09 March 2020

A Piece by Ryan Ralston: The Boxer

Charlene Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, both black residents of Georgia, submitted applications to the University of Georgia for the fall quarter of 1959. They were denied. 
This was the South during Jim Crow era laws. Holmes was later accepted to Morehouse College, and Hunter to Wayne State University in Michigan. Hunter and Holmes continued to submit applications to UGA each quarter. Each ensuing application was followed by another letter of denial. 
In September 1960, their legal team filed an injunction seeking to challenge the university from, “Refusing to consider {Holmes’ and Hunter’s} applications and those of other Negro residents of Georgia for admission to the University.” That request was also denied. 
A trial was held in Athens, Ga three months later.
January 6th, 1961, Federal District Court Judge William Bootle issued his ruling, asserting Holmes and Hunter, “Would have already been admitted had it not been for their race and color.” 
Hunter and Holmes became the first black students to enroll at UGA, ending 160 years of segregation.
The judge’s decision moved forward a potential constitutional crisis for state legislators, who passed legislation years earlier, mandating an immediate cut-off of state funds to any white institution that admitted a black student. 
That law was ultimately repealed. 

Lester Garfield Maddox, Sr. was the 75th Governor of Georgia. He served from 1967 until 1971. Maddox was a self-proclaimed “of the people” Democrat and unapologetic segregationist. Maddox later served as Lieutenant Governor under Jimmy Carter, though the two were not running mates, and held dissimilar positions on race relations.  
While in office, Maddox refused to attend the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He wouldn’t even recognize King’s death in the eyes of the state. 
Maddox made his feelings about King clear. Instead of honoring King, Maddox refused to close state government for the day and ordered 64 state troopers to guard the Capitol to protect “property of the state.” If you want to see his ignorance on full display, Google “Lester Maddox, Jim Brown, Dick Cavett Show.”

May 25th, 2017, The New York Times published an article entitled, “Top Colleges Doing the Most for the American Dream.” Taken directly from the story: “The College Access Index is a New York Times ranking of colleges - those with a five-year graduation rate of at least 75% - on their commitment to economic diversity. The ranking is based on a combination of the number of lower-and middle-income students that a college enrolls and the price it charges these students. The top of the ranking is dominated by campuses in the University of California system, while the most diverse private colleges include Amherst, Pomona, Harvard and Vassar. Notably, a college's endowment does not determine its commitment to economic diversity. There are wealthy colleges and much less wealthy ones at both the top and bottom of the ranking.
Pell grad share for each college is the average share of the freshman class that received a Pell grant in 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16, multiplied by the graduation rate for recent Pell recipients. Later years count more; not all colleges released 2015-16 data. Graduation rates for Pell students at some colleges are estimated.
Net price for middle-income students covers tuition, fees, room and board, after taking into account federal, state and institutional financial aid, and it applies to students who come from households earning between $48,000 and $75,000 a year and qualifying for federal aid. Loans and wages from work-study jobs are counted in the net price as part of the students’ cost.
The College Access Index is a combination of a colleges’ Pell graduates and net price, compared with the average school. (The index is based on the net price for both the $48,000-to-$75,000 income range shown here and the $30,000-to-$48,000 income range.) A college with an average score on the two measures in combination will receive a one. Scores above one indicate the most effort.
Endowment per student is for the year 2012-13 and includes graduate students.”

Over the last several years, states have cut their spending on education, some drastically. Georgia is not immune. These cuts have the greatest impact on the poor and minority communities. 
Public universities have responded by enrolling fewer poor and middle-class students, replacing them with students who can afford tuition outright. 
The decline of economic diversity at public colleges is clear, as outlined in The New York Times College Access Index ranking of 170 US colleges. 
Some of the biggest declines have been in the University of California system, which has long been economically diverse. Yet, the top five colleges in the 2017 Index remain University of California campuses. 
With a weakening state budget for education, institutions like UGA have turned to enrolling higher income students to offset the decrease in taxpayer subsidy. The higher income students tend to be white and the lower income students tend to be black or persons of color.  
The average number of freshman students receiving Pell grants - those typically at the lower end of the income scale - fell from 24.3%, to 21.8%. 
UGA ranks 28th on The New York Times College Access Index: Freshman class total of 5,200. Pell grade share average is 16. Net price for mid-income is $12k. College access index score is 1.18. Endowment funds spent per student is $28.3k. 
For comparison the top ranked college is: University of California – Irvine. Freshman class total of 5,400. Pell grade share average is 39. Net price for mid-income is $12k. College access index score is 1.90. Endowment funds spent per student is $11.1k. 
The lowest ranked college is: University of Puget Sound. Freshman class total of 700. Pell grade share average is 10. Net price for mid-income is $34k. College access index score is 0.28. Endowment funds spent per student is $129.8k. 

