Is Georgia’s Opportunity School District Plan Immoral?

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Is Georgia’s Opportunity School District Immoral?

From The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP, came a letter from The Nation that I think is crucial as we act on recent actions by the Georgia Legislature and Governor.

The Governor of Georgia, with the backing of both Democrats and Republicans in the Georgia Assembly approved a bill that would call for a change in the Georgia Constitution that would enable the Governor’s office to create a separate and centrally controlled school district composed of so-called “chronically failing schools,” based on an arbitrary score primarily based on student achievement test scores.  The new district would be called the Opportunity School District, which will be a copy of the Louisiana Recovery District, and the Tennessee Recovery District, each of which has resulted in failed attempts to improve education of students in schools, especially in New Orleans.

In Dr. Barber’s letter, he calls for a movement that isn’t liberal or conservative, but based on moral, fusion language (using his term). The Opportunity School District that voters in Georgia will vote on in the November 2016 election is not in the interests of students and parents that will be labeled as attending “chronically failing schools.”  You can read the bill here.

I believe that creating such a district is immoral, and lacks common sense for our students and their parents.  Twenty schools will be forced to become part of the Opportunity School District based solely on student achievement test scores.  After the first year, the Governor’s Office can force up to 20 more schools into the district, for five years.

The plan for the Opportunity School District is based on a “turnaround the lowest-achieving schools” philosophy that is outlined in Georgia Department of Education documents you can find here.  That philosophy is best described by Mr. Ed Johnson as “turnaround delusion.”

Turnaround delusion, according to Johnson, is promoted by reformsters who:

try and manage and control and ultimately standardize the “huge variety of value demand” that shows up at school every school day, mostly in the form of children. They know not to think to learn to absorb the value demand the children bring with them to school. After all, the children are the students, not them. Their delusive decision to turn APS into a Charter System exemplifies the genesis of the kind of failure demand they generate and then try to manage and control through standardized teaching and learning and performance (email correspondence from Ed Johnson, May 27, 2015).

Dr. Barber reports, that in North Carolina,  a movement had already reformed the voting laws before Obama was on the ballot—an interracial, intergenerational, anti-poverty, pro-labor fusion movement that was challenging even Democrats to be more committed to a moral vision.

It was unfortunate that Georgia Democrats in the Senate lacked the moral conviction to vote against the Governor’s bill (Senate Resolution 287).  Instead, some of cast a quid pro quo vote.  Where were the progressives among the state Democrats?

Barber goes on to explain the nature of a movement that needs to take root in Georgia if we are to affect the very nature of schooling for communities that is community based, and not controlled by administrators far from the center of the lives of Georgia students in “chronically failing schools.”

Here is what Dr. Barber says about “a different kind of movement”

Since the social, political, and economic system of slavery was defeated by progressive Northern white families aligning with hundreds of thousands of African slaves and freed people in the South in 1865, The Nation has fought to repair the deep breaches this system created in the human family of the nation. Today, when Southern legislatures have fallen to Tea Party zealots, the need for a Southern-oriented anti-racism mass movement is greater than ever. The Nation will continue to play an important role in building this movement in the South, and explaining it to the rest of the nation.

We need a transformative movement—state-based, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, pro-justice. We need to build for the long-term, not around one issue or campaign.

We need the kind of language that’s not left or right or conservative or liberal, but moral, fusion language that says:

  • It is extreme and immoral to suppress the right to vote.
  • It is extreme and immoral to deny Medicaid to millions of poor people, especially when denied by people who have been elected to office and receive their own insurance through that office.
  • It is extreme and immoral to raise taxes on the working poor and cut earned-income tax credits, especially in order to slash taxes for the wealthy.
  • It is extreme and immoral to shut off people’s water in Detroit.
  • It is extreme and immoral to end unemployment compensation for those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own.
  • It is extreme and immoral to resegregate and underfund our public schools.
  • It is mean, it is immoral, it is extreme to kick hardworking people when they are down.


The Governor’s plan is full of hypocrisy and lacks the moral vision that Dr. Barber calls for, and that a growing number of citizens of Georgia are setting the stage to act on.  On Monday, June 15, there will be a STOP OSD! Coalition Meeting at 1:00 P.M. at the Wheat Street Baptist Church, 359 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312.

