The Georgia House Should “Pink Slip” the Opportunity School District

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The Georgia House Should Pink Slip the Opportunity School District

Last week the Georgia Senate voted and passed two bills, Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287.  Senate Bill 133 will set up the Opportunity School District (OSD), which will enable the state to take over public elementary and secondary schools that have a grade of F for three consecutive years.  Senate Resolution 287 proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia, which allows the General Assembly to set up the OSD.

These bills will enable the Governor’s office to take over 20 of Georgia’s “chronically failing” public schools in the 2017-2018 school year, and then increase the number to 100 schools throughout the state.  These “chronically failing” schools will make up a statewide school district called the Opportunity School District.

This is a bad deal for public education in Georgia.  For Senate Bill 133, I’ll show that the devil is in the details, and in the end the takeover plan that the Governor and the Senate advocate will be a disaster for Georgia public schools.  Singling out each school is an untenable solution to school improvement. The state, however, will eventually single out 100 schools (and my guess is that this number will increase over time), not realizing or ignoring some truths about how systems work.

Ed Johnson, a colleague and researcher in Atlanta, puts it this way:

“It would be the top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out any school or Region to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter. Leadership from the top, from both the school board and the superintendency, is required. Only they can be held “accountable” in any rational way. And no way of “accountability” pushed down from the top can substitute for the requisite leadership needed to foster collaboration with and among affected stakeholders, as a system.”

Breaking apart districts will be a mistake.

Let’s turn our attention to the concept of “chronically failing schools” being rescued by a state level administration with a cadre of charter schools.  This what Senate Bill 133 is about.

Chronically Failing Schools

The plan is based on the New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), created by the Louisiana legislature in 2003.  After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state legislature passed Act 35, which transferred 100 “low performing schools” in New Orleans over to the RSD. (I wondered why The Georgia plan calls for taking over 100 schools–copy that). The RSD became the ideal setting for the influx of charter school management firms, which presumably would create the basis for an “epic reform” of schooling in the Parishes of New Orleans and other locations.

That has not happened.

RSD schools are failing schools based on a system that was based on a “star” rating system developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  In 2011, Louisiana instituted letter grades based on another ALEC bill.  The variable used to rate schools was student performance on standardized tests in math and reading–and that’s all.

The Georgia legislature followed suit, instituting the “star” and “letter grade” system.  Recently, however, the state of Georgia initiated the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), a composite number or score of achievement points, progress points, achievement gap points and challenge points.  No matter how you look at this, its how students score on standardized tests–just the same as is done in New Orleans.

For the state as a whole, CCRPI average scores are 72.7 for elementary schools, 73.8 for middle schools, and 68.4 for high schools.  Instead of stars, the state uses six performance flags (2 for each color): green (subgroup meets standards), yellow (subgroup meets some of the standards), red (failed to meet standards). Another way to show this, is:

  • Green Flags–passed
  • Yellow Flags–caution or so-so
  • Red Flags–failed

Data from the Georgia Department of Education indicates that schools scoring lower than 60 on the CCRPI measures for three consecutive years would be considered a potential turnaround or failing school (they are publicly red flagged and therefore identified as a failing school).

There are 141 “chronically failing” schools in the state.  The schools are concentrated in these locations:

  • Atlanta (27)
  • DeKalb County (26)
  • Richmond County (21)
  • Bibb County (14)
  • Muscogee County (10).  

The remaining schools are scattered around the state.  You can see the list here.

In Georgia and Louisiana, school ratings are based on quantitative data.   This has set up a system that ensures failure for many schools, especially those identified above by the Georgia Department of Education.  Furthermore, if we use only quantitative data to make high stakes decision natural consequences include systematic cheating.

But failure is defined by a system that does not take into consideration many aspects of school that are qualitative, and aspects that deeply impact teaching and learning.  The state is only interested in standardized test scores in English Language Arts, mathematics, science & social studies.  It appears not to be interested in courses in the arts, music, including theory, band, chorus, physical education, drama, and many other courses that student’s experience as part of school.

