… a knowledgeable response, posted in full, from Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog on the AJC regarding Druid Hills Charter Cluster:
- Posted by StudentsandTeachersFirst at 11:37 a.m. Jun. 18, 2014
From the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC)’s refiling: The four bases provided by the DeKalb Board of Education for initially denying the DHCC’s Petition as “not in the public interest” … were:
(1) financial impact to DeKalb County School District (DCSD);
(2) duplication of programs;
(3) lack of innovation in the Petition’s “academic impact”; and
(4) lack of uniqueness in the Petition’s “academic impact.”
(1) Financial Impact:
. . . The DHCC wishes to clarify for the DeKalb Board that the DHCC budget, which would administer 97% of the state and local per pupil funding earned by the students enrolled in cluster schools while allowing DCSD to retain the statutorily-prescribed 3% of per pupil funds earned by those students, follows state law to the letter. See O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068.1(c.2). . . Therefore, complying with state law with respect to per pupil funding administered by the charter entity and applied at the schoolhouse level is not contrary to “the public interest.”
[This is precisely how other charter schools in DeKalb County, including The Museum School, Tapestry, and Globe Academy, are funded, and the Charter Schools Act does not distinguish between “start-up” and “conversion” charters as DCSD staff insinuated. Why should some students and teachers have a bottom-up budget of FTE and QBE dollars that puts the classroom first, but not other students?]
(2) Duplication of Programs:
The second basis offered in DeKalb Board letter of January 9, 2014 stated that the academic programs proposed by the DHCC duplicate programs offered by DCSD through other charter schools and its school choice program. That basis, however, is problematic for these reasons:
- First, a central component of the DHCC’s instructional pathways is the “STEAM” pathway. While DCSD currently offers a “Math, Science, and Technology” and “Math, Science, and Computer Education,” at two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school (all of which have academic entrance criteria, whereas no such entrance criteria exist for students to be enrolled in DHCC schools), nowhere within DCSD is a “STEAM” curriculum offered. Compare DCSD 2014-15 School Choice Catalog, http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/school-choice/school-choice-catalog.pdf, with Jessica Lahey, “STEM Needs a New Letter,” The Atlantic (January 13, 2014) (“STEAM is gaining, well, steam as a curriculum . . . integrat[ing] art and design in to its existing STEM content with the goal of illustrating how art and design can be used to solve real-world problems.”), and Mackenzie Ryan, “Full STEAM Ahead: Schools Add Art to STEM Curricula,” The Christian Science Monitor (April 21, 2014) (“With heavyweights like the National Science Foundation throwing their support behind the initiative, STEAM appears to be picking up speed.”). Implementing the STEAM pathway at the Druid Hills cluster schools of Laurel Ridge Elementary and McLendon Elementary and Druid Hills Middle and High Schools in no way duplicates any other DCSD program, but rather, introduces an instructional pathway that is at the educational forefront of training tomorrow’s innovators. Finally, with the addition of this first-of-its-kind offering in DCSD, students across DeKalb will be allowed for the first time, assuming capacity exists, to enroll at Laurel Ridge or McLendon through school choice. See DCSD 2014-15 School Choice Catalog (showing neither Laurel Ridge nor McLendon as “choice” options for students throughout DeKalb).
- Similarly, the enhancements proposed by the DHCC Petition to the International Baccalaureate and Montessori pathways are not duplicative of current DCSD programs, but instead forge new boundaries in the quality and programmatic integrity of these pathways. See DCSD 2014-15 School Choice Catalog (demonstrating that DCSD does not offer IB in the ninth and tenth grades at any school, or Montessori in the sixth grade at any school). Unlike DCSD’s current application of Montessori, the DHCC Petition extends Montessori to its intended and methodologically-appropriate end age of sixth grade and implements the class sizes and staffing that fidelity to true Montessori requires. See, e.g., North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, “Ages and Stages,” http://www.montessori-namta.org/Ages-and-Stages (2014). The DHCC Petition likewise brings the cluster’s IB schools into full compliance with a seamless K-12 IB pathway by introducing full-time, dedicated IB coordinators at each of the four cluster IB schools and gaining Middle Years Programme authorization for ninth and tenth grades at Druid Hills High School – all commitments to a true implementation of IB that DCSD does not currently offer. Compare International Baccalaureate Organization, “The IB Middle Years Programme,” http://ibo.org/myp/ (outlining the redesigned-for-2014 MYP that provides “closer alignment across the IB continuum, offering an ideal preparation for students going on to study the IB Diploma Programme or the IB Career-related Certificate”), with DCSD 2014-15 School Choice Catalog (containing no IB continuum in light of the failure to offer IB at any school in the ninth or tenth grades). Securing MYP authorization at DHHS will provide a smoother pathway to, and increase the number of students earning, the rigorous IB diploma by keeping students on track in the critical first two years of high school.
- A final observation on the issue of claimed “duplication of programs” that the DHCC must bring to the DeKalb Board’s attention is the DHCC’s belief (which hopefully this DeKalb Board shares) that the existence of an excellent program at a limited number of other charter schools or DCSD’s “choice” schools should never be a basis for denying any student — let alone five thousand students — the opportunity to experience a similar or even better program at his or her school. See, e.g., DCSD’s 2014-15 School Choice Catalog (offering two magnet schools for “high achievers” in the same grades – showing that instead of “duplication,” offering that particular program at more than one school increases access to an excellent program). While the Board’s January 9, 2014 letter referred to unnamed, existing programs that the DHCC allegedly duplicates, the letter is silent on whether those programs have the capacity to serve the cluster’s approximately five thousand students. Given the length of the waiting lists at some of DCSD’s charter and “choice” schools, it is highly unlikely that capacity exists. For all these reasons, approving the DHCC Petition does not duplicate existing DCSD programs, but rather, is responsive to the large number of students throughout DeKalb seeking access to high-quality programs.
