Unreason and Anti-Science Alive and Well in the Georgia Legislature and is not Unique to Georgia


Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.07.41 PM Figure 1. High School mathematics teacher. Creative Commons Attribution.[/caption]

The Georgia legislature has already passed a bill in the Senate (SB 167) that will essentially opt the state out of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts and other projects, ideas, technologies that have any glimmer of association with the federal government.  The bill is now being considered in the Georgia House.  Yesterday, the house committee listened to 68 speakers, most of whom opposed the bill, but those who support the bill will probably prevail in the end.  It’s an election year, and since the Governor agrees with the basic principles of the bill, other Republicans will line up behind Gov. Deal.

But the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, vigorously opposes the bill, and for reasons that are important to the teachers in the state and their students.  Although I have not been a big supporter of the Common Core, I oppose SB 167, which in my opinion would put the state back years educationally, and the bill sends a ominious message that unreason and unscientific thinking rule the future of education in Georgia.

If the Governor signs this bill, it will set in motion at least three years of committee work while the now adopted standards in mathematics and English language arts are put in limbo because the charge of the committee is to check (including making significant changes) these standards.  In the meantime, it appears as if mathematics and English language arts is on hold until 2016-2017 for math, and 2017-2018 for English language arts (dates that the “revised” standards will be implemented).

Perpetual Committee Work 

The bill sets up an everlasting series of committees and public hearings that in the end leave you gasping for breath.  The committee work (an advisory council of 17 members), whose prime work appears to be to set up subcommittees to check the content areas of the standards.  These committees will meet for a non-specified time, but they must post all changes to the content standards 90 days before any action.

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Figure 2. SB 167 will create a complicated network of committees, authorities, and power brokers rather than employing the professional expertise of the state’s education profession.

But it’s not that simple.  Once these committees have made their changes and posted them on the Department of Education Website, the content standards are sent to:

  1. the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, chairperson of the senate
  2. each of the 181 local school systems who will inform parents of the changes
  3. the president of each public university who will send an electronic copy to appropriate deans and department heads, but none of these deans can be from colleges or department of education, eg. the English standards must go to the English department, the mathematics standards to the math department, and so forth.  It’s a no-no to involve mathematics education or English education professors.
  4. the state board of education, followed by at least one public hearing in all congressional districts
  5. the Senate Education and Youth Committee and House Committee on education will also hold public meetings to gather comments on the standards’ changes.
  6. then, the 17 member advisory council and its subcommittees will check comments made by these groups, and include them its final report–new standards?  I don’t know. But I do know that the Advisory Council and its subcommittees have the discretion to make changes on any content standard, and any state-wide assessment.  Keep in mind, that NO state-wide assessment can be tainted by the federalists in Washington.
  7. then, this modified set of standards will be sent out by courier to the 181 school districts and the presidents of each public university to carry out public meetings once again.
  8. and then the Advisory Council will send the revised content standards to the Georgia Board of Education, who will be authorized to make any further changes and then approve the standards for all the boys and girls in the state of Georgia.  I have no idea how the Board thinks it can make changes to content standards at this stage

So, that is the process that will take place before any standards are approved.

Local Control or State Imposed Prohibitions

Is this bill about local control or is it about state control and prohibitions?  Truth is that in Georgia, the local districts are the only entities that are responsible for the education of its citizens.  But this bill appears to disengage the state from the rest of the world by using language that limits educators from doing their jobs.  For instance, line 225 of SB 167 it is stated that:

the state shall not adopt any federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or by a third party, including, but not limited to the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Currciulum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.

The bill also prohibits us from collaborating with outsiders, and make it difficult for researchers to seek federal support for programs that might enhance education, K-12.  This is my interpretation, but when you study the language of the bill, it is full of prohibitions.  What kind of an academical and social environment does that encourage?

The debate in the Georgia legislature is an unabashed mixture of anti-scientfic thought, junk thought and unreason.  However, this kind of thinking is not limited to Georgia.  Jean Haverhill, and educational researchers in Massachusetts reported that social studies teachers on a state-wide committee prepared curriculum alignment with standards, but their program was shelved for lack of funds.  But then the state turned around and a deal was made to bring in Pearson/PARCC.  Somehow, the funds that were needed to pay for this appeared in the budget.  In other states, the opt out movement is politically charged, as it is in Georgia.

Where is the evidence?

Yet the debate on the Common Core generally lacks any scholarship and related research to enable educators to make informed decisions.  There is no research to support the contention that higher standards mean higher student achievement.  In fact there are very few facts to show that standards make a difference in student achievement.  It could be that standards, per se, act as barriers to learning, not bridges to the world of science.  Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University indicates that the science standards in Georgia actually present barriers to teaching and learning. Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science  classroom teaching.  She argues that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry.