Georgians need to unite to defeat the Opportunity School District, and insist that the Georgia Legislature fund schools a levels that will enable local school districts to carry out their own community based plans.


Georgia Legislature Having Difficulty Opting Out or In of Common Core

Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a bill in the Senate (SB 167) that will essentially opt the state out of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts and other projects, ideas, technologies that have any glimmer of association with the federal government.   This version of the bill is an anti-common core bill, and is supported by a number of anti-common core groups.

The bill then went over to the Georgia House.  Last week, the house committee listened to 68 speakers, most of whom opposed the bill, but those who support the bill will probably prevail in the end.  At this meeting, one of the speakers was State Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge.  He vigorously opposes the bill, and for reasons that are important to the teachers in the state and their students.

The Governor has been a proponent of the Common Core.  However he signed an executive order supporting the common core, but making sure that Georgia will not collect certain information on students and their families.  Then in August, he ordered a seeping review of the Common Core and asked the State Board of Education to “formally un-adopt” some parts of the program.

Today, Sen. William Ligon withdrew his support for SB 167, the bill he introduced into the Georgia Senate.  He’s stated that the revised version of the bill (revised in the House) does not stop Georgia from continuing involvement in the national standards movement.  Ligon has introduced this bill in past sessions, but it never made it out of committee.

Today, the House Education Committee voted against the common core bill, 13 – 7.  If the bill fails, then Georgia’s approach to standards will be the same as it was before the legislators voted on Sen. Ligon’s bill.

So, the Georgia legislature has had a difficult time deciding whether to opt out or stay with the common core.  Right now, the common core is alive and but not well in Georgia.

I support the Education Committee decision to vote against this legislation.  It was not only a bad piece of legislation, but it was so complicated you wondered what Sen. Ligon’s rationale for the bill was in the first place.  But it is clear what his intention was.  He wants Georgia to dump the common core.  But his bill set in motion an everlasting series of committees and public hearings that in the end leave you gasping for breath.

Not Just in Georgia

The Common Core State Standards is not an issue that is being debated just in Georgia.  Here are links to a few headlines to give you an idea of the consequences of the Common Core.

What do you think about the common core?  Do you think Georgia should opt out or stay with the common core?

Unreason and Anti-Science Alive and Well in the Georgia Legislature and is not Unique to Georgia


Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.07.41 PM Figure 1. High School mathematics teacher. Creative Commons Attribution.[/caption]

The Georgia legislature has already passed a bill in the Senate (SB 167) that will essentially opt the state out of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts and other projects, ideas, technologies that have any glimmer of association with the federal government.  The bill is now being considered in the Georgia House.  Yesterday, the house committee listened to 68 speakers, most of whom opposed the bill, but those who support the bill will probably prevail in the end.  It’s an election year, and since the Governor agrees with the basic principles of the bill, other Republicans will line up behind Gov. Deal.

But the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, vigorously opposes the bill, and for reasons that are important to the teachers in the state and their students.  Although I have not been a big supporter of the Common Core, I oppose SB 167, which in my opinion would put the state back years educationally, and the bill sends a ominious message that unreason and unscientific thinking rule the future of education in Georgia.

If the Governor signs this bill, it will set in motion at least three years of committee work while the now adopted standards in mathematics and English language arts are put in limbo because the charge of the committee is to check (including making significant changes) these standards.  In the meantime, it appears as if mathematics and English language arts is on hold until 2016-2017 for math, and 2017-2018 for English language arts (dates that the “revised” standards will be implemented).

Perpetual Committee Work 

The bill sets up an everlasting series of committees and public hearings that in the end leave you gasping for breath.  The committee work (an advisory council of 17 members), whose prime work appears to be to set up subcommittees to check the content areas of the standards.  These committees will meet for a non-specified time, but they must post all changes to the content standards 90 days before any action.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 7.45.53 PM
Figure 2. SB 167 will create a complicated network of committees, authorities, and power brokers rather than employing the professional expertise of the state’s education profession.