For this story, a public school teacher was interviewed. She currently works at a metro-Atlanta school system, has been teaching for less than 10 years, and has an advanced degree. The name of her current employer will not be mentioned. It was her former employer, another metro-Atlanta school system, and one of the largest employers in Georgia, which was most interesting. That name is also being withheld. 
This teacher works with children that have developmental difficulties, are economically disadvantaged, and speak English as a second language. 
When asked about the most challenging aspects to teaching in Georgia, without hesitation, she identified the emphasis the state places on preparing students for taking tests and dealing with inept, out of touch, administrators. 
The verbiage used to “prepare” students rather than “teaching” students, was a direct indicator to her growing sense of frustration. She compared herself to a professional boxer who steps into the ring to fight a world champion. The stipulation: Before doing so, a manager ties her right hand behind her back and reminds her that if she does not return victorious, she will be branded ineffective and her contract to fight, revoked. 
She was asked to go into detail about her former administration. Working with children who have developmental disabilities, are economically disadvantaged, and speak English as a second language, offers its own set of challenges. Having to battle an inept, out of touch administration was the last thing she dreamed of encountering.  
The majority of her former students could not read or write. They lived at or below the poverty level. Most spoke minimal English. Some students never attended a “formal” school, or if they did, the facility had a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing. The students did not know what a computer was, nor had they ever used one. The parents of her students spoke little to no English, oftentimes relying on a family friend for interpretation during parent conferences. The teacher spoke their natural language but was discouraged to do so by school administration. 
On the first week of class, the teacher was order to have her students tested (on a computer, in English) to determine how far behind they were compared to other 3rd grade classmates. As she expected, they failed miserably. 
When she spoke with former teachers of these students (for grades 1/2), she was shocked to discover they were recommended to advance to the next grade. Even though they could not read or write. 
These children walked to school in inclement weather. This teacher remarked about buying jackets, hats, and gloves for them. The clothing was kept in the classroom. Students were made aware about the items and encouraged to use them as needed. 
This teacher noticed some of her students were malnourished. She bought food and snacks and kept them in her classroom. Students were urged to enjoy the food and take some home. When administration found out, the teacher was ordered to stop. She was told that even though her students typically only ate while at school (and possibly not at all during the weekend), bringing extra food home would “cause problems” with their parents and siblings. 
Some students developed head lice. When asked about involving local health officials, because it became a reoccurring issue throughout the school year and have them speak with their parents about proper hygiene and grooming, her request was denied by administration. The teacher purchased cleaning supplies and kept the classroom as clean as possible. 
During lunch, the teacher told her students any fruit they received as part of their meal, could be taken back to class and eaten as an afternoon snack or taken home. A school administrator noticed her students putting apples and bananas in their pockets and confronted the teacher about it. When she tried to explain herself. The administrator made the students return to the cafeteria and throw the uneaten fruit away. 
The teacher furnished needed school supplies for her students, bought Christmas gifts, and made every effort to provide love and support for them and their families. Through it all, she battled her own administration.  
She ultimately left the school system.
A teacher made a positive difference in the lives of her students, but inferior leadership and supervision ran her out of a school system that needed her more than she needed it. 
According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (Georgia School Grades Reports), the teacher’s former school rates a letter grade of “D.” (These reports include A-F letter grades based on school performance and other useful information about the school, such as performance on statewide assessments, the make-up of the school’s student body, the graduation rate, and additional academic information).   
The same website (www.gosa.georgia.gov) lists the involved school district as having almost 98,000 students. 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp wants public school teachers to receive pay raises next year in the amount of $2,000. If approved, Kemp will have successfully fulfilled one of his campaign promises, when he pledged to raise their pay by $5,000. The first installment came last year, when the Assembly approved a $3,000 raise. Kemp’s proposition will cost taxpayers roughly $400 million dollars, even though Georgia is on track to collect $300 million less in taxes this year. Kemp said the pay raise “will enhance retention rates, boost recruitment numbers, and improve educational outcomes in schools throughout Georgia.” 

According to US News and World Report’s ranking of the best states for public education, Georgia ranked 30th
Georgia ranks 36th on per pupil spending. 
The rankings measure how well states educate students in preschool, K-12 and different levels of higher education. 

Teachers are woefully underpaid. On average, 22% less than what they can earn outside of the classroom. This imbalance filters down to our students. 

Despite the pay gap, we do attract teachers who – like the young woman described above - for love of children, are willing to take on the many challenges of the profession. 
Another factor not addressed in Kemp’s $400 million proposition, is how to increase the effectiveness of our teachers. 
This requires more than money. Teaching needs to return to a profession, managed by professionals and not bureaucrats, as opposed to its current state, an occupation.
We need to invest in all teachers. It is more important to select and retain those who are effective in the classroom, where an actual difference can be made in the lives of students. That means paying teachers a salary that will keep them from seeking jobs outside of education, plus getting rid of ineffective administrators. 
Throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at pay raises for retention will not solve the issues within our education system. Higher salaries (pay raises like Kemp’s) are a double-edged sword. They not only retain the most effective teachers, but also the least effective. Kemp’s proposal rewards the good and the bad, without addressing the underlying issues afflicting the profession.
Significant changes will take years, well beyond Kemp’s tenure as Governor. 
Policy at the local level needs to be implemented based on teaching effectively and not just preparing students for testing. 
Success requires leadership, not just money. Treating teaching like a profession (and teachers with the respect of a professional) will hold incompetent teachers and administrators accountable for their own actions. 
A professional is willing to be held accountable for their performance. It’s what distinguishes them from an employee. 

I’m old enough to remember talk about Maddox. I’m also old enough to know better. 
History has a funny way of repeating itself, especially in the South. We have made too much progress to regress now. 
Some of my fondest memories are those spent with fellow students in a classroom. At the center of a discussion or story or lesson, was our teacher, leading the way. Not once did I get the impression a hand was tied behind their back. 
It was just the opposite. They moved effortlessly in the classroom. I recall kindness, compassion, empathy, positivity, encouragement, inspiration, team building, a sense of community, and wonder.  
I don’t recall forced pressure to perform well on a test. I was too busy learning.