Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District: How to get it right

downeyart0309Eric Wearne is a faculty member in the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education and a founding board member and current board chair of Latin Academy Charter School in the Atlanta Public Schools.

He wrote this piece for the AJC Sunday Opinion section.  I wanted to share it here as Dr. Wearne raises excellent points.

By Eric Wearne

Gov. Deal’s call for a statewide “Opportunity School District” is a welcome sign that creative solutions are under consideration by Georgia’s leadership.

While the governor’s call has promise for helping students languishing in unsuccessful schools, there are many moving parts. It would be very easy to conceive of and implement an OSD badly and both do harm to local governance and fail to improve student achievement.

A few themes that would help Georgia’s OSD:

A clear purpose – beyond test scores. Simply looking at something like CCRPI or Milestones scores would be an extremely ham-fisted way of determining which schools will be taken out of the control of their locally elected boards. This shift of power is an important and delicate decision. In determining how a school could be put into the OSD, the reasons should go well beyond tests (perhaps to include graduation rates, college enrollments, parent input, etc). Creating choices for families, rebooting school cultures, and eventually relinquishing state control to successful new local leaders – these are moves that stand a chance of succeeding in the long run. If Georgia can implement these, better test scores will follow, as has happened elsewhere. If the OSD simply focuses on test scores for their own sake, successful new school cultures won’t be built. We’ll get neither better schools nor better scores.

Humility on the part of the state. Under No Child Left Behind, the state had a mechanism for intervening in consistently low-performing schools with prescriptive rules. The OSD’s purpose should be to focus on quality, however that might creatively be achieved, rather than to dictate new rules for these rebooted schools to follow. Neerav Kingsland, former CEO of New School for New Orleans, wrote that “The RSD leader must humbly acknowledge that a marketplace of school operators will, over the long run, outperform even the best direct-run system.” And again, as new operators are recruited to restart schools, local desires for what schools should look like should be given significant weight – parents care about more than test scores. Local leadership may be lacking in some places, but local input – however messy and uncomfortable – still has value.

Accept and expect only the best for Georgia. Entities similar to the OSD in New Orleans, in Tennessee, and elsewhere, have recruited organizations such as charter management organizations to restart schools. Georgia’s OSD could do this as well, and would do well to note from the beginning that while some CMOs are successful, others are not. The standard for giving someone control of a school must be extremely high. One component of an OSD that might be especially valuable is a Georgia-based charter school incubator, whose purpose is to recruit talent and to produce leadership for schools in the OSD. An entity that is specifically set up to train charter school leaders from within Georgia could help attract potential school founders from the areas of the state housing our lowest-performing schools, and could also attract talent to those areas from around the country (talent that is currently heading to cities like New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville).

Every student deserves the best schools we can give them. As Gov. Deal argued in his State of the State speech, liberals cannot defend trapping children in failing schools, and conservatives cannot argue that every child currently has the chance to compete on his or her own merits.

Implemented properly, an Opportunity School District could both improve the school market and protect many of our most vulnerable students.

Reader Comments 0

44 comments
RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

One think is irrefutable- the status quo is unacceptable.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@RoyalDawg


We have had reforms thrust on our schools for the past 20+ years and despite their huge failings for the students, they are still pushed on us. Why do you think that is? Because private companies, especially the testing companies, are making billions by these failed policies. Yes, I agree, time to stop the status quo of failed reforms. Invest in our public schools and make them stronger.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Maureen, I am going to use this thread to compliment your outstanding column in Sunday's paper on this subject.  Thank you for pointing out, in that column, that you do not understand why Gov. Deal must travel to New Orleans to observe excellent schools when there are excellent schools close at hand, such as the one you mentioned in Gwinnett County, Georgia.


The answer, imho, is simply political.

Antagonist
Antagonist

Charter Schools are a great way to avoid educating the at-risk students in the public schools.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Antagonist Come visit my charter school. Almost exclusively at-risk population, including previously adjudicated, expelled, long-term suspended, returning dropouts, low reading levels, pregnant/parenting, special education, English language learners. You name it, we've got it--and we aggressively recruit at-risk kids and welcome all comers with open arms and a loaner laptop if they don't have one at home.

Antagonist
Antagonist

@DrMonicaHenson @Antagonist  I applaud you school! This, however, is not what is happening in my area. I hope your school becomes the model for the at-risk across the state.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@DrMonicaHenson


It is praiseworthy that you are offering an alternative educational opportunity to these young people, Monica.  Best wishes, Mary Elizabeth

Cere
Cere

Well, maybe this will be Druid Hills next plan of action if the annexation falls through..

