How Public Education Woes Shut Down the City of Atlanta
In a non-descript public high school building somewhere in Atlanta, I stared outside between two rectangular slits as snow gracefully fell beyond the meager windows. With noon approaching, the African American students, whom I service, continued to grow more and more antsy every minute they found themselves stuck inside the drab, off-white, cement block rooms, except for one young lady from Ghana who had never seen snow before. I watched her and mirrored her grin in my own as she smiled ear to ear admiring the rare precipitation with delight. No word from county whether dismissal would come early today. As parents slowly trickled to the school alleviating teachers of wound-up students one-by-one, I had long since given up on instruction for the day, Hamlet Act II, Scene i and Julius Caesar Act I, Scene ii as the docket demanded.
This was Tuesday, the 28th of January, 2014. As I marveled at the novelty of witnessing a teenager taking in her first snow, the city of Atlanta crept into the first stages of a quickly escalating, snow-induced cardiac arrest. A mere two hours later, Atlanta came to a complete and utter halt frozen in time like some poor, naïve animal suspended in mid-gait amidst an overwhelming and instant freeze. The whole city, stretching nearly a hundred miles from north to south and east to west, lapsed into a Code Blue in front of our collective eyes and died without nary a person, organization, or government to fix the situation. Mother Nature balked at the helpless humans who had tempted the fates of weather and once again lost. For outsiders and denizens of oft cold and snowy regions of the globe, this predicament seems outrageous beyond comprehension, a city grinding to a halt over two to three inches of snow; however, outside of mere governmental oversight and incompetency that plagues multicultural cities, a far greater dilemma set the precedent for the early afternoon shutdown: our terrible education woes, in particular, our EOCT (End of Course Test) scores.
Many articles have been published the last few days that accurately describe both the chaos and the preceding narrative that allowed this mess to occur. One of the more popular articles floating around Facebook the last few days was this article How Hothlanta Happened (Again) which describes in eight reasons how this disaster happened (again) referring to Atlanta Snowpocalypse of 2011. Reason #4 of 8, which explains how two-to-three inches of snow brought the city to a grinding halt, states,
And then something happened, and nothing happened in response. No one freaked out when winter storm advisories were announced. No cancellations were made, and the city and GDOT had nothing ready, and no capacity to catch up once they were behind. The city and state play a game of chicken with winter weather. The usual tactic is to call everything off, cancel everything early, and risk ridicule for the sake of not having people trapped on the roads for ten hours. This is usually done with the luxury of a night to prepare.
One facet of this quagmire is, as the latter selection points out, Georgia Department of Transportation’s complete lack of preparedness for this type of winter weather. The other side of this quagmire is why no cancellations were made in regards to public facilities, especially the schools. For the adults of the city, corporations and businesses had the final say on shutting down; however, governmental facilities, which education is merely a branch, are decided by the counties themselves. Herein lies the reason why the one o’clock gridlock happened. The schools were reluctant to shut down, and when they collectively decided to do so, the timing, along with the weather, effectively crippled the city.
Apparently, businesses and corporations were waiting to see whether the schools would shut down early or make it to the usual end of the day. When the metro schools did begin to close, corporations and businesses knew there was going to be a mass exodus of parents in relation to this early dismal, and timed their own closings with that of the schools. Most of the school systems in metropolitan Atlanta did not call off school on this fateful day, and early dismal announcements did not begin until around noon to 1pm. As a result, approximately three million people left work for the day and the schools began early dismal at the same time. So imagine 6pm rush hour moved earlier to 1pm, add snow and ice to the mix, and, lastly, consider school dismissal which entails thousands of busses ferrying students all across the county, etc. The result has made Atlanta the laughing stock of the nation at present. The following is a picture chronicling the time, the traffic gridlock, and the total shut down of the city on Google Maps.
Here is where most mainstream news sources will cease their journalistic endeavors. Why were the various metropolitan boards of education so reluctant to cancel school for January 28th the day before and thereby saving themselves the hassle? The answer is test scores, specifically the EOCT (End of Course Test) scores. According to the 2012-2014 Georgia Assessment Calendar on the Georgia Department of Education website, the Spring EOCT administration begins April 28 and continues to June 6, 2014. For teachers, these EOCT scores can make or break you. Most teachers spend the entirety of the year teaching in preparation for their respective tests eschewing whole parts of the curriculum and certain Common Core standards that are historically less manifest on the EOCT. There is so much scrutiny for teachers to close the racial gap between blacks and Hispanics at the bottom and Asians and whites at the top that the whole system now revolves around these scores. These scores have become so important that many school systems in Georgia (and around the country) are beginning to tinker with, and hopefully fully integrate in the future, Merit-Based-Pay to encourage older teachers to retire and encourage younger teachers to really “go the extra mile.” The new salary system would effectively determine your income based upon your test scores and percentage gains.
The following image is a composite of EOCT test score results from Winter of 2007 to Winter of 2012 arranged by racial demographic. The scores account for Winter EOCT retakes (i.e. W07) and Spring EOCT first takes (i.e. S08). This data comes from the Georgia Department of Education website and is entitled TESTING BRIEF: Georgia End of Course Test (EOCT) Winter Administration, November 26, 2012 – January, 4th, 2013. The numbers for each seasonal administration represent the percentage of students who “Meets” or “Exceeds” the standard. This basically means the percentage of students who passed the test for each respective course.
The EOCT scores for each subject illuminate the gap that the nation wants to pretend does not exist. This gap is the proverbial elephant in the room for educational systems across the country.
Therefore, metropolitan boards of education need students in seats every-single-day to receive that precious instructional time in the lead-up to the EOCT testing days at the end of Spring semester. After the cheating scandals and the failure of other artificial means to boost test scores, the attention of the nation and the federal government at large continues to scrutinize, analyze, and audit every move sub-standard, low achieving districts make. This is why Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County, Fulton County, and Gwinnett County schools, among others, did not cancel school the day before. That is, these school systems could not afford to lose the one day of instruction their students desperately need to increase the EOCT scores, and, thus, close the racial gap. As a result, all waited until the transportation and weather quandary was beyond them and absolute chaos ensued.
The weather fiasco is effectively kicking the schools systems of Atlanta while they are already down. Being on the inside of the public education system, I can vouch for the terror and animosity teachers have for EOCT’s. Not only is the scrutiny of the federal government at play concerning these test scores, but also massive amounts of funding for schools, as well. Percentages gained by the current administration, whether on the respective boards of education or of the schools themselves, serve to enhance the prestige of those in charge as well as increase credibility for determining funds for the near future. Therefore, when scores, funding, and careers are all at stake, superintendents, boards of education, and administrators will continue to tempt the fates in these kinds of scenarios.
As adversity reigned upon the city that day, white folks the city over did what white folks often do in times of need: help one another until the crisis is resolved. I will now refer you to the following articles: The Silver Lining Of Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse 2014, Storm victims find snow angels on social media, or this Facebook page. Obviously, whites weren’t the only ones helping others on this day, but, funny enough, you can’t find any pictures of diversity lending a helping hand.