Poverty, Learning and Nathan Deal’s Georgia Opportunity School District Assumes…

Poverty, Learning and Nathan Deal’s Georgia Opportunity School District Assumes…

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Georgia Opportunity School District (OSD) assumes that replacing public schools with charter schools will improve the test performance of students in “chronically failing” schools.  Georgia governor Deal’s OSD is a copy of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD).

However, research presented by Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, indicates that NAEP scores in math and reading in the New Orleans RSD schools were lower than the New Orleans public schools scores were before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Yet, in spite of these results, the Governor of Georgia has been out campaigning to convince Georgia voters to approve the OSD, which is the first ballot measure on the Georgia ballot.

The Governor is convinced that the school alone can not only improve the test scores of “chronically failing” students, but that by doing so, poverty and crime will be reduced. And he campaigning using this unsupported claim.

This is simply not the way things work in the real world.

The question that politicians such as Deal ignore is what role does poverty play in the life and school experience of students?  Deal brings in the topic of poverty by claiming that improved test scores will somehow affect the poverty level of children in a school community.  He has it completely backwards.

Addressing Poverty, the title of a research chapter by David Berliner, Arizona State University in Federal Market-Based Reforms, (Mathis, W. J., & Trujillo, T. M. 2016) tells a very different story about the role of poverty in the life and educational experiences of our youth.

In fact, one of the outcomes of Dr. Berliner’s research was that “small reductions in family poverty lead to increases in positive school behaviors and better academic performance.

Poverty Research

Here are the other major outcomes of Dr. Berliner’s research.

  • Poverty in the US is greater and of longer duration than in any other rich nations.
  • Poverty, particularly among urban minorities, is associated with academic performance that is well below international means on a number of international assessments.
  • Poverty restricts the expression of genetic talent at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Dr. Berliner suggests that among the lowest social classes environmental factors, particularly family and neighborhood influences, not genetics, is strongly associated with academic performance.  He explains that among middle class students it is genetic factors, not family and neighborhood factors, that most influences academic performance.
  • Compared to middle class children, severe medical problems affect impoverished youth.  As Dr. Berliner notes, this affects academic performance and life experiences (Berliner, David. “Addressing Poverty.” Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA. Charlotte: Information Age, 2016. 437-86. Print, Library Copy).

To improve the life and experiences of students in so-called chronically failing schools  the Governor needs to get out of the way, and authorize the Georgia Department of Education to create and fund community-based programs that improve the safety, health, welfare and financial health of families in these school zones.

The schools that Deal wants to target are not isolated entities but are part of a larger system of schools, community services, organizations, businesses, transportation, parks, recreation centers, and more  The school is part of a system and the best way to make improvements is to examine and strengthen the relationships and links within in the web of the system.

From Stand Alone Schools to Community Schools

The DOE needs to waive many restrictions on these schools, and work with school and local community leaders, very much like the Cincinnati plan.  In the Cincinnati plan finances were directed at communities as a whole, than simply using the notion that the school- alone can rescue struggling schools.

I believe the Georgia OSD is flawed and will not carry out the goal of improving test scores or any other aspect of student life. I don’t think Gov. Deal is flawed but he is acting without regard to the wide range of research that we have unearthed in the last decade or so.

Why the Governor has not consulted the Colleges of Education at any of the Universities in the state is a mystery and failure to utilize the research of world renown educators at Georgia State University and the University of Georgia, just to name two our higher education schools.


Why, in Georgia, hasn’t the DOE’s superintendent, Richard Woods, taken the courageous step by opposing Nathan Deal’s ill thought out and unsupported plan.  Is this because it could cost the Superintendent his job in the next election? If he did, however, he would standing  in good company with the previous Georgia School Superintendent, Dr. John Barge, who opposed a similar plan, and angered members of his own political party, but he continued to serve the citizens of Georgia with courage and conviction.

In the next few days we need as many of you to go the voting centers to cast your NO vote on Amendment one.








Stop the Louisiana Style Take Over of Georgia’s Struggling School Communities

Ted Terry, State Campaign Director, Georgia AFL-CIO and I have been communicating about the plan being proposed by Governor Deal to take over Georgia’s “failing” schools by implementing a Louisiana style state-wide recovery school district.  Ted Terry is organizing a campaign that we all should support to fight against this take over by the state of schools that need direct assistance community wide, and not becoming a charter school run by corporate charter companies that will be interested in only one thing: making a profit on the backs of the students by indoctrinating them with a diet of worksheets and drill and practice to get ready for tests that will be used to decide the school’s profitability.

