Is goal of Nathan Deal, Legislature to privatize schools? A former superintendent thinks so.

Former Pelham City, Ga., superintendent Jim Arnold is not one to hold back. This piece is no exception.

(You can keep with Arnold here.)

By Jim Arnold

In my years as a teacher and administrator, staff development meetings were unavoidable. Most of the content could have been more effectively and far less painfully delivered in the form of an email, but I suppose that would have meant the end of a job for whatever “expert” was making the presentation and somebody somewhere would not have been able to document the hours teachers had spent in professional development. There were those momentous occasions, far too infrequent, when a phrase or an example or a Great Truth was presented.

A former district superintendent urges Georgia teachers to speak out against legislative efforts to weak public education. (AJC Photo)

A former district superintendent urges Georgia teachers to speak out against what he considers legislative efforts to weaken public education. (AJC Photo)

One such moment came from a presenter whose name I have long since forgotten. He was the successful coach of a big time college football program, and made, in an almost offhand fashion, a reply to a question about discipline. “What you don’t correct,” he responded, “you are teaching.”

Teachers know that to be true, but to hear it elegantly expressed by one familiar with the trials and tribulations of teaching was a momentous moment of shining inspiration. It doesn’t mean you have to correct a student harshly every time they make a mistake. There are positive ways to say negative things, but the truth is that what we do not correct, we teach, and not usually with positive results.  Failing to correct negative behaviors will always produce negative results.

Teachers have suffered long years of “reform” that usually goes with “we once again want you to do more with less.” Gov. Deal recently stated he wants to “transform education in Georgia.” I maintain he has already done so.

The governor has led efforts that have imposed the junk science of the valued-added teacher evaluation model with no research that supports or recommends the method, yearly cuts to the education budget totaling billions of dollars, constant denigration of the teaching profession and teachers, the blaming of teachers for societal issues through calls for “more accountability,” massive layoffs and reductions in force to the teaching profession in spite of increases in student enrollment, significant increases in class sizes, the loss of art, PE and music classes statewide and for students at all levels, furloughs, reductions in the number of days of school for students and teachers and legislators that have in both effect and reality balanced the state budget on the backs of students, schools and teachers for the last six years.

The governor’s and the Legislature’s collective efforts have demoralized teachers to the point 44 percent leave teaching within the first five years of their careers, and the number of experienced teachers retiring early (those with 10-25 years experience – the heart of our teaching corps) has grown significantly during Deal’s time in office.

This is not a coincidence.

Teacher Retirements – 10-25 years experience

2009    2010   2011    2012   2013    2014

2483    2999   3559    3577   4107    3979   =  17,484

All Teacher Retirements

2009    2010   2011   2012    2013    2014

5564    6425   7168   7051    7929   7072    =  41,209

So what’s the governor’s response to the coming shortage of teachers?

First, he proposes a 3 percent pay raise for all teachers. What he forgets to say is there are still 40 or so systems that haven’t eliminated furloughs and most of the rest are still suffering from his exponential expansion of austerity cuts to school budgets. In spite of his threat to “hold districts accountable” for the raises he proposes, his prior cuts to education mean those raises are not sustainable. He has also doubled down on his efforts to increase the use of public money for privatization and vouchers with the expansion of programs designed to further reduce funds for public schools.

Add to that his desire to create a state-run Opportunity School District with a superintendent that reports only to him, his proposal to “change” (another word for reduce) the way teachers are paid and how money is allocated to schools and districts and it’s easy to see Gov. Deal never met an ALEC initiative he didn’t like.

Legislators seems not to have noticed the fiscal irresponsibility of adding another state-run program to the budget, just as they didn’t seem to notice the austerity cuts that left schools and teachers — you know, the ones that need to be “accountable” — bearing the financial burden of those cuts. I remember one legislator from another state remarking, “Money does not guarantee success, but the absence of money guarantees failure.” Would that he were from Georgia.

What has been the response of teachers to all this? Not much. We show some concerted opposition to isolated issues. The insurance scam a couple of years ago and the ideas about fiddling with TRS didn’t fly politically because of teacher opposition, and the recommendations to the way teachers are paid and systems funded have been delayed until after the election year, but what about evaluations and budget cuts and merit pay and a continued misguided emphasis on standardized testing?

