Parent Revolution in Georgia’s HB 123?: I Don’t Think So

Today I received a letter from Ryan Donohue, Deputy Director Advocacy Director of  Parent Revolution informing that the Georgia House of Representatives passed HB 123, the “Parent & Teacher Empowerment Act.”  It is actually the Parent Trigger bill that you have all heard about, especially if you saw or read about the movie Won’t Back Down.  The letter I received said that this was a great first step for Georgia parents because they got a seat at the decision-making table for their children’s education.  I called the local board of education, and asked if they would reserve my seat at the decision-making table!

The letter then goes on to say that the bill needs to pass the Georgia Senate, and would I come to an empowerment rally at the Capitol next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.   I can’t wait.

Parent Revolution is another one of the Billionaire Boys Club’s organizations that is funded by the Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and others.


Update 3.22.2013

EmpowerEd Georgia reported that the Parent Trigger legislation in Georgia was tabled for this legislative session. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution story, the bill was pulled because it didn’t have the votes needed in the senate for passage.

 Revolution, Empowerment & Triggers

Parents in Georgia did not urge their representatives to write this bill. Instead, the bill is a copy of the “Parent trigger bill” written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which you can read on the ALEC site, and the Parent Revolution site, and the same bill that is floating around other state legislatures such as the Florida “Parent Empowerment in Education bill or the Oklahoma “Parent Empowerment Act.”  Odd, wouldn’t you say that the word empowerment appears in the Georgia, Florida & Oklahoma bills.  The Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma bills use parents as pawns in a shifty business deal in which failing schools can be replaced with charter schools. Now, if you think parents at the local level will set up the charter school, I’ll sell you a bridge.

The parent trigger is an idea pushed by national organizations who are in bed with national charter school organizations. The Georgia bill has nothing to do with parents’ decision making. Parents already can make decisions about their children’s education.  The Parent Trigger, according to some observers, is a political device created by venture capitalists and return-on-investment philanthropists who want to expand for-profit charter school chains.  If you think I am making this up, here is a quote from the Georgia bill linking failing schools, parent trigger and charter schools.  A summary of House Bill 123 states:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to elementary and secondary education, so as to enact the “Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act”; to provide for petitions to convert existing schools to charter schools or to impose turnaround models; to provide for definitions; to allow for petitions by parents or teachers; to provide for turnaround models; to provide for notice to the State Board of Education; to provide for local board approval; to provide for applicability; to provide for rules and regulations; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Pulling the Trigger On Schools with Poor Report Cards

Georgia’s accountability system includes a profile for every school and system in the state that includes an absolute performance determination based on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a performance index based on annual growth in academic achievement based on the state’s CRCT, and performance highlight recognizing and rewarding some schools.

Using the Olympic medals system of gold, silver and bronze (Georgia has inserted at the top, a platinum award for the very best), and using primarily achievement test scores, schools can be graded as follows:

  • Platinum School—AYP for three years and running; 35% exceeding standards
  • Gold School—AYP for two years and 30% exceeding standards
  • Silver School—AYP for two years and 25% exceeding standards
  • Bronze School–must not be in the Needs Improvement (N.I) status and 20% exceeding standards

In the 2011 AYP report for the state of Georgia, of the 2,246 schools in the state, 1,633 (72.7%) met AYP, while 613 (27.3%) did not meet AYP.  Three-hundred and Seventy (16%) of Georgia’s public schools were awarded platinum, gold, silver or bronze designations.  One thousand eight hundred and seventy-six (83.5%) were not awarded at all.  State officials focused only on Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) score’s improvement or gains from one year to the next, or simply to highest performance (follow this link to see these schools).  From the Georgia accountability site,other factors of student life at school were not considered in the awards competition.

The data that is available on the Georgia Department of Education website is a goldmine for those who wish to pull the trigger on schools around the state of Georgia.  There are 613 schools that did not meet AYP in 2011.  These schools are prime contenders for charter school management companies.  A little lobbying to convince parents that their school is a failure and should be taken over by a charter organization is quite possible.

The Gold Mine: Map of Georgia School Districts with a links to each School and District's Report Card

The Gold Mine: Map of Georgia School Districts with a links to each School and District’s Report Card

Parents have had nothing to do with determining how and what the grade should be for their child’s school.  But, parents will be convinced that many of the schools in their district are in shambles, failing to educate their students, and that the teachers are helpless to change things around.

But the accountability systems used by the Department of Education is a set up.  By establishing standards and assessments that are out of touch with the real needs of children and youth, the state bureaucracy’s rules for rewarding or punishing schools makes it nearly impossible for some schools to avoid punishment.

Georgia HB 123 is based a system that does nothing to improve student learning.

Mind you, nothing has been done to give staff development support, especially for schools with high percentages of struggling learners, and schools with high percentages of free and reduced lunches.

The Georgia accountability system calls for financial be givrn to schools that have demonstrated the greatest improvement in achievement gap closure. Financial awards can also be awarded to schools for performance in student achievement or student progress. Awards will range from $500 – $2000.

