Georgia Doesn’t Want the State to Take Over Its Schools by Mercedes Schneider

Georgia Doesn’t Want the State to Take Over Its Schools by Mercedes Schneider

With only two weeks to go, Georgia voters will decide to approve or reject Governor Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, a plan that will authorized a Governor appointed OSD Czar to take over 20 schools/year in Georgia that are on the “chronically failing list.” The OSD plan is based on the New Orleans Recovery School District, which has been in affect just before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

The New Orleans (RSD) has been shown through peer reviewed research that the plan has been a failure (in terms of academic performance, and drop out rates.

The Governor of Georgia convinced enough members of the Georgia Legislature to pass Senate Bill 133, thereby enabling the question to appear on the November 8th ballot.


Mercedes Schneider, Ph.D., is a high school teacher of English in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, located close to New Orleans. She has taught high school not only in Louisiana, but in Rome, Georgia as well.  She is one of the leading thinkers and writers in the field of educational reform.  She is author of three books on educational reform:  A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education (2014)Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? (2015), and School Choice: The End of Public Education? (2016).

I am re-blogging Mercedes Schneider’s post “Georgia Doesn’t Want the State to Take Over Its Schools“, from her blog with her permission. She blogs at deutsch29. It’s an amazing blog.  You should check it out.


Georgia Doesn’t Want the State to Take Over Its Schools by Mercedes Schneider

On November 08th, 2016, Georgia voters will decide whether they will allow the state to take control of public schools that the state labels as “chronically failing.”

The ballot measure, Amendment 1, is vaguely worded– it does not disclose the fact that school districts will lose money when the state takes control of schools.

As Ballotpedia notes, here is the ballot question that Georgia voters will see:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?

( ) Yes

( ) No

And if Amendment 1 passes, here is the language that would be added to the Georgia constitution:

Paragraph VIII. Opportunity School District. Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph II of this section, the General Assembly may provide by general law for the creation of an Opportunity School District and authorize the state to assume the supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools which have been determined to be failing through any governance model allowed by law. Such authorization shall include the power to receive, control, and expend state, federal, and local funds appropriated for schools under the current or prior supervision, management, or operation of the Opportunity School District, all in the manner provided by and in accordance with general law. [Emphasis added.]

The bolded, Georgia-constitution-altering, text above is what Georgia voters will not see as part of the Amendment 1 ballot question text.

However, it seems that word is spreading among Georgia voters, as the October 21, 2016, Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes:

Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District has significant opposition just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.

The results released Friday found likely voters siding nearly 2-1 against Amendment 1, the referendum that would create a statewide school district to take over Georgia’s lowest performing schools.

The poll question revealed more about the proposal than does the ballot question itself, which has been criticized by opponents as misleading because it does not clearly say that the state would take over schools. …

The resulting state charter schools have no access to local school district funding, but charter schools created as a result of Amendment 1 would get those local tax dollars.

Opponents claim the constitutional amendment would harm school districts financially and undo a history of local control over education.

They also say the ballot wording is misleading, since it does not mention that the state would take over schools and local tax dollars.

Only three days prior, on October 18, 2016, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also published a piece entitled, “Four Signs Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District May Be in Trouble,”

One of the four “signs” involves Deal’s trying to sell state takeover of schools as a proven solution for keeping pre-high-school dropouts in school:

In a speech last week at the Commerce Club, Deal made a bizarre pitch for the OSD to an engineering association. Johnny Kauffman of 90.1/WABE-FM reported the governor tried to sell the OSD to the engineers as a way to decrease crime threats to their nice cars and nice homes. The governor said:

Why is it that we don’t have so many chronically failing high schools? Those folks are already gone. They’ve already dropped out. So, their bad test scores don’t show up in those high school scores. They’re already out there amongst us. And one thing about crime, there is an entrepreneurial element to it.

If you think that those who are coming out of bad schools and are dropping out and going to crime are going to only steal from people in their school district, you’re wrong. Those people don’t have anything worth stealing in many, many cases. They’re going to go where people have nice cars, nice homes, things that are worth a criminal’s attention. It’s time that we stop that. It’s time that a young person has an opportunity to see that if you will stick with me, and get an education there are jobs that are going to let you make a decent living and you will not have to resort to a life of crime. I’m passionate about this. I hope it comes through. I really am. I believe we have an opportunity, with all the other good things we have done, we have an opportunity to change the dynamic, not only of our state, but of our nation. Because we can show that people regardless of the color of their skin care about children and their education and if we work together we’re going to make a difference in that regard.

Deal’s argument is meant to tap into the fears of the well-to-do. However, a major problem with Deal’s sales pitch that state takeover will keep students in school is that state takeover of schools in New Orleans did not solve the issue. On the contrary, the decentralized nature of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) actually fosters the ability of students to leave one independently-operated charter school without confirmation of enrolling in another. Charter schools operate as their own little school “systems”; even an RSD deputy superintendent publicly admitted that he “didn’t know” exactly how many students “fell between the cracks” of RSD’s decentralized school “system.”

