Liberal and conservative find common ground in opposing Opportunity School District


Ian Altman chairs the English department at Clarke Central High School in Athens. He has written for the Get Schooled blog twice before, most recently about the Legislature’s meddling in the AP U.S. History course. He is the recipient of teaching awards from the universities of Chicago, Georgia, and Arizona, and a three-time PAGE STAR Teacher winner.

Dan DeLamater is the president of Southern Mutual Insurance Company and an education advocate. He is the parent of two students at Clarke Central High School and wrote an earlier piece for the blog on his concerns over the Opportunity School District.

While Altman and DeLamater don’t share political world views, they agree the Opportunity School District is a mistake and explain why in this joint essay.

By Ian Altman and Dan DeLamater

The so-called Opportunity School District which Georgia’s voters will consider on Nov. 8 runs counter to both conservative and liberal political ideals, and it is not based on sound educational practices. We can only make sense of it as an attempt to siphon public money to private business interests, robbing from Georgia’s neediest children the right to depend on the village that raises them.

We believe it is pertinent to our purpose to note that we have widely diverging political perspectives. Ian is a progressive, committed to policies generally said to be liberal, and a fan of Bernie Sanders. Dan is historically conservative with a philosophy honoring local control, reduced government bureaucracy, and our constitutional mandate.

We have known each other for a few years through our local public high school which Dan’s children attend and where Ian teaches, committed ourselves to civil and well-intentioned political argument, and found our diverging perspectives to converge on this crucial issue in Georgia.

From a conservative political perspective, the Opportunity School District is a violation of the basic ideals of limited government and local control. Georgia’s citizens vote for representatives in two areas of school oversight. One is at our local school board level, the closest leadership to each school. The other is for the state superintendent, an important component of state oversight and leadership.

Georgia’s citizens also expect an efficient and effective government. Our citizen legislators must find ways to eliminate duplication and inefficiency in our bureaucracy. And, of course, conservatives are reportedly protectors of our constitution. Interestingly, this scheme passed by a Republican Legislature on behalf of a Republican governor casts citizen votes aside and houses power in an appointed position void of transparency. It expands state government with a tertiary role bypassing local school boards and the state superintendent.

It also violates the mandate of our constitution (thus Amendment 1 on our ballots) — an important separation of capital leadership and local education practice. Finally, the OSD czar would be governed by a new position in the Capitol answering only to the governor, not to the families of students in schools taken over.

From a liberal political perspective, the Opportunity School District violates the ideals of responsible governance and social equity. From this point of view, the problem is not the bureaucracy as such, but the competence with which its undemocratically appointed leader runs it. How will the OSD czar from a seat in Atlanta understand the issues affecting a school in, for example, rural Echols County?

The czar may look at CCRPI scores, historical trends in test scores, and other measured data, but will be ignorant of the specific local issues affecting individual schools. Poor test scores can be caused by anything from weak school leadership to inequitable local district zoning to the state’s dire shortage of teachers to any number of other factors.

The predictable result will be to hand over those schools to private charter school chains, 21st century carpetbaggers, sending local tax dollars to out-of-state corporations that lie to students about the importance and legitimacy of standardized tests and have proven track records of failure.

The outcome will be an erosion of basic social equity: poor students become obedient test-taking machines who have the creativity, inquisitiveness, and intellectual autonomy trained out of them, while those who are unaffected by the scheme go on about their lives as they always have.

Setting our ideological lenses aside and looking only at the concrete facts of this situation, we also note the governor has suggested he simply wants to help students in failing schools. This is an insincere statement when we understand, first, that our governor already has the ability to oust delinquent school board members, and second, that “failure” is determined largely by a new standardized testing regime that is itself demonstrably a failure providing almost no legitimate data.

One might study the governor’s actions during Clayton and DeKalb school problems. If the governor has power to affect schools and school boards already, what could he possibly need with a new bureaucracy? Our guess is that it is to lend some surface credibility to his claim to be an “education governor.”

Similar plans were enacted in Louisiana and Tennessee, and in both places the results have been either abject failures or no better than traditional public schools. Louisiana’s Recovery School District took over the revenue and responsibility of schools with the state’s lowest graduation rates. After a decade in this additional state governance model, the schools are still graduating fewer students than any other district in Louisiana.

Tennessee’s Achievement School District actually produced lower reading scores in 2014 than when the takeover occurred in 2012.

Michigan has also entered the fray with its Education Achievement District. The Michigan EAD chancellor, Veronica Conforme, has said that testing achievement “has not improved.”

At the root of both the conservative and the liberal arguments against the Opportunity School District is our essential faith in the public, and our belief that as responsible citizens, we owe it to all our fellow community members to defend the public’s right to its own education system.

