Should Georgia school superintendents fight the governor’s takeover proposal?

Parents at an Atlanta Public Schools board meeting a year ago organized and pressed the board to take a stand against Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed state takeover of failing schools. (AJC File)

In November, Gov. Nathan Deal will ask Georgia voters to approve a constitutional amendment granting the state broad new powers to take over failing schools, close them, run them or convert them to independent charter schools. Deal has given his proposal the bright, shiny name of Opportunity School District. The congenial wording of the constitutional amendment is equally sunny and beckoning.

If the OSD is approved, the state would have authority over the schools absorbed into the new district and could oust principals and teachers, change structure and focus and control spending.

My view: The OSD is overreach and likely to produce little change in student performance. Wrenching schools from their local roots and alienating the staffs who know the children and community have not proven a formula for transformation.

That said, the OSD will pass overwhelmingly.

Georgians endorse all ballot questions, largely because the amendments are written to assure that outcome. The OSD amendment will ask: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?

When the Richmond County Democratic Party put a nonbinding question on the May 24 ballot  to raise awareness about the OSD amendment, it went for a bleaker tone: Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an appointee of the governor to bypass the elected state school superintendent in order to take over local school operations, buildings and control of all federal, state and local funding if a school has low scores on standardized tests or for any other reason a future legislative act may allow?

Given the inevitability of passage, what is the appropriate political posture of school leaders around the state, most of whom oppose state takeover? Should they rail against the inevitable on principle or should they fortify their own struggling schools to escape takeover?

DeKalb and Atlanta Public Schools, the districts most susceptible to losing schools to the OSD, have chosen the latter. Steve Green of DeKalb and Atlanta’s Meria Carstarphen are rolling out reforms to bolster the case they’re better positioned to repair schools than an appointed OSD czar. Fast-tracking improvement plans in targeted schools has become the priority, rather than barnstorming against OSD.

Meeting with the AJC editorial board this week, Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner faulted school chiefs for failing to use their bully pulpits to castigate the OSD.

In her plan to turn some struggling APS schools over to charter school groups, Carstarphen is doing what she was hired to do, said Turner. “Privatize the schools.”

“We don’t believe there is a board of education in Atlanta,” said Turner. “You have a board there legally, and it seems as if Dr. Carstarphen has checks and balances, but Courtney English [board chair], from when he first stepped on that board, is a rubber stamper and yes man. “

And Green sees DeKalb as another wrung on his career ladder, said Turner. “Superintendent Green came from Kansas. He is going to leave DeKalb County. We are here to stay,” she said. After meeting with the governor, Green lost the “zeal to oppose the Opportunity School district,” added Turner.

Even if the odds favor OSD approval, Turner said superintendents ought to stand with Clarke County Superintendent Philip Lanoue in speaking out against it. “They should do what’s right,” she said.

At a press conference by OSD opponents in December, Lanoue laid out the basics of the appeal to voters to reject the state-takeover plan.”We need to help you build your community around your school and we can do that outside the Opportunity School District. But if you vote this in, what you’ve said is that you’re giving the responsibility to educate your children to someone else,” he said.

The 2015 National Superintendent of the Year, Lanoue has been more willing than many of his colleagues to criticize the governor and Legislature. That doesn’t mean other school chiefs around Georgia like the OSD. It means they believe there isn’t much they can do to stop it.

Turner described the OSD as a tsunami that will devastate communities by seizing schools. “It won’t stop with a 100 schools,” she said. “People do not understand this will take away our local control. If you don’t like your board of education, vote them out.” She twice quoted the popular R&B star Bobby Womack lyric, “If you think you’re lonely now, wait until tonight.”

Turner said she understands some people are frustrated with the pace of reform in Georgia, but she blamed the chronic underfunding of education, the historical top-down nature of state reforms, the marginalization of teachers in reform discussions and a refusal to acknowledge the impact of poverty on student achievement.

With the political clout behind the OSD, Turner said she knows she’s facing “a Goliath and all I have is a slingshot.”

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

117 comments
CSpinks
CSpinks

Superintendents, fight the OSD. Educate your charges.

Virginia Phillips
Virginia Phillips

Absolutely. This governor cares nothing about the schools. Vote NO.

Chuck Jackson
Chuck Jackson

We. Must. At. All. Times. Obey. Government. For. They. Know. What. Is. Best. For. Us. More Kool-aid please.

bu22
bu22

No.  Superintendents need to do their job, which if they have schools at risk, they aren't doing very well.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@xxxzzz Yeah, they should choose to lead a system that has no extremely poor people!

David Bice
David Bice

And in Michigan Republican State takeover of Flints water worked so well. How could we even question an instant educational replay?

Jere Parker
Jere Parker

If Nathan Deal has anything to do with this, it cannot be right.

Billie Thomas
Billie Thomas

If there wasn't a problem, folks wouldn't be concerned about fixing it.

