Questioning Tennessee’s “Opportunity School District”: A Heads up for Georgia’s Take Over Plan?

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Anthony Cody, over at Living in Dialog, posted an article written by John Thompson, who blogs at This Week in Education.  Thompson’s article is entitled “Can the Tennessee Achievement School District Move Beyond the Silver Bullets?

His article is an analysis of two interviews with Chris Barbic, Superintendent of the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) by two journalists, Darrel Burnette (Chalkbeat Tennessee), and John Buntin (Governing magazine).   You can read the Burnett interview here.

Buntin’s is a yearlong series of three articles (so far) about a Memphis high school in the Tennessee Achievement District.  You can read here, the first article, the second article, and the third article.  The third article, entitled “In Memphis, Revolt Overshadows Education Reform’s Successes,” describes the protests that have emerged against the ASD.  After reading the third article it seems clear that the school recovery law has put the local school boards on the defensive as they see some of the schools being assigned to the ASD or some charter management company, with almost no input from the local community.

As will be the case in Georgia, the state recovery school district will be able to take over any school deemed to have chronically failing students.  As I pointed out in an earlier post, there are 141 schools in Georgia that are on the “list,” and could be taken over.  In Tennessee, this has angered the school board in Shelby County (Memphis) where 22 of the state’s 23 ASD schools are located.

In a sense, the schools are sitting ducks waiting for outsiders to come in and take over.  Some folks are not happy about their schools becoming someone else’s cash cow.  In some cases, the charter operators are more interested in how many students are in a school, rather than the need that might exist.

The chairperson of the Shelby County School Board has proposed that the local district will offer transportation to any child whose parent wishes them to go to a school that has not been taken over by the ASD

Is this what we want in Georgia?

Nathan Deal, whose political allies have already established a nonprofit Coalition for Georgia’s future, has begun his campaign to dismantle public schools by creating a Louisiana-Tennessee style take over plan.  The nonprofit will bring in lots of “dark money” or secret donations from individuals and groups that will benefit from the creation of Georgia’s Opportunity School District.

We are beginning a serious battle to preserve democracy and the role that public schools play in our lives.  We need to speak out on what is happening in Georgia by pointing the finger north to Tennessee and west to Louisiana to show that these systems are not as effective as many would believe, and that there is a ground swell of protest against the take over idea, especially in Memphis.




Quietly Downplaying the Success of the Louisiana Recovery School District: Implications for Georgia

Mercedes Schneider posted an article on her website suggesting that the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) is not what it’s cracked up to be.

Georgia parents will find her reporting important in the context of Georgia Governor Deal’s Opportunity School District which is modeled on the Louisiana RSD.

In Dr. Schneider’s article, entitled New Orleans Recovery School District Proponents Now Offer a Disclaimer, she offers a warning to Georgians to be wary of Nathan Deal’s proclamation that what struggling schools in Georgia need is a charter school model that will be outsourced to charter management companies who will promise, no matter what, to raise student test scores.  That’s all.  Raise test scores.

Problem.  In 10 years, the Louisiana RSD has not be very successful raising student test scores.

In fact, Dr. Schneider highlights the backtracking that the corporate reform proponents are now talking about.  She cites an article in Politico, and I repeat part of it here:

The results aren’t all great, though. The average ACT score for the high school class of 2014 in the state’s Recovery School District, created to take over failing schools statewide before the storm – was 16.4 – considerably below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public college in Louisiana. Others note that school quality is uneven, political dysfunction endures and allegations of civil rights violations persist. Critics say that parents’ voices have been shut out. All in all, analysts say that despite the enthusiasm for the portfolio strategy used in New Orleans and elsewhere, there isn’t much evidence to prove whether it’s working or not.

This is not the kind of analysis that Governor Deal and Georgia Assembly want to hear.  Well, they are going to hear about it.

In the next 18 months, we will investigate the “recovery” school concept, and show that it might not be in the interests of students who have not performed well on Georgia’s standardized tests.

One of the resolutions (Senate Resolution 287) that passed both houses of the Georgia Assembly that will enable the Governor to form a recovery school district in our state will be on the November 2016 ballot.  We need to advocate for the defeat of this ballot initiative, and do what we can to offer the evidence and reasoning why the Opportunity School District is nothing more than an opportunity to make some folks very wealthy.  And it is not the kids who will forced into the OSD.