Given that Deal is trying to emulate New Orleans’ RSD, Georgia voters should be aware of such perils of decentralization, which is sure to come to any state-run setup that is actually an “opportunity” to proliferate charter schools.

Georgia voters should also realize that state takeover is being phased out in Louisiana; beginning May 2017, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) will gradually resume oversight of the RSD schools. Of course, the complication is that OPSB will actually inherit scores of charter schools that will be run by their own independent, non-elected boards but that will have to answer to some degree to OPSB. It will be possible for charters that do not meet their chartering agreements to once again become traditional, locally-controlled schools. However, it is also possible that a pro-charter OPSB will continue to promulgate charter churn as one charter school closes and another takes its place. In short, it is very difficult to convert an all-charter (formally “state-run”) district back into a traditional, locally-elected-board-controlled school district.

If New Orleans is your model, Georgia beware. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it seems you are.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s four “signs” of Amendment 1 resistance also includes the appearance of a proliferation of anti-OSD yard signs as well as an October 18, 2016, joint press event held by Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and baseball great Hank Aaron.

In his remarks, Young criticizes the top-down approach of Amendment 1:

The family values, the traditions that have made us great as a nation, have very seldom come from the state down. They’ve come from people up. And public education controlled by communities is the basis of a continued, growing, creative society.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Aaron as adding, “We have to defeat this. We have to vote ‘no’ on Amendment 1.”

Interestingly, the Young-Aaron press event occurred within days of the NAACP’s October 15, 2016, ratification of a moratorium on charter schools. One of the NAACP’s concerns is the diverting of public funding “to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.”

The diverting of public school funding to charter schools is also a concern in Massachusetts, which has its own ballot question up for vote on November 08th– Question 2– which involves raising the state’s charter school cap by 12 schools each year. As of this writing, 198 Massachusetts school districts have formally opposed Question 2, which has an astounding $32 million in funding behind it to date, almost 2-to-1 in support– and most of it from a single New York-based, pro-charter organization, Families for Excellent Schools.

Despite the heavy spending pushing Question 2, the public isn’t buying it. According to a poll conducted October 13-16, 2016, 52 percent of Massachusetts voters are against Question 2; 41 percent are in favor (the remaining 7 percent are either undecided or chose not to respond).

As for the funding behind Georgia’s Amendment 1: According to Ballotpedia, any ballot committee spending $500 or more must file its first report 2 weeks prior to the November 08th election, which means Georgians do not get to know about any Amendment 1 spending until October 31, 2016.

Even so, it is pretty clear that the Georgia public is already showing a healthy skepticism towards a bleeding of public school district funding to charter schools in the name of “state-run.”

Truth Be Told: Power, Money and the Georgia Opportunity School District

Truth Be Told: Power, Money and the Georgia Opportunity School District

Some politicians not only seek office, they relish in the power that elected officials have once they get there.  There is also a lot of money in politics, and there is money to be made, especially if you have connections.  You know what I mean?

The Georgia Opportunity School District is a politically motivated plan to enable the Georgia Governor’s office to take at least 20 schools per year out of the hands of local public schools, fire the principal and nearly 1/2 of the faculty at each school, and then turn the schools over to a for-profit charter management company which will come in create charter schools.  There is power and money here.  New Orleans did this just before Katrina, and we now know that destroying the public education system was a disaster, and the devil is in the details of recent NAEP test results.

Governor Nathan Deal is at the center of this effort. He adores the New Orleans Recovery School District.  He took a group of cronies on a junket last winter on the dime of a private company that stands to profit from Deal’s Opportunity School District.

Deal has, without any research evidence to support his view, decided that there are schools in Georgia that need to be rescued, and the best way to do that is to copy plans that have been enacted in New Orleans (New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), and Tennessee.  These plans have been shown to be ineffective and have instead ripped the public schools in question from local control, and turned them over to outside charter groups.  In New Orleans, there is documented evidence that the RSD has been a failure.

University of Arizona researchers Francesca López and Amy Olson, using NAEP data, compared achievement between charter schools and public schools. The study compared charters in Louisiana, most of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations (please see “10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter School System Has Proven a Failure, In These Times, August 2015)

Maybe this research was not available to Governor Deal, and the officials at the Georgia Department of Education.

Wrong!

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig collated research in August 2015 from Louisiana authors including Jason France, Mike Deshotels, Mercedes Schneider, Francesca Lopez, and Amy Olson.

In the research reported by Dr. Heilig, Louisiana had the largest disparity in student achievement between charters and traditional public schools.  Most of the charters in Louisiana are in New Orleans.

