Monday, August 30, 2010

Hyatt Regency: "We were beginning to get feedback that we were dated"

No more retro for iconic Hyatt Regency |
The iconic Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta is ditching its '60s origins to catch up to the 2010s.

That fan-shaped floor tile dating back to the hotel's 1967 opening, gone.

The giant front desk preferred when cash payments ruled, out of here.

And that original 18,000-pound canopy over the elevators, history.
Hey, while you're at it, put in three or four more elevators.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

“I wonder if they were given instructions and directions of how to constrain this investigation rather than to explore it”

'Lite' investigation of Atlanta test cheating |

This report is a textbook-quality example of how you write a new story when you don't have any new facts to present. On the face of it, it may appear that there's no need for such a thing, but the Sunday paper should contain a roundup of news that broke over the previous week. Plus, I have to admit, I smile to see this story refreshed. We must not be allowed to forget about this.
Atlanta questioned just 230 of 3,100 employees assigned to the 58 schools suspected in the cheating scandal; investigators spoke to three or fewer people at 34 of the schools. High-ranking school district officials — among them, the top aide to Superintendent Beverly Hall — conducted or observed 140 of the interviews. And a data analysis commissioned for Atlanta’s investigation appears to have limited the inquiry’s scope.

...When they ordered Atlanta to investigate the 58 schools, state officials gave directions as clearly as they could, said Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

Officials wanted the district to establish a chain of custody, Mathers said, by interviewing anyone who could have touched test papers at each of the 58 schools. Principals, assistant principals, testing coordinators, teachers, test proctors: All, she said, should have been questioned.

...The company’s president, John Fremer, recently defended Caveon’s work in an interview with WABE, the public radio station operated by the Atlanta school board.

“It was a very thorough investigation,” Fremer said. “Did we end up with people like in Perry Mason saying, ‘Oh, that’s it, I confess’? No. We didn’t end up with that. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.”

He offered no reasons, however, for the irregularities found in so many Atlanta schools — in the 12 Caveon cited, and beyond.

“It’s kind of puzzling to me why the overall level of wrong-to-right erasures is so great,” Fremer told the radio station. “I don’t have an explanation for that.”
Funny, that's exactly the question you were hired to answer. Way to admit incompetence, there.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who watches the watchmen?

Bowers, Wilson to investigate CRCT |
The cheating scandal at Atlanta Public Schools raised questions about what happened during tests in hundreds of classrooms. Now, two seasoned litigators will begin digging for answers.

The two men have conducted numerous high-profile investigations. Each once served as top prosecutors, only to step down to seek higher office and then suffer defeat. They have since become successful private attorneys with reputations as hard-nosed litigators.

Taking extraordinary action last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue picked former state Attorney General Mike Bowers and former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson to head a special investigation into testing irregularities at the Atlanta and Dougherty County public school systems.

J. Tom Morgan, who worked in the DeKalb DA's office under Wilson and worked with Bowers in private practice, said both men are detail-oriented lawyers who are compatible with one another.

"They will call it as they see it," Morgan said. "They will leave no stone unturned. Neither one of them is scared of anything."
ATL superintendent loses shine |
Hall insisted during an interview Thursday that Atlanta’s gains during her tenure are real. “We have stayed the course for a very long time in a very difficult environment,” she said, referring to the district’s mostly poor, highly transient student body. In the interview with AJC editors and reporters, Hall also asserted that no cheating has been proved, any cheating was perpetrated by unscrupulous individuals,* and that the aggressive teacher accountability system that she initiated had nothing to do with any wrongdoing.

“It’s always possible,” she said, “for some human being to cheat.”

But the district’s skewed data call into question the two feats most responsible for Hall’s national stature: the dramatic increase in the graduation rate and the skyrocketing scores on state and national achievement tests.

...For a month before schools administer the test each spring, records show, transfers spike at Forrest Hill Academy, an alternative school for students with academic or behavioral problems. Concentrated at Forrest Hill, contained by wrought-iron and chain-link fences,** these poor-performing students no longer are liabilities to their home schools. Instead, their CRCT scores count against Forrest Hill, where failure rates on portions of the exam run as high as 97 percent.
Looks like the grown-ups have finally taken an interest in the people who've been playing school over at Atlanta Public Schools. It's about time.