There is also evidence that the quality of the content standards does not have much effect on student performance.  For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.

The argument that is going on in the Georgia legislature ignores the most important and significant factors that affect the life of students in and out of school, then standards of any quality won’t make a difference.

What do think about what the legislators in Georgia are doing to education in the state?




The Season of Unreason in the Georgia State Senate@Standards Bill 167


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In an article published at the PeachPundit, the author, Charlie Harper suggests the Georgia Senate Bill 167 is an anti-science bill.  In this post, I want to add to Mr. Harper’s conclusion that the action of the Georgia Senate is major step backwards for education in the state.

Senators Ligon, Loudermilk, Hufstetler and Hill, the originators of the bill, based only on political considerations, have created a plague on the Georgia educational system.  If they had chutzpah, they would have created a bill that engaged the Georgia Senate in a debate, followed by and up or down vote on whether to opt out or stay with the Common Core State Standards.  Instead, they have created a wreck of the state’s curriculum by throwing their argument about the Common Core State Standards into the hands of a politically appointed 17-member committee.  According to the bill, the mathematics review has to be completed by May 31, 2015, and implemented during the 2016 -2017 school year.  English language arts is to be completed by May 31, 2016, and implemented by  the 2017-2018 school year.

The bill also prohibits any state official from relinquishing any control over content standards.  What this really means is state educators are not allowed to adopt any federally prescribed content standards established by a consortium of states or a third-party, including, but not limited to, the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Curriculum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.  Will the esteemed senators ban textbooks and other resources that any connection to a federally prescribed program or research project.

But the Senators can’t get their story right. In another section of the bill, the Senators urge educators to examine standards previously or currently adopted by Georgia, other states, or other countries especially those highly rated in national and international surveys.

Whose In, Whose Out

The committee of 17 will be stacked with political appointees, many of whom will lack the knowledge to check and make recommendations about content standards in English, language arts, literature, reading, mathematics, science, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, engineering, history, political science, geography, anthropology, computer science, robotics.

The committee is tasked with making recommendations on the content standards. As you will see ahead, this is the wrong committee for a wrong-headed piece of legislation.

In: If you live in Georgia, and can claim membership in anyone of these categories, you are in:

  • Parent or grandparent of a Georgia student–they need 9 of you folks
  • Current or retired teacher–they only need 3 of you, one elementary, one middle, and one high school teacher
  • Private sector person–2 of you
  • Postsecondary content specialist: 3 people who have taught the subject content (at least 5 years) at the postsecondary level, and hopefully holding a doctorate. They mean professors of English, chemistry, history, engineering, political science, etc.

Out: If you are a professor of education in the state of Georgia, you are out.  If you hold an advanced degrees in education in a subject such as science education, English education, social studies education, or mathematics education–you can not be on this committee.

I do have a Ph.D. in science education and geology, and I know professors in all the education content areas in Georgia. If you wanted to have knowledgeable people on the committee, these are the folks you need.  They know and do the research in education, and they know and understand the content (English, mathematics, science, and social studies) of the standards.  This is a perfect example of the “season of unreason” playing out in the Georgia Senate.  Many colleagues in colleges of education also teach in academic departments of our universities.  What are these senators thinking? To continue the legacy of unreason, the Senators also insist that the committee be a blend of urban, suburban, rural and represent each congressional district.  And in typical fashion, committee members are appointed via a mix of the Governor, Speaker of the House, and the Lieutenant Governor.

Season of Unreason

I’ve read the Senate Bill 167, and if you do, I think you will agree that this piece of legislation is a display of ignorance on the part of these men.  What they have done is to use a lack of scholarship and ethics to inflict harm on hundreds of thousands of students, their parents, and all of Georgia’s educators.

The year 2010 is a benchmark for our senators.  You see, it was in 2010 that the state of Georgia received its $400 million dollar grant from the federal (this is a key word in Senate Bill 167) government’s Race to the Top fund.  Georgia agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards as part of this grant.  Governor Purdue signed the proposal that was funded, and Governor Deal has stated support for the standards.

This senate bill pushes the state’s curriculum back to the year 2010, just before Georgia received RT3 federal funding.  Here is how Senate Bill 167 pushes education in Georgia back:

Beginning September 24, 2014, a local school system shall have the flexibility to determine its curriculum and instruction without constraint, including returning to curriculum and instruction aligned to the former Georgia Performance Standards that were in effect in June 2010, until the completion of the revision process established pursuant to this part and the establishment of new standards pursuant to such process. 