What was Deal and others in state government thinking when they modeled the Georgia Opportunity School District after the New Orleans’ Recovery School District?

Well, how about power and money.

When politicians such as Nathan Deal use questionable ethics, and little to no research to make a sweeping changes in Georgia education, it is our responsibility to question Deal, and vote NO on question 1 on the November 8th ballot.

The Opportunity School District is a politically charged football that is providing just the kind of outcome that unethical politicians love to have a hand in (and perhaps a hand out).

Questions for the Governor

  • Governor Deal, why don’t you tell the truth about the Opportunity School District?
  • Tell us who is being enriched by your plan, and why is it that your relatives are benefiting financially from the OSD?
  • Will you follow the same plan carried out in New Orleans in which they laid off thousands of staff and teachers?
  •  Will you tell us how the plan will be financed, and how much it will cost the citizens in Georgia?

Give us a shout, or email me at jhassard@mac.com.

Who Are the Elites Responsible for November Debacle Known as the Opportunity School District?

Who Are the Elites Responsible for November Debacle Known as the Opportunity School District? (Amendment 1 on your Georgia Ballot)

The Opportunity School District will be voted on by the citizens of Georgia on November 8.  It is amendment 1 on the Georgia ballot.

A very small number of political elites is responsible for this debacle, and putting thousands of students and their parents, as well teachers and administrators in harm’s way. The leader of the pack is of course the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal.  Deal took a few legislators and the Georgia Commissioner of Education on a junket to New Orleans (on the dime of a charter group that stands to make a ton of money if the OSD passes on the ballot.).  They were wined and dined by elites in New Orleans who convinced them that the New Orleans Recovery Plan was so good, that they must carry out a similar plan in Georgia.

Unfortunately, the Georgia elites are ill-informed, and have disregarded significant research by Professor Kristen L. Buras, Georgia State University.  In one report (Review of the Louisiana Recovery School District: Lessons for the Buckeye State) which the elites should have examined.  The review of the report was published in 2012 by the National Educator Policy Center.  Buras concludes the Louisiana Recovery School District is a plan that advocates the replacement of public schools with privately operated charter networks.  The report, written by the Fordham Foundation is “thin on data and thick on claims, and be read with great caution by policymakers in Ohio and elsewhere.

The elites in Georgia did not read this report.  My belief is that reports that do not fit with their political views are not to be considered.  And indeed, if there is evidence that doesn’t support their view, there must be something wrong with the way the evidence was gathered, or the research on the issue is simply not “settled.”

The House and Senate of the Georgia General Assembly voted on separate bills, and the bills barely passed.  In fact, in the Senate it came down to strong arming two democrats who joined with all the Georgia republican senators, enabling the bill to pass by one vote (38 – 16).  Two-thirds majority was needed to pass the bill.  Who were these elites in the senate.  Connect to this page, and you can see them and read their names.

The Opportunity School District is an opportunity for these elites to tell the rest of that we don’t know a thing about working with struggling schools, the students and their parents, nor the teachers and their administrators.  They have convinced themselves, with the help of their friends in the charter school industry, that they know how to make kids do better on state mandated standardized tests.  And they know better how to work with families of color, and families that are struggling economically.

Instead of working with the State Department of Education, and coordinating efforts with local school districts, Nathan Deal barges ahead and if the amendment passes, he will appoint an Opportunity School District Czar who will work out of an office in Atlanta, and “service” a school district of 20 schools (year 1) that could range from Blue Ridge to Valdosta, and districts in between.

Such an idea pushed by these elites in Georgia is thick-headed, unintelligent, and scary.

You might read this post, and then when you go into the ballot box between now and election day, Vote No on Amendment 1.

 

The Undemocratic Character of Improving Struggling Schools: Hint–Look to the Opportunity School District

The Undemocratic Character of Improving Struggling Schools: Hint–Look to the Opportunity School District

Research reported by William J. Mathis and Trina M. Trujillo in their new book, Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms (Library Copy) does not bode well for state and Federal reforms that are based on so-called “turnaround” strategies.  Yet, in the U.S., because of the requirement that school improvement be in the domain of external threats tied to money and “measured” by standardized student test scores, a democratic notion of public education is slipping away.  Some say it has slipped away only to be replaced with market-based and incentivized charter schools managed by external for-profit companies.

The Opportunity School District, which will be put to the voters of Georgia on November 8, is based on the market-based idea that the best way to save “chronically failing schools” in Georgia is to “reconstitute” 20 schools per year by using a turnaround strategy.  No matter which turnaround strategy is used in the Opportunity School District, it will result in the school’s principal being fired, and a mass firing of teachers up to 50% of those presently employed.  The principal, and teachers will be replaced with other teachers, who will most likely be inexperienced, and not ready for prime time.

