In light of the Fiscal Cliff discussion...

Some people are worried that Congress won't pass the legislation necessary to halt cuts to important spending.  Many are also worried that tax rates will increase if the Bush-Era cuts are not extended.  

Though both of these are more about budget priorities than fiscal policy, I thought I might inject a quick clip of the Moral Limits of the Market, from Professor Michael Sandel.  Here he is appearing on the Colbert Report (back in May) with a quick synopsis of his points. 

As a general note, I enjoy lots of these published "Episodes" of Professor Sandel's course on Justice at Harvard University.  Here's a arsenal of others: JUSTICE WITH MICHAEL SANDEL.


Another Atlanta district is on suspension -- UGH!

A few years ago in 2008, the  Southern Association of Colleges and Schools ("SACS") pulled the accreditation of a metro Atlanta school district, Clayton County.  (I wrote about the governance problems in an a co-authored article, "Getting on Board:  How to Make School Districts Represent Students.") Today, it put that same district on "notice" that it still faced major problems with governance. See here.


To add to the community's frustration, another metro Atlanta school district -- neighboring DeKalb County-- has been put on probation.  Yep.  As of today, the school board of DeKalb earned the district a disgraceful mark because of its financial mismanagement.

And, who can forget the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal -- a topic which has consumed many of my posts.

That makes 3 districts of the 6 school systems that many would say form the heart of Atlanta (i.e. Fulton Co, DeKalb Co., Clayton Co., Cobb Co., Gwinnett Co. Atlanta Public Schools).

Clayton County
Atlanta Public Schools
DeKalb County

Begs the question:  what the hell is going on?


[Summer Opportunity] 2013 Policy Leaders Fellowship

Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston is offering an opportunity to attend the 2013 Policy Leaders Fellowship.

According to several sources of information (, Denver St-Cloud Public Schools website, and Ga Tech advertisement):
Seeking Undergraduates, 1L and 2L Law Students, and Graduate Students for 30-50 paid (stipend will be approx. $2000), 6-week Urban Leader Fellowships in Denver, Memphis, and possibly other areas.  
Hiring projections are for 20-25 Fellows in Denver; 6-10 Fellows in Memphis; and possibility of 6-10 Fellows in additional regions.  Fellows will work half-time on high-level policy projects with an elected official.  They will also work half-time alongside community partner organizations.
Denver fellowships are available in 6 areas:  Education, Energy, School Finance, Health, Judiciary, and Transportation, and past community partner organizations have included  Denver School of Science and Technology, Denver Public Schools, Colorado Department of Education, Prodigal Son Initiative (anti-gang violence non-profit), Education Reform Now, Teach for America, Stand for Children. 
Memphis Fellows work on a project-basis, typically in areas such as affordable housing, urban blight, and community engagement; past community partner organizations have included Stand for Children, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Department of Education, and Achievement School District. 
Fellows’ assignments during community partner placement will vary, but all work will be substantive and meaningful for organization.  Fellows working at a school site might run a summer school program or conduct data analysis of student outcomes, while Fellows at non-profit might draft strategic plans for a project or conduct a special research project.  Candidates may indicate location preferences (if any) and issue area preferences during the application process.

There it is, go tell someone.


School District responsible for Bullying -- Ordered to pay $1 million to student's family

Not appropriately responding to bullying could cost school districts, BIG TIME.

The case is Zeno v. Pine Plains Central School District, 10-3604-cv. 

It was heard in the Second Circuit of the the United States Courts of Appeals-- specifically, in the Southern District of New York.  For all the non-lawyers/law students, the case basically says that the federal court of appeals over the federal district court for the Southern District of New York agreed with the final judgment in the trial court.  A jury heard the facts of the case against the Pine Plains Central School District and awarded the student who brought the case, and was bullied for three years with documented complaints, $1 million.

Pages 3- 15 of the Opinion detail the facts.  It lays out the evidence that from a young man's freshman year though his senior year, he was repeatedly bullied because of his race at a school where officials did not do enough. The District argued that its responses to the bullying were reasonable and that the trial court awarded the student too much money as damages.

The Second Circuit disagreed with the school district.

On whether the district was responsible, the Court held that, as a matter of law, the school district could be, and was determined to be (by a jury), responsible for the continuation of the bullying.  It used a legal standard called the "deliberate indifference standard."  Basically, before the school district could be liable for third-party conduct of the bully-ers, the court needed to be satisfied that (1) the school district had substantial control over "both the harasser and the context in which the known harassment occurs," (2) there was severe and discriminatory harassment, (3) the school district had actual knowledge of the conduct, and (4) the district displayed deliberate indifference to the conduct. See pages 22-23.

