use its size and clout, along with the flexibility provided under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to help move Georgia in a different direction when it comes to the assessment of our children and our schools.

Our Graduation Rates

The Gwinnett County School System’s Strategic Priorities for 2010–2020 states: 

“Good schools build good communities, and good communities sustain good schools.”

I agree with their assessment and as a tax payer the health of the school system can be directly tied to our property values.  However a quick analysis of the Graduation Rates for Gwinnett County Schools will show that our rates are ‘middle of the road and very average’ NOT good.  As a matter of fact in 2015 we were below the State of Georgia’s average of 78.84%.  My guess is that we normally think of the excellent facilities our school system has and equate those facilities with the level of education and the graduation/success rate for our schools. 

 

However with a $2 Billion Budget we should have Excellent Facilities!  We need to focus more of our attention on the success of our students!  

 

Providing EVERY student with opportunities to succeed and reach the minimum goal of a high school diploma.

*State Graduation Rates (79.2% is preliminary due to incomplete data from a few school districts.)

Source: Georgia Department of Education’s Website

“Firm but Fair Disciplinary Practices”

In the school year 2015 – 2016 Gwinnett County School system only had 1588 disciplinary panels.  Considering that the school system has about 180,000 students that is a very good percentage.  However when you do a brief review of the numbers you can very quickly determine that the hearings seemed lopsided in their enforcement.  The numbers tell a story of discipline enforcement that seems to be unreasonable.  

 

A more basic question is in the 2017 – 2018 school year what “NEW” short term tactics and long term strategies are being developed or deployed to change this very disturbing trend?

Sources:  Gwinnett County’s Department of Academic Support – Year-End Student Discipline Reports 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. 

Lack of Diversity in Leadership

On the Gwinnett County Schools System’s teacher recruitment web site it reads:

Teach Them – and Reach Them – in Gwinnett County 

“Gwinnett County Public Schools is proud to be one of the most diverse districts in the nation”.

“With a population expected to top 1.2 million by the year 2025, Gwinnett is one of the most global communities in the state. GCPS embraces diversity…” 

Business People with Light Bulb Jigsaw Symbol
Diversity Can Inspire New Ideas

This appears to be a draw to obtain a diverse pool of educators to help educate one of the most diverse districts in the nation.  

The population of Gwinnett County over the past 20 years has changed dramatically.  The county is now a wonderful melting pot of cultures. However over this same 20 year period the Gwinnett County School Board has remained ‘stagnant’.  The lack of change on the board combined with the dramatic diversity changes in the population, educators and students ‘may be’ one of the reasons behind some of the disturbing trends we are seeing in our county’s education system.

This is not meant to be a judgement against the current board’s, values or knowledge, just the fact that they may lack the proper perspective in order to create new policy.

It is past time to realign the Gwinnett County School Board to be more reflective of the students and teachers they serve.

Because You Can Not  – Govern Them – If You Lack the Perspective – To Reach Them

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