Opinion: Georgia school districts ought to take opportunity now to fix schools or risk state takeover

Jordan Posamentier is deputy policy director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

Posamentier works with more than 45 cities pursuing a portfolio strategy for managing their schools systems.

According to the center, “In portfolio cities, families have the freedom to attend their neighborhood schools or choose one that is the best fit for their child. The portfolio strategy supports principals and teachers—those who work most closely with students—and frees them to use their best ideas to ignite student learning. And it presses city and district leaders to support and expand successful schools until every child in the city attends a great school.”

By Jordan Posamentier

If Gov. Nathan Deal’s “Opportunity School District” plan passes this session, a new statewide district will soon have the authority to turn around up to 100 chronically failing schools across the state. But school district leaders don’t have to wait to start doing something to improve poor-performing schools, thanks to flexibilities they have today.

061812downeyedGov. Deal’s plan includes ingredients that have boosted student performance elsewhere in the country: granting schools autonomy and holding them accountable for student success, improving the talent pipeline for teachers and principals, sparking innovation and offering new school options for families stuck in struggling schools.

Deal wants Georgia lawmakers to learn from states like Louisiana, whose state turnaround school system has brought promising student results. Louisiana’s Recovery School District leads the state in student growth, with proficiency rates on annual tests climbing over a seven-year period from 23 percent in 2007 to 57 percent in 2014.

Similarly, in just one year, students in Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District achieved a jump of 2.2 percent in math proficiency and 3.4 percent in language arts from 2013 to 2014.

If Georgia lawmakers OK the governor’s plan this session, the changes wouldn’t become a reality until 2016, when voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment to let the plan move forward.

In the meantime, Georgia school district leaders have the opportunity before them to fix their own schools.

In 2008, state lawmakers required every school system to sign on to one of three operating models by July 2015: the “status quo,” which offers no flexibility from state mandates; Investing in Educational Excellence, which offers districts flexibility from some state rules, like class size, in exchange for signing a performance contract with the state; or charter, the most dramatic shift from the way traditional school districts operate.

Under the charter system (which can include charter and non-charter schools), districts must establish school-level governing boards with decision-making authority. They gain robust flexibility from state mandates in exchange for agreeing to meet certain student performance goals.

School districts may feel reluctant about adopting, much less embracing, any state mandate. But school system leaders should see the charter option as a real opportunity, not just the state’s latest compliance exercise.

Leaders in Fulton County Schools, the state’s fourth-largest school system, have been using the charter option since 2012 and seeing success. With flexibility from state mandates, Fulton County is pursuing a strategy that decentralizes decision-making to its school communities.

Fulton County is part of a growing network of cities (more than 45 cities nationally representing over 4 million students) that are pursuing some variation of the“portfolio strategy,” in which leaders think about empowering schools in new ways. The strategy gives schools more control over budgets and teachers, gives families the freedom to choose from a variety of schools, and presses leaders to expand successful schools until every child attends a great school regardless of their zip code.

Veteran portfolio cities have reaped student achievement gains, improved leader and teacher talent, and have attracted families into their school systems. When New York City launched the strategy in 2003, fewer than half of its 1.1 million students graduated high school in four years. Ten years later, nearly two-thirds did, with African-American and Hispanic students posting the biggest graduation gains.

Fulton County is turning over major program decisions to its schools, tapping proven pipelines for great teachers, and paying the best teachers more to teach in struggling schools. Early results are encouraging.

Community engagement is high, and in recent years dropout rates have fallen (overall 24 percent to 12 percent, and for African-American students, 34 percent to 17 percent), and graduation rates are on the rise (Fulton County Schools in 2014 boasted the Atlanta metro area’s highest graduation rate, nearly 79 percent).

Fulton County is bringing about the change it wants to see in its school district. Other Georgia districts have the opportunity to do the same. If they don’t act, a new district will do it for them.