Teachers have managed to raise the grad rate in Georgia to 72.5 percent  and struggled time and again to do more with less, and have been rewarded with the threat of  more and more restrictions and reductions and restructuring. What you don’t correct, you teach. We keep electing the same people with the same anti-public education ideas to the same offices. What you don’t correct, you teach.

But wait a minute — look at all the success these ideas from the governor have had in other states.  How about the state-run school district in Tennessee…oops.  Not that one. What about the fantastic success of charters in New Orleans…no, maybe not that one, either. What about the wonderful increases in school choice in Florida and their merit pay and increased academic success…OK, maybe not that one, either. What about the studies that say 83 percent of all charter schools perform equal to or worse than public schools?

What about the warnings that “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model” and that “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” Well, maybe those groups just don’t understand real math. The American Statistical Association? What do THEY know about education and politics?

What’s important to know here is that the goal of the folks that make the decisions about education in Georgia is not school improvement or student achievement. Their goal is privatization. Period. The use of public money for private educational enterprises and further crony capitalism.

So what can teachers do against these insurmountable obstacles? If you are not of member of PAGE or GEA or GREA or BAT or GAEL or TRAGIC or all of the above, you are missing opportunities for information and support. Be vigilant, knowledgeable and aware. Let your legislators know of your support for public education and your opposition to the privatization of education. Phone calls and emails have an effect on legislative votes. Make your voice heard. What you do not correct, you are teaching.

Many people hear the tired old “I support teachers” line from their local career politicians and far too often fall for it. Look at their voting records. If they voted for vouchers, the expansion of charter schools, the expansion of the special tax credit, the governor’s austerity cuts or teacher evaluation using student test scores the “what they say” aspect doesn’t matter compared to “what they have done.”

Ask your Legislators to sign the PAGE “I promise” pledge about not tying teacher pay to student test scores and to roll back standardized testing for Georgia students. That ought to give you a pretty good idea, if you didn’t already know, where they stand on public education.

When you cast your vote, remember what you already know about teaching also applies to politicians; if you’re not correcting it, you’re teaching it.

Reader Comments 0

116 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Could this be seen as a governor taking local tax money from districts that are not republican and giving it to privatization/charter donors as a reward? 


What would keep a democrat governor from taking over schools in republican districts that were failing to improve sub group scores in comparison to overall scores, to a level set by the governor?

Mack68
Mack68

@AvgGeorgian Yes, that's exactly the case. Is there any other instance in GA where the state comes in and seizes local (city or county) taxes? Genuine question - I don't know for sure. 

What gives the state the right to confiscate locally collected taxes meant to be spent on local (not state) issues? 

This is a dangerous precedent to set with a state constitutional amendment, should it pass. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

After 350 years of slavery and segregation in this nation, in which literacy was suppressed by law and labor was not equitably distributed, Jim Crow segregation laws in the South were finally eliminated in the 1970s in Georgia.


Those are the reasons that we have "poor schools" and "failing schools" today.  If politicians want to "save" students and "save" public schools in Georgia, making them more excellent, then they will stop playing politics and start uplifting whole communities - economically, educationally, medically, socially, and in many other ways. Public schools will then improve organically.


Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings A lot of talent is wasted in the current system. Why do we allow successful, racially balanced schools to decline by importing kids from bad communities into them?

NATIVE_ATL
NATIVE_ATL

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings You are so causing me to defend the majority in bad communities.  But there are a some good kids from bad communities.   And for the most part its the parent's ignorance that make them as you say bad.  

Legong
Legong

I wish the Governor's plan really was to "privatize" schools. 

And to give parents tuition vouchers, empowering them to choose schools that best meet their child's needs.

hnbc
hnbc

If you want to give parents the money then you must also support those who are NOT parents not having to pay any school

tax. I will pay my fair share because I support public education but I do NOT

want to pay for private education. Parents - work together to become involved in your child's school, work to improve the school. Start doing your part to help your local school and all children succeed.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Legong If you give back the money that the parent paid in, I don't think many could afford a private school.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Nicely done, Jim. When I ran state testing in Virginia, I'd usually - with tongue in cheek - open a talk with school folks with "I'm from the state and I'm here to help." If it got a laugh, it'd be an okay day. If I got silence, I knew I had a long hill to climb. I am absolutely fascinated at the so-called "conservatives'" insatiable drive toward centralized gummint. Isn't that supposed to be the other way around? 

