School Transformation Without School Improvement in Atlanta’s all Charter District

1 May

Since the 2015 all charter district reforms in Atlanta, the so called “education gap” has grown significantly. This is reflected in both state and federal testing data.

I recently wrote about Superintendent Castarphen and her history of bullying staff and working to privatize public education. That post was motivated by an email from Ed Johnson providing his initial review of the just released TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessment) data from the 2017 testing cycle.

Mr. Johnson is a longtime advocate for public education. He is a native Georgian, a former NSA analyst and an expert in Deming inspired quality management. His writings have been published in many places including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and he has been a candidate for the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) board. With his permission, I am posting his more deepened analysis of recent testing data from Atlanta.

NAEP TUDA 2017: A follow-on systemic look at Atlanta

The earlier preliminary look at NAEP TUDA (National Assessment of Educational Progress, Trial Urban District Assessment) biennial results for Atlanta Public Schools (APS; “Atlanta”) offered the immediate data story that, in recent years, since 2015, the district’s White-Black academic achievement gaps have been made unusually worse.  It was also noted that Georgia Milestones Assessment System (GMAS) annual results for Atlanta, from 2015 through 2017, coupled with Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competence Tests (CRCT) annual results for Atlanta, from 2012 through 2014, tell the same story.

Told either way, negative contributing factors in the story are implicated to be, in general, disruptive school choice as charter schools and school turnaround without school improvement.  Being driven more by ideology than pedagogy, and inclined to serve would-be oligarchs’ interests more than the public’s interests, the Atlanta Public Schools Leadership (APSL) have pressed these negative contributing factors into the district over just the past few years.  It began in 2014, with the school board hiring Meria Joel Carstarphen, Ed.D., as Atlanta superintendent.  Notably, Dr. Carstarphen once publicly proclaimed having been “trained,” presumably by her alma mater, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, to do the school turnaround work school board members wanted done.

Now by looking strictly district-level at APS, NAEP TUDA results tell a similar story of academic achievement made unusually worse since 2015.  Here, however, the story is systemic and implicates, again, school choice as charter schools and school transformation without school improvement as having detectably disrupted for the worse the district’s continuous (not to be confused with continual) upward trend since TUDA inception in each grade and subject assessed, those being 4th Grade Mathematics (4GM) and 8th Grade Mathematics (8GM), since 2003; and, 4th Grade Reading (4GR) and 8th Grade Reading (8GR), since 2002.  The “control charts” accessed in the PDF and PowerPoint links offer the story in pictures. (PowerPoint National Assessment of Educational Progress: Trial Urban District Assessment of Atlanta Public Schools through 2017, Revised.  PDF here.)

Johnson TUDA Testing Atlanta Graphic

This Fourth Grade Math Chart is an Example of TUDA Data Mr. Johnson Shared.

Johnson State Testing Atlanta Graphic

This Chart is an Example of Georgia State Testing Data Mr. Johnson Shared.

However, before going to the control charts in the PowerPoint for the story in pictures, consider the following points by W. Edwards Deming and Donald J. Wheeler (my emphasis and inserts):

“Is this chart difficult?  Patrick mastered it at age 11.  This was his science project at school.  A good start in life.  Some essential theory of variation could obviously be taught in the 5th grade.  Pupils would come out of school with knowledge in their heads, not merely information.”

—W. Edwards Deming.  The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education Second Edition (pp. 209-210).

“Figures come in, but the figures go on to charts to detect trends. The management now understand the distinction between common causes of variation, and special causes [of variation].”

—ibid. (p. 40)

“It is a mistake to suppose that the control chart furnishes a test of significance—that a point beyond a control limit is ‘significant.’  This supposition is a barricade to understanding.”

—ibid. (p. 177)

“Certain patterns of points on a control chart may also indicate a special cause.”

—ibid. (pp. 201-202)

“Before you can use data to justify any action, you must be able to detect a potential signal within the data.  Otherwise you are likely to be interpreting noise.”