Reader Comments 0

50 comments
Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

This statement by the author is laughable "gives families the freedom to choose from a variety of schools, and presses leaders to expand successful schools until every child attends a great school regardless of their zip code."
A school is only one third of the education. The other two thirds is up to the parents.
Our priorities we give to our children. Most of us on the North side of Atlanta value education.
Most on the South side of Atlanta value sports.
Look at the NFL and the NBA.
Who is the best?
Now look at the CEOs.
Enough said.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Quick take: YES, it would be preferable for local school systems to "fix" their own schools. Let's not forget that our standard measuring system is nothing more than tests which have NEVER been shown to have ANYTHING to do with students' later success in society. And we know - WE KNOW (the data are the data are the data) - that almost all of a test score (or a pass rate from our embarrassing low bid minimum competency tests) is dependent on - to be crass but accurate - how much mommy and daddy make. SO: when the governor abandons any semblance of conservatism and drives for state control of schools, it is absolutely guaranteed that the state will do nothing more than take over schools that are almost totally populated with the poorest of the poor, regardless of the schools' actual "quality." Not only will they find they fail miserably to help these kids, they may finally discover that the real problem is that kids have a hard time paying attention -or wanting to pay attention - when they're hungry, sick, or have been shot at on the way to school, and the real problem is that our mean-spirited leadership has absolutely no interest in facing the real problems that lead to "poor schools."

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog @jerryeads


@CLASS80OLDDOG


When you look at the schools that are flagged as "failing" they 
have one thing in common; the level of poverty within the school system. You cannot educate your way out of poverty. Yes, there will always be a few anecdotal stories or those who were able to but those are the outliers and not the norm. Until the reasons for poverty and their rising levels are addressed, we will not be able to give these children what they truly need.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@jerryeads Unfortunately, that is not the realization they will come to.  It will be the fault of the teachers mistakenly hired by the OSD, or something similar.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@jerryeads Or the "teacher's unions" in this state that somehow "caused" the "bad teachers" to be hired by the OSD.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@jerryeads " how much mommy and daddy make. "


It is just like blaming poverty - my parents were poor and we did great in school.  It is not the poverty or "how much the parents make"  - it is the REASONS for the poverty and "how much the parents make". Most people in poverty have made very bad life choices - often a teen girl that got pregnant with no husband or other means of support (other than welfare of course).  Or it could be drug abusers.


Wealthy and middle-class parents are most often two-parent households, the parents are smarter themselves, and they have good life habits - punctuality, hard work, and they make their kids work too.


Don't blame the "poverty" - most of these families you could give them a check each month for $10,000 and their children's education would not improve.  Just more money for more drugs.

FlaTony
FlaTony

@class80olddog The effects of poverty upon student achievement and access to quality schools is very evident. Too bad there are too many people who spout the kind of junk you've listed here.


@jerryeads is on the mark with his comments.

ATLPeach
ATLPeach

Discipline is the number one complaint among most teachers I speak with.  Use some of the discipline programs already developed.  Stop blaming the teachers for out of control kids. Move students through the SST program and get them the help that they need.  Next, reduce class sizes.  Classrooms in elementary schools are now at 30 or more.  If you have a school in an impoverished area, you know statistically that those kids tend to start school with a smaller vocabulary.  Many start kindergarten not knowing how to hold a pencil, recognize their name, or even know their birth name (Pookie and Tay-Tay are just some of the nick names I've heard).  Create programs to address these issues.  Don't be afraid to group kids homogeneously.  Some teachers thrive on teaching lower level learners while others do so with high level learners.  End social promotion.  If kindergarten is the new first grade (which I find ridiculous by the way), don't promote them to first grade without being able to read and write.  Lastly, stop with the testing.  Allow teachers to teach.  SLO tests have absolutely nothing to do with student learning.  It's a "gotcha" for teachers.  Now students take more tests than ever before. 


class80olddog
class80olddog

@ATLPeach  "Now students take more tests than ever before. "


All I ever hear about now is testing-testing-testing.  Testing is critical since grades now mean nothing.  I am not sure why we cannot have ONE test in a subject, on the last day of the school year.  Preferable the ITBS.  Of course, you might need a test on the first day of the school year to see if the prior school cheated on their end-of -the year test.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog @Letusteach @ATLPeach My system has yet to figure out how to SST for behavior.  8 years or more in, and we "can't" do it.  And even if we did, there are no BD classes; it still falls all on the teacher AND THE STUDENT'S CLASSMATES.