The Georgia legislature is in the midst an age of Unreason, and Senate Bill 167 is the poster child for unreason and unscientific literacy.  Two recent publications come to mind that underscore the unreason and unscientific thinking that has occurred under the Gold Dome in Atlanta.

The first publication is Susan Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason (library copy).  It is the story of America caught up in “junk thought” and anti-rationalist thinking that seems to be common fare for state legislatures and the U.S. Congress these days.  The debate over the Common Core State Standards in America’s state legislatures is not a scholarly discussion of the content and curriculum of schooling.  It is an arrogant display of political advocacy trumping any sense of responsibility for the education of its citizens.  Creating a committee that lacks the credentials to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the content of the K-12 curriculum is a sham, and an embarrassment to the citizens and educators of Georgia.

Another publication that has relevance here is Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (library copy).  A very significant part of Senate Bill 167 is the disconnect between the content of the curriculum and the development of literacy among Americans.  Why did the Georgia Senate tie the hands of Georgia’s educators by making it illegal to consider and carry out any federally prescribed content standards or related materials, especially the Next Generation Science Standards?  It’s obvious that the Georgia Senate has decided politically to join the band-wagon of fellow legislators to opt out of the Common Core and to redirect the state away from the NGSS.

The action of the Senate is very clear, and that is to use the education of K-12 students as a punching bag to wedge their political ideology into our schools.  Their behavior is unscientific.  Mooney and Kirshenbaum discuss how [scientific] literacy has been impeded by politicians and advocacy groups.  The behavior of the Georgia Senate by writing and passing Senate Bill 167 only contributes further to the problem of illiteracy.  Mooney and Kirshenbaum expose the illiteracy of the senate when they say:

And anyway, we don’t need average citizens to become robotic memorizers of scientific facts or readers of the technical literature.  Rather we need a nation in which science has far more prominence in politics and the media, for more relevance to the life of every American, for more intersections with other walks of life, and ultimately, far more influence where it truly matters—namely, in setting the agenda for the future as far out as we can possibly glimpse it.  That would be a scientific America, and its citizens would be as scientifically literate as anyone could reasonably hope for.  We will never need a nation that is fully composed of Ph.D.s. Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, p. 18.


The Georgia Senate, through its passage of Senate Bill 167 has not only pushed education in Georgia back, but has created instability for parents, students and their teachers.  Shame on them.

What do you think about Senate Bill 167?

Photo of the Georgia Senate Chamber by Wally Gobetz, Flickr

Governor Deal’s Weather Task Force is More of a Mob Than a Problem Solving Team

To improve the state of Georgia’s response to severe weather, Governor Nathan Deal appointed a 28 member task force.  A few years ago, when Atlanta educators were accused of changing answers on student tests sheets, the Governor (Sonny Perdue) appointed a panel of three to investigate and prepare a report.  Why do we need 28 people, many of whom simply do not have the time to investigate the state’s natural disaster alert system.

Governor Deal has appointed 28 people to meet and has charged them with coming up with plans to improve the state’s ability to respond to severe weather.  They must report back to the Governor within 60 days of their first meeting.

The task force is made up senior level people from various organizations in the state, public and private.  Figure 1 is a break-down of the Task Force into various categories:

Georgia Severe Weather Task Force


Chamber of Commerce




Georgia Emergency Management Authority (GEMA)


Governor’s Office






Natural Resources Dept.


Police, Fire & Safety


School Superintendents




Weather TV Announcers and National Weather Service

Figure 1. Georgia Severe Weather Task Force, Feb. 3, 2014

The Task Force is more a mob, and not a group that can solve problems and make recommendations.  But more than this is the fact that many of the members of this Task Force contributed to the Atlanta Weather Fiasco on January 28 – 29, 2014. If you look over the list of categories, the fundamental reason the state did NOT respond to the severe weather forecasts that we clearly made public on all four Atlanta TV stations, as well as the National Weather Service, in Peachtree City, Georgia.

Investigate the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA)

The organization that should be investigated is GEMA.  GEMA has one mission, as stated on the GEMA website, and that is:

GEMA’s mission is to provide a comprehensive and aggressive all?hazards approach to homeland security initiatives, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and special events in order to protect life and property and prevent and/or reduce negative impacts of terrorism and natural disasters in Georgia.

The vision of GEMA is

Create a culture of preparedness by fostering partnerships between local, state and federal government, local business and industry, volunteer and faith-based organizations, and the citizens of Georgia.