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

Choice DOES provide better educational outcomes. Right here in Atlanta, Georgia, Drew Charter and Kendezi are both charter schools teaching low income blacks and they are kicking butt and taking names. Those schools are solid houses of education. The public schools that served these kids were miserable. Now, these kids are getting a real education because the parents had A CHOICE.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Betsy Ross1776

As I said previously, most charters (83%) fail to provide the better or excellent educational outcomes than their local neighborhood school. Many schools systems and schools are left in turmoil after charter schools fail to educate everyone (cherry picking, making an application process long and tedious, putting obstacles in the way that a certain percentage of the population would never be able to meet, not providing transportation). Many charter schools start up as non-profit but they employ for-profit management groups that leech money away from the classroom instruction and then refuse to open their books to the state because they are classed as a private entity. Charter schools have been known to employ many underhanded tactics like using a management company to buy real estate and then rent it back to the non-profit school at a huge profit to themselves. How do we keep them accountable for the tax-payers money that is being handed over to them? Where will the oversight be? Who gets to decide how much or how little oversight is allowed? You don't think these companies will be lining up at the gold dome to donate money to the very people who will give them this power?


Choice was the word of the day when the schools in Chile were privatized and now they are in turmoil and has been disastrous for the students there. This is what happens when the backbone of our democratic society (public schools) are put in the hands of non-elected officials and privateers. 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation @Betsy Ross1776


Once again, Astropig, you try to deflect. Not a made up number at all. 


http://www.educationjustice.org/newsletters/nlej_iss21_art5_detail_CharterSchoolAchievement.htm



Here is their direct quote 

"The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found in a 2009 report that 17% of charter schools outperformed their public school equivalents, while 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and the rest were about the same."


CREDO should be a worthy enough research group for you and they are hardly classed as left-leaning. 


Makes me wonder why you are always so ready to refute truth but provide nothing to back up your snarky comments and insinuations that I am being untruthful.





Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation @Betsy Ross1776


"As I said previously, most charters (83%) fail to provide the better or excellent educational outcomes than their local neighborhood school."


An absurd, made up number. This is why its so satisfying to beat these people and win the public over to charters.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@DrMonicaHenson @sneakpeakintoeducation @Astropig @Betsy Ross1776

]

I would also say that it seems to me that charter schools tend to save money by paying teachers less and not providing the same benefits that teachers receive in public. Unfortunately, the CEO's usually make a whole lot more money than a school principal does. When you consider that adding multiple charter schools will incur multiple CEO's rather than one superintendent, it hardly seems the model of efficiency. Also, many charter schools game the system by employing family members at high paying positions or start up management companies that are for-profit to provide educational materials and services at exorbitant rates. Unfortunately, until charter schools agree to full transparency and for-profits are prohibited, I cannot agree with their existence. Our public schools open the doors to all while some charter schools game the system by cherry picking students and putting obstacles in the way to make it impossible for some parents to even apply. Also, when they claim 100% graduation rates, what they don't share is the attrition rates or that they "counsel out" the students they know won't graduate and send them back to the public schools. They do this after the seat count which means they get to keep the money they received for the pupil even though that pupil is now sent back to their neighborhood school. This is another issue that needs to be rectified. 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@DrMonicaHenson @sneakpeakintoeducation @Astropig @Betsy Ross1776


Unfortunately, this is a totally unbiased piece of research; bought and paid for by the Walton Foundation who is known to be one of the top proponents to privatize education. When you are told to provide research to prove your agenda, it's hard to take seriously. When charter schools aren't public schools? When they go to court to prove that they are private and not accountable to the tax payers. 

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@sneakpeakintoeducation @DrMonicaHenson @Astropig @Betsy Ross1776 It's not out of the realm of belief that the Walton Foundation supports the University of Arkansas, as that's the state where the foundation is based. Coca-Cola, IBM, Delta, and Georgia Power all have donated tens of millions of dollars to the University of Georgia--does that make any research generated out of UGA "bought and paid for"? Bill and Melinda Gates have also donated more than ten million dollars to UGA--does that make Jerry Eads a shill for Bill Gates' education reform ideas? Hardly. My source is the public list of corporate and individual donors to the university. Your logic is false. In the blog you cite, the author himself states, "Note: This is not a “research” site. This site contains random thoughts, playing around with data, responses to ill-conceived arguments and poorly presented data and the occasional reference to or summary of actual research on education policy and finance."

