P.L. Thomas On “Miracle” Schools or Political Sham?–Take Heed Georgia

P.L. Thomas On “Miracle” Schools or Political Sham?–Take Heed Georgia

Georgia is on the verge of approving a constitutional amendment (Amendment 1 on the November 8 Georgia ballot) that would enable the Governor’s office to go in and rescue children who are enrolled in “failing schools” across the state, that got on a list based on student performance on state mandated multiple choice tests.  The cut off score is 60–who knows why this number was selected. There is no acceptable rationale for an arbitrary number to classify children as “failing.” But…

The Governor intends to set up the Opportunity School District, which will mean 20 new charter schools per year, run by an appointee out of the Governor’s office, which is in downtown Atlanta, quite far from Brunswick or Toccoa.  It will be a state-wide school district encompassing 59,425 square miles.  Imagine a supervisor, curriculum director, test coördinator, indeed, the new superintendent of the Opportunity School District driving around the state to visit these schools.  I suggest an airplane.  My friend and colleague Mr. Dallas Stewart, who was the science supervisor for the State Department of Education many years ago when I first moved to Georgia, had a pilot’s license, and often flew around the state to visit schools across the landscape.

And two other points. The first is all the schools in the OSD will be charter schools based on the state/federal turnaround policy in which the local school principal and up to half the teachers will be shown the door in a mass firing, whose replacements are to be determined by the superintendent in Atlanta. Financial responsibility rests with local school board.  The charter schools will be managed by for-profit charter management organizations, who no doubt will be enriched with public funds.

This a map of Georgia's Opportunity School District, which covers 59,425 square miles. This will mean that Georgia will have the largest school district in the USA. Maybe a pilot's license should be required along with administrator certification.
This is a map of Georgia’s Opportunity School District, which covers 59,425 square miles. The distance north to south on I-75 is 365 miles from Ringgold to Valdosta, and east to west from La Grange to Savannah is 260 miles. This will mean that Georgia will have the largest school district in the USA. Maybe a pilot’s license should be required along with administrator certification to be the new superintendent of the OSD

The second point is Governor Deal’s Opportunity School District is modeled after Louisiana’s Recovery School District and Tennessee’s Achievement District.  He and a small group of legislators and other government officials went to New Orleans to see the Recovery operation up close and personal.  They were treated to flashy slide shows portraying the 10 year Recovery district as h-u-g-e success.

As you will read, the Louisiana and Tennessee recovery districts have been shown by multiple sources not to be cracked up to what they claim.  They are not the successes they claim to be.

They have been discredited. Read ahead.

Will the Governor’s OSD be the next Louisiana or Tennessee recovery shame?

Enter the Research and Writing of P.L. Thomas.

In a chapter in the recent book entitled Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms, (Mathis, W. J., & Trujillo, T. M. 2016) Dr. Thomas has called into question the so-called “miracle schools,” promoted by Rod Paige, superintendent of Houston School District (in the 1990s), and George W. Bush, then, the Governor of Texas.

Bush and Page made outlandish claims about how Houston schools had shown great increases on student test performance, only to be discredited later.  But, as Thomas points out, it didn’t matter because when Bush became President in 2001 he took Page with him to become Secretary of Education.  This was quickly followed by the passage of the No Child Left Behind fiasco, which put American public schools and their students into a test-based punitive system of education–the Houston “miracle schools” on a national scale.

It too has been discredited.

The “miracle schools” that Dr. Thomas talks about were not just a marvel in Houston, but the idea spread around the country like a virus infecting Washington DC under Michelle Rhee, the Harlem Children’s Zone which, was directed by Geoffrey Canada, and then spread south to invest New Orleans, and Tennessee.  It’s gone berserk in California according to Carol Burris, who is writing a four-piece research study how charter schools are corrupt and unregulated.