And, according the Agency’s website, the Core Business is Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery.

GEMA failed in it mission, and one has to question its culture and core business ability.  Georgia’s ability to respond to natural disasters is dependent on GEMA’s competence to make decisions and take action based on information available to them from meteorologists, and other earth scientists.  It requires a mode of thinking that is ecological.  People who work at GEMA have to be schooled in systems thinking, and have the courage to make bold decisions based on available data.

The AJC uncovered and published emails sent to and from the Director of GEMA.  The emails do not support in any way boldness in decisions making, nor do they show that GEMA’s director has learned from earlier weather events in Atlanta.

If the Governor wants to improve the state’s ability to respond to natural disasters, it needs to go directly to the source of the problem, and that has to GEMA.

The Task Force should be disbanded before it meets, and instead, the Governor should appoint a smaller group of people who do not have the vested interests similar to the make up of the Severe Weather Task Force.  This committee should be charged with investigating the culture and operations of GEMA, and report back to the Governor on time.

Who would you recommend as members of a smaller committee to investigate GEMA?

Higher Education, A Moral Voice, & Ed Johnson, Candidate for the Atlanta School Board

The power of universities to influence public policy and debate should be part of the mission of institutions of higher education. Yet, as Milton Greenberg points out in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “higher education tends to take a utopian “let us reason together” view of conflict, often refusing, or unable, to engage more-pragmatic power players.”

In tomorrow’s election, Atlanta will choose new members to the Board of Education, a very significant time in the life of the APS.  On the heels of the Atlanta cheating scandal, and the selection of new school superintendent next year, the election will determine the direction of the school district for the next four years, and more.

In Atlanta there are many universities including Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spellman College.  There is an indelible connection among this matrix of public schools and universities.  Yet, as Greenberg suggests, universities tend to stay neutral when it comes to politics and policy decisions, yet they depend upon state and federal agencies for funding and financial support.

The Atlanta Public Schools have been inundated by charter school management companies, Teach for America and The New Teacher Project (TNTP), not to mention large publishing and online companies that often are in collusion to develop materials just in time for the roll out of the Common Core State Standards, or online and paper and pencil high- stakes assessments. Furthermore, the Race to the Top grant that was awarded to the Georgia Department of Education is influencing the nature of the APS curriculum, the assessment strategies used in the APS, and the hiring of new teachers.  For example, the RT3 grant for Georgia includes nearly $16 million for Teach for America to place teachers in Atlanta and other Georgia Districts, and nearly $12 million for The New Teacher Project to do the same.

Each of the universities in Atlanta has a vested interest in the preparation of teachers for the APS, as well as for districts the larger metro-Atlanta area.  Teacher education that recruits students to make a commitment to teaching, especially if they are from this part of the country, is a far more sustainable approach to providing the teachers needed for our schools.

However, according to the RT3 project, the model for providing new teachers in the metro-Atlanta area is to hire TFA and TNTP recruits who have only five weeks of “training,” no experience teaching, and are uncertified to teach.  Over the next four years the plan is to hire nearly 1,400 uncertified teachers from TFA and TNTP.

Do universities have any concerns with this?  Why does Georgia State University endorse the Teach for America plan that will infuse Atlanta’s schools with inexperienced teachers?  Yes, the teachers are enrolled in a graduate degree program at GSU, but the fact is they are still inexperienced, and uncertified.

Would we endorse the same “training” program by placing inexperienced, and uncertified of physician assistants or physicians in Atlanta’s hospitals and health clinics?  That is, would we be willing to have our children’s health needs taken care of my inexperienced and unlicensed physicians?  Do we do this in the legal profession?  We know that the answer to these questions is no.

Why do we think it is okay to entrust the children of Atlanta (and other schools in the metro-Atlanta area) to unlicensed teachers?

Milton Greenberg suggests that the academy needs to claim its political power.  As we have documented on this blog, higher education is being dragged over the coals by state legislatures around the country just as surely as they are inflicting harm to K-12 education.  Greenberg cites criticism of higher education’s position (no position) during the Federal government shutdown.  He says this about the shutdown:

During the shutdown, Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, rightly objected to the higher-education associations’ not-taking-sides posture when the damage to institutions, students, and families was manifest. She called on higher education to provide a “moral voice” in support of ending the crisis. Indeed, academe is obligated to call on government leaders to protect its interests.