* Gosh, thanks, Dr Hall. I was sure it was all the honest folks who were cheating. Thanks for setting us straight.

** Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses, are they still in operation? I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

“Even the schools. Even the libraries have no money for books.”

Griffin Daily News - Retired librarian overseeing book giveaway
Thousands of books from Bookworms Bistro and Coffees at the old Coca-Cola building on Taylor Street are being given away this week.

Jan Rogers, a retired librarian, said 20,000 used books were available after Bookworms closed. Rogers was inspired to purchase the books by a friend who is traveling to the African nation of Ghana and, among other things, is delivering new books and shoes.
A lot of the remaining books are being donated to various libraries and schools, but Rogers estimates that once those are gone there will still be 6,000 books left.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From the school board to the Mayor to the Governor

How does a (let's face it) local school board issue find its way all the way up to the Governor's office? Well, partly because the Governor's office is right across the street. But we can't discount the presence of unmitigated ineptitude. Let's have a round-up of the week's news:

Not so easy listening: WABE interview with Beverly Hall on CRCT cheating probe and whether warning signs ignored

Well, what do you expect her to say?

Atlanta superintendent calls alleged cheating ‘a painful chapter'; vows to regain public trust
"Let me be clear: As superintendent, the buck stops here ... Our children deserve better," Hall said. "They have a right to teachers and administrators who believe in them and who are willing to teach them determination instead of deception."
Nice words, Dr Hall. We needed them months ago when the investigation started, though. And this was the same meeting where the Mayor intervened to attempt to cool hot tempers.

Memo outlined APS cheating response, strategy for Hall
State senator, taxpayers group demand Atlanta school superintendent's resignation
“It bears out a lot of what we’ve been saying — that the investigation was a set-up with Beverly Hall’s cronies circling the wagons and not really having an independent and transparent investigation,” [state Sen. Vincent] Fort [D-Atlanta] said.
Perdue calls Atlanta's cheating investigation "woefully inadequate"
Perdue to appoint investigator to look at Atlanta schools
Gov. Sonny Perdue made a rare appearance before the state Board of Education over alleged cheating in Atlanta public schools, calling it "a sad day."

"I know you share my deep disappointment with the results. To this day, we still have not gotten to the bottom of what was revealed in the 2009 CRCT results," Perdue told the board Wednesday afternoon.

“This is about individual students being robbed and cheated of their one fair shot at a good education.”
"I know you share my deep disappointment..." = "Start acting like you want to get to the bottom of it."

Perdue still has questions; Hall supports state investigation into Atlanta Public Schools

Again, what would you expect her to say?

Perdue: Atlanta cheating probe was stonewalled

Wait, hold on. That isn't what the governor said.
"When people said, we don’t have to talk to you, the investigator says OK, we’ll just go on somewhere else. If I’m in charge, then I say, look, you have a choice. We’re going to get to the bottom of this one way or another. You better be telling your side of the story. This is not yet a criminal investigation. There are no Fifth Amendment rights at this point. But the actual facilitation of lawyering-up and stonewalling does not seem to have been, to me, discouraged at all."
The story is big enough without exaggerating.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The future ain't what it used to be

The Myth of Technological Progress | Taki’s Magazine

Oh, I wish those delightful Internet billionaires good fortune in their various hobbies designed to get human beings, rather than government bureaucrats, back into space... Watching poor Buzz Aldrin, world bestriding colossus of my youth, jet around the world begging people to take an interest in this sort of thing fills me with intense sadness for what we have lost.
I've been thinking of it this way: The New York World's Fair of 1939-40 was the "World of Tomorrow", and we spent the next 25 years trying to make it come true. By the next New York World's Fair, in 1964-65, we had pretty much succeeded -- but that Fair didn't provide any dramatic visions to push us through the next twenty-five years. That fair was more about tourism than technology, as those that have followed have also been. The last stateside Expo, in New Orleans, has the distinction of being the only one to declare bankruptcy during its run. But they did get Riverwalk out of it.

Welcome to the future.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Multiple choice: Are you [a] incompetent [b] dishonest [c] blindly arrogant [d] all of the above?

High CRCT test scores trumped honesty |

The schools cited in the cheating investigation serve mostly poor neighborhoods and have long histories of substandard academic performance. Many of their students come from single-parent homes and lack support from family members in pursuing their studies. But their higher scores of recent years gave credence to a view promoted by Atlanta’s superintendent, Beverly Hall, that all children, even those from the poorest homes, are “educable.”

