Will school unification improve education? —CUEE

The real answer is in the first sentence after A: in this FAQ by CUEE:
A: School unification, by itself, will not improve the quality of education for our children.
Unfortunately, CUEE didn’t stop there. Their FAQ continues:
Unifying our public schools means we can have ONE focus on education in our community. CUEE seeks to unify the strengths, aspirations, goals and resources of both school systems into ONE system with ONE focus on providing a quality education to all children and close the achievement gap.

School unification will affect education reform in key areas including;

  • ONE focus on resources that support the critical goal of having all our children be proficient in reading and math at grade level by the 3rd grade. Children who are at grade level by the 3rd grade achieve 10-20% higher graduation rates.
  • ONE single school system. Our community should focus on graduating all students to ensure they are ready to enter college, technical school, the military or the workplace.
  • Establishing district-wide priorities and standards for all students and schools. Best practices will be applied across ONE school district instead of two. We could have one, highly focused professional development program for our teachers and school leaders. Singularly focused professional development is the key to effective teaching. Great teachers and great principals make great schools, and that makes a difference in the classroom.
  • ONE positive focus to closing the achievement gap for all students. Our schools should have a culture of high expectations for all students, regardless of their gender, race/ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status. A unified school system will have a focused mission on developing programs and services to ensure all children are performing at high levels, achieving proficiency and receiving equal educational opportunities.
Somehow shouting “ONE” is supposed to magically make these things happen. If CUEE knows how to do these things, why doesn’t it get on with doing them now in the existing school systems? Oh, right: it doesn’t say how, because it doesn’t know.

Here’s one way I know CUEE doesn’t know. CUEE said so, on its facebook page, 27 March 2011:

CUEE is facilitating an educational planning process that will consist of local educators, public officials, parents, business and civic leaders, and others. This planning committee will examine many of the issues raised in your FB post as well as other issues facing our public schools. Once this planning process is completed, the plan will be presented to both School Boards and then to the public at a community forum.
Note how that works. CUEE organizes its hand-picked committee that produces a plan and presents it to the community.

And according to what CUEE speakers said at their 24 March 2011 “Kick-off” session, that presentation would be after the unification vote (if there is one).

Continuing CUEE’s facebook explanation:

If the Valdosta voters decide to unify with the Lowndes County school system, both School Boards will then come together and develop a school unification plan that will hopefully be implemented by mid-2013. CUEE hopes the School Boards will use this planning document as a resource as they plan for a county-wide school system. And if asked, CUEE will offer its assistance and financial support to their planning process.
Well, CUEE, if a unification vote passes, you broke it, you should help pay to fix it. And if your hand-selected committee really can come up with a plan to improve education, why not do that first, try it out in one of the school systems, and if that one improves, then talk about unification? That way there would be some evidence that you actually know how to improve education. Of course, it would also be evidence that unification had nothing to do with it.
And yes, we have and continue to talk with both school systems about this issue. CUEE has also visited several communities in Georgia and other nearby states that have unified their school districts during the last 10-15 years. During these visits, CUEE spoke with school and elected officials to better understand the challenges and issues they faced when unifying their school systems. Much of what CUEE says on school unification is based on what these communities experienced (good and bad) after they unified their school systems.
So, what did the Valdosta and Lowndes school systems say? Why don’t you tell us?

And its curious how in talking to other school systems CUEE never came back with any downsides whatever to school unification. This makes me wonder how much they really tried to find out.

Let’s go back to that first sentence, which is the real answer:

A: School unification, by itself, will not improve the quality of education for our children.
So why are we considering doing it?

Imagine what these self-styled leaders of the community could do if they put their minds to something that would actually improve things around here!


13 thoughts on “Will school unification improve education? —CUEE

  1. Alex Jones

    Someone pointed me to your blog on the Biomass issue, and I came across your recent post on the school unification issue.
    Just curious… have your ever examined the testing data for both school systems? A quick look at the last report card, and you will see why most people in this community believe our public education system is broken and does not adequately prepare our children to either attend college or enter the workforce.
    Right now, we have two schools systems (one county, mostly white and one city, mostly black) that are about average in a state that ranks among the lowest in the country on academic performance. Yes, both systems have their own successes, but the facts show we have two levels of academic performance in our public schools. This disparity (or achievement gap) is even greater when you compare the academic performance by social economic status or race.
    Is this really acceptable? Is this what we want really want for all of our children? I understand what CUEE says in how a unified school system will not fix this issue by itself. They are right, it will take a community-wide effort to truly improve our public schools. With a unified school system, all stakeholders (regardless of where you live) will work together in an effort to implement the needed education reforms in our public schools. Today, this is not possible or even realistic with two, independent school systems.
    I’m sure others will disagree with this post, but I wanted to offer an alternative view to your original post. I look forward to reading more posts about this important issue.

  2. Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

    Still waiting for CUEE (or Alex Jones) to say what CUEE’s plan for improving education is. So far all I’ve seen is CUEE wants unification and then magic will happen. I remember the last round of school consolidation, back in the 1960s. Magic didn’t happen then, either. -jsq