And what is the effect of poverty of on the quantitative data the state collects to decide whether a school is failing or not?  As Diane Ravitch says, poverty matters.  It affects children’s health and well-being.  It affects their emotional lives, and academic performance.  These out-of-school factors actually a greater effect on student learning, including scores on standardized tests, than do in-school factors.  To read an analysis of the CCRPI and its connection to poverty concentration, link here.

Georgia’s Opportunity School District

The Opportunity School District, which was proposed by Governor Nathan Deal, is indeed an opportunity.  But it is not in the best interests of students and their families in the communities identified as having “chronically failing schools.”  The first detail to pull out of Senate Bill 133 is that this bill is nothing short of opening the flood gates for charter schools, which have been documented time and again as not nearly being as effective as “regular” public schools.  These schools will replace public schools that have been red-flagged for three consecutive years.  The main goal of school will be to get students to score higher on standardized tests.  Success will hinge primarily on the test scores in mathematics and reading.  Teaching to the test will be the main goal of schooling in the OSD.

In this Senate bill, paragraph after paragraph is devoted to describing how the state will set up a state-wide charter school district for “chronically failing schools.”  But here is a real problem for Georgia legislators to consider.  The evidence from the New Orleans Recovery School District is that for the most part, schools that were considered failing before they entered the confines of the RSD continued to earn failing grades, stars, or flags–pick your own symbol.

Research on the New Orleans Recovery School District

Documentation for the failure of the New Orleans Recovery School District can be found in many sources.  For example, Michelle Constantinides, an Atlanta parent and education activist, published an article on Maureen Downey’s AJC “Get Schooled” blog entitled “Rhyme and reason: Georgia should not adopt New Orleans state takeover model.”  Constantinides documents school-by-school failure while being part of the RSD, and shows that if anything, these charter schools did very little in the way of improving the academic achievement of students.

Dr. Kristen Buras, Researcher and Associate Professor in the Educational Policy Studies Department, Georgia State University has done ground-breaking research on how charter schools in New Orleans, promoted as an “equitable and innovative solution to the problems plaguing urban schools,” have capitalized on racially oppressed communities to enable entrepreneurs to come in on the backs of children and their parents to set up for-profit schools.

Representing a very robust educational research community in the Georgia, Dr. Buras has published reports and two recent books on the New Orleans Recovery School District.  Her most recent book, “Charter Schools, Race and Urban Space” (Rutledge, 2015) is an in-depth study of the New Orleans Recovery School District since 2005.  The major theme of her book–that the RSD is a strategy to use market-based reforms to give control of public schools, attended by Black children in Black communities and often taught by Black teachers, over to well-funded white entrepreneurs.  This thesis needs to be part of the conversation about Senate Bill 133, which will set up a school district of charter schools that will have control over “chronically failing” public schools.

In Buras’ research she found that charter schools taken over by the state derived little to no advice from the school community, charter managers were given immense decision-making power, charters often engaged in selective admission standards, veteran teachers were fired, charters were privately managed, charter schools had access to funding to upgrade schools at public expense, and public schools were closed to accommodate new charter start-ups. Often students had to travel more than an hour to and from school because their neighborhood school was closed.

Buras’ research is very relevant to the Georgia takeover plan.  She has exposed some troubling issues that are pertinent to Senate Bill 133.  For example, veteran New Orleans teachers were fired en mass in 2008.  After they were fired, many tried to seek positions in the RDS, but were not hired, perhaps because their salaries were higher than first and second year recruits whom charter managers favored.  You can read an account of this in The Times-Picayune paper here.  Black teachers were replaced in the newly opened charter schools by mostly white inexperienced teachers from Teach for America.  Charter schools, to discourage the fired teachers, offered private retirement plans and not the state pension fund.