But it’s not that simple.  Once these committees have made their changes and posted them on the Department of Education Website, the content standards are sent to:

  1. the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, chairperson of the senate
  2. each of the 181 local school systems who will inform parents of the changes
  3. the president of each public university who will send an electronic copy to appropriate deans and department heads, but none of these deans can be from colleges or department of education, eg. the English standards must go to the English department, the mathematics standards to the math department, and so forth.  It’s a no-no to involve mathematics education or English education professors.
  4. the state board of education, followed by at least one public hearing in all congressional districts
  5. the Senate Education and Youth Committee and House Committee on education will also hold public meetings to gather comments on the standards’ changes.
  6. then, the 17 member advisory council and its subcommittees will check comments made by these groups, and include them its final report–new standards?  I don’t know. But I do know that the Advisory Council and its subcommittees have the discretion to make changes on any content standard, and any state-wide assessment.  Keep in mind, that NO state-wide assessment can be tainted by the federalists in Washington.
  7. then, this modified set of standards will be sent out by courier to the 181 school districts and the presidents of each public university to carry out public meetings once again.
  8. and then the Advisory Council will send the revised content standards to the Georgia Board of Education, who will be authorized to make any further changes and then approve the standards for all the boys and girls in the state of Georgia.  I have no idea how the Board thinks it can make changes to content standards at this stage

So, that is the process that will take place before any standards are approved.

Local Control or State Imposed Prohibitions

Is this bill about local control or is it about state control and prohibitions?  Truth is that in Georgia, the local districts are the only entities that are responsible for the education of its citizens.  But this bill appears to disengage the state from the rest of the world by using language that limits educators from doing their jobs.  For instance, line 225 of SB 167 it is stated that:

the state shall not adopt any federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or by a third party, including, but not limited to the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Currciulum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.

The bill also prohibits us from collaborating with outsiders, and make it difficult for researchers to seek federal support for programs that might enhance education, K-12.  This is my interpretation, but when you study the language of the bill, it is full of prohibitions.  What kind of an academical and social environment does that encourage?

The debate in the Georgia legislature is an unabashed mixture of anti-scientfic thought, junk thought and unreason.  However, this kind of thinking is not limited to Georgia.  Jean Haverhill, and educational researchers in Massachusetts reported that social studies teachers on a state-wide committee prepared curriculum alignment with standards, but their program was shelved for lack of funds.  But then the state turned around and a deal was made to bring in Pearson/PARCC.  Somehow, the funds that were needed to pay for this appeared in the budget.  In other states, the opt out movement is politically charged, as it is in Georgia.

Where is the evidence?

Yet the debate on the Common Core generally lacks any scholarship and related research to enable educators to make informed decisions.  There is no research to support the contention that higher standards mean higher student achievement.  In fact there are very few facts to show that standards make a difference in student achievement.  It could be that standards, per se, act as barriers to learning, not bridges to the world of science.  Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University indicates that the science standards in Georgia actually present barriers to teaching and learning. Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science  classroom teaching.  She argues that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry.

There is also evidence that the quality of the content standards does not have much effect on student performance.  For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.

The argument that is going on in the Georgia legislature ignores the most important and significant factors that affect the life of students in and out of school, then standards of any quality won’t make a difference.

What do think about what the legislators in Georgia are doing to education in the state?




What Every Georgian Ought to Know about Charter Schools



Georgians should be aware that our state legislators are at it again under the Gold Dome changing key aspects of education in our state through the passage of House Bill 897.  The partisan bill affects education in the state in many ways.  The elected officials have decided they don’t like the Common Core Standards language, and have struck any reference to the words quality core curriculum, and replaced them with the term “content standards.”

Although I am not a big supporter of the Common Core, this a political decision not a decision based on research, or facts.  Georgia had adopted the Common Core as part of the 400 million dollars they received through the Race to the Top (RTT) grant.  When Georgia won the competition in 2010, the legislators cheered.  Not now.  Rather than do any research on the matter, they’ve joined with other conservatives around the country, none of whom base their decisions on deliberations based on facts and data.

But that’s only a small part of HB 897.  They also will cut professional and staff development stipends.  A dumb idea given that in the business world, training and development is a key aspect of employee morale and knowledge.  Even though they are working hard to turn education into a business, they forgot to consider what makes the business of education work.

