The following writing is excerpted from the beginning pages of my Master's Thesis submitted to the Professors and Administrators of the Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School Joint Degree Program in Law & Government as part of my Integrated Written Work Requirement. Submitted on April 20, 2012, I retain all original rights and privileges. For followup questions or inquiries, email 

Atlanta Public Schools is in the process of adopting more functional administrative policies in response to the system-wide cheating scandal that caused national attention last year.  This research is offered to help the new APS administration fill a potential gap in input from key stakeholders.  It argues that policy solutions must be grounded in Atlanta-specific contexts so that they are sustainable even after administrative leadership changes.  By applying the critical incidents technique to field interviews within a larger reflective practice framework, three key insights emerge about the scandal and potential solutions are proffered to the district.

More after the jump.


Which ideas and policy proposals should be translated into ESEA reauthorization (NCLB) legislation? How does that happen?

An evaluation of ideas from Scott Abernathy, No Child Left Behind and the Public Schools (2007).

Money, resources, efficiency. Abernathy writes that money matters such that “careful thought into where it goes and on what basis it is handed out” become important (p. 133). An ambitious proposal would be for local education agencies (LEA) to encourage cultures of efficient spending to stretch each federal dollar farther—but this is more of a policy opportunity than a legislative proposal.  However, this might be done legislatively by larger appropriations for technical assistance to LEAs and through guidance that encourages LEAs to let accounting and budgeting contracts to companies that can partner with the school district central offices.  (Abernathy echoes that rewards (and resources) “should be both financial and bureaucratic” (p. 134).)

Expanding charter advantages.  Abernathy takes the ideology of choice and charters head on in boldly suggesting “we should consider extending the bureaucratic advantages of charter schools to all public schools” (p. 137). I think this suggestion is worth policymakers really considering for several reasons. First, because it does call into question why traditional public schools that house high-need student populations should bear burdens other schools don’t.  Secondly, because it would ironically create real public choice in the market, as traditional schools are unhinged to actually compete with charter and private counterparts.  And, thirdly, because it would require a serious analysis of whether the fewer burdens on charter schools have produced the raving results people often associate with them—whereas researchers and education policywonks acknowledge the mixed results (Abernathy, p. 136). I read what Abernathy proposes, however, as different from the flexibility for local schools rhetoric that some Congressmen have displayed. Instead, he is asserting that accountability still be in place but bureaucratic requirements lessen (whereas some congressional proposals use the term flexibility to reject some accountability measures altogether). Upon consideration, however, it appears that this proposal might actual bifurcate political groups—especially those that position themselves in favor of public choice but fundamentally against traditional schools or those that rely on teacher unions because unions contracts may strain school flexibility in some areas. 

Assessment of Managers as part of school culture.  Abernathy hits the nail on the head when he notes that teachers’ assessments of principals regarding school performance is needed in NCLB modifications (p. 139). Let’s call this a school culture metric.  Since much of the performance-accountability structure is adapted from private sector metrics, Abernathy’s observation points out a fatal lack of fidelity to accountability models. “It is difficult to imagine a private-sector system that fails to incorporate subordinates’ assessments of their managers in assessing whether those managers are performing adequately” (p. 139). I concur! Teacher retention data attributable to school management practices might be a part of the school culture performance metric as well.  Perhaps this can be done legislatively by including teacher satisfaction surveys with leadership as school culture metrics, which are but one of the many achievement indicators (alongside traditional indicators like graduation rates and student test scores).


The Status of Georgia Race to the Top and What should be done moving forward

This memo assumes that there is a new governor in Georgia as of 2013 for the purposes of an assignment from my HGSE course, Federal Government in the Schools. However, in reality, Georgia's elections for governor fall on mid-term years.  That said, the recommendations for Georgia work out just right if none of that is assumed. So, enjoy the substance, nevermind the exact audience.

Fictional Assignment -- What is the Status of Georgia's Race to the Top Implementation? What are your recommendations for a new governor?

This memo outlines challenges Georgia faces in implementing nearly $400 million in incentive funds received from the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) for a successful Race to the Top (“RTTT”) application. Georgia’s challenges are not drastically different than those of other RTTT winners, but our issues were mostly around data systems, timeline delays, and increasing charter opportunities. These and other issues can be addressed using eight strategies. Four of the eight strategies should be championed by the Office of the Governor: (1) require implementation checks for future RTTT applications, (2) garner local district enthusiasm for Georgia’s state-wide Innovation Fund, (3) maintain vigilance over graduation rates and teacher supports, and (4) encourage and support state legislative efforts to expand equitable opportunities for local charters. The other four strategies, discussed on page 4, should be implemented by the Georgia Department of Education (“GaDOE”). The sections below are instructive. 

More after the break...

If you received a grant for in-school clinic services, what would YOU use it for?

The assumption for this response is that a grant recipient (from the Johnson Foundation) would be able to create a full service healthcare wing of the middle or high school that would be staffed with at least two nurses each of the 5 school days a week.  Given this assumption, here is the plan for specific healthcare services.
More after the break...