Oh, and if they really use the Louisiana Recovery School plan, there is a very good chance that many teachers will be fired (surely the principal will be ousted), and replaced with teachers from America’s top temp agencies: Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.

Research by Professor Kristin Buras of Georgia State University shows that experienced teachers in New Orleans were replaced with non-certified and inexperienced teachers.  The average number of years of experience for many of the New Orleans school in Recovery Project is very close to 1 (one).   Do you want that for Georgia schools?

So, here is some material prepared by Ted Terry.  I urge you to use this information, and the link below to take action on Governor Deal’s plan to take over Georgia’s struggling schools.

Subject: Send a letter: STOP Louisiana Style School Takeover Scheme

I wrote a letter for the Action Network letter campaign “STOP Louisiana Style School Takeover Scheme”.

Politicians in Atlanta have cut billions from local school districts for over a decade. This has resulted in larger class sizes, teacher furloughs, and an increased property tax burden. Nathan Deal was just elected to a second term, as Governor — now he is proposing that he also become the education Czar of Georgia by holding the power to put schools on a list that could be taken over by central command, in downtown Atlanta at the Twin Towers.

This Louisiana style school takeover scheme would give a special set of bureaucrats in Atlanta, appointed by the Executive Branch, the power to declare your local school or school district “failing” and then take it over. This simply is a bad deal for schools that are put on a failing list based on uncertain and fluctuating “data” points, that sets up some schools for failure, according to the state’s definition of failure.

There is no disagreement about the importance of turning around so-called failing schools. However the scheme that the Governor is proposing simply has been shown to be the wrong approach. After nine years in New Orleans, Louisiana, only 4 of the 107 schools taken over by the Recovery School District score above the state average. Please email (right side —>) your State Senator and State Representative today. Tell them to vote NO on Senate Bill 133.

Can you join me and write a letter? Click here.

The work being done by Ted Terry is important and crucial to defeat this unjust plan.

Re-Blog of Twitter Charter Debate with Michelle Rhee & Julian Vasquez Heilig

This “twitter debate” from Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog appeared in my inbox today. I am working on a post on charters and public schools based on an EPI study of the Rocketship Education charters in Milwaukee.

This twitter debate is a perfect introduction to that forthcoming article.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is now an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin. He blogs at cloakinginequity.

Michelle Rhee was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. In late 2010, she founded StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization which works on education reform issues such as ending teacher tenure, closing public schools and replacing them with charters staffed with Teach for America unlicensed recruits.


Technology as Cure-All for Standards, and Even Snow Days


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Technology is viewed by some as the elixir or cure-all for education, and school districts, with lots of money available through grants such as Race to the Top, technology investments from organization such the Gates Foundation, and law edicts,  have embraced technology as a magic bullet.  Virtual classrooms, digital textbooks, flipped classrooms (use of video), lecture-based content websites are examples of the types of technologies that have emerged.  Could it be that these are Trojan Horses being used to drive the Common Standards?

Ed Johnson an Atlanta systems educator and advocate for quality education wrote to me today and reinforced the last two blog posts connecting the Gates Foundation, Common Standards and technology.  He pointed out that the Atlanta Public Schools are using technology by setting up an “Inclement Weather Makeup Materials” website.

In “Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core,” I argued that,

There is a growing body of evidence that the Common Standards are not the solution to make America more competitive, to make kids smarter in math, reading and science, and any of the other ills that have been cast upon the education system. I’ve reported on this blog that independent research questions the efficacy of a standard-based approach to education as it is now conceived. The standards-based system is a top-down authoritarian system that disregards the professional decision-making ability of classroom teachers. I’ve reported research by Wallace that shows that this authoritarian accountability system is a barrier to teaching and learning.

And in “Is Technology the Trojan Horse of the Common Standard’s Movement?,” it was added,

It is quite clear that Gates is investing (his term) in technology in schools. It’s no surprise. But we must keep in mind the word technology is a seductive term, especially when used in the context of schools. But the history of top-down technology projects has not served classroom teachers very well. Too often, the technology is used to replace what was already going on in classrooms, or to use a tablet as a textbook.