Malen and Rice have reviewed the research on the school turnaround strategy and reported in a chapter in Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms.  Their chapter, School Reconstitution as a Turnaround Strategy: An Analysis of the Evidence, should be a wake-up call to politicians (especially Governor Nathan Deal, and the members of the Georgia General Assembly who voted for Deal’s amendment).

According research by Malen and Rice, turnaround strategies are designed to use corrective action, often by threatening or replacing large numbers of teachers and the principal  by other administrators and teachers “who are presumably more capable, committed and collaborative,” (Malen and Rice, p. 99).  Males and Rice have reviewed the empirical evidence about the school turnaround strategy.

Here are some findings from Malen and Rice’s research that are important as Georgia considers altering it constitution to enable the Governor’s appointed OSD Czar to “turnaround” chronically failing schools.

Evidence on the Threat of Reconstitution

Right now in Georgia, a hundred or so schools have been threatened of being “reconstituted” into state-run charter schools.  Yet, the research cited in Malen and Rice’s work show that this threat actually affects schools in unintended ways.  For example, the threat of reconstitution has been shown to have a negative effect on teachers.  Malen and Rice explain that the

stigma associated with reconstitution and the strain on educators in these schools experience may be a disincentive for highly capable and committed educators to work in low-performing schools, and may prompt teachers and administrators to exit these schools (Malen and Rice, p. 105).

Most disconcerting, but not surprising is schools in states like Maryland that have used turnaround strategies for more than a decade have found that only a few schools “come off the list” of low performing schools.

Ed Johnson, an educator and colleague in Atlanta, explains this very clearly.  All schools, say in Atlanta, that are on a list of low-performing schools are insignificantly different in performance from nearly all the other schools in the system.  We keep beating up on so-called “low performing schools,” when, as Ed puts, “we are all in the same boat.

Even with the threat of reconstitution, its ability to improve performance is suspect, according to Malen and Rice.

Evidence on the Application of Reconstitution

Let’s start this way:  Malen and Rice report that the research on schools that have actually been “reconstituted” is limited and mixed.  However, if you listen to politicians in Georgia (an elsewhere) reconstituting schools is a wonderful idea that we have a moral duty to bring to low-performing schools.  I’ve written elsewhere that the idea is immoral and unjust and is a terrible idea.

Now, here is further evidence supporting those that oppose the Opportunity School District.

We have no idea how mass firings affect school performance other than the civil rights of the teachers were violated.  In New Orleans, 7,000 teachers were wrongly fired after Katrina and then if they wanted their jobs back, they had to reapply.  Many of the veteran black teachers of New Orleans were replaced by younger, and white teachers, often from Teach for America, and the schools were converted to charters.  Performance in these schools is no different from it was before Katrina, but the civil rights violations stay, as well as the scars from being treated in such an inhumane way.

Is this what will happen in schools forced into the Georgia Opportunity School District?

As Malen and Rice show, there is little to no research on the effects of mass firings.  Yet, we continue down this path as if it is based on evidence that shows that students improve, or that teachers who replace the fired teachers are any better.  In fact, some reports show that the

newly hired staffs may be less equipped and less committed than the educators they replaced (Malen and Rice)

School performance in nearly all instances is based on standardized student test scores. Malen and Rice report that reconstituting schools has a negative impact on incentives that any potential to improve students performance is suspect.

The strategy of school reconstitution advocated by many states and the Federal government, is highly questionable, and in most cases, a perversion of the democratic notion upon which public school education is rooted.

The undemocratic character that will take over low-performing schools in Georgia needs to be defeated on the November 8 ballot.  Then we need to look at research that supports another approach that is rooted in democratic action.

Vote No on Amendment 1.

 

 

 

Vote No On the Misfortunate School District on November 8, 2016

Misfortunate School District

The Governor and a few elected Georgia legislators–Democrats & Republicans alike, approved a bill that will be voted on in the November 8, 2016 election. If passed, the state constitution will be will enable the Governor to create his own school district.

It will be called the Opportunity School District (OSD).

It will round-up the worst of Georgia’s schools (up to 20 per year) that are classified as being populated with failing students based on state mandated tests.

Opportunity schools can be chosen from any state public school and the district has little to no defense or recourse to be free of this blunder.  They will literally be ripped away from their school district and indirectly wear a scarlet letter on their shirts, signifying failure and a lack of acceptance in their own district, the district that their parents support emotionally and financially.  They’ve lost the democratic right to vote for the school committee that manages their own school.

This is a sham.

The money to pay the charter schools will come directly out of the local school district budget.

The principal and most of the teachers will be given the boot and replaced by the state controlled OSD.

The purpose of these schools will be to drill as much information into the so-called “failing students” so that their grey cells expand” making them ready to spit it out on the paper and pencil test that is now a computerized multiple choice version of the test.

VOTE NO on November 8 on the OSD amendment and tell as many coworkers, neighbors and family how bad this will be for education Georgia’s school children.