In fact, my system has systematically, actively done everything possible to avoid testing kids for sped because "we have too many in sped."

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@ATLPeach


I agree that students ought not to be promoted to the next grade until they've mastered their current skill level, and forcing this to happen would also put more pressure on the students and parents to make sure this happened.  I agree with smaller class sizes and homogeneous grouping - I have advanced students in the same classes with students who can barely read, which isn't fair to anyone.


I disagree that SLOs are a "gotcha" for teachers. In our system, the SLOs were developed by the teachers teaching those subjects, and they've been designed so that students will surely show "growth".


The real "gotcha" is the new Georgia tests.  If the GaDOE had really designed those tests to show whether or not the students had mastered the content, and knew what a mastery score was, students who took EOCs in December would not have to wait until next fall to know what they'd scored on those tests - for those who took the computerized version, the scores would have been available immediately.


The fact that scores will not be available until after the state has had a chance to see ALL the scores- fall and spring - then "analyze" the results before coming up with scores tells me that the state wants to see a certain percentage of students pass and FAIL these new tests, so that they can "prove" they are more rigorous. 

historydawg
historydawg

The charter school push by Deal and the statewide takeover of failing schools are theoretically in opposition, though Deal is pushing them both. If the State is the problem, the Charter school claims to enable local communities to escape the ineptitude of state policies and governance. But the Takeover bill assumes that such state policies and governance are a solution to the problem of local communities.  These opposing "solutions," which have been proven as or less effective than the status quo, do make Deal and his educational corporations wealthy, handing over public monies to educational companies with little or no oversight. This undermines the democratic process in local governments and uses our children to make some folks rich. This is not a plea for the status quo. Many rules could and need to be changed. All of these changes should be school and system specific. What is best for a school in Gwinnett is probably different for one in south Georgia. It is sad that a governor can dupe the State into supporting two reforms that offer contradictory solutions to an invented problem, even as evidence shows that both are ineffective.

Letusteach
Letusteach

Personally, I'm looking forward to the state taking over failing schools.  I'd like to see what dark magic they use to turn these schools around that they haven't shared with the rest of us yet.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Letusteach  I am not too hopeful, but if they address these three issues - discipline, attendance, and social promotion - I believe they will make real headway.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Letusteach  Dark magic = address discipline, attendance, and social promotion. ( and I have shared this with everyone constantly - no one ever wants to do anything about these issues - because it is HARD)

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@sneakpeakintoeducation @Letusteach And will make it LOOK like great things are happening.  When pressed about HOW they have accomplished "great things" we are likely to hear crickets chirping, or various buzz words. I'm sure bloggers can identify them.


I am sure that, based on other great ideas our legislature has had, there will be no way the veracity of the claims can be verified.

straker
straker

How much of this involves Republicans pandering to their fundamentalist voters who want strict fundamentalist Christian ideas taught in public schools?

Astropig
Astropig

@straker


The deciding vote for this in the state senate was cast by an African American former middle school principal. 


Just sayin'

HollyJones
HollyJones

@Astropig @straker Who, according to the report I read, was promised funds for university in her district.  A little "quid pro quo" perhaps?  Or "arm twisting,"  whichever you prefer.  

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@straker I notice that many of the fundamentalists are all for spare the rod and spoil the child UNLESS it is THEIR child.  Then there are lots of "mitigating factors."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I am actually looking forward to the OSD, in a sad way.  IF the schools have to keep the basic requirements (cannot throw out or dismiss or repurpose kids into other schools), or fail to serve sped and ESOL.   and IF the schools are held to the same budget the other schools are held to (or less, of course) and IF a stable, dependable, RELIABLE measure is used to determine academic progress (no more manipulating of cut scores, for example, and perhaps testing done by educators from outside the OSD).  It could be a win-win.  IF the OSD works, we can expand its model to other schools whose students are failing.  And IF it does not, well, maybe that will cause a rethinking of what the "problem" is (hint, it is rarely the school).


Class80dog is right about the big three.  In my system, attendance is not much of a problem. Parents send their kids to school, if for nothing more than food and babysitting.  The 5% chronic truants COULD be handled by the court IF THEY WOULD, instead of granting a constant merry go round of second chances, third chances, etc each year.