If you don’t think this will happen in Georgia, then you might read the details in Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) grant.

According to the Georgia RT3, failing schools will either be closed or “reformed” using one of various reform school models.  In the reform school models, the principal is fired, and at least half the teachers are replaced.  But here is the thing.  When I examined the RT3 budget section for turning around low achieving schools, the lion’s share of the money went to Teach for America and The New Teacher Fund, which recruits and establishes a pipeline of inexperienced and non-licensed teachers, who are hired by school districts and then placed in the lowest performing schools.

In research done earlier and reported on this post, the state of Georgia (and many others around the country) have established questionable relationships within the context of turnaround schools with charter management companies, Teach for America and the New Teacher Project.  Follow this link to read my report.

The reformists behind such experiments as charter schools believe a charter school is good because it is a charter. The implication here is that charter schools are more effective than their counterpart public schools.  Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University, Sacramento, and Professor Michael Marder, Professor of Physics, University of Texas, have studied charter schools extensively, and independently.

Heilig’s research has focused schools as community learning centers.  His research has shown that if a neighborhood school becomes a learning center, and not being closed or becoming a state controlled reform school, parents, students, teachers and neighborhood businesses form an intense partnership leading to local school improvement.

Marder’s research has involved the analysis of large data sets and he has shown that there is a strong relationship between poverty concentration and achievement, and that nearly all charter schools produce dismal results.  He found that higher poverty concentrations were inversely related to achievement scores (ACT).

A state takeover of chronically failing schools with a slew of charter schools would be a big mistake, and would not be a choice for students and their parents.

Georgia’s Opportunity School District

In Georgia here is what is going to happen if the House joins the Senate and votes in favor of the Opportunity School District, and the citizens of the state agree to change the state constitution.

The OSD will exist within the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.  The Governor will “appoint” a superintendent, to be confirmed by the Senate.  This person will serve at the pleasure of the Governor.  In Louisiana, one of the first Superintendents of the RSD was a person who had two years of teaching experience, and a few years working for the Department of Education in New York City.  He later, with the help of out-of-state financing, became the Superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education.

In Georgia, the Superintendent of the OSD will have the power to set up the guidance and rules for operating the state-wide district. The OSD will select up to 20 qualifying schools.  Qualifying schools?  Yes.  Schools that qualify would be those that had been red-flagged for three years in a row based on the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

Although the bill states that public hearings might be held, the list of schools shall be decided by OSD Superintendent.

The OSD is authorized to waive some education rules, only if they contribute to increasing student performance (on standardized tests).

Now, here is an interesting detail in the Bill.  The OSD will collaborate with the State Charter Schools Commission to build capacity to set up charter schools.

In 2011 the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision, Gwinnett County School District v. Cox, found that the state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or run schools that is not under the control of a local board of education. The court ordered that no other government entity can compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-12 schools. And it further states that local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the primary obligations of the Georgia, namely “the provision of an adequate public education for all citizens”

But during the next General Assembly, the legislature retaliated and passed a bill that changed the Constitution of Georgia to reinstate the Charter School Commission.  In the 2012 elections, Georgia citizens ratified the bill.

These actions, and Senate Bill 133 have set in motion the dismantling of a segment of Georgia’s school population that has not done well on state mandated standardized tests.

The Opportunity School District is a dangerous plan.  The OSD is not intended to improve education in communities that have struggling schools. It is designed to reform schools by people who know very little to nothing about education, but know a lot about taking advantage, and in the end, the opportunity to privatize public education.

Why aren’t University System of Georgia Researchers and 100,000 K-12 Public School Educators involved in the Takeover Plan?

As Emeritus Professor of Science Education at Georgia State University, I have to ask the Governor and the Georgia Assembly why the higher education research community has not been publicly engaged in the OSD.  The University System of Georgia has a robust academic and research community.  It receives more than $1 billion in outside funding each year for research, and an economic impact of more than $14 billion.  There are researchers in Georgia who specialize in education policy, educational reform and learning.