As Greenberg says, higher education has loosened its grip on core values, such as tenure, shared governance, and institutional independence.  He rightly suggests that, although universities can not give directly to political campaigns, the extended family of institutions of higher education can certainly voice their ideas, and even resources.  He reminds us of an important principle:

Any notion that education and politics do not or should not mix betrays ignorance of a simple reality of American life. It is beyond time for higher education to rid itself of any notion that its noble purposes speak for themselves.

Time to Act

I’ve spent the last ten years writing on education issues, including teacher education, social activism, K-12 reform, high-stakes testing, charter schools, and creep of privatization of public education.    I’ve examined in detail the Georgia Race to the Top proposal, and I am shocked by the way the economics of $400 million has been contracted out and spent on RT3 projects.  Yes, GATech has received some funds for the science, technology and mathematics, and three other universities were contracted to develop an undergraduate program for mathematics and science teacher preparation.

Why don’t we take stronger stands on curriculum and evaluation, and on research?  Why don’t we question what the Atlanta Public Schools is doing to improve education for students in high needs schools?  Why don’t we question not only the ethics of high stakes testing, but the research efficacy of the use of high-stakes tests to not only test students, but to evaluate teachers and administrators, and schools?  And why aren’t universities speaking out about the movement to use teachers VAM scores as a measure of learning at their own institutions?

We need to use the example of GREATER (Georgia Researchers, Educators, and Advocates for Teacher Education Reform), a group of Georgia professors who have used their scholarly work and knowledge to challenge the teacher and leader evaluation system that the Georgia Department of Education has developed and will use to evaluate the State’s teachers.

Entering the political arena might not be what we signed up for when we were hired by a Georgia institution of higher education, but it should be.

We can look to GREATER as an example of how to begin.

Atlanta School Board Election

And another place to apply our knowledge and understanding of education is look at the candidates for election in tomorrow’s election for school board in Atlanta. One of the candidates brings a new way of thinking to the school board which is based on the moral compass that Milton Greenberg speaks about.  We at the university can look to Mr. Ed Johnson as a leader who questions the privatization of public education.  His views are derived from being a citizen of Atlanta for many years, and from his work as an advocate for public education in Atlanta.  He realizes that public education needs to undergo a paradigm shift from the reductionist view that permeates schooling today, to one that is systemic and sustainable.

He will bring a different kind of thinking to the APS.  He is a student of Deming  and understands how systems work, and don’t work.

Creative Loafing recent posted this statement of support for Ed Johnson

While I do not know the other candidates for Atlanta Schools’ District 9, I do know Ed Johnson, who is much more than a business consultant, in that he understands the SYSTEMIC reasons that the Atlanta schools are failing, and he is vocal, intelligent, and able to bring a new voice to the moribund discussions of “more resources,” a “visionary superintendent” and other hackneyed ideas about school improvement.

“I would venture to say that ONLY Ed Johnson has the big picture of the vast systemic changes that need to be created to make this failing school system viable again. Simply understanding what “systems thinking” is and how it applies to organizational change puts Johnson head and shoulders above ANY of the other candidates.

“Here is an outlook we share, one that gets to the REAL issues of the enormous paradigm shift that is required for our public schools to become effective for every child, every teacher, and every parent:http://www.explodingtheparadigm.com/2011/06/whats-deming-got-to-do-with-it.html

“Please take another look at the real qualifications of the District 9 candidates!”

Johnson explains that a system (such as a community) is more than a sum of its parts.  He says that if we get the parts (of a school & its community) working together, it will result in much more than the sum of the parts.  Narrow thinking will lead to the closing of schools because the central office looks only at short-term savings of money, where the kind of deep thinking that Johnson is advocating might create an environment for school improvement, rather than closure.

And one more thing.  Mr. Johnson tasks the school board with telling us what they think is the purpose of schooling in Atlanta.  As he points out, asking nine school board members this question several years ago resulted in nine different answers. As Johnson says, if they can’t agree on the purpose of schools, how can they function to improve the district.  Why do have public schools?  What is the purpose of school?  If we can not answer such basic questions, how can we possibly make serious decisions about people’s lives such as shutting down their children’s schools.  And indeed Mr. Johnson’s ideas about purpose of schooling are in sync with Edward Deming’s ideas when he says:

People are asking for better schools, with no clear idea how to improve education, nor even how to define improvement of education (Deming 1994).

If you are able to vote on November 5th, I hope you will consider Mr. Ed Johnson.

Why Should Mr. Ed Johnson Be Elected to the Atlanta School Board?

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The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King

Mr. Ed Johnson is one of the candidates running for Atlanta Board of Education (Board) District 9 At Large. His candidacy is just the opposite of the title of this post. His views on charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), and the Race to the Top (RT3) run counter to most of the other men and woman running for the Board. I’ll come back to Mr. Johnson a bit later in the post.

