If I hear it one more time I am going to puke!

Hear what you ask? If I hear another candidate, administrator, Board member or parent justify a position on any issue because “it is for the children”, I am going to lose it. The “for the children” mantra has been used as a justification for every decision that has been made for the last 20 years – and we have a 51% graduation rate to show for it.

“It is for the children” is the most meaningless phrase that is thrown about and can justify anything – it would not surprise me if many of the “educators” caught up in the cheating scandal used this justification as well.

In fact, the next time you hear this statement from an administrator – demand that they be immediately fired because they do not know what they are doing. If you hear it from a candidate or a Board member – let them know instantly that you will vote against them. If you hear it from a parent – identify the selfish special interest that they are promoting.

Why be so harsh? Because relying on “it is for the children” has absolutely nothing to do with what we want and need from our school system. What we must have, and desperately need, are leaders that are focused on only one thing:

Improving Educational Outcomes

And in every instance we must demand that Board members, candidates for office and administrators ask and answer the following question:

Will the approval of the policy or spending improve the educational outcome for students? 

If they cannot (or will not) answer that question, then the recommendation should NOT be approved. And asking this question places the focus on the only objective that matters – improving the education for the kids in school.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how decisions begin to change when the right question is asked by using some recent and controversial decisions.

Funding the highest cost administrative function in the state (by nearly 2X) – Per the AJC article this past summer, “Atlanta Public Schools spent about $1,634 per student on administration — the highest amount in the state” and has 16.7 administrators per 1000 students – the next highest in the state is 8.6. The administration contends that the spending on administrators is “very tight” and might need to go higher! Remember, this is “it’s for the children” thinking. But if you look at these bloated numbers and see a 51% graduation rate, I think we can agree that the spending is not justified based on educational outcomes.  A couple of examples:

  • What is the educational benefit to our kids of having 20 employees in external affairs, communications and marketing?
  • What is the educational benefit of having 14 employees in strategic planning?
  • What is the educational benefit of over 90 administrators in central office curriculum and instruction administration?

I am not saying that all these positions need to be removed, but they certainly have to be justified in terms of their impact on improving educational outcomes (and the same hold true for every department in APS). And if they aren’t, then eliminate them.

Redistricting and closing smaller schools – while this was incredibly controversial and full of “not in my backyard” arguments, the result was that the initial proposal to close 15 schools was watered down to seven. But what happens if you ask the right question – will redistricting have an impact on educational outcomes? Because eight schools were not closed, we are now paying for eight additional in-school administrative teams, additional administrators in the downtown office to support the eight schools, additional transportation for the eight schools and upkeep of often aging and expensive buildings.

All of these monies being spent on non-educational functions would likely have gone to classroom activities – which at least have a chance of resulting in better educational outcomes. The redistricting decision only makes sense if special interests and short-sighted thinking rule the day. However, there is no question that the decision reached was not in the best interest of educational outcomes.

And one more example to get your blood boiling – and to really make you reexamine your perspective.

Traditional schools versus charter schools – if you ask the right question, then this issue goes away completely. It no longer is fraught with concerns of national agendas like ‘privatization’ or ‘corporatism’. And the often times stated concern that “all the active and involved parents will flee the traditional schools” is no longer relevant.

What is relevant is – will the change in the governance structure (because that is all that it is) improve educational outcomes for the kids attending it? If the answer is yes, then by all means proceed. If the answer is no, then the answer is absolutely not! Forget national agendas and your own narrow vested interest – focus on what is best for improving the education of the children involved.

I could go on and on – the maximum class size waivers; the “65% spending test” waiver; the focus on early education; the next educational program fad; the localization of authority, responsibility and accountability for decision-making; the budgeted resource allocations; the numbers of in-school administrators; the spending on technology; etc.

When you ask the right question, your perspective on what the right answer is dramatically changes. Forget the special interests, the politics and the administrators – and focus on how a decision will improve the educational outcomes for the kids. If the decision can be fully justified on the basis that it improves education outcomes – it makes sense. If not, then immediately change course.

“It is for the children” is not a justification, but the students will benefit when the right question is asked and answered.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

5 Responses to If I hear it one more time I am going to puke!

  1. H.A. Hurley says:

    Wow, you are all fired up today. I have been at that boiling point for years with APS. Advice, it will not change a thing in APS. The more people huff & puff, they more passive the system & it’s ‘leaders’ become. Take a deep breath & a nap. We truly have little control over APS. The BOE seems to elect similar folks, the Mayor will PAY BIG $$$ to get some fast-talking promise-the-world BS Superintendent artist, the $$$ will roll in, residents will support schools that make sense and leave as soon as it gets too crazy. Seen the cycle repeat itself. $$$ for legal fees will fly out of the door and nothing will change. Debby Downer? Yup! I recognize your investment and dedication to making things right. I suffer from the same syndrome. Can’t believe that we are still just graduating a small bit >50% of students. It’s Poverty St***d! We are spending zill$$ per pupils, administrators and golden high schools….now, let’s buy the golden superintendent. Ethics are my issue with a bought Super. Big Time.
    Thanks for caring so much. Enjoy your nap!

  2. Yes, you are correct . Everyone knows about the high cost per student in APS yet as you say ITS ABOUT THE KIDS when its not about the kids but about how much money can be spent on everything but kids. The Candidates will say what the voters want to hear and when elected you see almost the same result year after year. We will see if the new Board fairs any different than the past boards. If not we the Voters have to blame ourselves and start over again in 2017….

  3. APS claims they haven’t seen any cost savings from closing the schools they closed during redistricting. That was as of a few months ago.

  4. Chris Murphy says:

    Pay attention to the remaining Board races: those elected *are* cut from a different cloth, in my personal experience. You could look at their desire to serve as a fool’s mission, but there is a critical mass smart people with integrity coming into office, and I pray they find the strength to remain persistent- but they’ve already shown that trait, for years.

  5. Rachael Sweeney says:

    Our Board Members of Education seems to be reading your columns they are dealing with more of the issues facing APS. Progress is happening in APS, it may not be the speed which you like but we are finally going in the right direction. Thank you for your work. Please keep it up!

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