The AP U.S. History War Comes to Georgia

I posted my opinion on Charter Confidential about the battle to rid Georgia of Advanced Placement U. S. History, or at least cleanse it sufficiently to satisfy the GOP overlords in the state legislature. Reprinting here for your reading enjoyment.

There has been quite the hue and cry raised across the Bible Belt and beyond about the content of Advanced Placement U. S. History (APUSH), Georgia being no exception. Essentially, the effort appears designed to ban APUSH from the state curriculum. An Oklahoma committee of legislators voted in favor of a bill to prevent state funds from being used to provide APUSH, and instead offer students a “homegrown” curriculum. The bill has been withdrawn after the story gained national notoriety, but the controversy continues to rage, centered primarily in the South but also surfacing in Colorado.

Much of the focus seems to be on whether the APUSH content is sufficiently patriotic to suit members on the right of the Republican party (are there any that are not on the right?), although there is also a strain of paranoia that “the feds” are attempting to usurp control of curriculum from the states. In Georgia, SR 80 would require that APUSH be withdrawn in its current form by the state, and defunded if changes aren’t made to the satisfaction of GOP Sen. William Ligon (Brunswick) & company (Millar-Dunwoody, Hill-Marietta, Jeffares-McDonough, Watson-Savannah, “and others”). As Sen. Ligon led the charge last session against Common Core, it’s no surprise that he would be similarly offended by the College Board, although neither Common Core nor Advanced Placement is a federal initiative.

It is a surprise to me that Fran Millar is part of this effort, and that’s what makes me suspect that, at least here in Georgia, opposition to APUSH is a party-line situation more than anything else. Fran is what I like to call a common sense conservative, not one given to hysteria, and to be fair, I haven’t spoken to him yet about why he is co-sponsoring the bill. What doesn’t surprise me is that once again, a well-meaning bunch of legislators are getting too far into the weeds of what state-agency licensed teachers are doing, i.e., deciding what specific curriculum will be used in classrooms.

What makes the most sense to me, as an administrator responsible for my district’s curriculum offerings, is to compare the new APUSH manual to the Georgia Performance Standards for U.S. History — the proposed legislation states that the APUSH framework “differs radically” from GPSUSH. I have read both documents cover-to-cover, and I don’t buy the argument being made by the legislators. With all due respect to the senators, I’m pretty sure I know more about curriculum analysis than they do. I speak from experience not only as an administrator but also as a former National Board Certified Teacher of English, history, and French. In my teaching days, I taught AP Language and Composition and co-taught it with a social studies teacher who taught APUSH.

The Advanced Placement standards do not dictate the specific reading selections or classroom activities for AP teachers — and they never have. The classroom teacher has the freedom to teach APUSH incorporating the state standards within the broad curriculum framework established by the College Board and outlined in the Course and Exam Description for each subject. The AP exam administered at the end of the course determines whether students have attained the standards, which for APUSH include the following:

  1. Historical thinking skills (chronological reasoning, comparison and contextualization, crafting historical arguments from historical evidence, and historical interpretation and synthesis);
  2. Thematic learning objectives, which describe what colleges expect AP students to know and be able to do by the end of a college-level survey course in American history;
  3. The concept outline, a series of nine historical periods from the pre-colonial era to the present; and
  4. The APUSH exam itself, an essay-based assessment.

As the College Board’s own APUSH manual for teachers emphasizes, “the concept outline does not attempt to provide a list of groups, individuals, dates, or historical details, because it is each teacher’s responsibility to select relevant historical evidence of his or her own choosing to explore the key concepts of each period in depth” [emphasis mine]. The GPSUSH does in fact provide a list of groups, individuals, dates, and historical details. Advanced Placement Teachers of are required to develop their own syllabus for each AP course, which is submitted by the school to the College Board for approval. There is nothing preventing a Georgia APUSH teacher from taking the GPSUSH groups, individuals, dates, and historical details and incorporating them into the APUSH syllabus for the school’s and the College Board’s approval.

If the Georgia senators don’t want to take this old maid schoolteacher’s word for it, they might inquire of one of the state’s best authorities on curriculum and instruction, Dr. Martha Reichrath. As Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at the Georgia Department of Education, she is one of the smartest educational leaders this state has ever produced. At the Common Core listening sessions last year, which descended into near-freak show hilarity during public comment, Dr. Reichrath was a voice of reason. The discussion on APUSH needs to be led by public school administrators and teachers. With all due respect to our elected representatives, it’s not your place to tell education professionals what to teach, or how to teach it — that’s our job. After all, theGeorgia Professional Standards Commission (an agency that is Georgia-grown and Georgia-owned) has certified us, and the GaPSC is charged with “protecting Georgia’s higher standard of learning.”

Dr. Monica Henson is superintendent and chief executive officer of Provost Academy Georgia.

Well, Howdy Do!

My name is Susan Monica Henson. I like to go on a bit about things that excite me. This new blog is very exciting.