Atlanta is under siege from corporations who see the possibility of helping pick board members who are not only sympathetic to the corporate reform model, but will be bound by their acceptance of money and other resources in their campaign to grab one of the seats on the APS School Board. Even the mayor of Atlanta has teemed up with “élite businesspeople” to set up the political action committee, Continue Atlanta’s Progress. The mayor will support those candidates that backed his ideas over the past several years.

dollar-256x256What we see happening in the Atlanta School Board elections is an influx of special interest groups with money and influence that occurred last year when the Georgia Legislature passed a bill to change the State Constitution so that a Central Committee (State Charter Schools Committee) could be resurrected from the ashes. Remember. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled the Central Committee to approve the establishment of schools in local school districts unconstitutional. Our state legislature wouldn’t have it. They came to town and wrote a bill to change the constitution. The byline of the Georgia legislature was, “give us charter schools or we’ll amend the Georgia Constitution.”  And they did. The funds poured into support the legislation, and most of the money came from corporate special interests and people outside of Georgia.

And it’s happening again.  But this time it is to influence who gets elected to the Atlanta School Board.  Special interest groups are hard at work trying to get their candidates elected, and one special interest group has four candidates.

Funds are pouring in again. Sitting here in Georgia is a large urban school district that has suffered one of the biggest school scandals of all time. And the fundamental reasons that created the environment leading to the test scandal are still here. An education environment where students are pawns in a corporate led reform environment based on competition, sanctions, punishments and rewards.

There is a lot of money to be made by groups itching to influence which Board of Education candidates gets elected. There are so many conflicts of interest that one wonders if compassion, morals, ethics, and civility are at play.

What do the following have in common: Race to the Top, Teach for America and Charter Management Companies?

The simple answer is that, in combination, these three entities are part of a corporate-led model that pushes professional and highly qualified teachers to the side, and instead uses the Federal program, Race to the Top, to create a data-driven system of education in reduces learning to teaching to the test.

The Atlanta Public Schools is one of 26 Georgia school districts participating in Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top program.  In this program, Teach for America (TFA) and charter school conversions are significant factors in the state’s efforts to punish students and teachers who do not meet the absurd performance standards that are highly questionable.   The education model that many of the candidates embrace labels schools based on high-stakes tests and then measuring the results against performance levels that are not based on sound science, evaluates a school’s worth.   And here’s another thing: these tests measure the narrowest and possibly the least important aspects of schooling, namely the ability to answer multiple choice questions on the lowest level of content in math, or science, social studies or English language arts.

Many of  the labeled “failing” schools end up being closed, in others the principal and at least half the teachers are replaced by unlicensed teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Closing or labeling schools alters the ecology of these communities, and instead of providing resources, and creating opportunities for curriculum innovation and advanced staff development, these plans fail to discuss the real problems–poverty, recreating uninteresting curricula, and using punishments and rewards to control the system.

But Atlanta and the RT3 program in Georgia have a solution.  Turn around our lowest-achieving schools by either replacing the principal and half the faculty, convert it a charter management organization, close the school, or transform the school (replace the principal and use mysterious combination of reform strategies.  Follow this link to RT3 page which describes these choices.

Special Interests and the Election

There are many special interest groups that are working hard to influence the Atlanta school board election.  Two of them stand out.

  • Teach for America
  • EMOs and CMOs

In a recent investigative report, Stephanie Simon at Politico, uncovered a form of political control perpetrated by Teach For America.  In an audacious move, TFA lobbied to support a change in the law that would define teachers still in training, including TFA recruits, as “highly qualified” to take charge of classrooms.  Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig discussed this development on his website, and the conclusion that TFA is a special interest group with political as well as education ambitions is of great importance to the Atlanta School Board election.  According to Simon, TFA has an endowment of $100 million and annual revenues of over $300 million.

I did an investigation of the Georgia Race to the Top budget, and if you follow the money, you will see that my contention that the formula for reforming low achieving schools is a combination of charter conversions and hiring cadets from either Teach for America or The New Teacher Project. TFA will be paid nearly $16 million and TNTP will earn nearly $10 million to supply teachers with no experience nor a teaching license to teach in our lowest achieving schools.  And they only sign a two-year contract.

According to Simon, TFA is “embedding” TFA “graduates” in congressional offices and high ranking jobs in major school districts.  TFA graduates (cadets, really) have five weeks of training.