But Dr. Thomas makes it very clear that there is something sinister behind these miracle schools.  In the cases he’s investigated, nearly all use politics to claim how great the schools are for kids.  Yet, these have been discredited.  Here is how he puts it,

The “miracle” school story is a political charade, one that works for political gain, but it is built on a fishnet narrative of public schools in crisis, “bad” teachers, and corrupt teachers’ unions that can only be saved through a potpourri of neoliberal and free-market reforms. Even more disturbing, “miracle” claims as a basis for education reform policy have resulted in three decades of wasted time and funding without any legitimate attempts to address social and educational inequity (Thomas, P. J. “”Miracle” Schools or Political Scam?” Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA. Ed. William J. Mathis. By Tina M. Trujillo. Charlotte: Information Age, 2016. 223-31. Print. The National Education Policy Center Series).

I believe that what Dr. Thomas has described in this research paper, is an exact description of the Georgia Opportunity School District. It will not result in “miracle schools” but is in fact a political scam, led by the Governor of Georgia.

Nathan Deal has based the legislation which will be voted on by Georgia electorate on November 8 on failed and discredited initiatives in other states.

Ballot initiative no. 1 will enable to the Governor to pull off a political scam that could well be one of the biggest “charades” in Georgia’s education history.

Vote No on Georgia Ballot Initiative No. 1 on November 8

 

 

 

The Real Deal: How the Opportunity School District Campaign to Pull the Wool Over the Eyes of Georgians is Being Funded

The Real Deal: How the Opportunity School District Campaign to Pull the Wool Over the Eyes of Georgians is Being Funded

Ever since the US Supreme Court agreed with Citizens United, a Political Action Committee (PAC) in Washington, DC, eliminating restrictions on how corporations and groups can spend money in elections, state and Federal elections, amendments, and other ballot initiatives, the political playing field has dramatically changed.

It’s enabled individual politicians the opportunity to raise untold amounts of money to get elected, re-elected, pay for inauguration parties, and so forth.  But one of the shady tactics that is used by individuals and small groups of politicians is to set up (with the help of their friends and associates) Political Action Committees (501c corporations that claim to do social welfare work to avoid taxes, and make contribution tax-deductible), and then hire people to run the PAC that will use media of all sorts to support a piece of legislation, that in most cases was written by said people.

Enter Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia, and prime instigator of the Opportunity School District, which Deal claims is a moral obligation to save schools that are struggling–that, is struggling to get kids to pass state mandated tests that often have little to do with helping students learn and flourish.

For example, according to an AJC article, Deal has had experience setting up PACs for his re-election campaign (2014 election), called Georgia Leads.  And thanks to Citizens United, the names of the donors can be kept secret.  The AJC reported, however, that it had been able to find the identities of several big spenders ($150,000 or more), and they were special interest groups that had “business” with the state.  But all of this is not transparent.

These social welfare groups (PACs) are not just a sham, but a political device used to put out information for or against a politician, idea, bill, or amendment.  Deal is using this device to fund advertisements and information to convince voters in Georgia to vote “yes” on the November ballot on Amendment 1, the plan for the state to take over and run schools that are on “The List of Chronically Failing Schools,” twenty at a time.  The ballot language doesn’t give you this impression.  It reads:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
( ) Yes

( ) No

Deal has set up two political action committees, Georgia Leads and Real Georgia.  Each is run by Deal associates, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.

Jim Wallas, in a piece on Atlanta unfiltered, followed the money trail in Deal’s PAC called Real PAC, but discovered that Real PAC, even though it raised money, and shared its mailing list with Deal’s re-election campaign of 2014, was nothing more than a way to ask for money for Deal’s election.

Slippery at best, these state PACs seem to be ways to enrich and re-elect and advocate for policy, but offer little in the way of social welfare.  For example, its hard to find out what happens to funds that stay in these PACs.  Wallas writes:

Real PAC renewed its corporate registration in May after reporting a bank balance of just $841 in January. Its account could be much larger, though, if Deal follows the precedent set by former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Perdue transferred all his remaining campaign money — more than $789,000 — into Perdue PAC in June 2007. The PAC filed regular disclosures of its finances for a while but nothing since 2010, when it reported $118,000 cash on hand. It’s anybody’s guess where that money is now or how it was spent.
Deals campaign, at last report on Oct. 25, had more than $1.1 million on hand. His final disclosure for the 2014 election is due next month (WALLS, By JIM. “Atlanta Unfiltered.” 3 Reasons Why Real PAC Deserves a Closer Look Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016).

