Powerful Reasons Why the DeKalb School Board Should Oppose the Druid Hills Charter Cluster

Guest Post by Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, Professor at Morehouse College

This letter first appeared on Maureen Downey’s AJC blog, Get Schooled.  The letter is published with the permission of Dr. Lutenbacher.

My name is Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, and I am a single, white, full-time working mother of two children in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) district, as well as a DeKalb property owner and taxpayer.  One daughter just graduated from Druid Hills High School and my other daughter is a current student at Druid Hills Middle School.

I have been a teacher for almost three decades and a parent for 18 years.  I have served on the board of the DeKalb charter school the International Community School and on the Board of the tuition-free, private school the Global Village School.

I am writing to express my deep opposition to the possibility of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.


mailAt long last, I have been able to attain information about this conversion charter petition, and I am quite honestly appalled at its brazen attempt to create a privately-run school that is funded with taxpayer dollars.  And, at long last, I have taken the hours and hours and hours necessary to review the petition, as well as the 235 requests and rationales for waivers from DCSD standards and policies.  I am told that some of this information was made available three weeks before the vote was taken in August.  I did not know of that availability and probably would not have been able to review it in time; neither was I able to vote during the narrow voting window.  I can only wonder about parents or teachers who have even more limited access to and time for such investigation or voting.

Since that time, I have also learned that the “vote” taken the second day of school was not in violation of the law, but was certainly in violation of ethics.  Those running the voting were wearing tee shirts sporting the logo of the DHCC.  And I understand that the votes were counted by supporters of the charter.  Furthermore, the location of voting was the site most convenient to the supporters of the charter.

The petition “talks the talk” of accountability and adherence to guidelines, laws, and policies, but its absurd list of waiver requests speaks otherwise.  It places all power in the hands of its own, self-selected governing body, a body that was theoretically “elected” in that incredibly flawed voting process on the second day of school at Druid Hills High School.

I would like to address only a handful of my concerns.


First of all, the petition contains outright falsehoods.  For example, the petition claims that only 5.4% of the students of McLendon Elementary School are ELLs, or English Language Learners.  However, the McLendon Elementary website reveals that 46% of its students are in ESOL classes.  I wonder what definition the DHCC uses to categorize students as ELLs.  Those favoring the charter claim that they used DeKalb County statistics.

The petition also claims that it will follow state and federal laws concerning special needs learners, but its waiver requests demand “flexibility” in fulfilling the needs of students with disabilities.  The petition and waiver documents speak to various methods to best serve students with disabilities, but all of the language allows so much “flexibility” that students with special needs could end up warehoused, or pushed into classes of typical learners (which may be a terrible choice for some), or ousted from the school because of “disciplinary issues.”    Furthermore, if DHCC can somehow mis-categorize English Language Learners at a school, how can anyone trust it to honestly and authentically label and serve students with special needs?

The DHCC waiver requests include waivers for discipline, claiming to use “positive” disciplinary tactics.  That language is all well and good, but when I review the petition and waiver requests, I have deep concern that the DHCC will use its waiver to oust students who do not fit its particular bent, which is clearly toward gifted students.  I am concerned that students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who are ELLs will disproportionately find themselves labeled as “discipline problems,” rather than as children who are true gifts to the world.  They will be removed, so that DHCC can boast of its success.  The process is called “push-out” and it has a venerable history, especially here in the south.  I speak as a lifelong southerner and as a product of public schools in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

The DHCC requests a waiver in terms of class size in order to be “fiscally sustainable.”  This waiver request is an absurdly slippery slope, for once the DHCC realizes the inadequacy of its budget, the class sizes for classes that are not gifted, advanced placement, or otherwise geared toward students with higher test scores—will quite likely balloon, in order to allow the gifted programs to remain small and intimate.

Likewise, the DHCC wants to have full authority and autonomy in transportation issues, including salaries of bus drivers, routes, and accessibility.  I hear the phrase of “fiscal sustainability” in the background there, and I am acutely aware that transportation could easily suffer from budget concerns and become an issue that excludes working class children from attending schools in the DHCC, even though the children would be zoned into a particular school.

Budgetary Ethics

arrow-downIn the same breath that the DHCC requests waivers of all policies relevant to salaries, budget, and personnel, it requests waivers from the DeKalb County School District Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest policies in order to create its own code of ethics.  One need only have his/her eyes open to see that his scenario is clearly a field that is fertile for abuse.

