We Should Be Mad as Hell, and Not Take It Anymore from the Governor & His Opportunity School District Plan

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We Should Be Mad as Hell, and Not Take It Anymore from the Governor & His Opportunity School District Proposal.

Why?

The Governor’s Hypocrisy: Charter Lobbyist Pays for Travel to New Orleans Recovery School District.  The Governor claims it is his moral duty to rescue Georgia’s struggling schools by taking them over.  I think he has an ethical problem, and needs to come forward to explain himself.

When the Governor flew his hand-picked team to New Orleans to find out about the cities’ Recovery School District, he forgot to mention that a special interest group paid for the trip.

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Click on the image to go to Empowered Georgia to learn more about how special interest groups will use its funds to support the Governor and his supporters who wish to dismantle public education in Georgia.

The AJC reported that an out-of-state special interest group paid to fly state officials out to New Orleans and Tennessee to sell the Opportunity School District idea. This special interest group spent over $10,000 on luxury hotels, first-class airfare, and fine dining on just one trip.  That’s $10,000.  Many of the parents who send their students to charter schools in the Recovery School District work to try to earn $20,000 to $30,000 per year, and our Governor enables a pro-charter company to spend 1/3 of a families’ budget on their junket to New Orleans.

I don’t know about you, but I’m mad as hell.

What was the Governor thinking?

Or, I’m sorry, he wasn’t thinking.  He was following orders from corporate special interest groups who are bent on dismantling public education in favor of the corporatist model that is plaguing U.S. education.

And that Special Interest Group, StudentsFirst, was formed by Michelle Rhee.  When she resigned as superintendent of D.C. Schools, she formed StudentsFirst which is a political lobbying group that works with legislators to change the laws governing schools and teachers. In particular, it fosters choice and vouchers, and is a steadfast supporter of charter schools.   StudentsFirst pushes doctrines of student choice, charter schools, and the dismissal of teacher tenure.

So, this group sent the Governor packing to New Orleans to find out about charter schools in the Recovery School District and how they improved student’s academic learning in struggling schools in the post-Katrina era.

Oops!

The Governor’s advance team never talked with people in New Orleans who have done research and shown that the New Orleans experiment has not been a raving success.  He doesn’t want to hear this.  All he want to do now is make sure he gets the votes in the House to pass Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still mad as hell.

[Georgia’s] Governor, Nathan Deal, and most of the members of the General Assembly fail to understand that the corporatist agenda they are pushing will do great harm to the education of children and youth. I just don’t know what will move them to realize that education is in the public sphere, much like our state and national parks, forests and wildlife preserves, and should be protected from the corporate privateers.

But don’t expect any protection from Governor Deal and those who accompanied him to New Orleans to “learn” about the Recovery School District.

The 1976 movie, Network, from which I borrowed the lines “mad as hell, and not take it any more,” is extremely relevant today, especially when we think what has happened to American education since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002.  Screen writer Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky‘s (three academy awards for screen writing, including Network), words make so much sense in the context of the Opportunity School District.

The Governor, instead of using research from scholars in the University System of Georgia, bends his ears to corporatists who use tabloid journalism to spread lies about teachers, and American schools.  The only crisis in education is the ongoing invasion by the locusts of corporate reform and their heap of followers.

And finally, as Chayefsky wrote in Network:

I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’

Charter Schools: In Whose Interest?

An Art of Science Teaching Inquiry

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.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Some of the charter bills that have been passed 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 in these states. Firms will come in a 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 worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.

And in this election year, politicians use their place on charter schools to influence voters, and to partner with corporations who hope tp peddle their wares in the politician’s state or county.  Just go an ask Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia.

Myths

In this inquiry, we’ll explore the underlying rationale for charter schools (the rationale has moved from one of true curriculum development by teachers, to a cash cow for charter management companies).  When you look carefully at charter schools, they do not offer the kind of choice they claim in press releases and other public statements.  For example, EmpowerED Georgia, an education advocate group, has identified  8 myths about charter schools. If you follow this link, you will find more details about the myths identified by Empowered Georgia. Here we’ve only identified the myth, and one fact that repudiates or questions charters.

