Charter School Bill Passed by Georgia Senate, A Big Mistake

Although HR 1162 successfully passed the State Senate, I stand firm on my decision to oppose it.  I was elected to serve the best interest of the greater good, and this bill clearly does not.  Georgia State Senator Doug Stoner, District 6.

The Georgia Senate was able to persuade three democratic senators to support HR 1162, a bill that would change the state constitution and allow the state to create its own set of charter schools, without  local school district approval or advice.

This is a big mistake.

The bill is a resolution proposing a change to the Georgia Constitution.  The resolution as passed by the Georgia Senate reads as follows:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia so as to clarify the authority of the state to establish state-wide education policy; to restate the authority of the General Assembly to establish special schools; to provide that special schools include state charter schools; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.

Right now, charter schools in Georgia must be approved by local school district boards of education.  This was determined by the Supreme Court of Georgia in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox in May, 2011.

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 submitted legislation in this year’s legislative session to circumvent the court’s decision by making an amendment to the State’s constitution.  That is what HR 1162 is all about.  The Republicans were able to convince three democrats to vote with them to pass the bill.  Now it will be on the Georgia Ballot in the November 2012 election.

Dangerous System.

Senator Doug Stoner, District 6, who voted against HR 1162, believes that the Charter schools amendment would set up a dangerous system.  He wrote this in his newsletter:

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

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

Effects of the Corporate Reform Movement on Science Teaching

If Mayor Michael Bloomberg had his way, he told students at M.I.T. that he would fire half the teachers in New York City, pay them twice as much to teach classes double the current size.  One of the Corporate Reform Movement slogans is weed out ineffective teachers.  Bloomberg’s theory is if we fire half of them, then maybe the quality of the teachers remaining are better than those fired. Bloomberg actually believes that he can make education better by firing half of all New York teachers, and paying the rest higher salaries.

Bloomberg’s comments are the face of the corporate reform model that some have termed the “billionaire boys club.”  For more than a decade, the force of the corporate reform movement has undermined public schools as we have known them, and is attempting to replace them with charter-type for profit schools that can do as Bloomberg suggests, fire at will.

The corporate reform movement has powerful effects on science teaching, and in general, they are destroying public education. Here are two effects.

Erosion of the Profession of Teaching

Stan Karp, in his Rethinking Schools Blog, suggests that corporations are the leading erosive force in demonizing teachers and unions, and undermining any efforts to improve teacher quality and evaluation.  By financially supporting the creation of large data systems and high-stakes tests, the corporate mentality is destroying education by using detached, and impersonal evaluations to determine teacher quality.  It’s effect is to erode the profession of teaching.

Unlike Bloomberg who is fixated on getting rid of bad teachers, Karp is suggesting that we should be developing and sustaining good teachers.

Karp describes a successful model of professional growth as the principle undergirding quality teaching.  He cites the Montgomery County, Maryland Professional Growth Systems (PGS) which is a collaborative system to improve teaching, rather than corporate and state led “value-added” or “student growth” approaches.  Read more here

In the Montgomery Model, which was negotiated through collective bargaining, a clear vision of professional teaching is the basis for the program, test scores are used as one of a host of indicators of student progress, peer assistance and review are integral, and a qualitative approach is used to promote teacher quality.  The Montgomery model has been in effect for 11 years, and has used a peer assistance and review (PAR) for novice teachers, and underperforming tenured teachers.  The Montgomery model uses six standards, which are based on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Five Core Propositions.

A side note:  While I was a teacher in the Lexington School System (MA) in the 1960s, the district implemented one of the first evaluation programs for teachers based on professional growth.  Named the Teacher Leadership Program, a teacher could apply for the leadership program after three years of service.  To do so required that the teacher create a portfolio of work including lesson plans, projects, student evaluations, peer evaluations, samples of student work, sample of teacher innovative products.  The portfolio was assessed by a team of peers and administrators.  If the teacher’s credentials were deemed high quality, the teacher entered the Teacher Leadership Program, and for the next three years, would jump two steps each year on the salary ladder.  At the end of the three years, the teacher could reapply.  The underlying premise of the Leadership Program was to focus on professional growth, and high quality teaching.

Disingenuous Nature of School Choice

School choice is the essence of the corporate reform movement.  The wisdom is that in a democracy parents should have a choice where not to send their students.  For example, it’s believed that charter schools are far superior to their neighboring public schools.  In fact, the law is that if a public school that your child attends has been deemed a failure, “then students could transfer schools, opt to attend a charter school, or receive a voucher to attend a private school.”  In her New Times Opinion article, Natalie Hopkinson explains Why School Choice Fails.   She puts it this way:

The idea was to introduce competition; good schools would survive; bad ones would disappear. It effectively created a second education system, which now enrolls nearly half the city’s public school students. The charters consistently perform worse than the traditional schools, yet they are rarely closed.

Meanwhile, failing neighborhood schools, depleted of students, were shut down. Invariably, schools that served the poorest families got the ax — partly because those were the schools where students struggled the most, and partly because the parents of those students had the least power.

In the mind of the corporate reformers, ignorance is bliss.  Charter schools, the direct recipient of school choice, have consistently not done as well as public schools.  But because of the NCLB Act, schools can be closed based on high-stakes performance testing, and mass firing of teachers is now a reality.  As Hopkinson points out, most of the school closures occur in poor neighborhoods, not affluent communities.   Anthony Cody suggests that this type of educational reform ends up creating turmoil, especially in neighborhoods of high poverty.