The 2014 NCAA SAT seedings are in!

3d chain_gang

First: shameless book promo. This is the Internet, after all.

March Literary Madness!

The House of Cards for schools

Chain Gang Elementary is only $2.99 for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks versions!

“Acerbic wit.”–Publishers Weekly

“Offensive on so many levels.”–Angry Mom

Like Chain Gang Elementary’s facebook page. Follow me on Twitter.


NCAA BasketballFor the third year in a row, I answer the question on everyone’s mind: What if the NCAA men’s tournament teams had to submit their school’s freshman SAT scores (not just those of basketball players) to get their seeding?

With some help from The College Board and common data sets, I figured it out. Of course, Harvard would be the No. 1 seed overall (again? bor–ing) followed by Stanford and Duke. From then on, it gets a little congested. Below is a ranking of the overall 68-team tournament field based on standardized test scores.

The methodology here is very simple and not especially refined. I use the midpoints of a school’s 25-75 percentile Math and Verbal scores and add them (since not all schools report writing scores). For those (Midwestern) schools that rely more heavily on the ACT, I converted ACT to SAT scores. So many students are talking the ACT, I may switch to ACT scores next year. Just saying.

Inside Higher Ed has set up its own brackets based on academic progress statistics for NCAA tournament teams: Memphis, Texas, BYU, and Kansas (for the second year in a row) make the Final Four, and Kansas wins. Check it out.

By the way, standardized tests rule in my novel, Chain Gang Elementary–specifically, the unfortunately named Standard Hightower Intellachievement Test, which creates a scandal the likes you probably haven’t seen in your school district yet.


2013 NCAA Tourney SAT Rank/Scores

1. Harvard 1505
2. Stanford 1475
3. Duke 1455
4. Michigan 1380
5. Virginia 1355
6. (tie) North Carolina 1305
6. (tie) UCLA 1305
6. (tie) Villanova 1305
9. (tie)  Wisconsin 1300
9. (tie) BYU 1300
9. (tie) Ohio St. 1300
12. George Washington 1290
13. Tulsa 1280
14. Pittsburgh 1270
15. Florida 1265
16. Texas 1261
17. American University 1255
18. (tie) Creighton 1250
18. (tie) Saint Louis 1250
20. N.C. State 1242
21. Wofford 1235
22. Connecticut 1230
23. (tie) Baylor 1225
23. (tie) Cal Poly 1225
25, Tennessee 1220
26. University of Massachusetts 1210
27. Delaware 1205
28. Gonzaga 1201
29. (tie) Colorado 1190
29. (tie) Dayton  1190
29. (tie) Michigan State 1190
29. (tie) Oklahoma 1190
33. Mercer 1175
34. Cincinnati 1170
35. (tie) Providence 1155
35. (tie) Syracuse 1155
37. (tie) Iowa 1150
37. (tie) Iowa State 1150
37. (tie) Kansas 1150
37. (tie) Nebraska 1150
41. (tie) Oklahoma St. 1130
41. (tie) Xavier 1130
43. (tie) Kentucky 1115
43. (tie) Oregon 1115
45. (tie) Arizona 1110
45. (tie) Arizona State 1110
45. (tie) Kansas State 1110
45. (tie) Louisville 1110
45. (tie)Saint Josephp’s 1110
50. (tie) Albany 1100
50. (tie) San Diego State 1100
50. (tie) Virginia Commonwealth 1100
53. Mount St. Mary’s 10855
54. Manhattan 1080
55. University of La.-Lafayette 1070
56. (tie) Memphis 1070
56. (tie) Wichita State 1070
58. North Dakota State 1050
59. (tie) New Mexico 1030
59. (tie) U. Wisconsin-Milwaukee 1030
59. (tie) Western Michigan 1030
62. (tie) Eastern Kentucky. 1020
62. (tie) New Mexico State 1020
64. Coastal Carolina 1000
65. Stephen F Austin 990
66. Weber State 990
67. North Carolina Central   860
68. Texas Southern   825

The HOUSE OF CARDS for schools

Nerd at desk


The HOUSE OF CARDS for schools

It’s funny. It’s not so funny

“Acerbic wit” — Publishers Weekly
“Offensive on so many levels.” — Angry Mom

Now only $2.99  for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks versions!