Governor Deal, why haven’t you embraced this powerful resource?

As a professor for more than 30 years at GSU I worked with students seeking degrees in math and science education at the masters, specialist and doctoral levels.  I also worked alongside full-time teachers and principals around the state.  There are more than 100,00 teachers in Georgia, with 54% having ten or more years of experience.

Again, I ask the Governor and the General Assembly of Georgia:

Why haven’t you pursued the wisdom of these teachers and principals?

To create a separate and potentially for-profit school district is ill willed.  It is rhetorical, and is deprived of a research base.  How can the Governor and the General Assembly ignore the 100,000 people in this state who can help improve schooling and get us out of this quagmire?

And one more question for our legislators.  Why do want to extend the reach of government? Don’t you believe that education is best served by the people at the local level?

Pink Slip

The Georgia House of Representatives needs to scrutinize, and then pink slip the Opportunity School District plan.

Do Some Charter and Title I Schools Use a Pedagogy of Indoctrination

 

"Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom by Joseph Vasquez  CC By 2.0
“Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom” by Joseph Vasquez is Licensed under  CC By 2.0

I might be off my rocker on this post, but I want to get it out there, and ask you if there might be some truth in my claim.  My claim is that the No Child Left Behind Act set in motion a culture of schooling which seeks conformity and an authority to which participants must subscribe, meaning teachers, students and their parents.  Followed by the Race to the Top, we have created in American schools an environment that many have shown to be harmful to the psychological well-being of not only students, but teachers as well.

There is evidence that many charter and Title I schools use an authoritarian and behavioral change system of learning to make one change in student behavior and that is higher test scores. Because of federal and state regulations implicit in NCLB and RT3, a top-down system of accountability has played a role in making authoritarianism the principle of charter schools, and many public Title I schools.

The Strict Family and the Strict Classroom

In previous discussions on this blog I’ve applied the research of George Lakoff.  Dr. Lakoff uses the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family and applies it to politics, literature, philosophy and mathematics.  Using this idea, ones (political) beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founders, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth.

Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

In my earlier blog post, I wrote about Rocketship Education, a relatively new charter management system with schools in California and Wisconsin.  It appears to me that the Rocketship education model of education is authoritarian and relies on indoctrination for its success. It’s a model of education that fits the description of Lakoff’s conservative family.

Authoritarian Education

In that earlier post, I outlined four principles that characterize a Rocketship School based on the research of Gordon Lafer.  Here are the principles and comments I’ve made about each one. As you read these points, connect these principles to the principles in Lakoff’s theory:

  1. Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  2. Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to offer a pipeline of new recruits. Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests. The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate. As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience. Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  3. A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning. Blending digital learning with face to face. However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy. You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  4. A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home. Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year. This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted. But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

The nature of the pedagogy outlined in these four points is a certain example of Lakoff’s conservative “Strict Father Family,” where the entire system is organized underneath an authority figure.  This could be the owner of the charter school management system, the principal of the school, or even the top-down rules and regulations upon which the school’s accountability depends.

But this tenor of authoritarianism is not limited to charter schools.

Indoctrination

What has happened is that accountability has been reduced fundamentally to one cause, measurement or variable, and that is student test scores.  In Georgia, for instance, the state rolled out a new accountability system in which each school in the state is graded (A – F) by adding up the points earned in four categories.  However, each of the categories is dependent on one reason: student test scores.

The state, in Georgia and most other states, is the authority figure that controls the behavior of administrators, teachers and students. The state indoctrinates school staff to follow very strict guidelines to increase student test scores.  These guidelines are defined by standards (either state or Common Core State Standards), and what is known as College & Career Ready Performance, using expressed as an index or simply a number that can be used to compare schools, districts and states.