On the issue of damages, a federal law,Title VI, "provides a private right of damages against a school district for student-to-student harassment if the school district was deliberately indifferent to the known harassment."  See page 42.  The Court noted that the "ongoing and objective offensiveness of the student-on-student harassment" could support an award for $1 million.  See page 48.

Read the case.  Read the facts.  Think about your child, or any child that you love.  Pay up district.  Pay up.


Student Loan Interest Deduction Benefit -- Not so Impressive

According to an article on Student Loan Interest Deductions (cross checked with the IRS instructions), the maximum one can deduct from income for student loan payments is $2500/year paid to the interest on student loans.  For recent graduates, like me, that are pondering how to reduce my liabilities legitimately (like everyone else), I wanted to know what that means.

Well, basically, it means a tax savings of at most $625 -- for interest payments of $2500.


Of course, I could prepay such that the $2500 interest that I pay doesn't get capitalized into the student loan.  That'd mean I'd see a tax savings and a long-run savings of a reduced principle.  But, that also means I'd have to come up with that money before my first payment was actually due (so that payments down the road would be marginally reduced).


Welcome to the real world.  Congrats on that degree!


How much do you make as an Atlanta City Council Member? As Atlanta Mayor? -- UPDATED

Well, both positions are moving on up in salary.  Last week (in addition to the stalemate/refusal to vote on Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Davis's contract renewal), a separate body, the Atlanta City Council, decided to increase the salary of city council members.

According to that article in the AJC:

The legislation would hike the council’s pay from $39,473 to $60,300, with pay for the council president — usually a nonvoting role — jumping from $41,000 to $62,000.

For comparison, the site lists the salary of an administrative assistant in Atlanta: about $34,679.  An executive assistant in Atlanta?  About $48,083.

This newly passed legislation also raises the salary of the city mayor-- "from $147,500 to $184,300" (according to the AJC article linked above).

For comparison, most large Atlanta law firms pay between $130,000-165,000 for first-year associates.

Deserved?  Merited?  Necessary?  Wasteful?


Here are the reported salaries of Atlanta-area Superintendents of Schools from 2010:
  • $382,819 (Gwinnett); 
  • $344,331 (APS); 
  • $287,992 (DeKalb); 
  • $276,629 (Clayton); 
  • $216,697 (Cobb)  
-- Source:  Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 24, 2010.


More on Superintendent Davis -- His Community Impact

Aside from the comments found in my earlier post, there's another perspective out there too -- about the positive community impact that Superintendent Davis's administration has made.  Here's how one of my neighbors put it in a public email thread to us all:
 OK- so maybe you think, I don't have kids in school, this really doesn't
matter [sic] to me.

You could not be more wrong:
-Take a look at your property tax bill: app. 45% is the APS school tax,
plus bonded indebtedness
-Property values are *directly* related to the desireability of local
schools: go a ahead and re-paint and put in granite counter-tops, but if
you want to be able to sell quickly and for a fair price, fix the schools.
-Crime/public safety are also directly related to the schools: good
schools keep after truants, a major source of mischief and mayhem, plus
they give their students marketable skills, so instead of being a drag on
society, they contribute to it.

Davis can be prickly, but he takes a dispassionate look at problems, and
that is something that is rare in schools systems, because politics ranks
so highly with most involved at the executive level. He doesn't care: he
came out of retirement to do this job, and while APS pays him well, he made
his money during a long, varied and successful career.

Surely the community gets a say, right?

More after the break...


Buy a T-shirt? How about give to a classroom . . .

J. Crew is selling t-shirts in support of Teach For America, Inc.

See here.

 For the past few years, Teach For America and J. Crew have had a partnership in which shoppers could come in and use a friends and family discount with some of the proceeds benefiting Teach For America, Inc.  And, they aren't the only corporate cause (see here for the Minted sponsorship).

What do I think?  As a Teach For America alumna?

Well, I think that Teach For America works relentlessly to move toward its goals.  One of those goals has been an expansion of the corps to impact more underrepresented students in under-served communities.  As most non-profit leaders will tell you, that takes money.  So, no.  I'm not gonna hate on Teach For America for building corporate sponsorships to strengthen its finances.  Nor am I gonna hate on Teach For America for its effort to market itself as hip, cool, and the thing to do among recent and prospective college graduates.  The teaching profession needs electricity and enthusiasm.

But what goes through my mind seeing the J. Crew model sporting a Teach For America t-shirt for purchase is: why didn't that person just give to Teach For America directly?  Or, they could have bought a t-shirt directly form Teach For America at the online store (and it may even be cheaper).