We face interesting times in this country - "conservatives" cut taxes (at least for the ones who own their pockets) while demanding ever more from fewer people with fewer resources (cops, firefighters and health care are in the same boat, don't forget). 

As Mother Teresa is credited with saying: "We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing."

Maureen has pointed out and Jim noted above that people are leaving teaching at radically increasing rates, and fewer people are choosing the profession. At some point the only people left teaching will be the ones you absolutely don't want there. We get what we pay for, and we get what we deserve. Wonder what the citizens coming out of those schools will look like?



class80olddog
class80olddog

You know, it is interesting, if a conservative claims that Obama is going to seize every gun in personal hands when a law is passed about assault rifles, liberals say that this is being paranoid, that there is no "slippery slope".  However, if the State proposes taking over the "worst of the worst" schools, suddenly the State will soon be privatizing Walton High School in East Cobb.  Paranoid much?

class80olddog
class80olddog

It is funny how people tell you that you are incorrect and ask you to post your sources, and then you post the facts and your sources, they suddenly go away.  Facts must be awfully inconvenient to them!

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Maybe they have a life outside the world of blogging and don't sit waiting, salivating, itching for a reply to their post.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

Well, given that your opinions never seem to change no matter what data, what studies, or what information is pointed out to you, many have concluded that there's no point in wasting time on the unteachable.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@Wascatlady @CharterStarter_Too


I think it is a huge problem.  We are funding central offices in TINY districts that don't need them.  They could collaborate on district office services and put more dollars into classrooms.  The state does not even fund a central office until you hit 5000 students, so these districts are pulling local funds to support central admin.  

Mack68
Mack68

Why would anyone think it's ok for the state government to confiscate local property taxes and real estate because the state doesn't  approve of what the local governance is doing?

That's what is being proposed in this amendment. If approved, the state would have the right to come in and take your city or county education taxes, on top of the state taxes you already pay. And you'll have no say in how they are spent. You can't vote anyone out if you don't agree, except for the Governor.

How much further would this go if this precedent is established?

Where are the anti-big-government protests? What if the federal government was proposing this?

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@Mack68 So you propose to allow your local tax dollars to be piped into failing schools ... and by failing, I'm talking about GIANT drop out rates (more than 30%) and literacy rates well below 50%.  THAT is preferable to allowing the state to come in and try to ensure quality education is provided?  And yes you DO have a vote - you vote for the governor and your legislators! By the way, the state has a constitutional mandate to provide an adequate education

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@Mack68 @CharterStarter_Too In reading the state DOE numbers reported, OCD is already making gains with these lowest performing districts (remember, they have the bottom 5%).  And think about it ....  even if the OCD is not making the MOST gains by itself, TN districts are seeing MORE improvement since its inception because they are forced to do SOMETHING or face losing revenue.  And so they did what they could have done for years and years.  


The OCD initiative raises the bar and creates a rising tide for all.  Look how hard APS is working to make internal reform efforts.  And despite Mr. Arnold's argument, they have one of the highest per pupil amounts in the state and are STILL failing.  That's not the main issue.


Look, the state doesn't WANT to run schools.  But it DOES want kids educated.  Districts have talented staff that can do it.  They need quality district and school leadership to recreate school and district cultures and to rethink how they do business to drive real reform.  If that happens, the OCD will not be needed.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

I don't get paid to blog. I truly just teach school (and run my kids around like every other crazy busy parent) :) I am a LOUD education advocate though. If more teachers educated themselves rather than depending on districts and organizations like PAGE and GAE to feed them the spin, reform would maybe happen.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

We are throwing them away by doing nothing. We can TRY something new. We can LEARN from others who have gone before us. We must stop being reactive and clinging to what is clearly not working.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

First of all, if you are measuring success by catapulting the bottom 5% of schools into the top performing in the state in 2-3 years, then yes, they have of course failed. That is just ridiculous.