They also just love the idea of a Virtual School.  Again, they plunge full speed ahead without consideration of the research on the effectiveness of virtual schools.  Of course there are positives for offering experiences online, but there is emerging research that shows that virtual schools are not a panacea, for many students not an environment conducive to their learning, and not necessarily more cost-effective.

Making it Easy for More Charters in Georgia

But the part of HB 897 that I want to focus on here how the legislators in Georgia are making it easier and financially helpful to groups that are chomping at the bit to get into the charter school “business” in the state. The chart below (Figure 1) identifies the changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education code of Georgia that pertain to charter schools.  I’ve used the exact language for each charter school change, but have interpreted the meaning using my language.

Figure 1.  Georgia House Bill 897 Charter School Code Changes and What these changes mean to Georgians.
Figure 1. Georgia House Bill 897 Charter School Code Changes and What these changes mean to Georgians.

There are some things that every Georgian ought to know about charter schools.  Charters are probably doing more of a disservice to public education than enhancing the quality of student learning.  But those who are promoting charter schools in Georgia know this, and are using their political power to unleash charters without the research to support their views.

What Was the Intention of Charter Schools?

The first charter school was begun in 1733 in Ireland by the Charter Society to give Protestant education to poor Catholic children.  In America, the first charter school began in 1988.  The concept of a charter school was an innovative idea when it was formulated historically (in the late 1980s by the American Federation of Teachers!).  Albert Shanker, head of the AFT, proposed the idea of charters, and Richard Kahlenberg recounts its origins:

In Shanker’s vision, small groups of teachers and parents would submit research-based proposals outlining plans to educate kids in innovative ways. A panel consisting of the local school board and teachers’ union officials would review proposals. Once given a “charter,” a term first used by the Massachusetts educator Ray Budde, a school would be left alone for a period of five to 10 years. Schools would be freed from certain collective bargaining provisions; for example, class-size limitations might be waived to merge two classes and allow team-teaching. Shanker’s core notion was to tap into teacher expertise to try new things. Building on the practices at the Saturn auto plant in Nashville, Tenn., he envisioned teams of teachers making suggestions on how best to accomplish the job at hand. Part of the appeal of charter schools to Shanker and many Democrats was that they offered a publicly run alternative to private-school-voucher proposals, which they feared would undermine teacher collective bargaining rights and Balkanize students by race, religion, and economic status.

Once a Beacon for Excellence

As Lisa Delpit reminds us, the first iteration of charter schools were to be beacons of what public schools could do.  Teachers were at the center of charter schools, and they would collaborate to design new models of teaching for the most challenging populations.  Dr. Delpit, in her recently published book, Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, says charter schools:

were intended to develop models for working with the most challenging populations. What they discovered was to be shared and reproduced in other public school classrooms. Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs.  Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The charter school movement is a dangerous path for us to follow.  Although charter schools are public, and use tax payer funds, they resemble private schooling in the sense that they are not accountable in the same ways that public schools are evaluated.  Charter schools have boards that are not elected, and often the managing organization is an out-of-state enterprise that swoops in and sets up shop.

As Dr. Delpit puts it, public schools, that were once the beacon of democracy,

have been overrun by the antidemocratic forces of extreme wealth. Educational policy for the past decade has largely been determined by the financial contributions of several very large corporate foundations. Among a few others, the Broad, Gates, and Walton (Walmart) foundations have dictated various “reforms” by flooding the educational enterprise with capital. The ideas of privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, the extremes of the accountability movement, merit pay, increased standardized testing, free market competition—all are promulgated and financially supported by corporate foundations, which indeed have those funds because they can avoid paying the taxes that the rest of us must foot. Thus, educational policy has been virtually hijacked by the wealthiest citizens, whom no one elected and who are unlikely ever to have had a child in the public schools.  Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The charter school movement is in the interests of these foundations, and charter management organizations that control much of the charter school market.

Choosing a charter school for your student is not the same as choosing a glass of milk for your family.  It’s more like making a wrong turn into a dead-end street.

Charter Schools are not a Cure-all for our Students

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 schoolshave not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, and not “partisan think-tanks.” Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and set up charter schools, almost at will. These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees).