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@DrMonicaHenson @sneakpeakintoeducation @Astropig @Betsy Ross1776


His findings were also confirmed by a professor emeritus at ASU


http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2014/08/review-productivity-public-charter


All good points that you raised regarding the millions to billions of dollars donated by billionaires like  Gates and The Walton Foundation but we know that they use their money to buy and influence policies and pay for research to back up their quest to privatize our education system. To refute this is to be naive. Unfortunately, they efficacy of the report is tainted and cannot be taken seriously. 

jerryeads
jerryeads

Ah Astro - I'd love to live in a world as mindlessly simplistic as yours.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Where is the proof that these things will improve educational opportunities for our students? It's not there because it doesn't exist. The "success" of NO has long been proven to be an unmitigated disaster.


http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187949/charter-schools-flood-new-orleans#.dpuf

http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/the-dishonest-case-for-the-new-orleans-school-reform-model/

http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/11/20/365282978/are-nola-schools-failing-students-with-disabilities


One of the ways in which NO is portrayed to be a success is that they have raised their letter grade from a D to a C; not so. There is no improvement if you understand that all they did was lower the pass threshold to make it appear that there has been improvement. 


The first school district in the country, Muskegon Heights, was turned over to a for-profit charter operator and is a complete failure:


http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/16/1299969/-The-For-Profit-School-Experiment-Failed-in-Muskegon-Heights#



Where is the proof that choice provides better educational outcomes? Why is the governor demanding that the public give up their democratic right of electing a school board and having another level of bureaucracy that is controlled out of the gold dome? And who by? His friends and cronies? What about the local communities who don't want a charter thrust into their neighborhood school? What about the charter operators who pay their CEO's large salaries and their teachers below the local rate? What about the charter operators who can't cut it or leave because they don't see a "profit" in the students? What about adding another level of bureaucracy that will invite corruption via lobbying and political donations? What about investing in our schools and the children? Who is behind the push for the idea that charters can improve education when it has been shown that 83% of charters do no better, or much worse, than the local neighborhood school.



To those who are on this blog talking about this as an opportunity for children of poverty, we know you cannot educate your way out of poverty. Nothing else changes for these students when you bring in a charter operator. They still go home to an empty house, they still come to school with an empty stomach, they still won't have the support they need at home for a variety of reasons....  We know how to help children in poverty but, unfortunately, the few supports that are given in the way of food stamps or access to healthcare are being eradicated or prohibited by our Christ loving conservative politicians. 


When Finland decided to improve the educational opportunities for students it sure didn't think that passing government schools over to for-profit charters was the way to go. We know what success looks like when we look at Finland; not the outliers we frequently see here. Finland provides support mechanisms outside the school because they understand that a child will not be ready to learn if he is hungry, unhealthy, cold, unclothed etc...


Of course, that would make too much sense; follow the path of success rather than what is being shown to be unsuccessful programs elsewhere in our country.

Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation


Maybe if you would cite some unbiased,non-union controlled information,it would be a little bit credible. This is just bitter NEA spam.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation


Again, you can provide no proof; only straw-man arguments with nothing to back it up. Very interesting. In the country I was born, we would say you are all mouth and no trousers!!


Another example of the "choice" system you are a proponent of is Chile, It is a disaster and who have been the victims; the students. Putting our schools into the hands of private operators and profiteers is not the answer. Taking the democracy our of our public school system is not the answer. Adding bureaucracy to our schools is not the answer. 


Need more information on Chile;just google Professor Mario Waissbluth and you will find some invaluable information on the disastrous results from the privatization of Chile's public schools.

Cere
Cere

@sneakpeakintoeducation  I totally agree. Social programs need to be seamlessly intertwined with schools. Children need an enormous support system if they don't have it in the home. I am shocked at the people who simply turn their backs on children from questionable homes and simply attribute their lack of success to their lack of good parenting.  Ignoring the problems will never make change. 


I have long advocated for social support programs for children - at libraries, public parks, churches, schools - after school care, etc. In fact, I have proposed creating a program that pays for poor children to attend a real, sleep away summer camp for a week or two every summer - an experience that creates a real boost in children's growth, health and well-being. 


Sadly, in my county, DeKalb, the school system leaders and county leaders do not even have dialogue about the well being of our county's children. Or anything else for that matter. They only focus on jobs - for adults.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation


Instead of spouting the usual union stuff, why not provide proof that this is backed by the unions you so love to hate?  The first source is from Kristan Buras, who is an associate professor of education at GSU. She has just published a highly acclaimed book about the NO disaster. Her work is peer-researched. Where is your peer-researched proof?

jerryeads
jerryeads

Well done, colleague. The evidence would suggest, however, that there's little reason to expect private enterprise to somehow flip schools for the better. The profit margins are such that they appear to encourage cost cutting rather than development of superior service - which means, on average, worse education rather than better. There are many ways to deflate footballs in education for a long time before anyone notices - when it's too late.