Myths about Georgia’s Charter Amendment

Research on Charter Schools

One of the images that has always impressed is the graph showing the relationship between poverty concentration and SAT/ACT scores for charter schools in Texas (the red dots) and “regular” Texas public schools.  It is clear that nearly all the charter schools (except for just a few) fall at the bottom of the graph, irrespective of poverty concentration.

Charter schools, in general, have consistently underperformed when compared to similar public schools.  And when you see data as shown in Figure 1, you begin to realize that supporters of charter schools simply ignore such research, or have other purposes in mind for the establishment of charter schools.

Figure 1. This graph might be disappointing to advocates of charter schools. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.  Graph by Dr. Michael Marder, University of Texas, used with permission.  For more data like this.

 

The Inquiry

What Should Parents Know About Charter Schools?

Following are some questions that might be considered in this inquiry.  Is there evidence that charter schools don’t do as well as most public schools, and if so, why are so many politicians working so hard to turn so-called “failing public schools” over to charter school management companies?

Here are some questions to consider in this inquiry:

  1. What should every Georgia parent know about charter schools?
  2. Charter Schools are unleashed with false claims and lots of money.  True? or False?
  3. Did some in the Georgia legislature shout, “Give us charter schools, or we’ll amend the Georgia Constitution?”
  4. Is there any credibility to the claim that charter schools are education’s 21st century philosopher’s stone?
  5. Are Charter Schools in Georgia the Corporate Reformer’s Magic Bullet?
  6. If Charter Schools are not the answer, then what’s the question? (by P.L Thomas)
  7. Do some charter and Title I schools use a pedagogy of indoctrination?
  8. What is the charter school formula for financial success by educational failure?
  9. Is the term charter school an euphemism for school choice?
  10. Why do states ignore the research on charter school performance?

 

EmpowerED Georgia Kicks Off Stop Putting Georgia Schools on Shoestring Budgets

Guest Post by Matt Jones

EmpowerED Georgia Kicks Off Stop Putting Georgia Schools on Shoestring Budgets.

Since 2010, EmpowerED, a grassroots nonprofit, has focused on building and growing a grassroots movement of parents, educators, and community members to support public education in Georgia.

This week, EmpowerED launched a campaign called “Stop Putting Our Schools on Shoestring Budgets.”  The campaign is designed to be a memorable and easy way for people to get involved with the education funding issue in Georgia and to make a difference.  With simple shoestrings, EmpowerED Georgia has created a strong symbol for education funding concerns in the state to share with others, especially elected officials.

Here is Matt Jones’ speech which was given December 12 at a public meeting on school funding issues at the InfoMart, in Marietta, Georgia. Two organizations, FACE It Cobb (Funding Awareness Campaign for Education) and EmpowerED Georgia organized the meeting.

Good morning.

We have gathered here today for those who can’t be here – our students. For the over 100,000
students who attend Cobb County Schools and for the over 1.6 million students who attend
public schools across Georgia.

My name is Matt Jones. I have taught for six years in a small rural school in southeast Georgia.
Last year, I was selected as the System Teacher of the Year. In 2010, I co-founded a statewide
education advocacy group called EmpowerED Georgia with parents and fellow teachers.
What motivated us to come together was seeing the negative impacts that the funding cuts were
having on our students – our kids. In Toombs County, our Superintendent also served as our
high school principal, our copier machines were turned off, we were urged to turn off our
classroom lights at lunchtime to save on electricity, and if a teacher was out, fellow teachers had
to give up their planning to cover their classes.

Personally, my local supplement (and that of other teachers) was cut out completely and then
was restored to $0.50 per pay (sodas in the school vending machines cost $0.60). I taught high
school English Language Arts, World Geography and Engineering – all in one year. Last year, I
taught over 280 students and had only a 20 minute planning period during the school day. In my
sixth year of teaching, I barely made more than what I did when I started.

Impact of State Funding

While this might seem dire, the impact that the state funding cuts had on my students was far
worse. Toombs County has been on a 160-day school calendar for four years, meaning our
students have lost a half year of instruction.