(3) Innovation and Uniqueness:
With respect to the assertions in the January 9, 2014, letter identifying “lack of innovation” and “lack of uniqueness” in academic programming as grounds for determining that the DHCC Petition was “not in the public interest,” those assertions are proven inaccurate by uncontroverted facts:
DCSD does not offer a continuous K-12 IB pathway. Therefore, the Petition offers an innovative and unique program that does not duplicate any current DCSD program. Compare DCSD 2014-2015 School Choice Catalog at 27-28, with International Baccalaureate Organization, “The IB Middle Years Programme,” http://ibo.org/myp/.
DCSD does not offer STEAM or a continuous K-12 STEAM curriculum at any school. Compare DCSD 2014-2015 School Choice Catalog at 16-19, with, e.g., Rhode Island School of Design, “STEM to STEAM,” http://stemtosteam.org/ (explaining that “innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. . . Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century,” and that schools, institutions, and employers “need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM,” and highlighting as a case study the innovative K-8 STEAM curriculum at Atlanta’s Drew Charter School). Therefore, the Petition offers an innovative and unique program that does not exist within current DCSD program choices.
DCSD does not offer Montessori as programmatically-intended, including through sixth grade. Compare DCSD 2014-2015 School Choice Catalog at 23, with, e.g., North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, “Ages and Stages,” http://www.montessori-namta.org/Ages-and-Stages (2014). Therefore, the Petition offers an innovative and unique program that does not duplicate any current DCSD program.
DCSD does not offer instructional pathway choice among elementary schools in any cluster. See DCSD 2014-2015 School Choice Catalog. Therefore, the Petition offers an innovative and unique program that fosters creativity and constructive improvement at the schoolhouse level and does not duplicate any current DCSD program.
DCSD does not offer bottom-up, teacher-driven curriculum, pacing, and assessments. Therefore, the Petition offers innovative and unique practices that do not duplicate current DCSD practices.
DCSD does not offer Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) on a K-12 basis. Therefore, the Petition offers innovative and unique assessment and student growth tools that do not duplicate any current DCSD program. See DeKalb County School District, Curriculum and Instruction, Department of Assessment and Accountability, http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/assessment-and-accountability (outlining assessments offered in grades K through 12 and not identifying MAP as any of those assessments); and DeKalb County School District, Curriculum and Instruction, Gifted and High Achievers, http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/gifted-and-high-achievers (demonstrating that MAP is not the norm-referenced assessment used by DCSD to determine whether certain eligibility criteria are met for gifted services).
DCSD does not apply 97% of per pupil state and local funding to goods and services directly touching students, teachers, and staff at the schoolhouse level. See DeKalb County School District, FY2014 Approved Budget Detail, http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/budget/budget-detail-(2014).pdf; see also DHCC Petition, Appendix 23 (filed with DCSD August 16, 2013). Therefore, the Petition offers innovation and uniqueness that does not duplicate any current DCSD policy or practice.
Thus, the final two “deficiencies” included in the Board’s January 9 letter, which stated, without evidence, that the academic curriculum and instructional plans proposed by the DHCC — which include both the brand new pathways and enhancements to existing K-12 pathways described above; elementary school choice among pathways; smaller class sizes; teacher-driven curriculum development and pacing; vertical and horizontal planning among pathways; use of the highly-regarded Measures of Academic Progress; increased supports for ELL, remedial, and special education students; and increased spending on teacher and staff salaries and professional development, among other things — lacked innovation and uniqueness. With respect, the DHCC maintains — and the uncontroverted facts support — that bringing K-12 STEAM to DeKalb for the first time, and bringing true Montessori and new fully-compliant K-12 IB to DeKalb for the first time represents innovation. Similarly, while the DHCC is aware that certain schools earning federal Title I funds have explored using Measures of Academic Progress (“MAP”) to assist in assessments and achieving student growth, no cluster within DeKalb has adopted full elementary and secondary use of MAP. Unlike assessments such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Cognitive Abilities Test, MAP is a fully-adaptive method of measuring student growth from Kindergarten through twelfth grade and provides instructors highly-relevant, real-time information to facilitate differentiated instruction and student achievement and growth. See Northwest Evaluation Association, “Computer-Based Adaptive Assessments,” http://www.nwea.org/products-services/assessments. Using MAP cluster-wide is an innovative and unique approach in DeKalb and one that will provide valuable data to DCSD and help instruct DCSD’s future decisions about assessments.
Last, but certainly not least, the DHCC wishes to stress to the DeKalb Board that in addition to the innovations described above, many of the other innovations proposed in the DHCC Petition are targeted at our County’s most vulnerable students: our English language learners, our special education students, our students who struggle academically, and our students whose home lives often put them at a disadvantage before they even walk through the schoolhouse doors. By bringing about new staffing models that partner more teachers and specialists with these students, by dedicating social workers and psychologists to stay with these students and their families from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and by having the flexibility (both procedurally and substantively) that comes with charter approval to respond to these students’ needs, the DHCC is committed to making the K-12 educational experience and the outcome of that experience substantially better for these students than it has ever been.
For the foregoing reasons, the Petitioner respectfully requests that the Board approve the refiled DHCC Petition, and partner collaboratively with the DHCC as DCSD moves toward its desired election of charter system as its chosen method of improving both academic achievement and future success of all students throughout DeKalb County schools.
Thank you for this clear and forthright explanation! Bravo! Bravo! Bravissimo!