School board member: “Morgan County taxpayers deserve better”
by Dave Belton
Morgan County BOE, District 5
The last few years I’ve written a year-in-review article, detailing my perceptions of what’s been happening in our schools. As a Board of Education member, it’s important to inform my constituents how their tax money is being spent.
I normally write this article in August or September. But due to the tardiness of the Georgia Department of Education, we’ve only just received word on one of our most important goals: Annual Yearly Progress (AYP).
AYP is the standard that schools across the nation must comply with for No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As was reported, Morgan County High School did not make AYP again this year. Last year we failed two of nine categories; this year we failed 3 of 10. Because we failed two years in a row, we are now in a “Needs Improvement” status. Contrary to what you may have heard, we do not get any more money out of this, and are now required to come up with a plan for improvement, as well as offer tutoring services (which we already do).
I am very disappointed. When prospective employers and home buyers look to relocate, the two things they focus on is SAT and AYP. Our SAT rose considerably this year, but is still below the state average – and we are now in a “Needs Improvement” status with AYP.
Morgan County taxpayers deserve better.
Nearly everyone from liberals to libertarians dislikes NCLB. There are several fatal flaws that undermine the usefulness of the program. I greatly dislike federal mandates and have zero use for the U.S. Department of Education.
However, NCLB provides something that education has never had before – accountability. That accountability has forced schools across the nation to deal with underperforming kids, greatly reducing the “achievement gap” between whites and minorities, rich and poor.
I am on a committee that is working with Senator Isakson (GA-R) to fix NCLB. The goal is to rid ourselves of these fatal flaws – while maintaining the accountability that requires schools to focus on every kid.
On a brighter side, MCHS rose an impressive 62 points on the SAT. If you ranked Morgan against the surrounding counties, they would be Oconee, Morgan, Rockdale, Walton, Newton, Jasper, Putnam and Greene, in that order. Though I’m very pleased our scores rose, we’re still far short of the heady days of 2001, 2003 and 2005, when we were above the Georgia average, and only a few points shy of the national average.
Our graduation rate is the highest it’s ever been at 88 percent. That clobbers Georgia (81 percent) and the nation (70 percent). Our graduation test scores were up as well, remaining above the state in every category. However, our African-American graduation rate dropped almost 10 percent. Last year, our black graduation rate was within one point of whites. This year we had a 17 percent gap.
MCHS continues to excel with its high-achievement AP and IB programs. Passing scores for college credit have increased ten-fold in the past few years. MCHS has been ranked one of the top 500 high schools in the country by Newsweek two years in a row. And student involvement – both with Laura Margaret and in passing “Caleb’s Law” – is both unique and inspiring.
Financially, we spend less money per kid than any of our neighbors, and our millage rate is third from the bottom.
The primary, elementary and middle schools continue to outshine richer, more educated counties on the CRCT. MCPS scored above 90 percent in every category but one, averaging 94 percent. MCES scored above 90 percent in 11 of 15 categories, averaging 92 percent. MCMS continues to post the largest gains, scoring over 90 percent in nine of 15 areas with an average of 89 percent. Again, we beat the state in every single category, and every surrounding county except Oconee.
Beating the state is a big deal. In general – the education level and income level of the parent greatly influences student achievement. Yet all Morgan County schools defy this trend. Our median income level is well below the state and most of the surrounding counties. Yet we continue to outscore our wealthier neighbors (except for Oconee, which is the wealthiest county in Georgia and has a huge population of UGA professors).
How do we do it? The answer is two-fold: great teachers and involved parents. I cannot speak for the national level, but I have spent many hours in our classrooms, observing the incredible, heartfelt efforts our teachers are making with our kids. And our involved parents provide all-important relevance to our kids, encouraging them to work to succeed. After all, if parents don’t care about their kid’s education, neither will the kids.
Which brings me to my final point. It would be great if all parents did as much for their children as most parents do in Morgan County. Sadly, this is not the case – as witnessed by our failure at AYP. I believe it’s incumbent that the board takes a leadership position to fix this problem. One of the best ways to do this is to help wonderful programs like the Boys & Girls Club and Plainview Baptist Church. These organizations have already made real, measurable contributions to our kids, and deserve a lot more credit than they get. I hope you will help them – either by yourself, with your church, or other private group such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis, the Rotary Club and the new Foundation for Excellence in Public Education – to make a difference: not only to a child, but the future of our nation.
Morgan County has great schools – in fact, much better than would be expected. But being on a “Needs Improvement” status for AYP is a serious blemish, belying the excellent work of our teachers and students.
We must work harder than ever before to make AYP. Not to repair our tarnished reputation, but to give every child the tools they need to succeed. To neglect struggling kids at this important nexus is to invite more trouble in the future – not only for them, but society as a whole.
Printed in November 4, 2010 edition.