In Atlanta, all you had to do yesterday to verify this is to read the Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper which listed the top and bottom performing schools in school districts around the state.  Winners and losers?

So, the only purpose of teaching in schools that are served by an authoritarian regime is to teach to the test, and to spend as much time possible making students practice for the tests with worksheets, and obsessively stupid homework assignments.  The goal is to score high on the state mandated high-stakes tests, and to get as a high a grade for the school based fundamentally on student test scores.

The Rocketship Schools have taken the conservative model to the extreme.  By reducing the curriculum to essentially two subjects, math and reading, teachers are trained to teach math and reading only in so far as the kids score high on the tests.  In fact, in the Rocketship schools, teacher’s pay is dependent on student scores.  I am not saying that there is a salary scale based on specific scores, but given comments made on a PBS interview with the principal and two teachers at the school, there are targets to be met.

In this kind of school, teachers do not need to be educated, but they need to be indoctrinated and trained to follow the leader. Teach for America’s 5 week training is all that is wanted in schools that cut teaching to test preparation.  Not only does Teach for America supply Rocketship teachers, but TFA and the New Teacher Project have multi-million dollar agreements with several Race to the Top winning states (follow this link to see it work in Georgia).

Child Labor Violations

What is the role of the student in these extreme classroom situations.  The school day begins in the school courtyard or similar space in a kind of ceremony or rally to energize the students, and to instill in them “group think” and the requirement that they must conform to the authority of the school, and especially their teachers.

To some researchers and practicing educators, American obsession with statewide testing has led to an inhumane environment.  Stephanie Jones, a research professor at the University of Georgia has written that the current system of high-stakes testing might be exploiting child labor laws by creating a system in which students spend up to seven hours in school doing things that might be unethical.  As she sees it, children are the producing workers in the school system whose production of test scores will be used to reward the people above them—-their teachers and administrators, and indeed the superintendent of the school system.  Go ask Beverly Hall about this.

As Dr. Jones points out, Child Labor laws were enacted to prevent children from working under conditions of stress and long hours.  Sending them to school was one way to prevent business owners from using children during the day.  Now, schools seem to have taken over.

Psychological Abuse

Joyce Murdock Feilke is a 30 year veteran school counselor in the Austin, Texas independent school district (AISD).  On October 15, 2013 she filed a “Report of Psychological Abuse in an AISD Elementary School,” and sent it to Senator Jane Nelson of Texas, and the Committee for Health & Human Services.  The superintendent of AISD was Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who was hired to begin the superintendency of the Atlanta Public Schools in July, 2014.  According to reports that I have seen, there is evidence that Dr. Carstarpen covered up the abuse, and then after a month simply denied Joyce’s report.

Joyce Murdock Feilke wrote in her report about the psychological abuse of students at an Austin elementary school.  She begins by saying:

During the past 30 years as a school counselor, I have observed a steady decline in the elementary school environment.  This decline has resulted from complex reasons, but primarily from the obsession with statewide testing and corrosive school politics.  Children in most elementary schools of Texas are being forced to function in an environment of chronic stress.  Chronic stress is known to change brain chemistry in children and can lead to mental illness.  Many of these young children with genetic predisposition to autism and other neurological, sensory, and developmental delays are experiencing chronic traumatic stress and will suffer even greater psychological harm.  The demands for high-test performance ratings are causing these children to be exploited and experimented on as if they were caged mice in a science lab.  They are being psychologically abused on a grand scale that will impact the mental health of future generations (emphasis is mine).