The state Department of Education reported for last year that these schools were making FASTER gains than comparable peers across the state. They also had the highest growth. So SOMETHING is improving that wasn't before. Moreover, the entire state's numbers have increased. They've raised the bar and put in real accountability with some financial consequences. And look - steady progress forward rather than stagnant, failing performance.

Mack68
Mack68

@CharterStarter_Too Apples and oranges. Raising the bar and other internal things within the DOE in that state are completely different than the state takeover schools, all of which are still in the bottom 5%, except for one school that is now in the bottom 6%. 

This is not progress.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

I respectfully disagree. This concept is VERY new - way less than 5 years.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

How long do you think it should take to catch up a classroom full of kids that are 3 years below grade level? That is, filling basic gaps while still teaching mandated grade level standards. The fact that they are growing MORE and FASTER is evidence of progress.

Mack68
Mack68

@CharterStarter_Too

Gotta go to sleep. 3 kids to get to school in the morning. But I greatly appreciate the exchange of ideas.


Mack68
Mack68

@CharterStarter_Too No, they're not growing faster than their peers in district schools. In fact, it's the opposite.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

From what I gather the OSD in Tennessee has failed. Yes, the schools showed growth but less than the local traditional schools. Instead on moving the schools from the bottom 5% to the top Chris Barbie was forced to concede to failure when all but one of his schools was still in the bottom 5%. He has since resigned and is probably receiving a nice golden handshake plus will move on to another cushy, highly-paid job in the reformy world. By the way, the last school improved enough to move into the bottom 6%. Hardly a reason to shout for success or to dismantle our public schools and put them in the hands of profiteers.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

That is a terrible point to try and defend. ; You are advocating that it's okay to give up local control of elected officials because you voted for the governor? It hasn't worked well for the people of Flint when it comes to both their schools and water. No thanks. I'd rather have local control than a governor with the ability to appoint his highly-paid cronies to pick the private management companies that donate handsomely to their coffers. That isn't democracy.

Mack68
Mack68

@CharterStarter_Too @Mack68

Try again. It has not succeeded in TN. The Vanderbilt study found that local district-led turnaround efforts were more successful than the state takeover schools.


Mack68
Mack68

@CharterStarter_Too @Mack68

While I appreciate the sense of urgency that this might create, any school that is confiscated by our state if this amendment passes is highly likely to see zero improvement based on overwhelming results from other states. 

Mack68
Mack68

@CharterStarter_Too So LEARN that state takeovers don't work. There is plenty of evidence. We have to figure out what DOES work. And there is a growing body of evidence for that.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Mack68 

Some of us already know what works within traditional public schools. The hard part is getting others to know. www.maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com

dg417s
dg417s

@CharterStarter_Too For what it's worth, professional associations give educators a united voice to make reform happen. There are two ways to make things happen - money and people. We don't have former, but we have the latter. If, however, the people are not organized, their voices get lost.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@Mack68 @CharterStarter_Too


I didn't know that!  Thanks for sharing.  Do you know how they have fared?  


I do wonder if they were under a charter model if that would make a difference, as it would allow flexibility that is desperately needed by teachers and admin.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@Wascatlady @CharterStarter_Too @Mack68


No doubt the state budget for education has been lower than it needs to be.  Thankfully, some money, and quite a substantial bit, has been piped in.


My issue is that there is zero accountability for districts to be frugal and efficient.  Everyone bleats about not having enough money, and yet, if you go out and look on Open Georgia at salaries, positions, and expenditures, and then go look at how some of the districts are budgeting, I think you'll see there is a tremendous amount of waste.  I'm really glad to hear that the Education Reform Commission recommends accountability for how funds are being expended.  This transparency is a long time coming.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@dg417s @CharterStarter_Too


I agree that SHOULD be how it works, but it is not how it ACTUALLY works.  Again, these are non-profit membership organizations who depend on the districts to "feed" them.  They follow the districts' lead on advocacy.  

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@sneakpeakintoeducation


No, that is not what I said at all.  What I said is that you vote for BOTH the governor AND your state legislators.  It takes BOTH to make a law and to pass a budget.  You have a voice.  You may not like that the duly elected officials don't make decisions that lean your way, but that does not mean that you (and everyone else) did not have a say so in who represents us in these types of decisions.  You can't holler about local control because arguably, the state representatives represent the local voice for their district.