Better yet, to have a direct impact, a person could go to the site, filter through the projects, and select a Teach For America corps member classroom (or, hey, ANY project cause any of these teachers' students deserve it) to which a donation would be greatly appreciated.  I have been on the receiving end of someone donating to my classroom.  As thanks, the donor got pictures of my students using the materials, and my students got days on end of playing bean-bag math and reading in our softly lit corner.  I call that having an impact!

Not Voting on Superintendent Davis's Contract Matters

The Atlanta school board is refusing to vote on whether Superintendent Davis' contract will be renewed.

Here's why it matters:

Superintendent Davis and former-Superintendent Hall were brought in during similar public expectations.  Both Dr. Hall and Mr. Davis were asked to improve APS from the low status many perceived it to have. However, as a necessity, much of Superintendent Davis’s initial efforts have been in direct response to shortcoming of the immediate past administration under Superintendent Hall.  Namely, the previous administration had ambitious plans for success without realistic corrections for failure. The Hall administration accepted the positive trends in ways that the Davis administration is now scrutinizing. Where Superintendent Hall put in place initiatives to spur educators to reach the height of performance, Superintendent Davis is enacting initiatives to discourage educators from dipping below performance expectations. Namely, Mr. Davis addressed five areas immediately upon assuming full superintendent responsibilities: (1) combating cheating, (2) rehabilitating the district, (3) restoring students, (4) employing administrative leave, and (5) applying relevant professional, employment, and criminal penalties. These strategies are likely considered to be sound approaches for managing education systems in the context of responding to crisis, but alone they are not likely to transform the district from operating as it had under Superintendent Hall.
[Superintendent Davis took] positive steps by cleaning up the environments that incentivized cheating behavior in the first place, and he is consulting with experts to put in place professionally sound organizational strategies. What is concerning, though, is that many thought that Superintendent Hall was doing similar things at the time she was managing the district—borrowing reforms and initiatives that the education community thought were effective.  After speaking with former APS employees [during my thesis research], there may be reason to believe that simply changing superintendents and tightening administrative policies may not on their own lead to sustainable solutions. Said more strongly, it is unclear that these new policies will actually result in environments where educators and decision-makers will actually be able to police their own environments.

--excerpted from my Master's Thesis, CRITICAL INCIDENTS IN EDUCATION:

So what am I trying to say?

I'm trying to say that Superintendent Davis may have been just what the doctor ordered to restore order in Atlanta Public Schools.  However, it is doubtful that he is what is needed to push APS to become a district that thrives on its own successes and evaluates its own shortcomings.  For all his well-deserved praise and accomplishments (seriously, no sarcasm), it's fair to say that Superintendent Davis never expected himself to be APS's long-term superintendent.

Nor should we.

But that doesn't mean that his contract must end THIS year.  There is a strong case for keeping him on long enough so that the search for a new APS superintendent isn't rushed.  Renewing Superintendent Davis' contract for another year may provide an opportunity for a meaningful administrative transition and introduction of the new leader to Atlanta's community.  It may signal a maturity and stability that APS has lacked.

You see, APS does not just need someone to stop the bleeding and prescribe the medicine-- APS needs a long-term caretaker.  Someone who helps the district regain its strength and envision new opportunities.  And, most importantly, APS needs new administration’s policies grounded in an APS specific context.

So, am I for or against Davis?

Because I am interested in the long-term stability and PROSPERITY of Atlanta Public Schools, I must be for Superintendent Davis -- he had undeniably done GOOD for the district.  I am ALSO for a predecessor to take the reigns, after an appropriate transition, and build upon the stability Davis has brought.

Anyone know any names of potential candidates that have come up in the superintendent search?


"That's not my Job, YOU teach That"

In the headlines yesterday is an article in the Washington Post about how Common Core State Standards are being misused -- wow, breaking headlines.  Sense my sarcasm?

The rift between policy and practice is deep, wide, and well-documented.  My most fond experience in law+graduate school was walking between campuses (literally) attending education policy-focused discussions at the law school, the education school, the policy school, and (even) the business school.  Those conversations talked past one another.  Every time.  There were such disjointed starting points, that it became very obvious to me how this policy-practice ravine began and why it persists.

Yesterday's latest, on how the curriculum standards for English Language Arts  require more nonfiction texts and the burden that is being placed on English teachers specifically, is but another example of what happens when worlds don't collide.

The article's main assertion is that the new common core standards in English require more nonfiction, rigorous texts that can appropriately be spread across teaching subjects.  It asserts that teachers from other subject areas (non English Language Arts teachers) are hesitant (if not opposed) to increase the teaching of nonfiction texts in their subject areas.  So, in practice, English Language Arts teachers will be forced to cut poetry, fiction, or some other beloved, endearing text to replace it with government reports.  (I'm summarizing and paraphrasing here.)

More after the break...