Ed Johnson, then asked us to consider this:

Atlanta Public Schools has developed a comprehensive plan to increase time and opportunity for students to receive the critical instruction lost this school year during the district’s six inclement weather days.”  APS Launches Virtual Classroom for All Students, Reported by East Atlanta Patch

Is Inclement weather being used as a Trojan Horse to carry out Bill Gates’ technology-dependent common standards?

To explore this a bit more, I went to the Inclement Weather Makeup Materials website, which is shown in Figure 1.   There are links, such as, for 3rd thru 5th and 6th thru 12th make up materials.  When we dig deep into the site, we finally come to content links for language arts, math, science, and social studies.   It’s not a very imaginative way to engage students in make up activity.  I have to wonder why this is being done in the first place.

Figure 1. Inclement Weather Makeup Materials Site. Source: APS
Figure 1. Inclement Weather Makeup Materials Site. Source: APS

For example,  the 3rd grade science link brings you to a three column page.  The first two columns are 3rd Grade science performance standards written in technical language of the Common Standards.   The last column lists Online Learning Support and Activities for the standards.  Some links take you to sites where students have to watch commercials, while others take you to “activities” that lack any sense of wonder, imagination, or inquiry.

Figure 2. Example of an Inclement Weather Make-up Site. Source: APS.

Figure 2. Example of an Inclement Weather Make-up Site. Source: APS.

It seems to me that it might be better to ask students to read an interesting book, and not spent time doing these types of activities. What do you think?

EmpowerED Georgia Kicks Off Stop Putting Georgia Schools on Shoestring Budgets

Guest Post by Matt Jones

EmpowerED Georgia Kicks Off Stop Putting Georgia Schools on Shoestring Budgets.

Since 2010, EmpowerED, a grassroots nonprofit, has focused on building and growing a grassroots movement of parents, educators, and community members to support public education in Georgia.

This week, EmpowerED launched a campaign called “Stop Putting Our Schools on Shoestring Budgets.”  The campaign is designed to be a memorable and easy way for people to get involved with the education funding issue in Georgia and to make a difference.  With simple shoestrings, EmpowerED Georgia has created a strong symbol for education funding concerns in the state to share with others, especially elected officials.

Here is Matt Jones’ speech which was given December 12 at a public meeting on school funding issues at the InfoMart, in Marietta, Georgia. Two organizations, FACE It Cobb (Funding Awareness Campaign for Education) and EmpowerED Georgia organized the meeting.

Good morning.

We have gathered here today for those who can’t be here – our students. For the over 100,000
students who attend Cobb County Schools and for the over 1.6 million students who attend
public schools across Georgia.

My name is Matt Jones. I have taught for six years in a small rural school in southeast Georgia.
Last year, I was selected as the System Teacher of the Year. In 2010, I co-founded a statewide
education advocacy group called EmpowerED Georgia with parents and fellow teachers.
What motivated us to come together was seeing the negative impacts that the funding cuts were
having on our students – our kids. In Toombs County, our Superintendent also served as our
high school principal, our copier machines were turned off, we were urged to turn off our
classroom lights at lunchtime to save on electricity, and if a teacher was out, fellow teachers had
to give up their planning to cover their classes.

Personally, my local supplement (and that of other teachers) was cut out completely and then
was restored to $0.50 per pay (sodas in the school vending machines cost $0.60). I taught high
school English Language Arts, World Geography and Engineering – all in one year. Last year, I
taught over 280 students and had only a 20 minute planning period during the school day. In my
sixth year of teaching, I barely made more than what I did when I started.

Impact of State Funding

While this might seem dire, the impact that the state funding cuts had on my students was far
worse. Toombs County has been on a 160-day school calendar for four years, meaning our
students have lost a half year of instruction.

I remember my students’ reaction when the 160-day calendar was announced. As you can
imagine, at the beginning of the year most students were excited to get more time off. The story
was different at the end of the year when standardized test scores came back. One of the
students who had cheered at the beginning of the shortened school year was now crying
in class. She came to me and said: “Mr. Jones, I think if I could have been in your class just a
few more days I could have passed my test.”

While this story does not reflect Cobb County’s situation now, it predicts what will happen if
we sit back and do nothing, if we do not speak up for our kids.  Without our action today,
Toombs County and other schools like it will only see their situation degrade further and we will
see Cobb County slowly join them.