I was not able to find the DHCC budget on its website, for certain links were not functional.  But a friend with access to a hard copy read aloud certain sections, and we realized that there are enormous gaps in the budget—gaps such as guidance counselors and other essential personnel.  We can only conclude that the DHCC intends such budgetary requirements to come from the DeKalb County School District’s budget.

Odd Demographics

I find it also instructive that even though the student body of the cluster is comprised of 80% students of color, the governing body of the DHCC has only three members of color, two of whom do not live in the cluster district and one of whom lives in Gwinnett County; the DHCC claims that these members have a vested interest in the charter by virtue of students who are in the schools “by choice.”  I cannot help but wonder why the DHCC had to go so far afield to find people of color to support its mission.

The petition also clearly states that only faculty and staff members will be hired or remain in their positions if they support the charter petition.  This requirement is abusive and completely contradictory to the ability and rights of teachers and staff members to have open discussion about this important petition.  Employees at the affected schools have already reported intimidation and silencing.

All of the waiver requests and the descriptions in the petition rely upon one central idea: trust us.  The wording of both documents sounds professional, but the waivers and petition are in fact a sieve of loopholes through which children who do not fit the upper class norm will be excluded and harmed.  If the conduct of the DHCC thus far—with its voting procedures that would have been shameful in the worst dictatorships in the world—is any indication of its trustworthiness, then this petition should be quickly and powerfully denied.

The DHCC talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

Filching Taxpayers

This attempt by a primarily upper class group of people to filch taxpayer dollars for an ultimately exclusionary private school endeavor is reprehensible.  For the sake of all our children, I urge you to deny this petition.

10 Ways to Modify the Druid Hills Charter Cluster in DeKalb County, Georgia

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The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., is a corporation that has petitioned to the DeKalb County School Board to convert seven public schools into a charter cluster. In 2010, the Georgia Legislature amended the Georgia code to enable a local board to act on a petition for a conversion charter school for a high school cluster if approved by 60 percent of faculty and parents. According to the law, two elections by secret ballot must be held, one for faculty and one for parents. One election was held on August 13, where about eleven hundred people cast ballots. According to the DHCC, Inc., 93% voted in favor of submitting a proposal to the DeKalb County School Board by August 15-16.   The Board has 60 days to act on the petition, which you can read here.

Two articles about the DHCC were published on this weblog, and you can read them here (about the vote) and here (a critique).   Some advocates of the charter cluster commented on these posts, and generally did not agree with the analyses presented.  But, the comments were well-intentioned, and provided an opportunity to study more carefully the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition.

In this post I am going to discuss and critique the plan to convert seven schools in DeKalb County, Georgia into a cluster of charter schools.  However, my critique will include 10 suggestions that the authors of the petition might consider to truly submit an innovative petition.

The authors of the proposal make the claim that their charter cluster will take an innovative approach which will enable them to raise student achievement.  More specifically

The DHCC supports the legislative intent of O.C.G.A 20-2-2061 to raise student achievement through academic and organizational innovation as described herein.

The Druid Hills Charter Cluster will develop college and career ready students by providing continuous learning pathways for students from K-12.  These pathways will provide a choice of learning models with rewarding instruction, an authentic assessment process, and environments that value parent, teacher, and community contributions to the education of all children. (DHCC. (August 2013). Druid Hills Charter Cluster. In Petition. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from https://docs.google.com)

As I will show, raising student achievement is focus of the petition, and in my estimation, the fundamental problem with the proposal.

The DHCC Petition

The DHCC petition is 75 pages plus appendices.  The DHCC petition is based on the Charter School Checklist, which is required for a charter school petition by State Law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-2063 (2010) and the State Board of Education (Rule 160-4-9-.04).  The petition contains the DHCC response to 76 item checklist of queries.

There are some good aspects to the proposal, but they  are subordinate to the uncritical infatuation with an accountability system based on standards and high-stakes testing, which means the cluster of schools will be focused on accountability measures to meet the bottom-line and that is how well the students do on high-stakes tests.

