Nancy Jester reports on city schools’ performance

Do City School Districts Perform Better?
by Nancy Jester

The cityhood movement is in full swing in DeKalb. There’s plenty of news, discussion, controversy and conflict surrounding the topic. I live in an already incorporated area. I understand the motivation to form new cities. But this post is not about the pros and cons of cityhood. This post is about city school districts in Georgia. Our last constitution, ratified in 1983 is Georgia’s 10th constitution and our nation’s youngest. Article VIII of that constitution sets out the parameters for public education and its governance. Section V, paragraph I of Article VIII, allows all existing school districts (county and city) to remain but prohibits any new independent (city) school systems from forming. Georgia was left with 21 city districts, 159 county districts and no new districts allowed to form.

The motivation behind the prohibition on new districts was mostly economic in nature. The result consolidated bureaucratic power and effectively eliminated competition in education for the next 30 years. But was this prohibition a wise choice? If we measure the implications in student achievement, the answer is no.

Read the rest (along with the research data) here >> Do City School Districts Perform Better?

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Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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13 Responses to Nancy Jester reports on city schools’ performance

  1. whyaminotsurprised says:

    The main problem with this comparison, is that it is not an equivalent comparison. It is widely known that higher SES groups perform better than lower SES groups. When Cheryl Atkinson tried to push in the faux-balanced-calendar, she tried to say it was one of the factors that made City of Decatur’s scores higher. This was a fallacy for that issue and it’s a fallacy for this one, too. The schools in Decatur are run better, and it’s a highly educated group of parents who live there, by and large. There’s no connection shown in this very basic comparison between cityhood and Decatur high scores. In fact, if you look at the numbers, if you compare Marietta city schools w/ Cobb County (a more similar comparison), you end up with very similar scores. In fact, in some areas Cobb County beat Marietta city. Comparing only 2 cities w/ 6 counties without matching on other variables is poor math and poor science.

    I’m not saying cityhood is not the right direction to go in; smaller districts may be the right idea. However, this data is not useful in proving that point, and because it’s so poorly done, it may actually have people rejecting the whole premise out of hand – you may push folks away rather than pull them to your cause.

  2. @why: I understood the main point to show that the reason Georgia stated for changing the constitution and prohibiting the formation of new school systems, while encouraging consolidation is not valid. Some small districts perform well and spend less per student, some larger districts do, some city systems do… It’s an odd rule to have to follow and ties the hands of those who could quite possibly do a much better job if allowed the control of their own district or small break-away.

  3. Dekalbite2 says:

    @whyaminotsurprised

    But Marietta City Schools with almost the same demographics as DeKalb (except Marietta City Schools have a slightly higher poverty rate) perform much better than DeKalb Schools. When comparing systems or schools you must look at demographics or it is not a fair comparison. Compare the low income schools in Gwinnett with DeKalb and you will see that Gwinnett Title 1 schools consistently and substantially better in terms of student achievement. Perhaps it is not the size but the administration that also matters. IMO – Many taxpayers/parents who want to break the system apart have given up hope that we will see a change in the administrative personnel who have been running DCSS. They think the only way to get a new administration that will pour the resources back into the classrooms is to break the system into smaller units.

  4. Could someone who has access to AJC online at least publish the chart comparing central office employees that’s part of the article on APS’s high percentage of central office employes? The chart shows Dekalb with only, if I remember correctly, 7.9% of employees as central office staff. Seems like Dekalb School Watch published numbers that were near double that a couple of years ago. Sounds like Dekalb’s getting off without scrutiny with deceptively low numbers. The chart claims to be based on numbers from Audits and Accounts, the same source for Dekalb School Watch numbers. Somehow Dekalb has managed to skew the real numbers. This has me angry because Dekalb can now claim that they are down the list among metro counties according to their percentage of central office employees. This deceptive pubilcly published data can be used in all kinds of ways by Thurmond and the Lewis/Tyson henchpeople against teachers and true school-house employees.

  5. Concernedmom30329 says:

    It isn’t a percentage:

    HOW MANY IS TOO MANY?

    School district…Administrators per 1,000 students

    Atlanta…16.7

    Cherokee…4.8

    Clayton…8.6

    Cobb…5.6

    DeKalb…7.9

    Fayette…8.6

    Forsyth…3.5

    Fulton…6.5

    Gwinnett…7.4

    Henry…4.7

    Source: Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts FY2012 salary and position data

    How we got the story

    As Atlanta school board members debated their budget, staff writer Mark Niesse noticed administration jobs weren’t touched. He found Georgia Department of Education numbers showing Atlanta Public Schools had the highest general administration costs per student in the state, and accountant Jarod Apperson shared a spreadsheet comparing administrative salaries by job title. Niesse then analyzed the number of administrators across 10 school districts and crunched national figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The numbers consistently showed Atlanta Public Schools’ administration spending was higher than its peers. Niesse spent several weeks reviewing the data and interviewing school leaders, financial experts, education policy analysts and concerned parents.

  6. DSW’s original report on the bloat in the school system as compared to nearby systems: [February, 2009]

    DeKalb County Schools System as Mr. Potato Head?

    DCSS Total Salaries 2008: $682,709,025.22
    DCSS Admin/”Central Office” Salaries 2008: $170,590,619.93
    Ratio 2008: 24.987%

    FCSS Total Salaries 2008 $552,969,891.22
    FCSS Admin/”Central Office” Salaries 2008: $56,194,268.83
    Ratio 2008: 10.162%

    DeKalb is nearly 2.5 times more “top-heavy” than Fulton? What?! I nearly fainted. Please, someone tell me these data files are not to be trusted – that this is an absurd deviation. I was so floored by these numbers I repeated my own quality checks against my processing of the data.