To give you an idea how these PACs co-mingle with “real” campaigns for re-election or to promote a policy, you might want to read these AJC articles, here, here, and here.  It’s clear that Deal is co-mingling with two PACs to influence the November ballot initiative on the Opportunity School District.

Again, without transparency, these two PACs are clearly in Deal’s pockets, and are being funded by corporations that have a big stake in state legislation.  Supporting Deal’s plan to create the Opportunity School District will be a Quid Pro Quo for organizations that contribute to Mr. Deal’s PACs.

Deal’s campaign to create the OSD, lacks support from school districts, professional education associations, Georgia state Universities, the PTA, Georgia School Superintendents Association, Georgia AFL-CIO state Chapter, Georgia Federation of Teachers, Georgia Association of Educators.

I don’t know about the Georgia Department of Education.  Richard Woods, Georgia’s School Superintendent, has been silent, at least publicly. A search of Georgia Department of Education website for “Opportunity School District” results in zero hits.  So, it seems that the DOE is not involved in the Governor’s initiative, although it has its own school turn-around strategies based on Federal turnaround policies.

The Governor is using PACs to put out propaganda that supports a failed system of working with struggling schools.  The fact that this amendment does not have the support of organizations and people who have a direct connection with teaching and learning should set off alarm bells.

But, for people like Nathan Deal, its his legacy, not real devotion to the improvement of education for Georgians.

Open Your Eyes, Georgians—The Misfortunate School District is on the Way

Open Your Eyes, Georgians

As I was thinking about the calamity facing education in Georgia, Governor Neal’s Opportunity School District, I thought of the phrase “open your eyes.”  I had actually thought of the phrase, “now is the time,” but it was replaced with “open your eyes.”

In 2006, the fantastic Northern Ireland band, Snow Patrol, recorded the song “Open Your Eyes” as part of its fourth album, Eyes Open.  When I listened to the song and read the lyrics, I was moved to include the song in this post, and relate the song writer’s insistence that we open our eyes.

Here are two lines of lyrics in “Open Your Eyes” that bring up my anger when I think about what Deal and 159 state legislators think should happen to Georgia’s struggling schools.

Get up, get out, get away from these liars
‘Cos they don’t get your soul or your fire

Georgians need to open their eyes, and read very carefully the amendment to the state’s constitution that will appear on the General Election Ballot in November.   This is what you will find on the ballot this November:

“ Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
( ) Yes

( ) No

Governor Deal thinks that he has the moral duty to create the Opportunity Misfortunate School District, when in fact to do so would be an immoral act that would label thousands of students, their parents and teachers as “failures.”  Indeed what will happen next year if this amendment is passed is that 20 schools will be pulled from their districts, and forced to adhere to a system of education that is much akin to a boot camp style of education in which students are trained to take tests and jump hurdles that have little to do with learning.

Don’t be fooled by these fools.  Open your eyes.

Georgia’s Misfortunate School District

Georgia’s Misfortunate School District

I’ve been away pursuing other projects, but now is the time for all of us to open our eyes about a plan to turn struggling schools into a pet project of the Georgia Governor.

In November when we vote to pick a new president (topic for a future post), citizens in Georgia will vote on a ballot amendment to the state constitution.  If passed, this amendment (Senate Bill 133) will create a school district (Opportunity School District) that would authorize the Governor’s office to supervise, manage, and run a new school district made up of schools from across the state that have been determined to be failing, based on scores on standardized tests.  Is your school on the list?

The Governor calls it the Opportunity School District.

I call it the Misfortunate School District (MSD)

The MSD is a dangerous path for Georgia schools and it was created primarily by Nathan Deal (the Governor) and Erin Hames (Former Governor’s Office Staff Member, now employed by the Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

Over the next four months we need to work together to help citizens of Georgia “open their eyes” to the misdeeds that will follow if the centralized school district is approved.  It is based on failed systems in Louisiana, and Tennessee.

There are outside groups that pouring money into Deal’s plan to further corrupt and privatize public education.

I look forward to exploring what can be done to defeat this amendment.

 

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 http://thejosevilson.com/recruiting-educators-of-color-in-the-time-of-race-to-the-top/).

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