Atlanta Teachers–From Educators to Racketeers–I Don’t Think So

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Atlanta Teachers–From Educators to Racketeers–I Don’t Think So

Last week, 11 educators from the Atlanta Public Schools were convicted on racketeering charges related to the test erasure scandal.  The fact that these educators were brought to court on racketeering charges is not only outrageous, but also informs us of who holds power, and how they are able to side-step any accountability, and are able to keep themselves out of the court.

Ever since the story was reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2009, I’ve written many blog articles about the “scandal,” and explained why I think these educators should NOT have been brought to court in the first place, and how a system that was mired in a “culture of fear” was infected, resulting in test erasures.  The culture of fear, that was described in the Governor’s report of the Atlanta case, exists in many school districts across the country, from Pennsylvania, to Texas, to California.

The eleven Atlanta educators are scapegoats for a system that Jose Luis Vilson explored in one of his recent posts.  He said this about these teachers:

The 11 educators we saw arrested in Atlanta, mostly women and mostly Black, didn’t come off as criminals racketeering for massive profits, but as scapegoats for policies written on the backs of their children (Vilson, J. (2015, April 6). Recruiting Educators of Color In The Time of Race To The Top. Retrieved April 9, 2015, from

Below is a link to one of many posts I wrote about the “cheating scandal.”  I introduced this article with this statement:

How could this happen in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS)?  The district is in a city that is home to The King Center, The Carter Center, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and many other institutions that embody academic, research and cultural and social change.   Each of these institutions collaborated with the Atlanta Public Schools, some more than others, in research projects, staff development programs, curriculum development, and other educational activities for decades.

Grants were received from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and many other funding agencies. The Georgia Department of Education has contributed to the APS by providing consultants to help teachers who work with struggling students in the lowest performing schools in Atlanta.

Some schools received funding from private foundations and corporations, as well as mentoring and training relationships with local universities, especially in science and technology.  (Disclaimer: I was professor of science education at Georgia State University from 1969 – 2002, and worked with teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools for more than 30 years).

Did these organizations have their heads in the sand while they were working with the district?  How could the Georgia Department of Education not be aware of any of the pressure that was being put on teachers to make students score as high as they could on the high-stakes tests, no matter what?  Did the agencies that funded specific schools in Atlanta not check on how their resources were being used.

If you go ahead and click on the link, you will find some surprises about students in Atlanta perform–before, during, and after the period teachers were accused of changing student answer sheets.  ¥ou’ll also find why I think the reform policies that are still in effect in Atlanta specifically, and Georgia generally, will prevent education from improving.

So I invite you read this blog post:

From Educators to Racketeers: How Education Reform Led to a National Testing Scandal


“The Vallas Manifesto”—Peddling Fear, and Weather-Beaten Ideas

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“The Vallas Manifesto”–Peddling Fear, and Weather-Beaten Ideas

In an earlier post, I wrote about the discontent brought on by Paul Vallas’ article published in the AJC telling Georgians that  Governor Nathan Deal did the right thing in proposing his Opportunity School District (OSD). I wondered out loud if Vallas is looking for a job in Atlanta as the new superintendent of the Georgia OSD.

But in this post, I want to look at ideas that he posted on Maureen Downey’s blog, Get Schooled which was a response to many comments received about his first article.  So, two posts in a row, Downey gave Vallas the pulpit to voice his ideas,  which are nothing more than talking points of the neoliberal “reformists, and frankly nothing new.

Vallas makes the claim that if five suggestions (which he outlines and I’ve listed below) are implemented then improvement will happen in failing schools, regardless of poverty and other social problems. He used these ideas in New Orleans and Bridgeport in separate failing school turn around projects. Educators are reeling in New Orleans and Bridgeport from his superintendency.

And to be sure, if he comes to Georgia, he will bring with him the debris of these failed attempts to reform schools, and in so doing, ignore educators in local districts as if they didn’t know how to do their jobs.  For more information on Vallas and his work as superintendent in Bridgeport, you should follow this link to Jonathan Pelto on Twitter or at his blog.  You should also link to Hanna Hurley on Twitter who is a voracious supporter of public education, and a voice in Georgia from whom I learn.

Vallas’ ideas are nothing more than talking points for corporate and philanthropic privateers such as himself, and a handful of others, most notable, Michelle Rhee, the former superintendent of the D.C. School District.  Their ideas are built upon the “manufactured crisis” that they have concocted about American schools.  To these peddlers, our schools are in crisis, failing, and sure to cause calamity and economic depression if they don’t come to the rescue.  That’s right, we are waiting for the arrival of superman.  These ideas represent a kind of manifesto that is carried around from one district to another, and in the end not much happens in terms of improving the lives of students and their teachers.