Now, emerging evidence of widespread cheating suggests some Atlanta educators either were determined to prove Hall right or were convinced that, without cheating, they couldn’t.
These are the people into whose hands you put your children's future. "All children are educable." The tyranny of low expectations. Perhaps we ought to put that phrase somewhere in the Pledge of Allegiance.
12 Atlanta principals reassigned, among 108 employees to face state review in test scandal |

The schools include Gideons, Usher, Peyton Forest, Perkerson, Venetian Hills, Scott, Connally, Dunbar, F.L. Stanton and Capitol View elementary schools as well as Parks Middle. Bromery could not identify the 12th school, which is affected because its principal previously led a now-defunct school, Blalock Elementary, listed in the report as having had a serious problem.
Well, so long as you don't actually say his name.
All the principals reassigned Friday led the 12 schools which appeared to have widespread problems. They will be moved temporarily to jobs in the system's central office, Bromery said.
Where they can't possibly do any harm -- which is to say, speak to any reporters or parents. APS really needs to avoid the temptation to conclude that dealing with the principal = dealing with the problem. Some principals, like administrators and middle-managers in any industry, have less influence over their subordinates than they think.

It's worth noting that the interim principals were actually put in place a week or two ago, before the specifics of The Investigation were made public, so this isn't quite as last-minute as it appears.

See also Throwing them under the bus or cleaning house? |

For this, I actually bought a copy of the Sunday AJC. It did my heart good to see the story on the front page, and the two-page spread to which it continued, the newspaper equivalent of "twenty-seven eight by ten colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence." Local news will save newspapers, of that I am sure.

Well, that and comic strips printed large enough to read.

Friday, August 06, 2010

"Guiding our efforts is a single premise: We have nothing to hide."

If I'm going to yammer on when I think they're wrong, fairness compels me to say so when they're right.

I have to praise APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall for making so much of the report and its supporting documentation freely available on the APS website.

Atlanta Public Schools | State Erasure Report

I'm delighted to observe that everyone concerned seems to agree that there is a "there" there, and we're a long way from having heard the last word.

“How long and how far do you look for every last person who potentially may have done something wrong?”

Atlanta test-cheating probe fails to satisfy |

Investigators chosen by Atlanta’s school system gave only cursory attention to evidence suggesting extensive cheating on standardized tests in more than half the 58 schools they examined.

Seventeen schools suspected of some of the most widespread cheating were barely investigated and, consequently, avoided recommendations for sanctions. Another 14 schools where state officials voiced a moderate concern about cheating received similar treatment. The investigators disregarded testing irregularities in hundreds of Atlanta classrooms.

...Commission members defend their work. They say they focused mostly on schools highlighted in a statistical analysis performed by a consulting firm they hired.

But a review of the commission’s report and interviews with education officials and testing experts suggest that the investigation fell far short of unearthing the scope of a cheating scandal that calls into doubt a decade of higher test scores and other academic progress by Atlanta students.
This article is by AJC reporters Alan Judd and Heather Vogell
 instead of Kristina Torres, whose byline I've seen on most of this thread. Good article; keep it alive!
At Deerwood Academy, for instance, the state flagged almost half of 90 classrooms. The Atlanta commission’s investigators noted unusual numbers of erasures and 100 percent pass rates on two tests given by one teacher. But the investigators interviewed just four people at Deerwood, cleared the entire staff and submitted a report that omitted the fact that an earlier investigation found strong evidence of cheating on a CRCT retest there in the summer of 2008.

At other schools, investigators spoke to as few as two staff members. In the case of one recently closed school, they spoke to none.
Just because the school is closed doesn't mean the teachers and administrators vanished. Smart money says they're still employed by APS.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Atlanta says "we don't accept this report"; Georgia says "That's OK, we do"

State reviewing CRCT cheating report |

The state began its review Tuesday of a long-awaited investigative report into alleged cheating in Atlanta Public Schools, even as top education officials wondered how far they can go with what remains an unofficial document.

A day after the Atlanta school board declined to approve the document...
Very clever, these red-handed Atlanta educationists. They can't possibly have had time to actually read it, how can any reasonable person expect them to approve a document they haven't read?