Professor P.L. Thomas, who has written extensively on school reform outlines what we know about educational reform based on the present accountability system.  In one of his recent articles, Dr. Thomas refers to a research study by Virginia Tech sociologist David L. Brunsma.  According to research by Dr. Brunsma, what we know about charter schools doesn’t work out well for the DHCC petition.  Thomas writes,

What we know now about charter schools: Despite the increased support and funding for charter schools,“charterness” has not been shown to be a determining factor in school quality (when compared to traditional public schools [TPS]), charter schools have produced a range of outcomes essentially indistinguishable from TPS, but charter schools have increased segregation (by class and race) as well as underserved English language learners and special needs students (see annotated research here).

There is a great deal of evidence that the accountability system that has dominated K-12 education over the past two decades has not worked. Yet, in spite of what we know, the Druid Hills Charter Cluster bases its decision-making on the very tools that have been shown not to work.

For example, according the petition, the “DHCC will demonstrate measurable improvement in student achievement over the same school performance levels for the prior year; and measurable improvement in student achievement in the aggregate over the same school groups and subgroups in the County at large.”  Although the cluster organizers have identified a list of innovations that they will carry out, this will be done in the context of raising achievement.

For example, this is how the authors of the petition put it when they talk about goals.  Goals should be:

  • specifically tied to raising achievement and ensuring efficiency and fiscal stewardship
  • can be measured using public data
  • tied to trend data
  • time bound and established for each
  • based on quantitative data over three years

There are other positive aspects of the proposal including the DHCC’s emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), Montessori, and the International Baccalaureate Program, which was established at Druid Hills High in 2004).  There was also a suggestion to partner with the Healthier Generation/Healthy Schools Program.  But again, these “innovations” will be subjected to a standards and high-stakes testing drag.

A word analysis of the document reveals key words related to the failed accountability system that appear repeatedly throughout the petition,  These include achievement (30 instances), measure (50), school choice (21), standards (25), tests and testing (57), Measures of Academic Program (26), Autonomy (20), board (of directors-150), teachers (42).  I find it telling the board of directors is mentioned three times more than teachers.  These words infer that the authors of the petition are steeped in the rhetoric of accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing.

If the DHCC petition was based on research about the effects of charter schools on student learning, the document would include such references and note that charters have not been as effective as regular public schools.  But they don’t.  So, how will this proposal be any different?

Learning should be an exploration into the unknown, and a search for understanding, not something that is done to prepare for another test.
Figure 1. Learning should be an exploration into the unknown, and a search for understanding, not something that is done to prepare for another test.  (Parkes Observatory, Australia).

If they read the literature or even the newspapers, they should acknowledge that there is a trend in the country questioning the use of high-stakes testing.  In Texas, more than 1,000 districts signed on to a letter suggesting that high stakes testing should be greatly reduced.  The Common Core State Standards have created even more controversy, from both the left and the right.  Who would have thought.  And in New York, proficiency rates in English/language arts fell from 55.1 percent to 31.1 percent, and in mathematics they fell from 64.8 percent to 31 percent.  The Georgia Department of Education has adopted the Common Core for all Georgia schools.  What’s going to be the result of this?

The DHCC, if it wanted to make a real difference in the lives of the children and youth and their families that feed into Druid Hills High School, might want to consider some of the following recommendations.  They might seem radical.  But, actually, they are not.  We have to move away from the accountability era.  Here are some ideas that I have modified based on research by Dr. Thomas.

10 Ideas to Modify Charter Schools (or any School)

1. End accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing

All the good in the DHCC petition, such as emphasis on the arts as well as science and math, the implementation of new curricula, the International Baccalaureate program, and the emphasis on community based programing, will be held up to inspection by a failed system of uniform standards and the outrageous dependence on high-stakes testing.  The unfortunate aspect of the accountability era is the focus placed on outcomes, which boil down to performance of students on standardized tests.  It’s as simple as that.

There are six academic goals listed on pages 24 – 26 of the petition, and each one of them will be evaluated by using quantitative measures, e.g. scores on tests, percentage meeting this or that target.  The quantitative tests that are used include Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), End of Course Test (EOCT), Measures of Academic Performance (MAP was rejected by hundreds of teachers in Washington because it did not relate to what they were teaching and they felt it was a waste of time), ACT, Grade Five, Eight & High School Writing Test, ITBS (Iowa Assessments).