According to a report by one TFAer,

TFA is at least as enamored of numerical “data points” of success as APS is. TFA strongly encourages its teachers to base their classes’ “big goals” around standardized-test scores. Past and present corps members are asked to stand to thunderous applause if their students have achieved some objectively impressive measure of achievement, and everyone knows that the best way to work for and rise through TFA ranks is to have a great elevator pitch about how your students’ scores improved by X percent. (Olivia Blanchard on Get-Schooled by Maureen Downey)

Yet, Atlanta hires TFA cadets and places them schools that are often classified by the state as failing.

And one more thing, four of the candidates for the school board are TFA graduates.  They are Courtney English, Matt Westmoreland, Eshe Collins and Jason Esteves.  TFA has a strong connection to the charter school movement, so if these four are elected to the board, they’ll represent a near-majority, four of nine.  In a report on the Washington Post education blog, Valerie Strauss, listed the amounts of money these four received from powerful people and groups outside of Georgia.

What will this mean to the APS?

Chartering is a growing enterprise in Georgia, in Atlanta, and in particular the metro-Atlanta area.  According to the Georgia DOE charter schools annual report, there are 11 Educational Management Organizations (EMOs-for profit) or Charter Management Organizations (CMO-not-for profit) operating in Georgia, 2011 – 2012.  Leading the way are KIPP, Edison Learning, Charter Schools USA,  & Academica.

Although the state will have you believe that charters do better than non-charters, the data do not support this contention.  There is no significant difference, such as, in reading scores over the past five years.  Both have improved, but there are no differences.   The same is true in mathematics, although non-charters scored a bit higher, but not significantly.  Charter schools have been unleashed on public schools with false claims and lost of money.

Even when we look at the data here in Georgia to see that there are not significant differences in charters vs non charters, and when we couple that with data nationally, in the end regular public schools out perform charter schools significantly, we still are convinced by corporate interests, and individuals with financial backing that charters and charter clusters is the way to reform schooling.

According to an AJC article (Charter debate shapes races), six of the candidates have received contributions from charter school supporters and TFA.

The reform that many candidates will support is a standards-based, high-stakes testing model that hasn’t worked in the past, yet policy makers—who are far removed from the work of classroom educators—continue to lean on models that are more political than they are realistic.  Teaching is a human endeavor that requires a kind of dedication and knowledge that one does not garner in one or two years.  To think that we will affect the learning of our students by turning schools over to charter companies who have a penchant for hiring the elite college graduates to work in schools that need high quality education is unfortunate.

Unconvential Possibilities

The candidates for the Atlanta School Board are well meaning and qualified citizens of Atlanta.  There is one candidate, however, who holds the opinion that K-12 public education should  embody the zeal for sustaining and advancing democratic ideals in service to the public good.  He also unequivocally rejects education for the purpose of engineering a workforce.  He would say that a workforce must be allowed to emerge as a consequence of education, not by explicit demands placed on education to produce a workforce.

Many of the claims that American education graduates are not nor will be able to compete in a global environment simply are not based on facts.  To suggest that student’s achievement test scores are a significant factor in a country’s competitiveness is not supported in research.  If you look at Iris C. Rotberg’s research on global education, student achievement test scores are not factored into the 12 pillars of a country’s competitiveness.  Business ethics, lack of trust in political leaders, how institutions are audited, and public indebtedness are on the list, not student achievement scores.

An unconventional possibility would be to ban high-stakes testing, and return the decision making into the hands of educators (not policy makers).  We should also stop grading schools on the basis of test scores, and get rid of the A-F assessment of schools.  If APS really wants to improve education for its students, it would need to think differently about the goals of education, and think carefully about the purpose of education in a democratic society.

Which candidates running for the Atlanta School Board would support these kinds of changes?  There may be several.  But I know for certain that there is one, and his name is Mr. Ed Johnson, who is a candidate for the Atlanta Board of Education (Board) District 9 At Large seat.

I met Ed Johnson online, and have carried on a close collaboration with him over the past several years.  I have referenced and quoted his ideas in many of my posts, and he published several guest posts on this blog, here and here.

In one of his published posts, which was a letter to Ann Cramer, Chair of the ABE Superintendent Search Committee, he describes some of his ideas for education. To understand the kind of thinking that would move the APS away from the current test mania, here is part of that letter.  Mr. Ed Johnson says:

Recent news that two Bunch Middle School students were honored in the “” Essay Contest underscores why your service, Ann, as SSC Chairperson represents for you, as well as for the committee members, a formidable challenge.

You, and they, may ask: “How come?” Kindly allow me to explain, or at least try to explain.