Promoting kids that have not MASTERED the material COULD be tackled, but without a firm push from the state, it won't be.  Like welfare reform, if mastery were required we would see 70% of the failing students' parents step up and see that their child mastered school material.  This constant remediation that the teacher is supposed to be doing, single handedly. ALL THE WHILE TEACHING THE CURRENT OBJECTIVES, to kids without the needed previous mastery, is NUTS.  A real recipe for disaster.  It holds the rest of the class back, severely, and does not do much to help the students who are behind, who need INSTRUCTION GEARED TO THEIR DEFICITS.


And discipline.  Until we have both

facilities for disruptive students and firm support from the courts, we will continue to have the chronically disruptive kids, who drag half the class with them as wanna-bees, and frustrate the other third that wants to study in peace.  I propose disruptive kids be removed from the classroom and put in alternative, boot camp situations immediately.  These students and their parents would have opportunities to earn their way back into regular classes, but the disruptive students would have a chance to learn other ways of getting attention, and their parents would have the chance to learn child rearing techniques.  This would work if court ordered and supervised.


All this costs money.  But so does doing nothing.


Bring on the OSD!  We want to see this savior!

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Georgia school districts ought to take opportunity now to fix schools or risk state takeover "


Zero excrement, Mr. Holmes!


Of course, the traditional public schools have had the last 50 years to "fix" schools - unfortunately they took the opposite approach and "broke" them.


(in my opinion) They need to focus on three main issues - discipline (get the unruly kids out of the classroom so the others can learn), attendance (kind of hard to teach an empty desk), and social promotion (how can a teacher be effective if 20% of her students are on-level, 20% are one year behind, 20% are two years behind, 20% are three years behind, and 20% are four or more years behind).

EdUktr
EdUktr

Does anyone have an exact count of just how many "promising" new schemes public school elites have floated over the past half century—in their struggle to ward off real reform?

Or in this case to suggest to voters that OSDs aren't needed?

dg417s
dg417s

@EdUktr Why do you not think the OSD isn't another "promising new scheme"?

historydawg
historydawg

@EdUktr The same reforms have been promoted since the Nation at Risk report in the early 1980s. Those leading educational institutions were not in charge of this reform, as they are not in charge now. It makes no historical sense to blame educational elites, when they have not been the decision-makers. But your charge is the more significant historical reality: Since 1957, public school teachers have been blamed for much, beginning with the failure of the American military and scientific communities in allowing Sputnik in the air first. That the public schools are failing is a convenient myth for all those clamoring for power, and one of the most significant reason why our schools cannot be better.

newsphile
newsphile

@EdUktr  Politicians, not public schools, have been the ones implementing requirements/laws for the "promising" new schemes.  Public schools are required to implement whatever the crazy politicians pass into law.  Putting more power into crazy politicians' hands isn't a solution, it's a wilder version of what's been happening in public schools.  The possible solution that has yet to be tried, is letting local districts operate within guidelines to meet requirements.  What we have witnessed these past years is micromanagement by crazy politicians.  That doesn't work in business nor in schools. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@newsphile @EdUktr "Politicians, not public schools, have been the ones implementing requirements/laws for the "promising" new schemes."


Do you REALLY believe that politicians implemented social promotion?  NO, it was the eduocracy - based on "studies" by psychologists and "expert" educators.  So how does having a ninth-grader who is reading on the 1st grade level in a class help him or anyone else?

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@class80olddog @newsphile @EdUktr


Actually, the General Assembly did put a clause into the law that would allow schools to socially promote students who failed the standardized tests, when they put in the state laws to comply with No Child Left Behind.

Astropig
Astropig

I'd personally just love it if the OSD wasn't necessary. Mr. Posamentier is entirely correct here.He seems to be saying that if the districts would do what they should do anyway,no threatened state takeover would be needed.Maybe the looming threat of real foundational change will shake them from their lethargy.The net result is that instead of just one side of the political spectrum looking for ways to improve failing schools,we'll now have two.