Now keep in mind that research studies that investigated the relationship between student progress and personnel awards does not support the state putting into place such an award for performance system.

It is punitive to use high-stakes tests such as the CRCT to make significant decisions about student performance, let alone grading a school or a district.

Parent Revolution in Georgia: No

So, when you think about the Report Card system that Georgia uses, it is a set up to punish schools who probably have gone out of their way to help struggling learners.  So to stigmatize these schools even further, the best the state can offer is to close it down, fire the teachers and administrators in turn the school over to an out-of-state charter company. Instead of relying on research on schools with struggling learners, the Billionaire Boys Club will continue to pour money into charter management companies in hope of a return on their investment.  As Anthony Cody wrote in one of his blog posts, Yes, Virginia, there really is a billionaire boys club.

In a large study of resource allocation practices and student achievement, Boyer, Clark and Patrick investigated 21 Texas school districts. The findings are interesting in the light of the Georgia legislature’s desire to manipulate school funding and student achievement. Three overall policy implications from their research are as follows:

–1st – Hire/retain teachers with experience.
–2nd – Hire/retain good district level administrators and strong, committed finance directors (foster a team approach).
–3rd – Create/preserve low teacher to student ratios (for various reasons).

These recommendations are not favored by the Department of Education, nor most of the Georgia legislators.  When a school does not meet AYP for more than a year, the state swoops in with an advisor who spends time in the school to point out how the teachers can improve to lift scores on next year’s CRCT.  There is little effort or resources put into teacher education and advanced training for the educators in the school, nor is there an effort to cut the class size.

Accountability needs to be school based and needs to consider the context and community of the school.  Simply giving standardized tests to every child in Georgia does nothing to help teachers locally with their students.  Instead of continuing with the authoritarian accountability mandates that is in place in Georgia, it needs to be replaced with a community-based system of accountability, like the system described on Living in Dialog called Community Based Accountability.  In this approach, its the local stakeholders, superintendents, school boards, teachers, parents, students that plan and carry out short and long-term goals in a democratic environment.  A bottom-up, progressive  approach to accountability is what should be in place in every school district in the country.  Julian Vasques Heilig descirbes this approach in some detail here.

Unfortunately, the parent revolution that some claim is represented by Parent Empowerment Bill, is nothing short of a fraud.  It’s top down.  It’s authoritarian, and relies on authoritarian standards and assessments.

Parent Revolution: There Should Be One

Parents in Georgia should be outraged by the way their integrity is being dismissed by corporate sponsored organizations.  They should be outraged because a few people with power and finances are making lots money off their children. Our schools are commons, and should be protected by law from commercial exploitation.

On a recent post over on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialog blog, Anthony interviewed David Bollier, an activist, researcher, and author exploring the “commons.” According to Bollier, the commons is shared local culture. Although Bollier has not written about the schools as commons, his remarks on Anthony’s site are fruitful here.

The commons consists of those many resources that we share – the atmosphere, water, public spaces, the Internet, scientific knowledge, cultural works, and much more – as well as the social systems and rule-sets that we use to manage them in fair, sustainable ways. It bears emphasizing that the commons is not just the resource itself, but the resource plus the community and its self-organized rule-sets, norms and enforcement of rules. In a broader sense, education and child-rearing are types of commons.

As Bollier points out, there has been a world-wide revival of commons— farming, fisheries, forests, water, urban spaces, software, digital culture, community life, and other areas. The activism here is in defending these commons from the pirates who not only rob, but then turn around and sell the commons to the rest of us.

I believe that our public schools are commons–a resource that can be managed and has its own value. In this context, and using the research of Dr. Bollier, schools are “systems of self-governance that can manage resources in ways that are effective, participatory and fair — and thus experienced as socially and politically legitimate.”

Over on the Public Citizen website, there is a link to a blog, Commercial Alert, which is dedicated to keeping commercial culture in its proper sphere.  In particular, it alerts us to any form of exploitation of children and schools, and undoing of the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.  The authors of Public Citizen write that:

Our nation is in the grips of a commercial hysteria. Sometimes it seems like everything is for sale. At Commercial Alert, we stand up for the idea that some things are too important to be for sale. Not our children. Not our health. Not our minds. Not our schools. Not our values. Not the integrity of our governments. Not for sale. Period.

The school, in my way of thinking, is like a national park or forest. It’s a shared resource that is protected from commercial or market enclosures. As Bollier explains, commons could be converted into tradeable shares called a market enclosure. A price is attached to the enclosures, “subverting qualitative, intangible values that may be ecological, social or long-term.” Every time I visit or drive by a school in my neighborhood, I think of it as a “shared local culture” available to all families in the community.

HB123: A Parent Revolution–I don’t think so–do you?

The schools belong to all of us. HB 123 does not empower parents or teachers. It is a blight on democracy, and on the fact that public schools were established as a common, open and free to us.

Do think parent triggers bills empower families and teachers?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.