—Donald J. Wheeler.  Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos Second Edition (p. 31).

After considering the story the control charts in the PowerPoint portray, one might ask: Why might Atlanta NAEP TUDA results for each of MG4, MG8, RG4, and RG8 have so suddenly shifted down for the worse in 2015 and pretty much stayed there through 2017?  And about MG8, ask: Why did it go “out of control” for the worse in 2017?

Luck, perhaps?  Certainly, one might think it was inevitable that each of the four continuous upward trends in Atlanta NAEP TUDA results, from 2002 or 2003 through 2013, would end.  After all, if one were to get six or seven heads in a row on as many flips of a coin then suddenly get tails on the very next flip, or if one were to get six or seven snake eyes in a row on as many rolls of two die then suddenly get seven on the very next roll, one might dismissively conclude: “About time.”  Or, one’s curiosity might be aroused: “Hmm.  What’s going on, here?”

Or, one might ask: What in Atlanta has been in effect since about 2015 likely to have caused the district to experience a sudden sustained shift down for the worse in each of NAEP TUDA MG4, MG8, RG4, and RG8 results?

Well, Atlanta has had school choice as charter schools and school reform without school improvement in effect since about 2015.  This being the case, the research paper Social Class and Parent-Child Relationships: An Interpretation, by Melvin L. Kohn, offers insight more rational than, it’s luck:

“We, too, found that working-class parents value obedience, neatness, and cleanliness more highly than do middle-class parents, and that middle-class parents in turn value curiosity, happiness, consideration, and—most importantly—self-control more highly than do working-class parents.  We further found that there are characteristic clusters of value choice in the two social classes: working-class parental values center on conformity to external prescriptions, middle-class parental values on self-direction.  To working-class parents, it is the overt act that matters: the child should not transgress externally imposed rules; to middle-class parents, it is the child’s motive and feelings that matter: the child should govern himself.”

Arguably, APSL’s school choice as charter schools and school turnaround without school improvement lend credence to Kohn’s research findings.  Specifically, simple observations of behavior make it clear that Harvard-trained Meria Carstarphen brought into APS with her hiring, in 2014, a way of thinking that calls for deliberately and intentionally playing on low- and working-class parents’ values of “obedience, neatness, and cleanliness” and “conformity to external prescriptions,” so as to manipulate the parents to believe and accept their children deserve training more so than education, even psychologically abusive training (i.e., operant conditioning, as developed at Harvard University).  The picture below clearly illustrates the matter.  And it is a matter that contrasts sharply with educating, more so than training, elite- and middle-class children rooted in their parents’ values of “curiosity, happiness, consideration, and … self-control” and “self-direction.”

Kindezi Charter School Picture

Photo from the Kindezi Charter Schools’ Facebook Home Page

Perhaps understanding this, the contrast, helps explain why, during this month’s school board meeting, the superintendent bristled at and pushed back on school board member Erika Mitchell’s proclamation to work with the Harper-Archer Elementary School community to include in the school’s reopening the planetarium the facility once housed when it was Harper-Archer High School.  A planetarium in the school might, quite wondrously and experientially, arouse “curiosity” in the children presumed to be of low- and working-class parents.  Can’t have that.  Curiosity aroused in such children would, of course, be contrary and disruptive to obedience and compliance training the children must get, so as to prepare them to produce, on demand, high enough scores on standardized tests to evidence being on track to “college and career ready.”

And perhaps understanding the contrast also helps explain why the APSL gives no mind to the wondrous, experiential, highly accessible world of nature right out in the backyard of Beecher Hills Elementary School.  Thus, yet another case of curiosity arousal suppression, and obedience and compliance reinforcement. Black children are deemed deserving, if only subliminally, because such is the state of their low- and working-class parents’ values.