After a murder at Bonaire Elementary, Richard and Anna Lee Gray seek a good school for their son Nick in a safe neighborhood. Their search leads them to Malliford, a “school of excellence.” When redistricting sends scores of minority students to Malliford, iron-willed Principal Estelle Rutherford declares war on kids to raise test scores and save her reputation. Dissident parents revolt, electing Richard to head the Parent-Teacher Organization, and tensions explode. Welcome to Chain Gang Elementary, home to vast right-wing conspiracies, 3rd-grade gangsters, and bake sale embezzlers–where toxic childhood secrets boil over, reformers go stark raving mad, and culture wars escalate into armed conflict.

Thornbriar Press


Q&A with Chain Gang Elementary author Jonathan Grant

Why did you write Chain Gang Elementary?

I tell people it’s my revenge for having to read Lord of the Flies in high school.  Actually, I first started on a completely different project. When I became a PTA co-president at a high-achieving public school, I was interested in publishing a non-fiction book—a how-to guide for parent leaders taking over the reins of a parent-teacher group. And then I saw Murder at the PTA Luncheon. No, actually, while studying the subject, I came across this phrase, or something like it: “Every good school is fundamentally the same, but every bad school is unique.”

This got me thinking: Hmm. Unique is more interesting. Being a novelist at heart (although a journalist and editor by training), I decided to tackle the subject in a different genre: as a fictional “how-not-to” guide on parent-educator relationships.

Can you tell us more specifically what Chain Gang Elementary is about?

It’s a tale of war between a PTA president and a grade-school principal, with casualties … and jokes. It’s funny. It’s not so funny. The plot follows the tenure of the first man in twenty years to head the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. It seems the gender is cursed. He’s a reformer, and he finds himself at odds with the principal, who is very authoritarian. She won’t listen to his ideas, and he’s more than willing to go over her head, so they have a bad relationship from the beginning. And it gets worse. Much, much worse.

How much worse?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest worse.

How did you come up with the title? This isn’t about a prison school, is it?

No, there aren’t any prison uniforms or rock-breaking gangs, although . . . I’d better just leave it there for now. Actually, the title comes from the unfortunate nickname Malliford Elementary School picks up after the principal institutes a draconian punishment for a prank pulled by a 5th grader. It’s really the start of the trouble.

And then what happens?

The nickname sticks, parents rise up in protest, tensions mount, and the school becomes a cultural battlefield—with students and teachers caught in the middle—when an influx of low-income students are redistricted into the school. Each faction tries to apply its solutions to the “problem” of low test scores, resulting in a testing scandal—although different from the one that has plagued Atlanta public schools.

You’re an Atlanta writer, right?

I live in DeKalb, right next door to Atlanta, and some would say it’s got an equally troubled school system. Our former superintendent has been indicted on racketeering charges, and the school board has turned on itself, with members leaking damaging information to the media whenever they don’t get their way. And apparently all of them do it. As Mark Twain famously said, “In the first place, God created idiots. This was for practice. Then He created School Boards.”

Is this story autobiographical?

No. The novel incorporates themes and storylines from everywhere–local news stories, national scandals, you name it. The teachers, students, and parents of Chain Gang Elementary exist only on its pages, and they are true to themselves, not to any memories of mine. Of course, there’s an old saying, “Every writer is still trying to win that third-grade fight,” which may explain why protagonist Richard Gray is still coming to grips with his childhood traumas. But as far as parallels to my experience as a PTA president, there aren’t any that I can see. It was a happy time for me.

Can you tell us more about the testing scandal?

No comment. I don’t want to spoil the plot.

What other works have you completed or been involved with?