The New 3 R’s System of Behavior Control

Feilke has exposed a system of teaching that uses punitive methods of behavior modification (now called Applied Behavior Analysis {ABA}) in Title I schools in Austin, Texas.  According to this veteran educator, a new system of 3 R’s (The Right Resources, The Right People, and the Right Systems) using behavioral engineering was initiated by a former structural engineer who became principal in the AISD.  The 3R’s model is applied in elementary schools with large populations of minority students.  Ms. Feilke provides insight into the 3R’s model.  She says:

The New 3 R’s System of behavioral engineering that AISD is celebrating and perpetuating uses the same methods of punitive classic conditioning that are known to enslave children for child labor and sex trafficking, and for obedience training for dogs and zoo animals.  It is the same dysfunctional system that kept the black culture of the South submissive to oppression for the hundred years after the Civil War.  It is the same dysfunctional system that led to the Nazi Regime in Germany prior to WWII.  The New 3 R’s System has the same sophisticated dysfunctional dynamics and abuse of power that can be observed in every poisonous pedagogy that has ever woven its way through history.  It can be observed in families, cults, and countries.  It is efficient, and it does result in high performance, but at the expense of great psychological damage to its victims.

The 3R’s was effective in raising Title I student test scores, so much so, that the district expanded it into other schools.

But the 3R’s systems, according to Feilke, is punitive.  It creates chronic stress in students, resulting in

desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination, loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation.  However, the most destructive effects of this psychological abuse will not manifest until the children reach their teenage years, or early adulthood.  At that time, their conditioned emotional repression from victimization of institutional bullying and positive/negative ambivalent role modeling can lead to mental illness and criminality.

Punitive System of Teaching

Using qualitative research, Feilke documents specific examples of the effects of this punitive system on students.  As she points out, the teacher/caregiver dominate the class environment using punitive classical conditioning to “shape” behavior.  She makes the point here, when she expresses what happens to kids in this kind of classroom:

This poisonous pedagogy has been demonstrated throughout history to produce efficiency in human systems and gain desired performance, but at the same time repressing vitality, creativity, and emotions in children.

Imagine your child coming to school and you ask, what did you do today?  Well, at lunch, because I didn’t finish my work, I was told to stand up in front of everyone while the principal said I was bad for not finishing my homework.  I felt awful.  Some of the kids snickered at me, but Shane put her hand on my back, and said “don’t worry.”

Here is how Ms. Feilke describes the effect of this kind of behavior control on children:

Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria.  Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them.  Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims.  This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders.  By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”.

There is more to this story, and I’ll follow-up later this week.

For now, I wish to thank Joyce Murdock Feilke for being such a courageous educator to take the risks to expose the dehumanizing pedagogy that was used in elementary schools in Austin.  After her superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, (who is the new Superintendent designee for the Atlanta Public Schools ) denied her report, Joyce resigned her position in the Austin USD in protest.  She said this in her letter of resignation:

I have attempted to speak up and advocate for children in AISD who are most impacted by this invalidating environment and dysfunctional administration. It is my goal to continue speaking up. I am submitting my resignation as counselor in order to pursue this advocacy without retaliation from an administration that does not recognize or respect the needs of children, or the rights of professionals who work to support and help them.

Joyce’s documentation of the injustices that prevailed in these schools was also published on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog (Cloaking Inequities) and Diane Ravitch’s blog.  If you go to Cloaking Inequities you will find 99 comments in response to Joyce’s letter to Senator Nelson and the HHS Committee.

Do Some Charter School Models Use a Pedagogy of indoctrination?  What are your ideas?

Give Us Charter Schools, Or We’ll Amend the Georgia Constitution

In the November 2012 election, citizens of Georgia will vote (charter school amendment) to re-establish the State Charter School Commission which will have the power to create charter schools anywhere in the state, even without local school board approval.

A few days ago, Dr. John Barge, Georgia’s State School Superintendent broke ranks with the Georgia GOP and announced that he opposes the charter school amendment on the November ballot.  Barge, who is a Republican and former teacher, previously supported the state’s right to create charters.  Now he’s changed his mind.

Governor Deal is mad.  The Georgia House majority whip is really angry.  And a host of other GOP legislators are quite mystified.

Give us charters, or….

This is not the first time I’ve written about the charter school controversy in Georgia.  Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

I want to revisit the issue again to put into perspective this issue that is facing educators, school boards, and the citizens of Georgia.