And furthermore, the academic goals are not stated in terms of local curricula, but instead are statements of performance on specific tests, which may or may not be based on the curriculum at the seven schools.

And as Paul Thomas puts it,

A growing body of research has shown that the accountability era has failed: “the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself” (Mathis, 2012). A first and essential step to a new vision of education reform is to end the accountability era by shifting away from focusing on outcomes and toward attending to the conditions of teaching and learning—with an emphasis on equity of opportunity.  (Thomas, P., August 19, 2013, What we know now (and How it doesn’t matter), the becoming radical, August 23, 2013, http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/what-we-know-now-and-how-it-doesnt-matter/)

2. Implement a small (low-stakes) and robust measurement system

Instead of the tables of assessments that the DHCC organizers will insist that teachers administer to their students, a better approach would be not to use the assessments listed in the charts shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.  The Formative and Summative Assessment and Accountability Measures in Place for DHCC Students by Grade Level.
Figure 2. The Formative and Summative Assessment and Accountability Measures in Place for DHCC Students by Grade Level.

Instead, researchers have argued that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment system that exists today, and has since 1969 would be a much more powerful way to gather data about the effectiveness of schools.  If you were to study NAEP data over the past four decades, you would discover that there has been a slow, but steady improvement, and a decreasing gap between ethnic groups.  Instead of making every student in the DHCC take an unbearable number of tests each year, the NAEP is administered using a random methodology meaning that not every kid has to suffer through endless testing cycles.

3. Scale back and eventually end tracking

4. Focus on equitable teacher assignments

The focus on teacher quality within the accountability movement has tended to mislead the public about the importance of teacher quality connected to measurable outcomes while ignoring that impoverished, minority, and special needs students along with English language learners disproportionately are assigned to inexperienced and under-certified teachers. Education reform committed to equity must monitor teacher assignments so that no students experience inequitable access to high-quality, experienced teachers.

5. Honor school and teacher autonomy

The DHCC petition states clearly that it wants autonomy, but as I read the document, it seems to be autonomy for a board of directors that might be made up eventually of cronies who self appoint themselves.  There is too much power vested in this board, and it one of the first things that must change.

Teachers and school staff are the ones that need autonomy.  If the accountability system based on standards and high-stakes testing was abandoned, then the autonomy would naturally rest with the faculty of Druid Hills High School, and the other six feeder school faculties.  There has to be a disruption such that the board that wishes to assume power is restricted, and given an advisory position.  The board should not have the power that it has written into this proposal.  All that is being done here is replacing one layer of bureaucracy that already exists with another one, that appears to value power and control.

As Paul Thomas has well stated:

Individual schools and classrooms vary dramatically across the U.S. School autonomy and teacher professionalism are the greatest sources of understanding what populations of students need. The current move toward national standards and tests is inherently a flawed concept since student needs in Orangeburg, SC, are dramatically different from student needs in Seattle, WA.

By removing the failed accountability system from the Druid Hill Charter Cluster proposal, the authors would actually re-invent the original purpose of charter schools–to beacons of excellence.  In this re-invented form, professional teachers would make decisions about curriculum, instruction, and student assessment.  In this system, teachers would carry out a qualitative system of assessment (which would still include quantitative measures), but would rely of their professional decision making to make decisions.

6. Replace accountability with transparency

Individual school faculties would give its students’ parents and citizens in the county a transparent approach in which the public is seamlessly informed about the needs of the students, and how the school is providing evidence that the best pedagogical strategies are being implemented to help students succeed.

7. Address wide range of issues impacting equity—funding, class size, technology, facilities

The authors of the petition are quite aware of the diversity of their community.  If the authors are courageous enough to move away from accountability measures and toward equity, then there is a greater possibility of equity for all students.

8. Abandon ranking

We have a fetish with ranking.  CRCT results each year are published in the newspaper, and it seems that the goal here is to name the schools and districts that are awardws gold medals or gold stars using questionable data.

I’ve written at great length on much of misunderstanding associated with international rankings based on PISA and TIMSS assessments which are given to students in countries around the world.  It may surprise you, but the rankings that we see each time these two organization release their results are based on a national test score average.  Recent research at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark reveals that only 10% of all students that were tested in reading were tested on all 28 questions on the test.  As the lead researcher, Dr. Svend Kreiner say, “This in itself is ridiculous.”  He goes on to say that PISA comparisons are meaningless.  We can say the same about the TIMSS rankings based on national averages.

