Monday, January 17, 2011

Go Tell It on the Mountain: Education in DeKalb County Possibly Worse than in Dr. King's Day

Six months before his death in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a group of junior high school students in Philadelphia, urging them to stay in school, encouraging them to see their own brilliance, humanity, and integrity. 

Here's a bit of what he told them: 

Number one in your life's blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you fell that you're nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.
Secondly, in your life's blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You're going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life's work will be. Set out to do it well.
And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you--doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open...
This hasn't always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don't drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you're forced to live in — stay in school.

I wonder what Dr. King would think about the state of education here in Atlanta today. While I can't speak to the state of City of Atlanta schools, the state of schools in DeKalb County, which makes up a huge chunk of the metro Atlanta area, is consuming a monumental amount of my mental energy right now and causing me to despair for my own children and those throughout the county.
After years of mismanagement and corruption at the hands of Crawford Lewis, Pat Pope, and their corrupt cronies, DeKalb County Schools are in a state of crisis, having been the subject of an inquiry by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools which provides the systems accreditation, and now facing the prospect of closing neighborhood schools and consolidating programs like the magnet and gifted programs into what the DCSS terms "centralized" locations. In other words, they are moving these programs from the areas where the majority of students participating in them live and putting them in economically disadvantaged schools that no one should have to attend. 
The county's redistricting plans also include moving students from high performing schools to schools that haven't met AYP standards, pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, haves against have nots, minority against majority, North DeKalb against South as parents fight to do what is right, not just for their own children, but for the communities they have helped build.
I had another mother ask me why I was fighting the redistricting, suggesting that as good citizens we all have to share the burden. Sadly, I don't see that we are all sharing the burden. The brunt of the burden of redistricting is being placed upon families in the North and Central parts of DeKalb County, asking us to move our children to schools that aren't as good as the ones they currently attend. 
The county refuses to make real change by firing bad teachers, dismantling the staggering bureaucracy and corruption of the DCSS central office, and making bad schools better. Instead, they want to disrupt the lives of families whose kids attend good schools (schools that parents and communities have worked hard to maintain and improve), so they can put a Band-Aid on the gushing wound of underperforming schools. It's as if they honestly believe they can shuffle high achievers around and put them in any school they want to raise test scores or create some sort of equity in education all while making the masses believe they are cutting costs and saving tax dollars.
It's such a gutless move. And intellectually dishonest.
All children in this county deserve a good education. Instead of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, perhaps the DeKalb County school system and Board of Education should evaluate their curricula, hire teachers who can teach, fire the ones who can't and don't give them administrative positions, stop hiring unqualified relatives of administrators to fill made-up positions in the central office, and make real, substantive changes at the schools that need them the most. Oh yeah... And don't give the interim superintendent (a product of the old administration, by the way) a $73,000 raise when you're faced with closing schools!
Instead of wasting money on designated gifted-magnet/high achiever schools and charter schools whose attendance is selected not by test scores, but by lottery, serving a very limited number of students, spend that money to create Honors and AP courses in every school. In elementary schools, have a single class in every grade that is solely for the high achievers. Yes, track the kids who need additional challenges and do the same for the kids who are struggling. Get every kid the specialized attention they need at a greatly reduced cost to the taxpayers of this county and without forcing their parents to drive 20 miles across the city to get their son or daughter to school. 
I think Dr. King would mourn at how far we have yet to go to provide an adequate education to every child in this county. I also believe he would point the finger of shame at those DCSS administrators and BOE members who grasp for power and line their own pockets at the expense of our children.