Former Tennessee teacher on state takeover plan: Don’t do it. Kids and schools lose.

In a letter to lawmakers, a Georgian who taught in Tennessee shares her unhappy experiences with the state takeover model there.

Gov. Nathan Deal is proposing a Georgia takeover program modeled after the New Orleans Recovery School District and the Tennessee Achievement School District. The House Education Committee will vote on the governor’s proposal Monday.

kidsonpencilsTeacher Emily Garner says the Tennessee ASD sent students who did not work out back to their home schools. Charter schools that opened as part of the ASD bled money from the existing schools, she said.

Garner’s letter to lawmakers may earn a bit more attention than other teacher missives; her father is Wayne Garner, a former legislator who headed the prison system in the 1990s and is now mayor of Carrollton.

Dear Mr. Speaker,

I sent the following letter to the members of the House Education Committee and to Gov. Nathan Deal. I also wanted to share my experiences and concern for the students in our state with you.

As a native Georgian, I am always proud to call Georgia home. From May of 2007 until January of 2015, I resided in Tennessee, with the constant desire to return to my beloved Georgia when the time arose.

From September of 2011 through December 2014, I taught in an inner-city school with a free and reduced lunch population of 98 percent. For three years, I poured my heart, soul, bank account, and time into teaching my students how to think, how to reason, and how to believe in themselves, in hopes that even one could escape the grip of generational poverty.

During my tenure in Nashville, I saw the effects of the Achievement School District at my school. Students in our zone were granted admission to many of the ASD charter schools, but when their behavior and learning progress was not up to the standards of the ASD, they returned to us. The funding that was transferred from the traditional public schools to the ASD for those students, however, was not.

In addition to the transient nature of our population due to the charter schools and the nature of poverty, teachers were told to teach one set of standards while students were assessed over another set of standards. This caused a drop in our achievement, which meant more opportunities for ASD to take over.

This led to the most tumultuous four months of my professional education career, and one of the most tumultuous times of my life — a life that has included childhood cancer and a sudden loss of a sibling five years ago. So, please know that when I say those months were miserable, I do not say so lightly.

While our school made gains even though our students were not tested over the material we were instructed to give them, the growth was not fast enough. Not only was the test reliability not taken into account, neither were the everyday struggles of teaching in poverty.

Each day, teachers in low-income schools have almost insurmountable odds to overcome when teaching their children. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that a person’s self-actualization goals (like learning) cannot be met unless their physical and emotional needs are met. Teachers in poverty spend much time and many resources feeding their children, helping their children learn to socialize safely, and making sure their students feel safe.

Once that is done, then the learning can begin. Unfortunately, students in poverty also come to school with huge deficits in vocabulary. Hart & Risley (1995) have found that children from lower SES children are exposed to one-third of the verbiage and vocabulary that children from higher SES families are exposed to. Even more studies have shown that children who are behind in vocabulary acquisition in first grade have difficulty closing the gap between themselves and students from higher income families. Each year, the gap widens and becomes harder to close.

As you know, vocabulary development and knowledge is paramount in every subject. With Common Core, it is even more crucial for students to understand the meaning of word parts such as roots, prefixes, and suffixes in order to comprehend the complex texts that we require them to work with.

If the ASD had been widely successful in Tennessee, then I would not feel so compelled to send you this plea. Tennessee has recently discovered that the ASD has mismanaged funds. The ASD is now seeking to recruit higher achieving students from lower-income schools to come to their schools to help increase their achievement data.

Where does it stop? Where is the place for traditional schools? Many of the charter schools I have visited treat students like pieces of data. They are not interested in helping the whole child succeed and develop. They are interested in producing numbers to keep money flowing.

In January of this year, I returned to Georgia and took a teaching position with a different population than I served in Tennessee. The fight to keep my school open for our students had worn me down. My love and compassion and desire to work with my students in Nashville did not die, in fact, I still ache to be with them.

However, I am in much debt over my master’s degree I attained after my first career. I opted out of the alternative routes to certification that many charter school teachers are a product of because I wanted to be sure that I understood the foundations and pedagogy of education. I have amassed student loan debt and debt from student teaching. Combining that with the hopelessness the ASD left to me and my colleagues made me think that I did not actually like teaching.

I have been teaching in Georgia for about six weeks now. After the first week, I realized that I do love teaching. I love facilitating learning for many learning styles and differentiating for my students. I even love Common Core.