I’ve reported on this blog, that when these international tests are investigated more carefully, and comparisons are based on important socio-economic factors, the rankings change considerably.

As Paul Thomas writes:

Education in the U.S. has suffered the negative consequences of ranking for over a century. Ranking nearly always distorts data and typically fails goals of equity. Instead of ranking, education should honor how conditions of learning match clearly identified learning goals.

9. Rethink testing and grades:

By re-thinking testing and grades, we have the opportunity to change the interpersonal dynamic between ourselves and our students, and their families.  The idea that a student’s worth in science, or history should be based on high-stakes test scores diminishes the student’s quest for knowledge and self-understanding.  By removing the emphasis on tests and grades, students and teachers can work on goals and evidence of progress.  Student interests can surface as important markers for curriculum and for projects.  But more importantly, by doing this, we create environments of trust between students and teachers, quite unlike the system that we have in place today.

10. One More Thing

In my view, reform needs reform, and I hope that the authors of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster can review their plan, and reconsider the plan.  I would hope that they would abandon the accountability system that relies on standards-based curriculum and high-stakes testing.  And I also would ask the faculties of these schools to look at how the board will be formed, and the power that the board has invested in itself.

Finally, here is link to a collection of articles many of the reform ideas presented here.

This is a personal view, and I invite your responses and ideas on this charter school proposal.



Georgia Charter School Clusters: “Under the Dome”

On August 13, about  eleven-hundred citizens from the Druid Hills area of DeKalb County, Georgia voted on a petition to create the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC).  The cluster consist of seven schools, five elementary, one middle, and Druid Hills High School.  The purpose of the charter is raise student achievement by creating a cluster of charter schools.

A few miles further to the north, a group of “concerned parents” is working on a petition to form the Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster.  According to one report, the organizing parental group decided to put off a letter of intent to the DeKalb County Board of Education until next year.

Figure 1. Druid Hills Charter Cluster Dome: Image Source: CBS News

So, in DeKalb County, Georgia, there are two efforts underway to create charter clusters, or what I am calling charter schools “Under the Dome” (Special thanks to Cita Cook for suggesting the notion of a dome in this context).   These domed neighborhoods will have autonomy from the county board of education, and will have complete and comprehensive power to work out its own business plan, establish curriculum, and hire teachers that meet its own criteria.

The document describing the petition (75 pages and appendices) outlines the rationale and goals of the DHCC.  School choice, teacher policy, high-stakes testing and academic achievement dominate the DHCC.

Druid Hills Dome

I know the Druid Hills Dome very well.  I lived there for ten years, but for more than 30 years I worked with schools, teachers and administrators in all DeKalb County.  Indeed, one of the schools that I had a twenty year relationship with was Dunwoody High School.  Dunwoody was a partner school with Georgia State University’s Global Thinking Project, and under the principalship of Dr. Jenny Springer, Dunwoody participated in more than ten student and teacher exchanges with partner schools in Russia.

Druid Hills High School and Dunwoody High School are outstanding schools, and for years have been important to their respective communities.   Why would this group of parents want to segregate the schools in each cluster from the rest of the DeKalb Schools?  Yes, there is a new school board, and an interim Superintendent, and the county has had problems.  Is now the time to break up the district?

Convincing the board of education to let a group take away schools and land to form their school system is unbelievable.  Imagine.  You get a group of like-minded parents together (mostly white) and decide that creating your own cluster of schools would be in the best interests of all the parents and students under the dome.  It’s a real deal.  Not only do you set up a power-based structure, but you take over school properties owned by DeKalb County.  And it doesn’t cost you a dime.  The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., is a Georgia non-profit corporation, and as such, has already begun a campaign of raising money through its website. The current officer of the DHCC and chair of the Druid Hills High School Council is Mathew S. Lewis.  Mr. Lewis will also become a member of the charter board of directors of the DHCC.

Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.  View as a larger map.
Figure 2. Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster. View as a larger map.

So in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster “under the dome,” some residents have banded together to try and form their own mini-school district, essentially cut off from the larger public school district. When you read the DHCC petition, it is clearly stated that this group seeks academic autonomy, including their own hired staffs, food service, transportation, and financial independence.  Now keep in mind, that the funds to support the DHCC will come from DeKalb County and the state of Georgia.  It is also possible that venture capital will find its way into the dome, and most likely out-of-state investors and “school” reform organizations such as the Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundations will appear.

