DeKalb School Watch received this essay from a concerned educator, currently working for DeKalb County Schools. As always we exercised our right to edit whatever we publish, while taking care to maintain the tone and the point of the essay.
We are publishing this essay with the hope that we will hear from other DCSS employees — particularly those who work with SFA — and parents regarding the concerns brought up in the essay.
As many of you are aware, DeKalb County has adopted a reading program for many of its lowest performing schools. The program carries the acronym, SFA – Success for All. As it is highly questionable as to whether or not the program delivers on its promise, the program is met with criticism for a number of reasons:
First, the Roots (1st grade) level is riddled with phonics errors (“g” says “geh”?). Educators utilizing this program in their schools are incessantly reminded by the powers that be to execute this program with “fidelity.” This calls into question the “fidelity” with which DeKalb County School System and SFA reviewed this program before educators were required to implement it.
Secondly, this SFA program features Dr. Ruth Westheimer as a “word personality” (Dr. Ruth Wordheimer) on the “Between the Lions” video segment of the program. In case any of you are unaware of who Dr. Ruth is, she had a talk show titled “Sexually Speaking” in the ‘80s. She is a nationally recognized authority on sexual matters and methods. She remains an active contributor to sex education in written and video form. For example, she has a plethora of YouTube “how to” videos on various sexual-related activities.
If a student were to type “Dr. Ruth” into an Internet search engine (i.e., Google, Bing, etc.), he/she would be exposed to many inappropriate (for children), X-rated, adult materials. In fact, nothing found in a general search even mentions Dr. Ruth as a recognized child or educational expert, so why has SFA (and DeKalb County Schools, for that matter) deemed her as such?
Additionally, at least one DeKalb County SFA school (if not more) is encountering a troubling trend with the practice of remediating students but not accelerating students who are ready to move on. This custom seems to be an escalating epidemic in DeKalb – focus on the struggling students but not the striving ones.
Ostensibly, the aim of SFA is to place students on a reading level at which they are functional, but challenged to grow. Student placement is based solely upon reading assessments provided by the program, which determines a child’s reading level. The ritual at one particular DeKalb SFA school is to place students below grade level if they test below grade level, but NOT place them above their current grade level, even if they tested above.
For example, a 3rd grader can be placed in a 1st grade level reading group (below), but not in a 4th grade level reading group (above), even if the administered test determines them capable. Why would that be? Do we not want our students to be advanced? It certainly is not the fault of SFA , as I am convinced they did not intend such prejudice. This school, for one, has been told by its SFA facilitator that this is a DeKalb recommendation. No acceleration. No challenge for the highest students. No surprise.
We have long had concerns about Success For All — particularly the close, possibly financial, relationship between Cheryl Howell Atkinson and SFA. Her doctoral dissertation was specifically on SFA and much of it reads like it was written by the SFA public relations staff. Bringing in SFA was one of the first things she did Lorain, Ohio (the Lorain school system was recently taken over by the State of Ohio). SFA was the first major move Atkinson made as DCSS superintendent, before she even really knew much about DCSS and our students — especially our Title I, lowest-achieving students.