  3. Jon Parris

    Well-said, Alex. I’m baffled that this website and the local NAACP are against unification… the status-quo has created a haves/have-nots situation that is untenable if we are going to consider ourselves a progressive area. A unified system would bring uniformity to curriculum and scheduling, eliminate redundant administrative positions, and allow (force?) everyone in the county to have a stake in the educational development of all the children in the county. What basically exists now is institutional racism… predominately lower-income minority (& some white) kids attending resource-depleted city schools due to a shrinking tax base, and predominately white middle and upper income kids attending the resource-enriched county schools with an affluent tax base.
    I can see the downside for an older, childless/empty-nester individual who owns land in the county: likely an increase in property taxes, and deflation of property values inflated by white-flight to the county.
    Full Disclosures: 1) I attended and graduated from Valdosta City Schools; my family now resides in the county, and my son attends county schools. 2) We moved to be nearer my retired parents (who live in the county), but sadly, school quality was a concern. As a progressive, this situation was a stressful one for me. 3) I am a state-licensed Therapist who worked for nearly 15 years with children and adolescents in Valdosta/Lowndes. A great deal of my work involved interacting with school systems and the representatives thereof; I saw first-hand the resource gaps that exist, and the psycho-social impacts of said gaps on individual young people and their parents.
    99% of the time, I’m a cold rationalist… the data and reasonable solutions should carry the day. This situation, however, is one in which the symbolism of changing an institutionally racist construct is too powerful to avoid. Sometimes what is right is not the most sensible/efficient option… but we do it anyway.
    Jon Parris, M.S., LPC
    p.s. due to my spouse being currently employed in the local educational system (her work covers multiple systems), this post will be my only comment on this matter. My comments are my personal opinions, and should not be construed to represent, in part or whole, the opinions of my spouse.

  4. Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

    Still looking forward to hearing reasonable solutions from CUEE. So far CUEE’s own evidence (see their 6 page report under education on the Chamber of Commerce website) and their own hired expert say unification will not save money and will not improve education. That could be why NAACP is against it. It’s why I’m against it. -jsq

  5. George Boston Rhynes

    I will be brief!
    Where was CUEE and the people working to bring the two school systems together when local citizens were fighting for change, and seeking answers to the Hiring of Black Educators and the Federal Court Order being complied with that was filed decades ago? Where were they then?
    And why can’t we find certain people in our community until the blind god seems to direct them from their hiding place from beneath the clay!
    I have not seen these professionals take on the day to day problems that people are calling local, state and national civil and human rights organizations about the real problems they are having both yesterday and today! Just keeping it real…..
    We are not who we claim to be—but who we prove ourselves to be over a given period time. However, some of our community healers are not around long enough for us to tell. They seem to come and vanish when the real problems hits the streets! Be careful of people WITHOUT track records that SUDDENLY appears at the end of the RACE!
    A concerned citizen and supporter of the “Economically Oppressed”

  6. Leigh Touchton

    I can describe some reasons our members oppose unification.
    1. We believe VBOE has discriminated against black students with alternative school referrals.
    2. We believe VBOE has discriminated against black teachers in hiring, firing, promotions and demotions. I can’t describe the details of personal cases, but last year when the RIF directive came down, nearly 60% of those fired were black, and black professionals only represent 20-25% of the employees.
    3. The VBOE system is over 70% black students, yet the black students are not given equal opportunities to achieve. I can describe issues we brought to the Department of Justice, as well as issues about the Alternative school, and a very serious issue about how the Alternative school was given a different school code, which we believe was a ploy to artificially inflate the test scores at the students’ home schools. We have evidence that we gave to the DOJ that students were sent to PLC based on minor infractions.
    4. Many of our members went through the consolidation in the sixties and don’t want to see their children put into a situation where they will be even more of a minority. Our children are in the majority at Valdosta City Schools, but yet we still fight serious issues of discrimination and inequality in education.
    5. Many of us attended the CUEE education session at Serenity Church, and did not hear anything that changed our minds.
    6. Many of us distrust an “education” initiative brought forth from the Chamber of Commerce. Our branch is a member of the Chamber, and we support Chamber events and some policies, but we don’t support this one. I can’t remember a time when “business” thought it knew what was best for education except when school privatization was going on, and the studies indicated that there was no benefit to that direction insofar as student achievement.
    Mr. Parris and Mr. Rowell, come to some of our branch meetings and we’ll be glad to talk to you about it, so you can hear directly from us, I am unable to completely explain the many different opinions that were presented at the branch meeting when this came up for a vote. Also, a former teacher named Dr. Marilyn McCluskey has written about many of the issues we were involved in, and these descriptions can be found at her blog TheNakedTruth4U.

  7. Jon Parris

    I said I wouldn’t reply… but I am! :-)
    Ms. Touchton, your points 1-3 make plain what I mentioned witnessing during my professional experiences. My feeling was that those facts alone presented a strong case for dismantling the city system.
    I do understand the desire for a disenfranchised group to avoid becoming even more marginalized… my hope was that equally shared resources and a uniform administrative/infrastructure system would create more parity and greater accountability.
    There’s a lot of info I don’t have, perspectives I need; I must say, being a native Valdostan, I was BAFFLED at some of the people I saw publicly supporting the consolidation… my first thought was, “since when do they care about African American kids???” So there must be some hidden agenda or unseen hand (probably money/power related, of course).
    I work out of town, so meeting attendance would be tough for me (witness my sporadic attendance at Biomass demonstrations!); if you’d have the time or inclination to discuss this matter further via email, i’d be grateful! I have your email address from a prior correspondence, so I’ll be in touch!

  8. Leigh Touchton

    I apologize, I meant to say Mr. Jones instead of Mr. Rowell. Also would like to invite people to hear what Dr. Mark George has to say about this issue, he spoke at the Lowndes County Democrats meeting tonight (as did CUEE member Rev. George Bennett). I hope Mr. Quarterman will post some of his video. The meeting was very well attended I thought.

  9. Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

    As you may have noticed, there were at least four cameras videoing at the LCDP meeting, most of them associated with LAKE. A few of those videos (from somebody else’s camera, not mine) are trundling their way to YouTube through an AT&T drinking straw as we type. I think there’s also one showing Alex Rowell’s question. -jsq

  10. Leigh Touchton

    You mean Alex Jones. LOL You did it too! I apologize Mr. Jones and Mr. Rowell.

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