These last few weeks have been an incredible respite and time for me to recharge and refocus my passion for bettering the lives of young people. To hear that my beloved state might be heading down the slippery slope of an Opportunity School District crushes me. I fear we will find ourselves in the same boat as Tennessee.

When we reallocate our resources away from traditional schools, our schools will fail. Then, students will be rezoned for other schools. If the real issue, which is generational poverty, is not addressed, then it’s a long chain that will eventually lead to Georgia’s education system changing over to the hands of corporations and business people who are not experienced in the philosophy and best practices in education. We will drive away passionate and talented teachers who only want to see every student succeed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and thank you for the sacrifices you make to serve our state. Your job is not easy, and I know the strain it puts on your family and your emotions. You are appreciated.

 

Reader Comments 0

99 comments
EdUktr
EdUktr

“Dollars should follow pupils, through a big expansion of voucher schemes or charter schools. In this way, good schools that attract more pupils will grow; bad ones will close or be taken over. Unions and their Democratic Party allies will howl, but experiments in cities such as battered New Orleans have shown that school choice works.”

—The Economist magazine, 1/24/15 http://tinyurl.com/o5xasle

I've posted this before, but this marks at least the tenth time Maureen's attacked this reform experiment ...


EdUktr
EdUktr

@Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr

Did you also see this part ...?

“Many schools are in the grip of one of the most anti-meritocratic forces in America: the teachers’ unions, which resist any hint that good teaching should be rewarded or bad teachers fired.”

         —The Economist magazine, 1/24/15 http://tinyurl.com/o5xasle

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr @Quidocetdiscit


Yes, which is why I mentioned it being more of an 'opinion' piece.  That type of broad sweeping, over the top rhetoric is the mark of an Op Ed. 

EdUktr
EdUktr

@Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr

The Economist closely follows education both here and in Britain, where most of the same issues are debated. 

And they obviously see things differently than you.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr


Also from that article:  


“It is also because its education system favours the well-off more than anywhere else in the rich world. Thanks to hyperlocal funding, America is one of only three advanced countries where the government spends more on schools in rich areas than in poor ones.” 



Are you also willing to admit to the underlying assumption made in this article?  That there is an inherent inequality in educational funding and resources which benefit the wealthy? 


Based upon the following quote from you, I would say not: 


“Poverty is the education establishment's latest excuse why a half century of schemes and bogus "reforms" haven't raised test scores. Comparing Atlanta with Shanghai shows that prowess in math or reading—has little to do with per capita income.”



Although I do not agree with much of which is written in this article, (it as more of an “opinion” piece than the result of actual research backed with factual information), I do recognize that the article’s call for expanding voucher programs and charter schools stems from the acknowledgement of the inherent inequity in our society. 

Astropig
Astropig

@EdUktr @Quidocetdiscit


There was a good article in Education Post  from a disaffected union member (a former teacher of the year in Minnesota),about how rotten-to-the-core teachers unions have become.


(Money quote)


"Though details may vary on how, teacher after teacher I have met has felt unwelcome in union spaces. There are teachers who don’t see the union taking action on issues that are most important to them, not supporting district leaders who speak up with concerns about kids of color, who don’t see a place where they can advocate for those issues without being treated like they just don’t get it yet or like they don’t belong. Young teachers are talked down to. Teachers with new ideas are treated like they just don’t understand the old ones. If they keep talking, they are shouted down and pushed aside. If they take their voices elsewhere then their integrity, honesty, motives, and histories are questioned.

…It may not be apparent to those whose beliefs line up perfectly with the union narrative of teacher experience, but for those who don’t it is striking how often conversations, meetings and events assume opinions as known truth and move on (after taking a few potshots for cheap laughs at anyone who may think otherwise). When a person or organization holds their truth so firmly as the truth, they are going to lose people, which is just not acceptable from an organization that is supposed to represent everyone.

…I’m worried. Worried for the union and for the potential it may not reach. There are good teachers doing good work in unions, but their numbers are a tiny percentage of total teachersUnion involvement, especially among new teachers and teachers of color, is at a critical low. I don’t think those groups are anti-union or afraid of the extra work, but are told to listen more than they’ve been asked to speak. The work I see in unions is more “how do we convince everyone we are right,” and less, “what are we doing wrong that so many teachers aren’t here?”