In time, there will be huge problems when teachers realize that their jobs are at risk. They will discover that in the long run it will be more cost effective for the DHCC to partner up with Teach for America who will supply inexpensive teachers who will leave after two years.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans schools were converted to charter schools, with thousands of employees fired, and then replaced by recruits from Teach for America who have a 5-week program to learn how to teach.  Instead of innovation (I use this word because it is used in the DHCC petition), New Orleans schools were set up to be managed by data and numbers, not critical thinking, inquiry and problem solving.  The DHCC will follow the same path.  The DHCC will test the daylights out of students, and will use data in unsubstantiated ways to evaluate teachers.  This is clearly a set up.  Teachers will be replaced on the basis of faulty data and fraudulent assessment methods.  Indeed one of the tests included in the lineup of formative assessments is MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), the same test that teachers in Washington refused to administer to their students because it was unrelated to their curriculum.  And it goes on and on.  Summative assessments are no different.  There is complete line up of end of course and criterion referenced tests.

Will this be the future for the DHCC?

Is the DHCC a Parent Trigger in Disguise?

Another question I have is this.  Is the DHCC using the “parent trigger” strategy disguised as a cluster of conversion charters?

Under Georgia law, a group can petition to create a conversion or start-up charter school.  Unfortunately, most of the laws on the books were really not written with Georgia students, parents and teachers in mind.  In fact, I asked last year, Why don’t our elected representatives write their own legislation?  Well, it’s because ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes them, brings like minded (mostly Republicans) together, and passes out “model bills” that our elected ones take back to the legislature, put their names on them, and submit them as a bill.  The charter bill that passed in the last session was written by ALEC, and in fact you can go here to read the bill.  Notice that the bill is written so that all that our elected officials have to do is fill in the blanks (with their names, dates, etc.).  That bill was used to strike down a Georgia Supreme Court Decision in the previous year that ruled unconstitutional, a statewide charter authorizer.  The commission on charter schools was reinstated.

In the last legislative session, the Parent Trigger Bill (which would enable disgruntled parents of low-performing schools to fire teacher and administrative staff and turn the school over to for-profit management company paid with district funds) made its way through the House, but was held up in the Senate after some very courageous citizens of Georgia (Empowered Georgia) said, enough is enough.  The people behind the Parent Trigger simply imported the same ALEC bill that had been floating around in California, Florida and Oklahoma.  It comes in many names, one of which the Parent Empowerment Act.  There is no parent empowerment.  The parents are 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.

But here is the problem with the Druid Hill Charter Cluster.  It is being submitted under the law which defines the nature of conversion charters.  It smells like its a parent trigger.  When independent reporters attended the polling site for the DHCC, most of those in attendance where white, and by all estimates, very few teachers were there.  Yet only 18% of the students in the Druid Hills Dome are white, while 61% are African-American, 10% Asian, and 7% Hispanic/Latino.

Is a Charter Cluster the Answer?

Well, that depends upon the question.  In the present age, the question is how can we make American students more competitive in the global market place and how can we improve the academic scores of students on yearly national and international tests (TIMSS and PISA)?  That is the question that most charter petitions use to claim that their approach will exceed the expectations of regular public school students.  Charter schools actually do worse than regular public schools on end-of-year or other benchmark tests used for national assessments.

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.
Figure 3. 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.

Professor Michael Marder at the University of Texas has looked at the type of school, charter vs regular public school, he found the results to be quite dramatic.  If you look at Figure 3, there are 140 charter schools in Texas with 11th grade data.  As you can see in Figure 3, 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.

Georgia has opened the door to the charter management world, and there is no doubt that the DHCC is capitalizing on this moment in history.

If you listen to the politicians and owners of a charter schools, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  You often hear, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn is much more powerful way to improve schooling.

The managers of charter schools do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

Democratic Schools?

Last week I published Dr. Chip Carey’s report on the Druid Hills Charter Cluster election.  In Dr. Carey’s words:

In all the elections that I have observed around the world, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Pakistan, Romania and the Philippines, I have never seen such a sham election within a polling area.