Bottom line, results over time from both NAEP TUDA and Georgia standardized tests make it abundantly clear that, since school year 2014-2015, the APSL—the Atlanta school board and superintendent—have made schooling especially for Black children inherently more regressive, suppressive, oppressive, and untenable as a public good.  Couple that with their having made schooling more insidious, immoral, unethical, unjust, unequable, and racially discriminatory than it has ever been.

So now the APSL would dare concern themselves with early childhood education, expressly directed at low- and working-class parents of children between the ages of birth and pre-K?

Just how boldly sinister can they be?

By the way, reading the superintendent’s take on 2017 NAEP TUDA results for Atlanta can be instructive.  The superintendent demonstrates the usefulness of greatly restricting the scope and context of available data to extents that allow fabricating and serving up the best possible “good news” stories.  The superintendent comes off looking good but at the expense of losing sight of facts that might arouse, well, curiosity—well-informed curiosity.

Ed Johnson

Advocate for Quality in Public Education

****************************************************************

I have slightly edited Mr. Johnson’s emailed article to better fit this publishing format.

Choice and separate but equal schools first arose in the deep south in 1869. Of course, schools were not equal especially in terms of funding, but they were segregated. Following the Brown decision, southern governors latched onto Milton Friedman’s privatize everything ideas and embraced voucher schemes and schemes that were very similar to charter schools as a way to maintain segregation.

But this time around it is different. It is not just about segregation. It is about reducing the cost of public education. It is about tax reduction for elites and profiting off education dollars.

Laws have already been passed to designate teachers with as little as five-weeks of training “highly qualified.” In Arizona, public schools are giving high school graduates emergency credentials to work as long-term substitute teachers. In North Carolina private schools receiving government vouchers are certified even though they openly hire new high school graduates as teachers.

The promise of public education is being dismantled. Public schools with real teachers trained at university-based teacher education programs were once the expectation in America. High quality professionally run schools in every neighborhood used to be a birthright. The super-wealthy want compliant workers and no longer see a value in educating too many creative thinkers. Plenty of creative thinkers will come from high end private schools. Plus, people who think for themselves are dangerous.

The American public will eventually figure this out and demand their schools back. The first steps for undoing the damage include stopping vouchers and a moratorium on charter schools. All charter schools should be put under the management of elected school boards and TFA should be run out of town. No more fake teachers, fake schools and fake administers.

2 Responses to “School Transformation Without School Improvement in Atlanta’s all Charter District”

  1. Ed Johnson May 2, 2018 at 1:34 am #

    Much appreciation to Tom Ultican for blogging my latest email. As you read the post, kindly know Jack Hassard is the Professor [Emeritus] of Science Education at Georgia State University attributed to me. I am just someone whose head that W. Edwards Deming got into (as did similar other Systems Thinkers) and won’t get out, thank goodness. Professor Hassard blogs as The Art of Teaching, at http://www.artofteachingscience.org/.

    A bit more about me: I am a long-time Atlanta citizen, native born Georgian, and former president of Atlanta Area Deming Study Group. Mine is a Deming lens by which I hold a keen, uncompromising desire for the public’s public schools to remain public goods and to continually improve in quality as public goods in service to sustaining and advancing democratic practices ever-closer to democratic ideals.

    I am a Vietnam War-era veteran of the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), with service in the Far East and the Middle East, and a graduate of Clark College, Atlanta GA. Meaningful former employers include U.S. National Security Agency, as Associate Computer Scientist; Morehouse College, as part-time Instructor; and, Federal Reserve System, as Information Center Consultant. From 1991 until last year, I had been actively consulting as my company, Quality Information Solutions, Inc. Having very early on recognized and embraced the universal importance of Systems Thinking to continual quality improvement of life, work, and play, today I concern myself almost exclusively with our K-12 public education systems, especially Atlanta Public Schools, as Advocate for Quality in Public Education.

  2. drext727 May 2, 2018 at 11:50 am #

    Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education.

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