Context

In 2009 and 2010, seven Georgia public school systems (Gwinnett, Bulloch, Candler, DeKalb, Atlanta, Griffin-Spalding, and Henry) filed a constitutional challenge to the 2008 Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act.  The districts contended that the act was unconstitutional because it violates the “special schools” provision of the Georgia Constitution of 1983 which includes the principle that only local school districts can establish schools.  In the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act, the state is authorized to create competing State-created general K-12 schools.

In May 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox, ruled that charter schools must be approved by local school boards of education.  Many legislators and charter school lobbyists were not pleased by decision of the court to neuter the state commission on charters.  During the 2012 legislative session, GOP legislators submitted a bill that would  avoid the court’s decision by making an amendment to the State’s constitution.

In March, 2012, the Georgia legislature passed a bill (HR 1162) that amends the Georgia State Constitution by establishing state-wide policy that will enable the Georgia General Assembly to set up special schools that will include charter schools without the approval of local schools.

The Georgia Senate , needing 120 votes, narrowly passed the bill 123 – 48.  Republican senators got three Democrats to join them in the vote.  Three days before the vote, the GOP did not have the votes, but over that weekend, several Democratic senators changed their minds, fearing a back-lash from constituents. This blog contacted each democratic member of the Georgia senate to urge them not to change their vote.

On May 3, 2012, the governor of Georgia signed a bill that will restore the state’s power to approve and finance charter schools without local school district approval. The legislation, however, needs voter approval in November because this bill is a constitutional amendment.  On November 6, 2012, Georgia citizens will vote on the Georgia charter school amendment.  In a March 30 poll by McLaughlin & Associates, 58% of those polled were in favor of the amendment, 23% opposed, and 19% undecided.

Consequences

One of the consequences if the charter amendment passes is the loss of local control of some educational policies.  If the amendment is approved, then the state commission will run a parallel school system that will take more than $400 million from the already stretched education budget in the state.  Money and decision-making are at the heart of the charter school issue in Georgia, not the improvement of education or options for parents and students.

If the Georgia charter amendment is approved it will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold here.. Firms will come in to buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston recently worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

John Barge, State School Superintendent says:

that until all public school students are in school for 180 days, until essential services such as student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not direct one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts – much less an additional $430 million in state funds, the cost of adding seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years.

According to Barge, more than 4,000 teachers have lost their jobs since 2008, and this does not count furloughs.  And today, President Obama is calling on Congress to release billions of dollars in funds to counter the effects of teacher layoffs on student-to-teacher ratios which have risen by 4.6%.

The conservative editorial writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kyle Wingfield charges Barge with turning on the GOP, and of not telling the complete picture of the charter amendment.  You read Wingield’s article here.  Wingfield has it wrong, not Barge.  The charter amendment will open the flood gates to investors who see a cash cow in Georgia.

Last year when the Georgia legislature was debating the amendment, State Senator Doug Stoner, who voted against HR 1162, believes that the charter schools amendment would set up a dangerous system.

He wrote this in his newsletter:

To change the Constitution to create a charter school or any “special school” favored by current or future state bureaucrats, and forcing local school districts to accept such schools would set up a very dangerous system that clearly violates the concept of local control. I cannot support such a state government mandate, especially when the legislative majority has slashed local school funding by more than $1 billion in recent years.

Locally elected school board members across the state have spoken out against HR 1162, which comes as no surprise. It is certainly reasonable to ask why the state is creating a new funding stream for charter schools while reducing financial support for other schools, forcing reduced education calendars, elimination of programs and teacher furloughs.

These are decisions that should be made by school districts at the local level, not from a high-rise office tower in downtown Atlanta. The sponsors of HR 1162 say it is necessary to overturn a Georgia Supreme Court ruling against state-mandated charter schools. But common sense says the court got it right. That’s why I will oppose HR 1162 if it comes to a vote in the Senate this week.