I remember my students’ reaction when the 160-day calendar was announced. As you can
imagine, at the beginning of the year most students were excited to get more time off. The story
was different at the end of the year when standardized test scores came back. One of the
students who had cheered at the beginning of the shortened school year was now crying
in class. She came to me and said: “Mr. Jones, I think if I could have been in your class just a
few more days I could have passed my test.”

While this story does not reflect Cobb County’s situation now, it predicts what will happen if
we sit back and do nothing, if we do not speak up for our kids.  Without our action today,
Toombs County and other schools like it will only see their situation degrade further and we will
see Cobb County slowly join them.

$1 Billion Cut

This year, the state cut over $1 billion to Georgia schools and over $65 million to Cobb County
Schools. These are more than just numbers.

Elected officials all agree that students should have access to a 21st century education but the
state is not even fully funding our schools using the 1986 formula.

While many countries are lengthening their school year, over 71% of Georgia schools are
shortening their school calendars. While élite private schools are touting small class sizes, since
2009, 95% of Georgia schools have increased their class sizes. While countries with some of
the highest test scores tend to have the lowest level of poverty, 58.9% of Georgia students are
Economically Disadvantaged and 38% of Georgia school districts are cutting back on services
to help low-performing students.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 5.57.45 PMIt is clear that Georgia students are not being given access to a world-class education.
Looking strictly at the numbers, it is hard to believe that this could be occurring in the state that
we hold so dear.

We hear a lot about Georgia being a place to do business but what business is going to want to
make serious investments in a state that is not adequately investing in its schools? We hear a
lot about supporting job creators but not about supporting teachers – who create all other
professions.

It is no coincidence that those most concerned about the cuts to school funding are the parents
and teachers who witness the negative effects each day.

Challenging the Critics

Though even faced with this reality, the critics continue to find a voice.

Some may argue that test scores have not eroded. These people ignore the erosion of non
tested courses — 42% of Georgia school districts report that they have eliminated or reduced
art and music courses and 62% report that they have eliminated or reduced other electives.
Critics also ignore the constant fundraising of PTAs, the use of local reserves, and the
increased burden on local taxpayers that have blunted the negative statistical effects of the
funding cuts. Teachers are going above and beyond to serve their students with less pay and
fewer resources. Long-term, this is an unsustainable path that will lead to the decline of the
teaching profession and student achievement.

Some may point to administrative bloat as a source for funding. Though school boards and
school leaders must certainly live by the example of shared sacrifice, I would invite critics to visit
my school system’s Central Office. The building dates back to the ‘60s, with window AC units
and administrators who fill multiple roles. Those who put a magnifying glass on the large
administrative costs of a few school systems, ignore the bare-bone operations of the vast
majority. Even critics of Cobb County must admit that you can’t cut enough administrators to fill
the projected $80 million deficit, especially at a time when federal and state mandates continue
to increase.

Still others suggest that local communities should shoulder more of the funding burden, yet
these critics conveniently forget that there was a time when more state support was being
provided without us having to max out the mil. Let’s be clear — it’s the state failing local
communities, not the other way around.


Like the name of the grassroots group in Cobb suggests, critics need to FACE the facts and
FACE reality.

The State’s Responsibility

No doubt, the path to fully funding Georgia’s schools will take multiple avenues and a long-term
plan but we cannot allow the state to escape its obligation and responsibility.

In education, we hear a lot about ‘accountability’. That we need to hold teachers accountable
and schools accountable. Now is time to hold our elected officials accountable.

The State Constitution Says

Georgia’s State Constitution states: “An adequate public education for the citizens shall be the
primary obligation of the state.” More than just constitutional obligation, our state elected
officials have a moral obligation to support our public schools and Georgia’s students.

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This year, I have travelled across the state speaking with parents and teachers. Parents have
told me about buses too full to have enough seats for their children. Teachers have told me
about classes so full that students sit on the floor. Duct taped textbooks, ceiling tiles that
crumble and fall when it rains, and teachers buying their own copier paper. The stories of
desperation go on and on.

We must take the first step in the long but important process of fully funding our schools.
Estimates put discretionary state revenues for this year at $300-$400 million. Parents,
educators, and community members from across Georgia must come together to urge the
Governor and state legislators to ‘Fund Education First’ and put the revenue back into the
funding formula.