Names are a big deal in the South. By way of introduction, I’ll start by telling y’all about my first name and how I got it—although my mother, who goes by her middle name, called my sisters and me all by our middle names, which is kind of odd, because she called both our brothers by their first names, like my father goes by his first name. My youngest sister decided when she went off to college that she would go by her first name, Lisa, which she does with everybody excepting her immediate family. We all still call her Jill and will do so until we are all gone on to The Great By and By. Jill allowed two of her own kids, while they were still in elementary and middle school, to decide that they would rather go by their middle names than their first names.

I was born and raised in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. If you meet me in real life and think I am quite the hillbilly due to my pronounced accent, you might be surprised to learn that I am the third generation of my family to attend Western Carolina University (my son is the fourth) and one of an extended line of public school teachers and administrators. My great-grandparents on my mother’s side were very proud of the fact that they went all the way through eighth grade at the Hayesville Academy, back at the turn of the twentieth century before there was a high school. They sent all nine of their children to college and kept a subscription to the Asheville Citizen-Times all their lives.

My mother (Sue) and I were both named for my grandmother’s best friend, an elementary school teacher named Sue Haigler. Miss Sue taught right next door to my Granny Rogers, a/k/a Miss Willie, until they both retired, and Miss Sue kept right on teaching. She taught inmates at the local jailhouse how to read better.

Miss Sue was quite a character, and she and her sister Miss Louise, also a single lady for life (I prefer that elegant phrase far more to “spinster”) came to my bridesmaids’ luncheon when I was marrying my first husband. After I became a teacher myself, I used to write Miss Sue a handwritten letter every Christmas telling her what I had been doing all year. Miss Sue always wrote me back telling me what she had been doing all year, even when she went to live in the nursing home, where she no doubt continued teaching whenever she got the chance. The last letter I received from Miss Sue was five pages written in her beautiful elementary school teacher cursive.

Handwritten letters are also a big deal, and not just in the South. One of my biggest regrets is that I no longer have my letters I received from Miss Sue, and other letters from people who influenced me when I was young, for reasons that are best kept for another blog post. Miss Sue and Miss Louise were what once was commonly called “old maid schoolteachers.” That usually was considered a mildly pejorative term, but I embrace it with gusto and will explain why. If you decide to follow me on Twitter, which I hope you do (@DrMonicaHenson), you’ll see that I identify myself as “an old maid schoolteacher on a mission to change the world.” That pretty much sums it up, but I’ll tell you a little more to give you context. I’m not technically an old maid, as I have been married. I am, however, a proud old maid in spirit.

I live in Jasper, Georgia, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, in a split-level house with a screened porch. I have raised or participated in the raising of nine children, the oldest of whom is 32 and the youngest is 16, only one of whom is biologically connected to me. I built my family with biological, adopted, and step children, and I’m a proud grandmother who understands, as my own mother demonstrated when she became “Nana,” that when it comes to grandchildren, there is no such thing as blood, adopted, or step.

I am a charter school superintendent who has spent most of my career in district public schools, although for the past ten years I’ve had a foot in both the charter and the district worlds. I run an online charter high school district that caters to every possible type of square peg student imaginable. I think it’s quite ironic that my father’s father was principal of a pre-consolidation schoolhouse in the mountains of NC when they heated the school with coal, and he saw the advent of electricity in his youth when the TVA dammed the Hiwassee River, which runs into the Tennessee River. Two generations later, I saw the advent of the internet in my youth, and I am now running a statewide program that wouldn’t exist if not for electricity and the internet.

I am a Blue Dog Democrat and politically conservative on the majority of issues, notable exceptions being women’s health and the social safety net for the truly disabled, elderly, and minor children.

I’ve taught every grade from seventh through university graduate students. I’ve held every instructional administrator post imaginable from English department chair through superintendent. I edited my college newspaper and literary magazine and gave strong consideration to a career in journalism before going into education. I have been a registered lobbyist in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in the past. I’ve been a technical writer and a stay-at-home mother, as well as a high school basketball and volleyball official. Most of the time, though, I’ve been a teacher and school administrator. At heart, I will always be an old maid high school English teacher.

I founded, with Scarlet Hawk and some other fierce ladies in what I fondly call my Magnolia Mafia, a blog called Charter Confidential, devoted to telling the story of charter schooling in Georgia. I co-founded and moderate a secret Facebook political discussion group, The Usual Suspects. I am on Facebook all the time with my students in their closed Facebook groups, and I follow and contribute to the #gaed and #gapol hashtags on Twitter.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading what I have to say about things, even if you don’t always agree with me. I think of the internet as the electronic equivalent of the front porch, where neighbors can drop by when they have a minute to visit. Come on up, sit a spell, and have some iced tea.