Rachel Turner-Cantrell
Rachel Turner-Cantrell

If my tax dollars are paying, then all children should have access. If the guv wants to donate to private schools, then he is welcome to use his own checkbook, not mine.

Ed Krickel
Ed Krickel

The governor is sooo far removed from the educational classroom, this is horrid!

Holly Denise Weiss
Holly Denise Weiss

No. Do not let this administration get their hands on public schools. They will be worse off than they already are.

Adri Sava
Adri Sava

I know teachers who taught internationally in a country where parents were given choice and anyone with the economic freedom to do so chose private schools. The result? Public schools are now only for the very poor and the standard of education has declined severely, setting up the poor to remain poor forever. The US doesn't need to privatize...they need to listen to teachers to actually better schools, rather than letting politicians with no educational experience dictate what happens. Then we won't need private options to receive a great education.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

No, wait!  Our legislature and state "leaders" ALL went to first grade!

Joseph Rice
Joseph Rice

Would love to see Governor Deal come and try to teach my classes one day. He'd be completely lost.

Stacy Galloway
Stacy Galloway

Vote NO!!!. If they have the answer to fix education, then why are they not sharing it with school systems now...

Ucal Yisrael
Ucal Yisrael

Now that make a whole lot of good sense.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Sadly......the real problem that is killing Georgia education is.......one diploma option!!!!!! and Astropig!

bu22
bu22

@JBBrown1968 I don't think you should create a lesser category of "diploma."  But I do think there should be more flexibility in course selection.  A HS diploma is not a college degree.  You shouldn't have to have all the college pre-requisites if you aren't going to college.  But neither should you be stigmatized with a lesser diploma if you later want to change your mind.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@xxxzzz @JBBrown1968 Some people don't feel a technical diploma as lesser! Some people could just careless about Shakespeare. Why should a kid take 4 years of English or math if they don't desire college. I have found that maturity and work ethic will get you through college later if you desire! A good foundation in math or english would better prepare a student for college then a watered down curriculum.  

teachermom4
teachermom4

@xxxzzz @JBBrown1968 I totally agree. My brother made it through high school by taking consumer/business math, instead of algebra/geometry/calculus. He went to college, has a master's degree, and is successful. If his math credits had to be abstract math, either the courses would have had to have been dumbed down, or he would have flunked out. Give more options to meet the mandatory universal credit counts, and kids will do better. Colleges can still require certain courses, but not everyone will have to take them.

John Sukroo
John Sukroo

It is all about the privatization of education. The Walton Family Foundation and Michelle Ree's group want to get their hands on the money. No doubt big Deal donors.

Cassie Shuford
Cassie Shuford

The opportunity school zones that the governor is proposing while they do look good on paper I'm not sure that he actually has people anymore well-trained than districts....

Jeff Kling
Jeff Kling

Why not...we are 47 with a bullet as it is.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Maureen, will the OSD be allowed, if it finds local, currently budgeted money to be insufficient, to also appropriate additional local funds?   That is, force the system to short other, non-taken-over schools to give up money to the OSD schools, or impose additional local taxes on their citizens to make up for the money the OSD took?  Will the OSD be allowed to appropriate FEDERAL money, like Title 1 funds, for the taken over schools?  Will the OSD be allowed to combine schools it takes over, or redraw attendance lines for taken over schools?


Do people really want to give up this kind of power to non-local, non-elected people??



dg417s
dg417s

Hardly bipartisan.only one Senate Democrat voted yes after she was promised a new library. Also, and yes the dems who are now the republican did this too before switching parties, the supermajorities in the General Assembly do not actually represent the number of democratic and republican voters in Georgia. If you doubt that, look at the vote totals for President.it was hardly 67% for Romney or McCain. In fact it was 53% republican in 2012 and 52% in 2012. But, as you like to say, to the victors go the spoils, right?

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Get your basic facts right and your side might start winning some of these little set-tos


1) The governor is elected in a competitive election every 4 years. He IS accountable. Governor Deal specifically campaigned on proposing the OSD.


2) This was passed by a two thirds,bipartisan majority in the state legislature-also elected in competitive elections every two years in the house and senate.You can toss these people out every 24 months if they make you mad.


3) The people will get their say on this in November.This is hardly a "power grab" as it has been characterized here and in other places.Both sides can make their case and let the chips fall where they may.


As to appointing a six figure OSD superintendent-if they do a good job,they will come to us cheaply. If they don't-they're not worth a penny.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Astropig @Wascatlady "Both sides can make their case(sic) and let the chips fall where they may."


In that vein, who are sponsoring forums in which opponents and proponents of OSD might do as (A)stropig suggests?

Jeff Kling
Jeff Kling

No. If he thinks he can do a better job then let him try.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady Well, you could massage a date also.  But you are right, I meant data.