We must ensure that the Governor and state legislators do not do the political thing by
attempting to buy votes through the promise of teacher raises, but do the right thing by putting
the money back into the formula, helping both teachers and students.

Putting the revenue back into the formula would begin to lower class sizes, hire back teachers,
roll back teacher furlough days, restore the 180-day school year, and expand electives for
students.

Parents – you must be advocates not only for your kids but for all kids. Educators – you must do
what you do best – educate. Educate the public concerning the issues facing education. For we
know that good schools lead to strong communities.

We cannot afford to sit back and watch as the quality of our schools and the education of our
children erodes. We must stand up and speak up for the more than 100,000 students in Cobb
County and the more than 1.6 million students across Georgia.

We must be their voice.

 

8 Myths About Charter Schools

Empowered Georgia has identified 8 myths as reasons to oppose a charter school law that might go into effect in November. Is your state next in line to follow the chartered school path in Georgia at the expense of public schools–it’s parents, students, and teachers?

Georgia will decide on November 6 to change the constitution permitting an appointed Commission to create and fund charter schools throughout the state without local school approval.  Two years ago, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox that only local schools have the authority to set up schools. As a retaliation, the Georgia legislature passed  a law to reactivate the authority of the appointed Commission to create its own charter schools.  However, in order for the law to take effect, the citizens of Georgia must approve the law.

As the Georgia Supreme court noted in its ruling in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox,

It is thus for this Court alone to decide whether legislation enacted by the General Assembly is inconsistent with the Constitution and where, as here, such an inconsistency has been determined to exist, it is irrelevant whether any rational basis exists for the legislation.

Further the Court recognized that the Commission to create charter schools is appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, and are not accountable in any way either to the parents or the taxpayers.  On the other hand, local school boards consist of members who live in their schools’ districts and are elected to their positions by the parents and taxpayers residing in the areas from which the students are drawn and the local schools taxes are raised.

When politicians talk about charter schools they always pull the choice card.  In their words, charter schools give parents a choice in determining their child’s education.  Even the National Parent Teacher Association has joined in with many politicians by arguing that giving entities (read Georgia Commission on Charter Schools) other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools and therefore supports the

But wait, charter schools run on a set of myths that when analyzed shows that public schools are a better choice for  parents.  But you’d never know that by listening to the Georgia Republican party.

Following is research conducted by Empowered Georgia, an organization of parents and educators, that identified 8 myths about charter schools.  If you follow this link, you will find more details about the myths identified by Empowered Georgia. Here we’ve only identified the myth, and one fact that repudiates or questions charters.

Myths about Georgia’s Charter Amendment

  1. Myth: The State Does Not Have the Power to Approve Charter Schools That Were Denied by Local Boards  Fact: The Georgia Department of Education currently has the authority to review and approve state charter applications.
  2. Myth: Charter Schools Are More Innovative and Flexible  Fact: Charters are allowed to “kick out” students for behavior or academic reasons.
  3. Myth: State Charter Schools Will Not Take  Funds Away from Traditional Public Schools Fact: If the proposed charter amendment passes, charter schools authorized by the Commission will be 100% funded by the state. 
  4. Myth: Charter Schools Are Public Schools Fact: There are many elements of charter schools that make them appear more private than public.
  5. Myth: Charters Serve All Students Fact: Many charter schools use lotteries to avoid qualifying for AYP testing, making it difficult to compare their success to public schools. 
  6. Myth: Charters Seek to Put the Interests of Families and Students First Fact: Proponents of the proposed charter amendment wave the banner of  families and children, while advocating the interests of business interests over students’ interests.
  7. Myth: Charter Schools Increase Student Achievement Fact: Multiple Studies and Reports Call Into Question the Effectiveness of  Charter Schools.
  8. Charters Will Expand Choice and Create Competition Fact: Passage of the charter amendment does not guarantee that charters would be added to areas that have chronically underperforming schools.

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.

And finally, we’d add a comment made by the Georgia School Superintendent, John Barge, who changed his mind and now opposes the amendment.  Here’s why:

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.

What do you think about the Georgia charter Amendment?  Do you think citizens of Georgia should approve or reject the Amendment?