Money

According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, “charter schools are touted as the reform model that will boost student achievement by allowing schools to be creative and by having parents, teachers, and the community more a part of the decision-making.” But as you will see below, charter schools simply do not do as better as their public school counterparts, and indeed, students would be better off going to public schools.

But what is odd, is that politicians, from governor’s houses to state legislatures, are willing to “sell off” public entities, and turn them over to other interests. In fact, Michael Klonsky claims that powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over charter schools, and more teacher evaluation largely on student test scores. These moves by the Georgia legislature will result in the overall weakening of Georgia Public Schools. Pushing teachers to the sidelines, and moving corporate interests into public education is a huge mistake.

Corporate interests? Yes. Behind this move to make it easier to set up charter schools are for-profit charter school organizations who are ready to move in and use state and local funds to manage charter schools. In some states, new charter schools receive start up funds at a time when public schools are having furlough teachers and administrators to try to meet the budget.

According to a report by Dick Yarbrough, charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling. He wonders why, with the Georgia Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, the Georgia legislature is so bent on changing the State Constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission.

As Yarbrough reported, the Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that is nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing in Florida. According to the newspaper report, the charter school industry, is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

In Florida almost two-thirds of charters are run by management companies. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school. And another interesting aspect, is that these management companies own the land and/or the buildings, and then turn around and charge either the state or the local school system.

Research

Although not likely to change the minds of the proponents of charter schools, research shows that charter schools do not fare well when compared to regular public schools.

At the University of Texas, Dr. Michael Marder, Professor of Physics, analyzed data looking at academic performance in all Texas schools.   One of Dr. Marder’s significant findings in his research on educational outcomes is that

Nothing makes sense in education except in the Light of Poverty.

Dr. Marder found that when he plotted poverty concentration in Texas schools and percentage of students in each school meeting SAT Criteria, he found that schools with low concentrations of poverty did well on the SATs, but students from high poverty schools did not do well.  As seen in Figure 1, there is an inverse relationship between poverty concentration and academic performance as measured by SAT scores.

When he looked at the type of school, charter vs regular public school, he found the results to be quite dramatic.  If you look at figure 2, there are 140 charter schools in Texas with 11th grade data.  As you can see in Figure 2, most of the charters form a flat line at the bottom of the graph indicating that except for 7 charters off the flat line, the rest of the charters are doing worse than the regular public schools. Dr. Marder has analyzed data from California, New York, and New Jersey and found that charter schools do not do better than regular public schools in any of these states.

Figure 1. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Colors indicate the percentage of minority students in school. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.
Figure 2. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.

In a second major study of charter schools, we turn our attention to Standford.

In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning. The approach CREDO followed to carry out this study is described here:

CREDO has partnered with 15 states and the District of Columbia to consolidate longitudinal student?level achievement data for the purposes of creating a national pooled analysis of the impact of charter schooling on student learning gains. For each charter school student, a virtual twin is created based on students who match the charter student’s demographics, English language proficiency and participation in special education or subsidized lunch programs. Virtual twins were developed for 84 percent of all the students in charter schools. The resulting matched longitudinal comparison is used to test whether students who attend charter schools fare better than if they had instead attended traditional public schools in their community. The outcome of interest is academic learning gains in reading and math, measured in standard deviation units.

The results raise serious question about the efficacy of charters, and reaffirm the central importance of a strong public school system. The results also are in agreement with the findings of Michael Marder’s study: Failure of U.S. Secondary Schools in Mathematics: Poverty is more important than Teacher quality.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools

Outcome

The outcome of the charter amendment in Georgia will not be known until the evening of the Presidential election.  Polling data shows that the amendment will pass.  If so, school districts around the state should be prepared to challenge the constitutionality of enabling unelected and non accountable appointed bureaucrats to create their own school system.