I’m the co-author/editor of The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia, which was named the state’s Book of the Year when it was published. I’ve optioned a historical screenplay about two famous fugitive slaves to Hollywood, and another novel I’ve written is currently being marketed to publishers by my agent. I’m also preparing my next novel, Brambleman (a Forsyth County saga), for publication on the 25th anniversary of Hosea Williams’ anti-intimidation march to Cumming.

Anything else you’re working on right now?

Mainly, I’m wearing a publisher’s hat and setting up Thornbriar Press to distribute Chain Gang. As a parent, I’ve been  interested in education for many years. Now that my kids are in college, some of my attention has shifted, and I publish Georgia Colleges  ( in addition to keeping up a Darwin-Awardish blog for Chain Gang Elementary. I hope to publish a guidebook to Georgia colleges in the near future, and, in keeping with the spirit of Chain Gang, a humorous “how-not-to” guide for parents with children in public schools.

Are there any upcoming events you’ll be participating in?

First and foremost, I’ll have a booth at the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day Weekend, and I’m looking forward to that. You can find me next door to the Starbucks on Ponce de Leon. I’ll have discounted prices on the book and free giveaways, so it should be fun. I also plan to exhibit the book at the Dahlonega Literary Festival later this fall, and in Savannah in February. I’ll be setting up book signings as opportunities arise.

Anything else you’d like to add?

You can find out more about Chain Gang Elementary by visiting the book’s website, and clicking the “About” tab. You can also download the first three chapters for free in pdf format and keep up with my somewhat skewed take on the news on The Chain Gang Blog.

Inside an “F” school

Failure schoolThis is a must-read for parents and educators–and especially reformers whose narrow focus is on what’s going on inside school buildings.

Everyone who wants to blame schools and teachers for what’s going wrong in American schools needs to read this special series from the Tulsa World, “Inside an ‘F’ School,” which details the factors that go into making a “bad” school:

Every other Friday without fail, Judi Wilson, LaChelle Harris and Kenneth Stanley Sr. can be found at Hawthorne Elementary School selling sour pickles and fresh-popped popcorn to raise money for the PTA.

It’s a good thing they do, because they’re three of only five parents in the PTA at a school with 386 students. In December, teachers were the only ones who attended the monthly PTA meeting.

… Faculty and staff say they’re simply not getting the support they need from parents. The office staff grapple with chronic absenteeism. This is evidenced in the school’s student mobility rate, which counts every enrollment and withdrawal after the first day. At Hawthorne, it was 108 percent for 2012-13, primarily because of enrolled students being dropped from the rolls for excessive absences — sometimes multiple times throughout the year.

By comparison, the mobility rate at A-plus neighborhood school Carnegie Elementary is 24 percent.

Hawthorne counselor Janice Watkins recently had to resort to home visits because parents or guardians of 15 students weren’t responding to repeated phone calls over the course of three weeks about the possibility of their children having special education needs.

Early-childhood education teachers say a significant portion of their students enter school profoundly behind in basic skills and knowledge.

“I have students who can barely form a sentence or who don’t know their own first names because they’ve only been spoken to in basic commands or called a nickname,” said Patricialynn Holweg, who teaches prekindergarten. “They’re so far behind that even when we make great strides, they’re still behind the others.”

You can read more here. This is part of a special report that ran in the World‘s Sunday and Monday editions. Well worth reading and sharing. Here’s the link to the series.

20 grand in PTA money missing

embezzlementThat certainly is a large amount of money. Not again, you say?

Of course again.

It happens all the time.  Now,  the allegations are surfacing in Westerville, Ohio.


10TV reports:

WESTERVILLE, Ohio – Westerville Schools and Blendon Township Police tell 10TV that there is an ongoing investigation into missing PTA funds at Huber Ridge Elementary School.

A spokesperson for the school district says the investigation has been ongoing for several months and says it appears more than $20,000 is missing.

10TV is not naming the person of interest in the case because no criminal charges have been filed.

The school district released this statement:  “Parent Teacher Associations are completely separate entities from the schools they support. As such, the alleged incident does not involve district resources.”

Click here to see the video.