Over at Notes From a Homeschooling Mom, Ahermitt posted on Saturday about an important occurrence that hasn't hit the national news, but is tremendously relevant to anyone involved with education. (Oh, yes, and be sure to check out Ahermitt's second post as well: More on Clayton County's Accreditation Loss. It's a bit slow getting started, but she has some good points especially toward the end.) The public school system in Clayton County, Georgia, is losing its accreditation. This means NONE of Clayton County's 59 schools will be accredited - a frightening thought to the 53,000 students there, especially the 15,000 or high school students, many of whom may have been counting on that accreditation to win them state scholarships and smooth their path to college.
The report from the accreditation agency says the school system is "fatally flawed" and the problems are "overwhelming and extreme." Those are some pretty serious words. The accreditation agency is claiming, among other things, that the school board misappropriated funds, altered attendance records, and was involved in other unethical conduct, including significant conflicts of interest. One member of the school board, for example, is also the executive director of the teacher's union, and according to the accrediting agency's report, "pushed the board to abandon a curriculum program two-thirds through a contract because it wasn't endorsed by the union." And this was a program that was working well, reducing the number of first-graders needing the Early Intervention Program from 50% to 12% in just two years! In addition, the Board apparently harassed administrators and other district staff, calling them names, accusing them of playing games, and generally making their lives difficult - sometimes in publicly televised reports.
As far as I can determine from reading the report, most of the problems resulting in the loss of accreditation are ethical and personal issues. There's no doubt the board of Clayton County has some incredibly serious interpersonal problems. Unfortunately for the students, the problems that are probably going to result in lack of accreditation apparently have little to do with the quality of education those kids are getting. This is not surprising, considering this is the first time in more than a decade that a school district anywhere in the country is going to lose its accreditation - it would appear a poor quality education is not a reason for loss of accreditation in America today. But these kids are going to be penalized because their district's board is fighting, and is engaging in tremendously unethical behavior, and that's too bad. They've already lost a great deal because of their board's behavior, and now they stand to lose far more.
The school district is still trying valiantly to correct the problem; unfortunately, the report makes it clear that it's unlikely they'll be able to preserve their accreditation. Beginning September 1, this entire district will be unaccredited.
So the question now becomes, what are these families going to do? Many are already leaving the district, hoping for better results in some other school district. Hopefully that will make it possible for these kids to still qualify for scholarships and get into good colleges and universities. For those whose declining property values make it impossible for them to move, though, there will be serious challenges. Here are a couple of suggestions:
1) Challenge your state government to allow you school choice. In Colorado, parents are free to choose from any school in the state that has the space. This has been tremendously beneficial and has encouraged competition between schools, improving the quality of all. With a budget of $375,000,000 (that's over $7000 per student!), Clayton County should have done better. Convince your state government to let you find a school or district that IS doing better and enroll your student there.
2) Consider carefully whether you could homeschool your children. Rather than dismiss that possibility out-of-hand, as so many do ("I could never do that"), take the time to really think about it. Contrary to popular belief, homeschoolers don't rely exclusively on our own knowledge and abilities to teach our children; instead, we use whatever resources we can find. Sometimes we find curriculum so we can learn the subject first; sometimes we rely on an online course or an outside class; sometimes we hire a tutor; sometimes we find other ways to get the need met. We also aren't always patient with our kids, and some days we don't even LIKE our kids - just like you - but we are willing to work out our personal difficulties, and we find there are many rewards in being with our kids all day, too. Do some real investigation. Read some books, check out the web, talk to people you know who are doing it. You may find your kids will end up much better prepared for college than they would in your conflict-ridden, struggling public school system.
And for those of us who do homeschool, this may be a helpful reminder that sending our kids to public school isn't necessarily going to make our lives easier. After all, we could be sending them into a situation like Clayton County's, without even realizing it.