The Great School Take Over Debate

Schools come in all shapes, all sizes, and all levels from, “Oh my goodness, I want my kid to go there!” to “There is no way on God’s Green Earth that I would let my child darken that door. I don’t care if I live in a hovel; we’re going to private school.”

That being said, I believe that something has to be done to push our bad schools out of business. I also firmly believe that the free market will take care of failing schools on its own.  BUT!  What makes a failing school?  Is it the teachers?  Is it the administration?  Is it the central office staff?  Is it poverty, lack of money going to the school, lack of money getting to the classroom, lack of salary for the best and brightest teachers, lack of__________?  Or is it too much money going to the big dogs’ salaries, too much money spent on things outside of the basic education of our kids like testing, too much of ______________?  Ironically, it’s none of that.

What makes a failing school is this little thing called the Georgia (please note:  not National…Georgia) College and Career Readiness Performance Index (or, what we in the biz like to call the CCRPI Score). The CCRPI Score is based on a lot of factors, and one of those factors is how many kids pass a test.  Another part of it is how many of our most vulnerable and underserved kids grow academically in a year.  You get bonus points if teachers log on to the state system and mess around with it; points for AP classes being offered and taken, especially by minority students.  Although old, this is a user friendly score guide.  For you Education Wonks, check out the DOE Site and dig deeper.

A school that has a CCRPI score of less than a 70 is a big, fat failure.  If that school is a big fat failure for three years, it is taken over by Big Deal and Company.   What are Big Deal and Co. going to do, though?  Is there a plan beyond the “Great Takeover”?  Whom will they hire?  How will those teachers get paid?  Will they be paid more than their peers because they took on the challenge?  What will the class size look like?  What will become of the facilities? What will the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) funding be for the school population? Books? Technology? Supplies?

Here’s my prediction.  I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Big Deal and Co. will take over the school (s).  Student:Teacher ratio will be ideal in all classes and not an average (20:1); facilities will be updated; teachers will be compensated on a higher level; administration will be held to a higher standard; our underserved population will be put into higher level classes and expected to perform at higher levels (because they CAN, and we forget that sometimes). Test scores will jump dramatically because the kids have the best and brightest working with them in smaller classes, lower student teacher ratios and higher expectations.  IT’S a miracle!  And then the best and brightest, the money, and the expectations will move on, and the school goes back to what the government has allotted it in the beginning.  Guess what happens next?

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply hire teachers and administrators who are the best and brightest, pay them well, treat them well, and hold them to a higher standard?  Give them a smaller class size so that they can get to know their kids and personalize learning.  Give them support in areas they need support .  Give them time to collaborate, to plan, and to give everything they have to the kids whom they serve?  I’d say so.  Jim Arnold of Pelham City Schools agrees.  What say you?

Hey y’all!

My name is Lora Scarlet Hawk, and while I reside in Atlanta, I am grateful to have been born in the Classic City and reared in Social Circle, GA.  More (read: boring) of my bio may be found here; follow me on twitter here.  I have assembled this group of writers to offer a different perspective on politics, business, and culture in the South.  I have written for other previous sites and publications, but wished to provide a platform for other writers whose voices may provide clarity on issues, diversity of opinion, and to dispel the notion of the meek and mild Southern woman.

Why? I love my state.

There is a strength that comes from this red clay that does not come from anywhere else.  The blue skies here are just a little clearer, the accents a little slower, and while it is not a place of quick change, everyone knows that even the kudzu will cover you if you’re standing still.  So I invite you to join us as each of the writers speak about the South we love, the places in which we reside, and all of  the challenges in between.

Some points of clarification about me are:

I am not a journalist. 

Politics is my profession (lobbyist, campaign consultant, and fundraiser), and my insights/opinions are based upon the relationships and experiences I have gathered in the last ten years of my work.

I am an Independent.

You are welcome to consider me what you will.  I question and work with candidates from both parties, a few nonprofits and small businesses, and I only work with the people and organizations in which I truly believe.

I am an all-inclusive and accepting kind of Baptist (join me in the pew at Northside Drive Baptist Church), a member of the Black Ring Mafia (ASC c/o ’04), the Cashmere Mafia, the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc., and when I’m not working, I’m volunteering. Everyone who knows me knows I’ve got a bias for girls trying to make in it business/politics for which I make no apologies.

What I hope this may become.

I hope this may become a place where these writers may be taken seriously…to inform, discuss, debate and analyze issues in a bi-partisan manner, with a diversity of writers that has not been seen in Georgia before now.  It is my hope that good policy may be considered, bad politics exposed, and all done with the air of respect that is deserved.  I hope you find the posts we offer worthy of your time and consideration.

“It was this feminine conspiracy which made Southern society so pleasant. Women knew that a land where men were contented, uncontradicted and safe in possession of unpunctured vanity was likely to be a very pleasant place for women to live. So, from the cradle to the grave, women strove to make men pleased with themselves, and the satisfied men repaid lavishly with gallantry and adoration. In fact, men willingly gave ladies