    I checked total salaries in the source files and in my transformation of this data and they match. I spot checked titles between the provided data and my data and they match. So, if there is an error, it is farther up-stream in the State of Georgia or County reporting process that created these data files. It is also possible that there are some other assumptions hidden in the source data of which I am ignorant (I’m generous).

    Putting aside all these questions for the moment … HOLY MR. POTATO-HEAD DCSS!

    Since then, DeKalb schools has ‘reclassified’ many central office jobs as school house jobs and funded from school house sources – so things now don’t ‘look’ as expensive at the CO – but we remain highly skeptical. Mr. Thurmond has publicly stated many times that over 600 central office jobs were cut – but he has never produced a list of cuts. Atkinson and Tyson each said they cut 300, however, again, no list. Word is that the jobs cut were all low-level jobs that would surprise most people as being considered ‘central office’. But we simply don’t know for certain, as we said, no lists of cuts have ever been produced. We tried diligently to filter the monthly HR reports to cobble together our own list, but we failed. They were far too hard to dissect.

    https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/dcss-files/budgets-and-audits/

  7. Another comment says:

    The AJC list does not include the ridiculous number of Assistant Principals that are in the Schools. I remember having 1 Assistant Principal in my High School that had 1,500 students. It also does not include the school assigned Counselors. We only had 1 at my high school. My daughter’s high school of 2,200 students had 5 of each. Plus they have a Social Worker. Then all the ESOL’s that are counted at the school level. My own mother did not speak English when she started school. Neither did her Parents. When she started School, my Grandmother declared we are in America, we are American’s we will all speak English.

  8. Another comment says:

    I grew up in an area of the country where one high school and its feeder schools were the norm. All of the school districts were considered top schools. They still make the Newsweek top 1000 School Districts. I cry when I think of how my child has not had the real high school experience that I had in high school. Her High School experience has been full of disruptions by children who don’t want to learn and excuses are made, despite me owning a $500K plus house in the zoned district. The schools only teach to the bottom, not the top, despite that fact, that my children were well prepared. I have been the room mother, I have raised funds, I have given and given. I am sick of being taken advantage by those who don’t care about their children.

    One high school Districts are the only thing that works. They get rid of the friends and family jobs.

  9. Dekalbite2 says:

    @Concernedmom30329

    “The chart shows Dekalb with only, if I remember correctly, 7.9% of employees as central office staff”

    Well, as you might remember under Atkinson, DCSS had many Central Office employees moved “off the Cental Office books” and assigned on paper to the schools even as they have no academic interaction with students.

  10. Dekalbite2 says:

    The ONLY way to cut down on excessive administration costs in DeKalb or any system is to lower the pupil teacher ratio to a level that is educationally sound for students, adequately fund classrooms with supplies and textbooks, and ensure the teachers have decent compensation. Adequately fund the classroom, and then the superintendent can add his or her programs and admin and support positions with the leftover money. If you can only afford dessert by skimping on dinner, don’t expect good health.

    EVERY student deserves:
    1. A clean and safe learning environment
    2. A competent, well compensated teacher in a reasonably sized class
    3. Abundant access to cutting edge science and technology equipment

    ONLY after Mr. Thurmond has ensured EVERY child in DeKalb has these three mandatory academic components should he build his budget for admin and support.

    I urge readers and commenters to write every BOE member and Mr. Thurmond to remind him that EVERY child in DeKalb no matter what their economic circumstances DESERVES these three components.

  11. whyaminotsurprised says:

    @Dekalbite2

    Actually, you argued my main point fairly well – there are multiple variables which can affect how districts score. It could be size, SES, administrative decisions, or other factors we haven’t even mentioned. The sample size is so small, that it is inappropriate to say it is definitely one thing versus another. I only menioned SES as one possible example.

  12. howdy1942 says:

    Once again, I applaud Nancy Jester for her very sharp and insightful analysis. There may have been some analyses on the former board, but I am convinced that you did most of it. Dekalb County is much poorer not having you (Nancy) on the Board.

    As I view Nancy’s analysis, it demonstrates that smaller is more efficient in using the taxpayers’ dollars, more effective in focusing on the classroom, and produces a much better outcome for the students. It is also more effective in addressing the needs of the disadvantaged student. Such strong analyses will produce a strong case for changing the State Constitution to allow more districts to be formed within the districts that are so large at present, such as the Dekalb School System. These analyses will be far more effective in persuading the Governor and the Legislature to promote the creation of smaller, independent, and self-governed school districts. This will especially be true relative to the loud stonewalling that has been thrust upon the Dekalb School System by a majority of the School Board. Just as these loud voices of protest have been ineffective with SACS, with the Governor, and with the State Board of Education, they will likewise be ineffective in the coming Legislature. This process will only be enhanced if the Georgia Supreme Court rules for Walker.

    The rule by raw power that has so characterized recent school boards in Dekalb County will crumble in the wake of research provided by the likes of Nancy Jester. To use Jay Cunningham’s favorite expression, “at the end of the day” the Dekalb County School Board would have done well to have listened to Nancy.

  13. [Much] Smaller than DeKalb is efficient – but too small is not. It’s a bell curve – the super large districts tend to be as inefficient and expensive as the super small ones. There seems to be a point that is most cost-effective as well as most successful for students – somewhere around 3,000-6,000 student districts.

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