Charter Schools Do not Measure up to Regular Public Schools

In a recent 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 I have shown elsewhere on this blog, charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and indeed, students would be better off going to public schools.

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies show that charter schools do not do nearly as well as traditional public schools. 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.

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 much below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.


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 in red; non-charters are grey. 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 in red; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California. He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools. Follow this link to his analyses of charter school data presented as easy to understand visualizations.  The link will take you to a movie in which Dr. Marder walks us through a very large data set that he presents as visualizations.

He analyses the relationship between poverty concentration vs. achievement, and compares regular public schools and charter schools, as well ethnicity.  The image on the left shows every Texas school (regular public and charters) as circles of varying sizes (number of graduates) and color ( fraction of non-white students).  As you can see, and as Dr. Marder has concluded, the there a strong relationship between poverty concentration and achievement.

It turns out that charter schools do not increase student performance on academic tests. In fact, charter schools tend to turn away English language learners, and special needs learners. Most charter schools have created segregated environments, which in the words of The Civil Rights Project, has been a civil rights failure.

Dr. Marder puts it this way:

Unfortunately, in state after state, not only are charters worse on average than regular public sc hooks, even the best of them is not truly exceptional. 

In the movie below (Figure 3) listen to what Dr. Marder found about poverty concentration and achievement comparing charter and regular public schools.  As you will see, very few charter schools, compared to their counterpart regular schools do that well.

Charter schools are an unfortunate trend not only in Georgia, but across the country.  We’ve convinced parents that charters give a real choice for their students, when in fact they do not.  There are choices for parents–they could home school their students.  That’s a real choice.  They could send them to a private school of their choice and it doesn’t matter where you live.  Parents just need the money to do this.  Charter schools were never established to offer choice.  They were established to improve education in local public schools–democratically established schools–that are in the public sphere and are open to all, no restrictions, no favoritism. 

What would you add to this conversation about charter schools in Georgia?  

 Photo of Gold Dome source:


Charter School Data Fuels Controversy in Georgia

Figure 1. In this post we will find out if charter schools do raise student achievement in exchange for more flexibility.   The un-labeled graph plots  public and charter schools in Texas comparing poverty concentrations and % of students doing well on the SAT or ACT. You’ll have to read ahead to find out which schools are the red discs and which are the gray discs. YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED.  Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission.

The Charter school movement has been in  the news recently in Georgia.  The Georgia Legislature is trying to get around the present Charter School law which says that applications for establishing a charter school must be approved by the local school district.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are 133 charter schools operating in Georgia. Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a charter, or contract, with an authorizer, such as the state and local boards of education, or the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  Charter schools receive flexibility from certain state and local rules in exchange for a higher degree of accountability for raising student achievement.  Charter schools are held accountable by their authorizer.

Up until last year if a charter school application was rejected by the local district, it could then seek approval from the Georgia Charter School Commission, and if approved, could get their funds from the local district that rejected them in the first place.

Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox

However, on May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox found that the state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or operate schools that are not under the control of a local board of education.  According to the majority decision, no other government  entity can compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-1 2 schools.  And it further states that local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the primary obligations of the State of Georgia, namely “the provision of an adequate public education for all citizens” (Art. VIII, Sec. I, Par. I.).

The court stated that “commission charter schools” (those established by Georgia Charter School Commission) are created to deliver K-12 public education to any student within Georgia’s general K-12 public education system.  Commission charter schools thus necessarily operate in competition with or duplicate the efforts of locally controlled general K-12 schools by enrolling the same types of K-12 students who attend locally controlled schools and by teaching them the same subjects that me taught at locally controlled schools.

Georgia Charter School Commission v. Local Boards of Education

Right now the Georgia Charter School Commission is unable to establish charter schools on its own.  Charter schools must be approved by local boards of education, re Gwinnett Country Schools v. Cox.

The Republicans in the Georgia legislature were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and has submitted legislation this year to circumvent the court’s decision by changing the State’s constitution.  This will require that the amendment be presented for approval by the citizens of Georgia.

Continue reading “Charter School Data Fuels Controversy in Georgia”