If the election was a sham, then this is evidence that a bogus attempt to manipulate the law, and set up a collection of conversion charter schools using the parent trigger strategy is being made.

What we are observing in DHCC is an un-democratic activity that purports to represent the opinions and needs of thousands of parents and children.  If there is not a broad cross-section of constituents involved in the DHCC, then what we are witnessing is simply another attempt by school choice advocates to privatize public education.

Unless the election is investigated to find out if democratic voting rights were in place for all citizens, then how can a small group of advocates claim to represent, and then later control education in this corner of DeKalb County. A new bureaucracy will be established managed by the DHCC, Inc, with the real decision makers being at the bottom of the hierarchy.

One More Thing

The notion of a charter school, when originally conceived 20 years ago, was an innovative idea.  It was a teacher led initiative which resulted in creative and new approaches to teaching and learning.  The idea was hijacked by corporations who saw the charter school provision as back door into local public schools.  Coupled with the support of conservative politicians and their corporate allies to privatize government agencies and activities, schools have become the target of this effort.  Charter schools are seen as a way to privatize education, and devastate public education as we know it.

The thing is that charter schools do not nearly do as well as regular public schools.  The research reported in this post casts a vague eye on the efficacy of charter schools in fulfilling the promise that charters, because they can run more flexibly than their public school counterparts, will create environments where students will not only do as well as public school students, but out do them on achievement tests. The massive amount of data that has been analyzed by Dr. Marder’s team at the University of Texas, and the results of charter school performance in 16 states does not paint a very pretty picture of charter schools.

In a major study done at Stanford University, the researchers concluded that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school.

Yet, most of our legislators in the Georgia House and Senate refuse to look at the research that clearly shows that public schools should be supported even more than they are now because they not only do a better job in the academic department, but they work with all students.  All families.  Regardless.

I hope that the DeKalb Board of Education reads this post, and questions the legitimacy of the DHCC, Inc. to establish a schools “under the dome.”

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?

Using Students for Politics & Influence Peddling

I was in Augusta, Georgia on Friday and Saturday and during the  local evening news program, there was a TV Ad supporting the Charter School Amendment on the November ballot. The TV Ad was paid for by Families for Better Public Schools, which is chaired by Georgia Republican Representative Edward Lindsey.

The TV Ad features a student at Ivy Preparatory Academy, in Norcross, Georgia.  The video can be seen on the Families for Better Public Schools website.

Representative Edward Lindsey is Chairman of Families for Georgia Public Schools, a “social welfare organization” (according to its website) that is underwriting the campaign to convince Georgia voters to approve the Charter school Amendment. If approved, the Georgia Charter School Commission will be allowed to receive and approve applications for charter schools anywhere in the state, even with out local or the Department of Education’s approval.

This amendment is a political and corporate power play that will result in the formation of a separate stream of charter schools that the state can not afford. A few political appointees will have the power to do this, and they will have little to no accountability.

Lindsay uses double speak in his effort to get this amendment approved. He not only is chairman of the organization that has raised nearly all of its money to support the bill from out-of-state, including a billionaire from the Walton family and thousands of dollars from charter schools operators in Michigan, and Florida and other states. Very little financial support has come from Georgians. Now this is the same man who scolded Georgia’s State School Superintendent for coming out against the amendment, and stating his opinions publicly. He wrote a letter, and actually called Dr. Barge a liar.

Yet Lindsey heads up an organization for the sole purpose of raising money to run ads to get Georgians to pass his amendment. Yes, his amendment. He was one of the three Georgia House members that intro ducted the bill. And, not only that, he’s a member of ALEC, the organization that wrote the charter amendment in the first place.

So, Lindsey and others that support a bill that they claim will give parents a choice in the schooling of their children, actually use children to gain a political and corporate foothold in Georgia Public education. The flagrant use of a student in this ad shows the levels of deceit that those in power will go to convince the public. If this is such a good idea for Georgians, why is almost all of the money to support Lindsey’s idea coming from outside the state?

Georgia already has more than 100 charter schools. Some of the charters are good. Some of the charters are not so good. But the evidence from journaled research shows that public schools are actually doing a better job educating American youth than most charter schools.

It’s time for Georgians to realize that the charter Amendment has nothing to do with school choice for families, but is a slippery way to corporatize public education, and cut the stability of schools as we know them.