Lets take a look at these ideas.

Idea 1. The Proven Curriculum: A comprehensive K-12 curriculum and instructional plan that is aligned to standards and provides continuity of instruction. Critical is the selection of proven curriculum and instructional models, sufficient quality instructional time-on-task and classroom modernization.

Vallas is a standards’ supporter and believes there is such a thing as a proven curriculum. This is nonsense. Curriculum is not proven, any more than ideas in science are proven. We have curriculum theory, not a proven curriculum. If anything is true about curriculum, it is that it hasn’t changed very much in more than 100 years. Indeed, Vallas is simply telling us that we should stick with the standards and curriculum that have been around for decades.

People like Vallas actually believe that teachers should use the same standards, even though they never had a hand in designing them. Rigid standards are impediments to innovative teaching and learning. Then, when combined with aligned high-stakes tests, a perfect storm is set motion that reduces teaching and learning to mere mechanics.

Idea 2. “Effective” use of data: Simple, time-efficient formative assessments give teachers almost instant data needed to measure student progress. Such data also gives the school’s instructional leadership team information to measure teacher effectiveness, which is critical to instructional improvement. “High stakes” testing, with results delayed for months, as well as “over-testing” is an impediment to students’ educational experience and school improvement.

Collecting data on kids is another idea that privateers like. In this case Vallas relishes collecting formative data, but tells us that high-stakes testing and over testing is an impediment to learning. Formative assessments have been shown to improve student learning and here we agree. But be careful. These formative assessments will be used as part of massive data collection efforts which will be used to measure teacher effectiveness.

Furthermore, the bottom line for these reformists is student scores on summative assessments in mathematics and reading. Schools around the country are being graded on an A-F scale based on student performance on these tests. And teachers are being rated based on the value they add to student learning using a complex algorithm (Value-Added Model) that has been shown to unreliable and invalid.

3. Intervention and support. Selection and early-in-the-school year implementation of the most effective interventions based on student academic and behavioral needs. Additional teacher supports should be provided, based on teacher effectiveness.

Don’t be fooled here. Notice the terms used here. Interventions. Academic. Behavioral needs. Teacher effectiveness. The idea of intervention is linked to data collection as outlined in Idea 2. Instead of relying on professional teacher’s decision-making, Vallas tells us that student test scores (academic needs) can be used to select interventions, and also be used evaluate teachers.

4. Training: There is no substitute for ongoing teacher and support-staff training and mentoring. It must be task oriented, site-based, designed to meet the individual teacher’s needs and it must not cut into the instructional day.

I guess this means after school training. But it will be based on Vallas’ conception of a proven curriculum. This means that teachers will be on the short end the stick, and in most cases no stick at all.  Teachers are required to follow a standards-based curriculum, and are given little to no flexibility to deviate to meet the specific needs of their students.  In such a context, ongoing training and support means little, and does not promote professional leadership that is the hallmark of being an educator.  As long as we continue to hold teachers and students hostage to state mandated tests tied to an inflexible curriculum, we will see very little in the way of innovation, problem-solving and creative relationships.

5. Leadership: Local school-based instructional leadership teams to drive instruction. Led by the principal and comprised of the school’s most effective teachers the leadership teams not only provide instructional benefits, they also provide opportunities for teacher recognition, promotion, additional responsibilities and additional pay for performance.

There is little doubt that leadership is important. But the problem here in any of these reforms is context. If there is a “leadership” team as described by Vallas, it will have little impact on school improvement because it will be hamstrung by a bottom line or test score mentality. Unless targets (established as percentage increases from one year to the next) are met, the leadership team will have to disregard innovative, creative, collaborative, and interpersonal goals.

If Vallas, or another reformer of the same brand are brought to Atlanta as superintendent of the Opportunity School District, it will not be an opportunity for school improvement, but rather an opportunity for privateers and neoliberal reformers.

It will be more than one step backwards for Georgia students and their parents if the Governor goes forward with the Opportunity School District.

The General Assembly of Georgia has approved a law that is based on fear and weather-beaten ideas. It’s time they realize this.

If they don’t, we would arrange a series of seminars designed to improve legisla knowledge of teaching and learning.  It would also provide tools to help them understand the falicy of the manufactured crisis in American education.

What do you think?

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