It's a pretty long piece,so here is the link to the whole article. If you are a young teacher, it's a cautionary tale about how you will be treated by the fossilized remains of what was once a pretty good set of ideals.


http://educationpost.org/teachers-cant-wait-build-perfect-union/#.VQ61_vnF8Yl




Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig @EdUktr @Quidocetdiscit


Sounds like an interesting article, and I will read it at some point.  However, I also want to point out that many younger teachers do not join the union also because they have not been around prior to union protections, and do  not realize how much the union HAVE done for them, plus many of them do not stay in the field long enough to feel the need to join.  In addition, many teachers teach in non-union states and thus do not really have the option.


I suspect there are many problems with the teacher unions - some of which you have touched upon.  However, my approach is less 'toss the baby out with the bathwater' than let's fix what is wrong with unions.  See, I have worked in union and non-union states and I know what can happen 'without' any union protection.  I do not see getting rid of the unions as leading to vast improvements.  Rather, I see it as a step that some wish to take so that they can turn the whole teaching profession into a high turnover, cheap hire, babysitting service with no benefits, no pensions and no professional voice.

bu2
bu2

@Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr 


Atlanta doesn't have any shortage of funding.  Hyper-local funding means the big office buildings support inner city schools in districts with lots of DINKS, empty nesters and retirees.  The same is true for the large urban areas around the country with large poor populations.  And because of federal funding, poor schools in those inner city districts get more than the better off areas.  In DeKalb, those schools, as of a couple of years ago, were getting 11-12k per student.  The better off schools were getting 7-8k.  Those numbers were directly from DCSS.


The limited funding is in poor inner suburbs and poor rural areas.




Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig @EdUktr


Unions may,at one time,have served some purpose in our economic system,but the goals that they used to pursue have pretty much been obtained and they are no longer needed.But like any number of programs aimed at "eliminating hunger,poverty,inequality" etc, there are legions of parasitic union goons that would never give up their power,sinecures and influence as long as there are gullible sheep just begging to be sheared.


Some of those sheep bleat here on a pretty regular schedule.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig @Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr


Astro.


Do you really HONESTLY believe that when we take away unions all those changes that have been put into place will stay in place afterwards?  I rather doubt it, judging from how employees are being treated in the non-union private sector and how non union workers all across this country are being treated.  Heck, we even have politician suggesting we get rid of child labor laws!

gactzn2
gactzn2

Interesting there would  be a push to denigrate public schools post recession.  There are population changes and shifts here in the metro area, and Atlanta is not anywhere close to what it was before the recession.  People move where the jobs are.  Many middle class Georgian's who lost jobs moved other places where they could work and make salaries close to what they were prior to the recession.  Georgia is creating jobs- but the question is are they jobs that create middle class citizens or promote an underclass as many struggle to even get back into the job market.  Our students will always reflect what is going on within their communities- economics included.

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 People who don't have jobs, or have low paying jobs move to where the inexpensive or free housing is. People also move to where they can make money without a job.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik I agree- but the abundance of available housing is a result of original owners moving away due to the recession- I know too many who have done so.

popacorn
popacorn

@gactzn2 'Our students will always reflect what is going on within their communities- economics included.'


DeKalb, THIS is your problem. 

EdUktr
EdUktr

Poverty is the education establishment's latest excuse why a half century of schemes and bogus "reforms" haven't raised test scores. Comparing Atlanta with Shanghai shows that prowess in math or reading—has little to do with per capita income.

With K-12 education, it's time to think outside the box.

But you'll never hear this column endorsing any such thing, of course. Its perspective remains that of the teachers' union bosses—not that of mothers forced to send their children off each morning to neighborhood schools they know are failing them.

HallcoTeacher
HallcoTeacher

@EdUktr You claim to be a former Georgia teacher as though that gives added weight to your comments. (Yet you speak of "teacher's lounges" and union bosses as though they actually exist in Georgia.) 


Tell you what... you give your actual name and a specific description of your teaching experience and I will do the same. I can do that because I believe in honesty and courage, even in anonymous posts. Whether it is here, on my blog, on Facebook or any other social media I assume my colleagues, my bosses and my students' parent might read it.