Also-Interesting piece on this from the Peach Pundit - http://www.peachpundit.com/2015/03/02/education-lessons-from-post-katrina-new-orleans/#more-73152

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


"The problem is the OSD won't solve the problem"


And you know this how,exactly? Since we haven't tried it,you're just speculating. NO schools have shown improvement despite the naysayers that said "it'll never work". A liberal reform can fail 50 times in the real world and libs want to try it a 51st,but let a conservative propose a change in policy and "it'll never work".


Time for a new,fresh approach.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig Sort of like all those attempts to repeal the ACA, huh?  (comment directed below)

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


Lifted out of context...Actually, 30% of the schools on the list have just begun a turnaround effort. Turnaround takes time. There is no "magic bullet". The worst have closed. Before the RSD,the worst would stay open just cranking out semi-literate students and the staffs would face no consequences.



class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @class80olddog @Astropig " The state has basically forced social promotion on us."


How?  The State made a law that says a student cannot be socially promoted unless the parents, the teacher, and the principal agree that he/she should be promoted.  Unfortunately, the principal has sway over the other two and forces his/her way.  So it is the principal at fault, not the State.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@historydawg @Astropig @dg417s  How long has paddling been taken out of most schools as a disciplinary measure?  Has discipline improved?  How long has social promotion been the common practice?  Has it helped?

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @dg417s So you close a school and what happens to the kids?  They don't suddenly get up to grade level by bussing them across town.  You still haven't addressed the cause of the problem - and the root cause is much deeper than the school.  It is the community.  Until you fix the community, you won't see better results.  I could, for example, reassign all of the staff from Vanderly Elementary (one of the top schools in DeKalb) to McNair Elementary (one of the schools on the proposed list to be taken over) and I seriously doubt that you will see any significant change in test scores - and that's all we're really measuring anyway is test scores.  


Don't get me wrong - I am not saying something doesn't need to be done.  I think we are being very myopic in this solution and we won't see the results anyone, myself included, hopes for.

historydawg
historydawg

@Astropig @dg417s The data is overwhelmingly clear that these schools are worse than they were before, even as the political cabal is changing data to say otherwise in Louisiana. Such will be done here as well, in order to send our tax dollars to private corporations who will run this. Since when are republicans interested in less-to-no accountability in public spending.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @Astropig  "Look at what is causing the problem - look at where the schools on the governor's list are."


If you REALLY look at these schools, I think you will find:


High rates of discipline problems, no teacher support from administrators to get the thugs out of the classroom


High rates of absenteeism - the failing kids in particular.


High rates of kids that are two or more years behind grade level - but have been promoted anyway.

historydawg
historydawg

@Astropig @dg417s This "turnaround" plea is another mark of complete unawareness to the realities of education. Name one educational reform that is given time to work since 1983. None. Because educational reform is nothing more than a tool of politicians to gain power, get reelected, and, in Deal's case, reward corporate contributors. No reforms are ever given "turnaround" time. Please ask a math teacher in Georgia. Because the turnaround is not what the decision makers since 1983 have wanted. They want to control the narrative and siphen the money away from children. Astro, if you knew anything about how these reforms work, this would make sense, but your ideology will not allow the facts to matter.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig The problem is the OSD won't solve the problem.  Look at what is causing the problem - look at where the schools on the governor's list are.  High poverty.  High transcience.  Lack of stability is the huge problem.  What is the OSD going to do to solve that?  It isn't.  Will the ballot language be like it was for the charter school amendment?  "Let the state take your school away from you and give it to the governor's crony to run as he sees fit with no accountability to the taxpayers?" should be the language, because honestly, that's what will happen.  I'm not saying that something doesn't need to be done, but honestly, will it be presented to the voters like it is or will they present it like they did 3 years ago with seemingly harmless language that didn't tell the whole story?  If we really cared about these students, we would invest the necessary resources to help stabilize the communities and the schools would reflect that change.  Instead, the hypocrites of the GOP who preach local control will instead seek to seize it for the highest bidder.

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog @dg417s @Astropig Wait wait wait wait..... who says that these kids have to stay in the classroom - the state does.  We have compulsory education from age 6 to 16.  Do you think administrators or teachers really want these disruptive students in the class?  Do you think teachers want students in class that far behind?  The state has basically forced social promotion on us.  They make it very difficult, if not impossible to retain the child.  The state has caused many of the problems and now it wants to take over?  Seriously?