Some questions to pose at the upcoming ELPC and Tucker meetings:
Although it is encouraging that we have a new, albeit interim superintendent and a mostly new, albeit temporarily appointed Board of Education, there are still many reasons to stay vigilant in our focus on the details of their actions. Our students need us to be asking more questions.
For example, how many documented miles do regional superintendents drive each day to warrant a vehicle? How does this compare to private business employees and the “real world” that taxpayers live in? Where is a spreadsheet calculation that shows the cost-effectiveness of providing a car instead of reimbursing for mileage?
Has anyone examined how many teachers have used their own computers, paper, or printers when doing work at home, especially with no work days? Does anyone care how much personal money teachers spend on supplies for their students?
Our leaders are wasting precious resources on administrators, “coordinators” and “specialists.” Last year DeKalb and Gwinnett each employed the same number of instructional specialists–567. But DeKalb paid many $90,000-$100,000 salaries or double the number of $80,000 salaries to those specialists. In order to see why these specialists were more highly compensated than contracted teachers, we went to the Georgia Professional Standard Commission’s website. What we discovered is that such specialists often have the same qualifications as teachers. Some have doctorates; others have master’s degrees. But these specialists made $20,000 to $40,000 more, annually, than teachers whose workload routinely includes: (1) creating daily lesson plans for as many as four courses; (2) differentiating instruction; (3) grading assignments and recording grades for as many as 180 students; (4) communicating with those students’ parents or guardians; (5) creating and giving make-up work to so many students; and even (6) tutoring students before, during [planning periods] and after school. We even found that physical education teachers lacking advanced degrees were paid $80,000 to $82,000 by DeKalb County Schools as instructional specialists.
If we could find this information in an hour and half on open.ga.gov, then surely DeKalb “leadership” has access to this information and could do their own research. Further, why was this not pointed out by the auditors during the recent salary audit—or was it? A lot has been lost in the smoke-and-mirrors and many shuffles of late.
We also discovered that some of these instructional specialists’ salaries have increased annually over the past 5 or 6 years. However, contracted classroom teachers’ salaries have remained the same for the past 5 or 6 years. In fact, those salaries which pre-date Promethean Boards, iPads, and Twitter, have actually been reduced due to furlough days.
Class size isn’t solely a budget item—it is an instructional decision. Before our Board approves any class size changes, they should request the data evaluating the impact of this year’s class size increases on discipline and course offerings as well as the implications for differentiated instruction, lesson plans, grading, and tutoring.
Too many decisions and policies seem detached from the reality of the classroom. Too many administrators have little-to-no experience in the school building or in the classroom. And too many decisions are made by our Board and administration with virtually zero direct input from classroom teachers.
More findings on compensation:
- Last year Dekalb also employed 139 instructional supervisors — that is 52 more than Gwinnett’s 87. (And Gwinnett has 65,000 more students than DeKalb!)
- Last year, Decatur’s highest paid instructional specialists made no more than $65,000.
- The highest salary a Ph.D.-holding teacher in DeKalb has made or will make is $80,520.
- DeKalb’s January 2012 evaluation audit of curriculum and instruction (see documentation below) — as well as DeKalb’s continuing decline in student academic achievement — makes the amount of money spent by DeKalb on instructional specialists, coordinators, and supervisors particularly disturbing:
- “There was no evidence that the coordinators are stretching beyond the state standards in order to implement additional depth and rigor.”
- “There is a lack of understanding of the attributes of a model lesson plan versus the attributes of a sample plan.”
- ” Sample lesson plans do exist but these do not contain the specificity, differentiation, rigor, and integration that are evident in a true model plan.”
- “Content coordinators use resources from the Georgia Department of Education to provide sample lesson plans.”
- “The resources developed by the curriculum department show little
evidence of interdisciplinary integration.”
- “Both schools and central office staff rely on the pre- and postdiagnostics provided by vendors to assess whether a program is effective. If an independent program evaluation is conducted, it is typically informal, primarily utilizing qualitative data.”
- “Schools correlate program effectiveness with CRCT scores; however, there is little, if any, evidence showing a direct link between these programs and student achievement.”
All academic programs on the approved list should clearly indicate the target audience served and should be:
- Updated continuously, including ongoing cost analysis as it relates to student achievement and per pupil expenditure;
- Inclusive of total cost of implementation: textbooks, required technology and equipment, professional learning, software licensing and “annual updates,” consumable supplies; and
- Evaluated consistently with formative and summative  student achievement data.
 Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes. http://www.ccsso.org/documents/2008/attributes_of_effective_2008.pdf
 Summative assessment is commonly referred to as assessment of learning, in which the focus is on determining what the student has learned at the end of a unit of instruction or at the end of a grade level (e.g., through grade-level, standardized assessments). Summative assessment helps determine to what extent the instructional and learning goals have been met. http://www.education.com/reference/article/formative-and-summative-assessment/
Questions: How did DeKalb use this or other recommendations? What, if any, formative and summative student achievement data does the curriculum and instruction department have for SFA or Academic Data Coaches? Didn’t Kathy Howe, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, explain to our new board that she was getting qualitative data for SFA even though the audit cites qualitative  data as inferior?
There are many areas in the budget that need serious re-alignment. Much research needs to be done by Thurmond and his Board. Our new superintendent promises that his budget will show the seriousness of his plan for “saving DeKalb schools.” We certainly hope he means saving the students’ educations and not simply saving the bricks-and-mortar facilities to protect the jobs of adults.
*The audit does recognize that the district was in the process of creating curriculum units. But we would love to know how much RTT money the county spent when paying teachers and coaches to create these. We’ve looked at some and didn’t see any coordinators’ or supervisors’ names, just teachers and coaches. So if you consider this audit’s findings, what do these instructional higher-ups making so much more than classroom teachers actually do?
This information should bother you, since Elgart and Thurmond are acting as if DeKalb is now back on track. If you compare the audit findings to the 2012-2013 school year practices, they don’t seem to have changed much. And if Thurmond is serious about restoring competent and effective instruction, then why isn’t he putting these certified educators back in the classroom as paid teachers with direct student contact? Elgart stated in his comments at the April 3, 2013 Board meeting that the Board and Thurmond need to essentially rebuild the school system and its budget from the classroom out. This is the only way to get this system back on track and ensure that students are served to the best of our ability.
Time is a-wasting—and we’re not seeing much action yet. This new budget will tell the story – will they focus on students and completely rebuild the system or will they simply play another shell game and move the deck chairs around once again? We are not yet convinced that this group has the ability or knowledge to do what needs done. Hopefully, they will follow Elgart’s advice and employ the services of a renowned education planner who has been successful with a school system very similar to DeKalb’s.