$1 Billion Cut

This year, the state cut over $1 billion to Georgia schools and over $65 million to Cobb County
Schools. These are more than just numbers.

Elected officials all agree that students should have access to a 21st century education but the
state is not even fully funding our schools using the 1986 formula.

While many countries are lengthening their school year, over 71% of Georgia schools are
shortening their school calendars. While élite private schools are touting small class sizes, since
2009, 95% of Georgia schools have increased their class sizes. While countries with some of
the highest test scores tend to have the lowest level of poverty, 58.9% of Georgia students are
Economically Disadvantaged and 38% of Georgia school districts are cutting back on services
to help low-performing students.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 5.57.45 PMIt is clear that Georgia students are not being given access to a world-class education.
Looking strictly at the numbers, it is hard to believe that this could be occurring in the state that
we hold so dear.

We hear a lot about Georgia being a place to do business but what business is going to want to
make serious investments in a state that is not adequately investing in its schools? We hear a
lot about supporting job creators but not about supporting teachers – who create all other

It is no coincidence that those most concerned about the cuts to school funding are the parents
and teachers who witness the negative effects each day.

Challenging the Critics

Though even faced with this reality, the critics continue to find a voice.

Some may argue that test scores have not eroded. These people ignore the erosion of non
tested courses — 42% of Georgia school districts report that they have eliminated or reduced
art and music courses and 62% report that they have eliminated or reduced other electives.
Critics also ignore the constant fundraising of PTAs, the use of local reserves, and the
increased burden on local taxpayers that have blunted the negative statistical effects of the
funding cuts. Teachers are going above and beyond to serve their students with less pay and
fewer resources. Long-term, this is an unsustainable path that will lead to the decline of the
teaching profession and student achievement.

Some may point to administrative bloat as a source for funding. Though school boards and
school leaders must certainly live by the example of shared sacrifice, I would invite critics to visit
my school system’s Central Office. The building dates back to the ‘60s, with window AC units
and administrators who fill multiple roles. Those who put a magnifying glass on the large
administrative costs of a few school systems, ignore the bare-bone operations of the vast
majority. Even critics of Cobb County must admit that you can’t cut enough administrators to fill
the projected $80 million deficit, especially at a time when federal and state mandates continue
to increase.

Still others suggest that local communities should shoulder more of the funding burden, yet
these critics conveniently forget that there was a time when more state support was being
provided without us having to max out the mil. Let’s be clear — it’s the state failing local
communities, not the other way around.

Like the name of the grassroots group in Cobb suggests, critics need to FACE the facts and
FACE reality.

The State’s Responsibility

No doubt, the path to fully funding Georgia’s schools will take multiple avenues and a long-term
plan but we cannot allow the state to escape its obligation and responsibility.

In education, we hear a lot about ‘accountability’. That we need to hold teachers accountable
and schools accountable. Now is time to hold our elected officials accountable.

The State Constitution Says

Georgia’s State Constitution states: “An adequate public education for the citizens shall be the
primary obligation of the state.” More than just constitutional obligation, our state elected
officials have a moral obligation to support our public schools and Georgia’s students.

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This year, I have travelled across the state speaking with parents and teachers. Parents have
told me about buses too full to have enough seats for their children. Teachers have told me
about classes so full that students sit on the floor. Duct taped textbooks, ceiling tiles that
crumble and fall when it rains, and teachers buying their own copier paper. The stories of
desperation go on and on.

We must take the first step in the long but important process of fully funding our schools.
Estimates put discretionary state revenues for this year at $300-$400 million. Parents,
educators, and community members from across Georgia must come together to urge the
Governor and state legislators to ‘Fund Education First’ and put the revenue back into the
funding formula.

We must ensure that the Governor and state legislators do not do the political thing by
attempting to buy votes through the promise of teacher raises, but do the right thing by putting
the money back into the formula, helping both teachers and students.

Putting the revenue back into the formula would begin to lower class sizes, hire back teachers,
roll back teacher furlough days, restore the 180-day school year, and expand electives for

Parents – you must be advocates not only for your kids but for all kids. Educators – you must do
what you do best – educate. Educate the public concerning the issues facing education. For we
know that good schools lead to strong communities.

We cannot afford to sit back and watch as the quality of our schools and the education of our
children erodes. We must stand up and speak up for the more than 100,000 students in Cobb
County and the more than 1.6 million students across Georgia.

We must be their voice.