So, put up or shut up.

redweather
redweather

@EdUktr On the contrary, poverty is an inconvenient fact that people like you simply refuse to recognize, and it won't go away any time soon.  So all of your so-called reforms will either have to take it into consideration or lie about it.  Pretty sure I know know what you would do.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@HallcoTeacher @EdUktr

If talk of failing schools hits a little too close to home for you, imagine being a family trapped in one.

popacorn
popacorn

@EdUktr They can't imagine a family trapped in a failing school because they themselves are trapped inside of the thinking box...can't think out of it if they had to. 

EdUktr
EdUktr

@HallcoTeacher @EdUktr

Most of us with past or present ties to the system post anonymously on this blog. And all taxpayers are shareholders, regardless.

But if you wish your name and work site to go on record ...

gactzn2
gactzn2

@EdUktr @HallcoTeacher Failing schools  have been around forever and those who could succeed did. In the past, public schools benefited from strong discipline policies and families valued education.  Now we want to create "NEW" schools with the ability to have strong discipline policies that are currently denied to public schools- among other things. Charters must be held to the exact same standards as any other public school if they are to merit any respect from me.  You take all and teach all- just like public schools! More than likely, if a student is trapped in a "failing" school, it is typically a reflection of the economic issues endemic to that community. 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@gactzn2 @EdUktr @HallcoTeacher


Re; Eduktr


I found an interesting article today in which a supposed educational advocacy group are paying people to post on blogs to further their agenda of privatizing education. The paid blogger is to write with talking points that they provide and they even go as far as to vet and edit their bloggers comments before posting. Sure makes me wonder whether those who vociferously post the pro-choice agenda are doing so because they are being paid to. 


http://www.alternet.org/education/anti-union-group-studentsfirst-launched-astroturf-campaign-undermine-teachers

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@EdUktr 

The Shanghai students being tested were uniformly from middle to upper-class families, since working class Chinese are not educated past the 9th grade...and Shanghai itself is a prosperous, successful city.  Not at all comparable to the Atlanta students being tested.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@HallcoTeacher @EdUktr

You really are loose with your accusations, aren't you? 

And intolerant of opposing opinion to a degree very unlike the teachers I worked with before retiring.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@OriginalProf @EdUktr

Got authoritative links to back all those claims up? And would they explain the higher test scores in other countries with per capita incomes lower than ours?

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr


You do understand how "per capita income" and "cost of living" factor together, don't you?  Maybe you should discuss PPP or purchasing power parity instead.  


And as I have mentioned before, there has been some serious questions raised about the validity of the data coming out of Shanghai.  I would not be using it to draw any major conclusions about either the US educational system or that of China.  


That is not to say we do not have some serious issues with US educational policy - we do.  But we don't need flawed data from questionable sources to make that case.  What we do need to do is study proven methods of fixing the system, and vouchers and charters have not "proven" to be any more effective than traditional schooling.  In some cases they work, in some they don't.  We need to get to the bottom of why some traditional schools work, and why some don't and what makes successful charters work, etc.  If we can find a common thread, we can enact real change that is based on success, and not cherry picked data.


sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@EdUktr @sneakpeakintoeducation @gactzn2 @HallcoTeacher


My motives are plain and simple; I care about out public schools and protecting them from a corporate take over under the quise of the pretense of "it's for the children". I believe they should be protected, built up using sound, researched-based strategies rather than going down the road of handing our assets to private groups so they can make money.  And Astropig; good try. Are you one too?

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr @Quidocetdiscit


I posted them for you before last time we had this discussion, and you totally ignored them, so why bother repeating the effort?  Something about the insanity of repeating of the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  I have no interest in beating my head against a wall.

HallcoTeacher
HallcoTeacher

@EdUktr, There are only two things that make your highly repetitive and non-responsive posts even remotely interesting. 


1. Those of us with actual jobs wonder how in the world you find so much time to be on here constantly, day after day after day.


2. That you claim to be a teacher while having such negative opinions about public school.


Yours is a case of stolen valor. You are claiming credit for something you are not entitled to raise our opinion of your posts. Those of us who are teachers recognize that, at most, you were a substitute teacher a handful of times... not, by the way, because your opinions are unusual for a teacher. You reveal yourself in small ways, just in the way you word things and details you neglect. Its the same way an actual Marine can recognize a poser, just by the way he carries himself.  


If I am wrong, prove it. (And I will send you one of the Starbucks gift cards I got at Christmas.).