And: During my far too many years working for state agencies I frequently started workshops or presentations with "Hi, I'm from the state and I'm here to help you." If I got a laugh it was likely to be a fun day, but if all I got was silence I knew my predecessors had sucked any chance for humor out of my audience. My guess is it's not likely that even if Deal put sufficient resources into the effort (har-de-har-har), the state agency would or could change local education for the better.

While we're at it: Creating "choice" might well provide some parents the opportunity to at least hope for something better. The real problem is that likely would even further segregate the schools between the haves and have-nots. One might ponder the unintended consequences of even further expanding the gulf between them - our history suggests that we'd even further defund the schools for those who for whatever reason are at the bottom of the socioeconomic pile.

Astropig
Astropig

@jerryeads


A few facts:


1) The wealthy already have school choice.

2) The upper middle class already have school choice

3) The middle class is turning to school choice by budgeting,sacrificing and generally working a little harder and some of them are availing themselves of choice. They are also getting politically restive because they see groups 1 and 2 (above) getting farther and farther ahead of them economically.

4) Teachers have school choice. They can move about to any school or system that will have them.If a school (or system) is FUBAR,they can pack up and leave. And in my county,they have academic choice-No matter where they live,their kids can attend whatever school they can get them to in the morning.

5) Administrators have school choice- (See 2 and 3,above)


Who doesn't have school choice?


1a) The poor. 


There is a group of people in groups 1,2 and 3 trying desperately to help the poor join their groups.But because some (different) people would benefit from those who benefit now, lots of people in group 4 and 5 are doing their best to keep group 1a right where they are.

Mirva
Mirva

This whole Opportunity School Plan is predicated on the belief that somehow the right “school” will change the outcome of a whole student population.  Somehow, the right superintendent, visionary principal or magical teacher will overcome all the hardships and deficits disadvantaged students bring to school with them.  For one year, if the whole student body of Crim or Westlake or Southwest Dekalb High School traded with the whole student body of Walton, Lambert or Northview, what would happen?  What would change? Suddenly, all the teachers at Walton are now labeled “failures”?  Did they suddenly lose their teaching ability? Suddenly all the teachers at Crim are brilliant and talented?   It’s not the building, the principal, the teacher or the drinking water.  


dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Mirva You are spot on, as our current approach of using the same teaching style for all students is clearly failing.  Its like telling car buyers you have 3 options - small 2 door, sedan, or truck.  That's it, make one of them fit your specific needs....


But if a subset of Crim, Westlake, or SWD students were put into an environment targeted as closely as possible to their learning style, perhaps we would see improvement.  And the teachers were given tools (and support re classroom mgt) more appropriate to the specific students.  


It's worth a shot, imo.  

Astropig
Astropig

Some pretty good starting points.I would simply add that I personally would like to see an unbiased report card promulgated by a disinterested third party on charter school performance on a regular basis.Set the metrics,choose the referees fairly and give an honest assessment of the performance of the schools that are brought into existence.The whole point of setting up charters is to encourage success and shut down failure,so keep the evaluations on the up and up so that they can be trusted.


Amazing how the argument has shifted on this in the last few years. A great time to be alive.

newsphile
newsphile

@Astropig   I, too, would love to see an unbiased report, just not sure who would be in a position to produce it. Everyone, from the governor on down, and including out-of-state "experts" and "educators", already have their hands in the education budget.  There are far too many "experts" who spend more effort on  getting the funds than on solutions to the issues. 

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Astropig Take a look at the University of Arkansas study I cited, above. That's an unbiased group.

BroadwayJoe
BroadwayJoe

What great thoughts and suggestions.  There are two absolutes in my opinion.


1.  We must allow the state to step in and change the reprehensible educational outcomes for far too many of our children.  For the state to continue to sit idle, waiting for school districts to change these outcomes, falling victim to the status quo saying "we can't do better for our students until we get more money", will only see tens of thousands of children remain in poverty.


2.  An "opportunity school district" is half the answer.  As Dr. Wearne notes, a very deliberate effort to groom future leaders, attract strong organizations, and to educate communities is imperative if the opportunity school district is to be successful.  


We have so much potential before us.  Will we do the necessary planing, organization, and execution to realize this "opportunity" for Georgia.

EdUktr
EdUktr

Nationwide, there are an average of 300 students on the waiting list of each charter school. And surveys show that a majority of Americans want more choice for parents and their school age children.

Legislators—please lead the way in bringing real education reform to Georgia.