Certainly, applaud Do the Write Thing’s aim to help stop youth violence. But why would DtWT make it a contest when the aim of a contest and the aim of an act of violence usually are one and the same, which is to “win” at somebody else’s expense?

More importantly, why does such a pathological win-lose culture continue to persist within our Atlanta Public Schools as if APS’ massively systemic CRCT cheating scandal of 2009 offered no lessons to learn?

Why would anyone believe the APS win-lose culture does not transfer to other aspects of students’ lives and, in some instances, show up as youth violence?

Why does APS seem to embrace inculcating within children competition and adversarialism more so than cooperation and collaboration?

It seems the more the mostly “Black” ABE and APS top administration perceive a particular population of children to be mostly “Black,” the more likely they are to believe and provide for subjecting those children to competition as if competition offers the children salvation. It does not; it only offers more competition.

In the letter to Ms. Crammer, he also suggests that the moral compass that should guide education is one born of cooperation and collaboration, something that cannot possibly happen with competition and adversarialism where it truly matters.  And, in his words, “it truly matters for educating today’s children with the aim of sustaining democratic ideals in service to the public good.”

Ed also wrote a letter to President Obama, which I published here, and as part of the letter, he asked the President,

Has our emphasis on competition and winning races, titles and medals, created a culture that is conducive to an uncivil, undemocratic, and violent society?

An Advocate for Education

Mr. Ed Johnson, an education advocate in Atlanta, and a student of W. Edwards Deming, has worked for at least a decade to raise questions about the kind of education that is being put upon the children and youth of Atlanta, and the district’s policy of closing schools in poor neighborhoods.

In an interview posted on YouTube in 2012, Mr. Johnson discussed the Atlanta Public School (APS) closing proposed by Superintendent Dr. Errol Davis.  Ed Johnson opposes the closing of any of the schools in the system.  His interest is in how to improve Atlanta schools, rather than the effort to turn the schools over to private charter organizations.

Public schools should be sustained and improved, not closed.  Simply closing schools to save money (and Mr. Johnson agrees that the APS is in financial need) is a shallow way of thinking about school improvement.  Johnson, from his work professionally as a student of Deming explains that a school is part of a community, and to simply cut or close schools will result in consequences to the entire community.  Closing a school disrupts a community to such an extent that even though the district might save $5 million over a ten-year period, the real effect will be losing money.  Not only do parents depend on the neighborhood school as a public place to educate their children, but the school itself, being part of a community, is connected to many entities that make up the community.  Johnson recommends that instead of operating a school at full capacity, we might consider a variable capacity school that makes adjustments to the student population.  By keeping the schools intact, and reducing the overall costs to run the school based on enrollment, the school remains a vibrant part of the community, and with community leadership can begin to rebuild and improve the school.

Johnson explains that a system (such as a community) is more than a sum of its parts.  He says that if we get the parts (of a school & its community) working together, it will result in much more than the sum of the parts.  Narrow thinking will lead to the closing of schools because the central office looks only at short-term savings of money, where the kind of deep thinking that Johnson is advocating might create an environment for school improvement, rather than closure.

And one more thing.  Mr. Johnson tasks the school board with telling us what they think is the purpose of schooling in Atlanta.  As he points out, asking nine school board members this question several years ago resulted in nine different answers. As Johnson says, if they can’t agree on the purpose of schools, how can they function to improve the district.  Why do have public schools?  What is the purpose of school?  If we can not answer such basic questions, how can we possibly make serious decisions about people’s lives such as shutting down their children’s schools.  And indeed Mr. Johnson’s ideas about purpose of schooling are in sync with Edward Deming’s ideas when he says:

People are asking for better schools, with no clear idea how to improve education, nor even how to define improvement of education (Deming 1994).

I think you might find it valuable to watch Mr. Johnson’s interview which appears in this video. View the second part of his video interview here.

checkI am Asking You to Vote for Mr. Johnson

I worked in downtown Atlanta for 32 years as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, and lived in Atlanta for a decade.  During those years as professor I had the privilege of working with educators in the Atlanta Public School district from 1969 – 2003.  If I were still living in Atlanta (I live now in Marietta) I would not only vote for Ed Johnson, but I would feel unusually well represented by a man of integrity and creative ideas.  Parents and students will be not only protected from outside forces by Mr. Johnson, but he will forge a discussion among the Board that will bring civility and care into the room.  He also will be a champion of experienced educators, and will make sure that the views of experienced teachers are integral to reforming education in Atlanta based on the ideals of a democratic society.

If you are a citizen of Atlanta, I urge you to vote for Ed Johnson.


The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.  John Adams as quoted in  Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 30-32). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.