Say, why does the Atlanta school board have approval power over the results of an investigation of themselves ordered by the State of Georgia?
Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall posted a statement on the system’s website saying she accepts the report and pledging support for children affected by the scandal as “job one.”
Weeelll, what did we expect her to say?
It was unclear whether the report, transmitted to the state without the city board’s stamp of approval, met that deadline. Dissenting Atlanta board members said they need more time to study the report, leaving open the possibility that it will be approved at a future meeting.
Unless the APS board is made up of utter dunces, they knew that Monday was a state-set deadline for this report. They also knew that they wouldn't have the report themselves until Monday. (The investigative panel doubtless worked toward the State's Aug 2 deadline, not having been specifically instructed by "it'll be ready when it's ready" APS to build any reading and evaluation time into the schedule.)
“We have already begun to review the report. We will work as expeditiously as we can,” said Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. “But we are doing so with the understanding that this may not be the final report.”
These people really know how to bury a document. Keep after them, reporter Kristina Torres, this fiasco isn't over by a long shot.

Monday, August 02, 2010

109 educators "face further scrutiny"?

You mean the investigation isn't over yet? This was just a pre-investigation investigation?
109 Atlanta educators suspected of test cheating |

An investigative panel has recommended that 109 principals, assistant principals, school-based testing coordinators and teachers face further scrutiny or sanctions after it found evidence of suspected cheating at 58 Atlanta Public Schools.

Jolted into action by an audit that suggested irregularities on state standardized tests, the panel released its final report Monday after an exhaustive [really?] five-month inquiry. Among key findings:

  • 78 of those city school employees worked at just 12 schools, emblematic of "schoolwide institutional issues" that warrant wholesale changes of those campuses, according to panel chairman Gary Price.
  • 25 employees at another 13 schools appear to have acted individually.
  • So did six employees at the remaining 33 schools investigated by the panel.

...[Superintendent Beverly] Hall was expected to comment on the findings at a press conference later Monday afternoon, when the names of the schools will also be made public.

For legal reasons, because individual investigations are active and ongoing, the panel is not publicly identifying the 109 employees it believes may have cheated.
It's a good thing classes haven't begun yet in Atlanta Public Schools, because it might demoralize the students to see teachers and administrators run screaming down the hallways.

At least it's a start, and about damn time.

I've heard it said that this can't possibly be a systemic flaw because we're only talking about 12 schools. However, although they haven't released a complete list, what they have released points overwhelmingly to one geographical zone within APS known as School Reform Team Two (SRT-2).

And I laugh at the suggestion that Superintendent Beverly Hall didn't know what was going on.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Is this the final-final deadline or just the final deadline?

Report due Monday on testing violations at Atlanta Public Schools |

Almost five months to the day it started, an oft-delayed investigation of Atlanta Public Schools ends Monday with the release of a report expected to detail testing violations by as many as 100 educators.

With the report, an independent panel formed to investigate irregularities on state standardized tests at city schools has promised to draw a clear picture of what happened and how, from the inadvertent breaking of test security rules to the changing of students' scores. According to discussions and interviews over the past several months, they will:

  • Name schools, including where scores may have been falsified.
  • Make recommendations to halt problems and move forward.
  • Identify individuals -- although, for legal reasons, not likely make them public -- who violated policy or ethics.

Testing violations may result in state sanctions ranging from a reprimand to a loss of teaching license.
The question here is not "what happened" -- I doubt there's a single employee at any of the affected schools who doesn't know exactly what happened and "who done it" -- but what, exactly, will the report SAY.

As always, props to reporter Kristina Torres and the AJC for keeping this story alive.

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Decatur students in trailers; administrators in school |

Dozens of Decatur students will return to classes Monday in trailers while their administrators work from inside a half-empty school.

City Schools of Decatur officials say the trailers are temporary for one year while they finish building a new school.

But parents don’t understand why the 40 administrators who work out of the former Westchester Elementary School don’t spend the year in trailers instead.
Looks like a public relations disaster no matter what Decatur Schools does.

The problem is that the former Westchester and its cheery, colorful sign are right there on Scott Boulevard, THE primary eastside artery from Atlanta to Stone Mountain and points beyond. I don't want to guess how many thousands of drivers see the place twice a day and are reminded that there are no students in there.