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Governor Deal State of the State speech.


https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2015-01-14/state-state-great-challenges-require-great-cooperation


For fun, let’s replace some words and pretend President Obama made the speech.


"I am proposing a constitutional amendment to establish an Opportunity School District. It would authorize the state/federal government to step in to help rejuvenate failing public schools/failing state education systems and rescue children languishing in them."

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian I take it you like local control of the schools? That only works when the people doing the controlling know what they're doing.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Starik @AvgGeorgian Local taxpayers pay local taxes and have local control. Taking the control, the buildings, and the tax receipts from localities and giving it to the state because the state says "you don't know what you're doing" is wrong. Especially since there seems to be no evidence that the state can solve the problem. 


There is evidence that the State Charter Commission has control of schools that continue to fail, create profits for out of state charter school companies, and do not provide transparent financial data as is required for traditional public schools. If you want a challenge, try to find out the salary info for state charter commission schools.


Lets say you just bought a house. Your neighbors have spent years carefully tending their lawn - tilling, getting soil testing done, adding, enhancers, fertilizer, lime, pre-emergent weed killers, paying for monthly spraying, and have the money to strip it out and replace with sod if needed.


You on the other hand, starting from scratch have neither  the head start or resources to compete with your neighbors. Your lawn improves but at a very slow rate.The state sets a lawn standard that shows you "don't know what you're doing" and wants to take possession and use of your land(including your house) because you have a failing lawn. Would that be okay?



Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @Starik Various places have different problems. I used to live in Tucker.  The area is mostly middle class and single family housing, with a fair number of apartments.  Over time the apartments, as apartments will, became working class black and Hispanic.  The schools gained increasing numbers of poor folks, and the high school became truly and healthily integrated - a melting pot. "Local control" means DeKalb County. Between 1970 and 2010 the county switched from 90% white to 30% white and the political power has shifted as well.  The schools are run by and for black people.  That's fine, that's politics, but my old neighborhood school is not about 10% white, and the remaining white kids are trapped by various personal and family circumstances. The high school is now focused on graduating as many kids as possible and football. It is not focused on preparation for selective colleges.

straker
straker

Since it seems the school children and teachers will not win with this state takeover, it makes one wonder just WHO the real winner will be?

jcg1954
jcg1954

@straker
The winners: Wall St. and Hedge Fund managers.
Hedge Fund execs charters may pay off...

http://m.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/hedge-fund-execs-money-charter-schools-pay-article-1.2145001
"The title of the hedge fund bosses’ all-day symposium on Tuesday said it all: “Bonds & Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” Sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, its aim was to convince investors there’s money to be made in charter schools."

The Big Enchilada
http://billtotten.blogspot.com/2007/08/big-enchilada.html
"The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers", which, they emphasize, "are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers". From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, "the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada".

MD3
MD3

@straker Just like with anything else political, if you want the truth -- follow the money!

class80olddog
class80olddog

"The question I still have is what happens when the children go to an OSD school hungry? "


The reasonable answer is to investigate WHY that student is coming to school hungry.  Does the mother work?  Does she get food stamps and other welfare?  If she gets food stamps, then I would want to know why she does not use them to buy food for her hungry children?  Does she trade them for smokes (or other things)?  Where are the "baby daddies"?  Do they pay child support?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @class80olddog  It is not the child's fault or the school's fault - it is the fault of the MOTHER.  But nothing is ever done to fix that problem.  If the mother is not caring for her children, then DFACS needs to be involved, the children should be taken away, and the mother put in JAIL.  Put a few in jail and the word will spread.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @dg417s Then what do you do with the kids? One solution, relatively cost-effective would be to establish state institutions to raise the kids, orphanages. Not politically possible.

bu2
bu2

@class80olddog 

There are school breakfast programs, just like the free lunch programs.

Point
Point

@class80olddog Why do you comment the fault of the MOTHER, not parents or FATHER?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Point @class80olddog  That was deliberate - look at the family makeup in most of these "failing" schools and see what percentage of the students live in families headed by a single mother.  The FATHER SHOULD be held responsible, at least to the extent of child support.  But in a lot of cases, the mother does not name the father, or possibly does not even know who the father is(?????)!

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog While I agree, how is that either the child's fault or the school's fault.  That isn't something that the OSD will be able to address.  Fix those issues, and I doubt most of the schools on the governor's list will stay there.