I was one of the first people on this blog and others protesting the "results" for which Ms. Hall was acclaimed, as being impossible. And, of course, it took a couple of years and some persistence by the AJC to force it to be revealed as hokum.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig


Look, I'm in favor of the OSD.I am willing to look at all options to improve these kids lives and futures.BUT...


...If I get an inkling that they're playing games with the numbers and lying about improvements,after I've gone to bat for them,you won't be one half as mad as I will be.I want real results and incremental success,not accounting gimmicks. We got gimmicks from the likes of Beverly Hall and her gang of thugs.I don't want those kinds of crooks representing me.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady I think you have to admit that B Hall's obfuscation was very crudely done.  The pressure for "success" on the OSD will be magnitudes higher.


In addition, B Hall et al did not get to define success.  The OSD would be able to, before the fact and as it develops.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig


"I think you have to admit that B Hall's obfuscation was very crudely done. "


Agreed. But- it went on for far longer than it should have.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady Due to 2 facts--the very sheep-like nature of Georgia voters (see what they voted to approve in the past) and the firm support of the C of C and other influential groups who did NOT want to question the "results."


I would have given a lot to be in the room when the APS "leaders" were told there would be erasure analysis!  Can you imagine it?  "What?!  They can examine erasures and see how many have been changed wrong to right?!!?   Ok, think, think!  How can we make it look like those erasures were made by the kids?  I know, we will say we told them to look carefully over their answers and change the ones they decide are wrong.  THEN, we will call anyone who continues to question the results racist!!  That will shut them up!"

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I would agree with you if 1)it did not mean a permanent, significant change to the state constitution, and 2) if the results were fairly, competently measured.  I have ABSOLUTELY no faith that would happen.  I have seen too much date "massaged" either before or after the fact to "prove" something.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


" I have seen too much date "massaged" either before or after the fact to "prove" something.


I have too-At APS under Beverly Hall, who was the toast of the educational world until she was revealed to be a crook.And I think you mean "data". Being massaged by your "date" isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Astropig
Astropig

The status quo has had decades to improve these schools.They didn't have to do it all at once-just a semblance of progress would have staved off this push for reform.People would accept an honest effort,even if it was slower than they would like.But...


These schools are going backward.They're helping keep these kids in generational poverty while the elites on the school boards and the six figure superintendents send their kids to private academies and carefully chosen public schools that never know who's holding the reins.


Even with all of that said,the OSD has not had a single vote cast-yet-and it has lit a fire under a couple of systems that sorely needed it.The OSD "top 10" is a list that you don't   want to be on.These systems (most notable APS and DeKalb) didn't wake up one day and decide to focus resources on these schools because of an editorial in the AJC-no,they did it because the alternative to doing nothing is even worse than doing something unpleasant,which is the whole point here. We've run out of hard choices for these schools and now we have to decide between bad choices.


For once, I hope Maureen is right and this passes overwhelmingly.These kids don't have any voice at the highest levels of government.They can't even get local school boards to take up their cause.I'm happy and darn proud that our governor is speaking for families that have been left behind and I hope that the measure passes with a large enough majority to create a mandate for change.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig Speaking of backward..the state is not and has not funded education as required for over a decade.  In addition, students in these schools have generally been in worse shape financially and in terms of family structure than in, say, 2005.  So it might be argued that the schools are doing a $#%& good job in not seeing test scores etc retreat any more than they have.


Sometimes, even though no one likes it, running in place is not "going backwards."  Many middle class people with ordinary middle class experiences have no idea about this.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig


But "running in place" simply guarantees more lost generations to poverty and privation.It's 2016. Other nations are not content to run in place and we shouldn't be either. If this approach helps a percentage of students reach their potential,it will be the greatest gift we could give these families.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady Please name countries who are enjoying such remarkable educational results with their intractable, high levels of poverty so perhaps we can copy their ideas.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@xxxzzz @Wascatlady @BurroughstonBroch @Astropig I posit that Gwinnett has a critical mass of middle and upper class parents who make a WORLD of difference in the outcomes.  Poor kids in a school that is 20% poor have a very difference experience than poor kids in a school that is 70% poor.  Not just in terms of resources, but in terms of school atmosphere (not the word I want, but cannot quite capture the right word.)


If APS had enough middle and high income families that it could parcel the poorest kids into schools where they only comprised 20% of the student body, I think there would be some statistically significant difference with the poor students over the course of several years.  And it would not be because the more wealthier kids pull up the "average" scores for the school.  It would be because more of the poor kids would be exposed to a more functional (in terms of achievement-enhancing attitudes) and the wider availability of parental volunteers who would have an effect on resetting the attitudes, goals, and behaviors of the financially disadvantaged students.


Any other teachers agree?


Of course, not many of the "wealthier" schools would want to do this.