The Opportunity School District assaults the basic and necessary fact of American social and political life that to make a respectable society we must have a common interest in the health of public life, and that includes public schools. The ideology behind the Opportunity School District rests upon the assumption that all public things are somehow inherently made better by being made private.

Although schools in the Opportunity District would remain technically public in the formal sense of being funded by tax dollars, we have every reason to believe that management of them would be handed over to private, for-profit charter school chains that sell an image of success but have demonstrably poor track records.

The public must not fall for the con.  Vote NO on Amendment 1 on Nov. 8.

Reader Comments 0


Above^^ is the oppositions plan to deal with failing schools. Read it carefully.It consists of the status quo criticizing any plan not ginned up by the status quo.



Especially annoying to them are parents wanting better for their children. Children, after all, don't pay union dues!


@30303 @Astropig

I think that the above argument is a red herring anyway.This is not really a liberal or conservative argument because both sets of philosophies want good schools.It's been set up that way in this space and others,but its really more of an insider/outsider battle than along strict political lines.

The status quo's strategy (such as it is) ends on November 8.If this is defeated (by no means certain),then they go back to business as usual and you can set your watch by the mathematically- certain number of kids that get shafted so that they can keep their power and control over money and jobs for their insider friends.The machine that is keeping these kids uneducated stays oiled and all is well in their little world,where their kids won't be within the orbit of these schools.

If it passes (by no means certain)they will at least have to act or risk losing what made them insiders to begin with-the power and money to administer these schools.Fear of losing that is a powerful motivator.It will make them take notice of things that they ,at the moment,can safely ignore.



Yep, only those being paid could possibly view things differently than you.


@Astropig I like that you can only argue the liberal objections to this. You never even broach the conservative argument. I think this is because it can't be defended.

Anyone claiming to be a conservative can't see giving this much authority to the governor as a good thing. I don't know what the answer is to helping these schools, but I can tell you it isn't giving their oversight to a larger body of government.

 "Government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem". And the bigger the government, the bigger the problem.

MaureenDowney moderator

FYI: The AJC's Greg Bluestein sat down with the governor and discussed the OSD: 

In an interview, the Republican cast local school boards as a power-hungry monopoly and said he would ratchet up the pressure on them to embrace trust-busting changes if voters reject his Opportunity School District constitutional amendment in November.

“If the amendment is not successful, then I expect local boards of education to demonstrate more than just simply saying, ‘Don’t intrude on our territory,” he said.

“For example, they have the authority to allow a parent or guardian of a child in a chronically failing school to attend another school that is not failing in their own school district,” he added. “Thus far, they have not seen the initiative to do things like that. That would be a simple change they could le to voters, and hand the governor’s office too much power.

In the interview, Deal made clear he will ramp up his scrutiny on school districts if the measure fails to pass.

“I want to see that they would be doing something other than say, ‘We’re protecting our monopoly,’” Deal said. “And that’s what they have – a monopoly. And monopolies, as a general rule, have no competition and see no reason to change. I would expect them to show some evidence that they’re willing to change.”

Deal was asked whether requiring school districts to allow students in failing schools to transfer was a “plan B” in case the constitutional amendment fails.

“That’s always been a Plan A. We have relegated the authority to these local school boards forever, and the result is exactly what we’re up against now. I don’t think anybody is really satisfied with that now,” he said. “I expect them to do something other than just sprout rhetoric.”


@MaureenDowney Interesting Deal sees local school boards as monopolies yet refuses to accept that his plan is a monopoly of one at the state level.


The Democratic Caucus in Georgia's legislature has a plan to improve public schools. It is a community-based plan which identifies the wholistic needs of families and students which will increase academic performance. Of course, Republican (and Democratic) legislators are going to have to commit financial resources to see this substantive plan bloom to fruition for the benefit of children and public education in Georgia. It will be worth doing in a bipartisan way because love is always a more effective approach in education than is fear.


If the OSD fails to pass (or even if it succeeds) Georgia should bring back the GHSGT. They should also send state monitors to the failing schools when this test is given to prevent cheating (what, teachers cheat, no they are too professional). Schools that fail to address minimum graduation rates will see their state funding reduced unless they agree to a state-mandated improvement plan.


I'm not a professional educator but Indo substitute and am highly involved

at the children's schools. But I also have a "secret" 5 years ago my

children attended a for profit managed charter in FL. They offered us a beautiful brand new building to "rescue" is from our failing public school. That was when my oldest was entering 1st grade. Originally I loved that charter, its staff and was satisfied with my kids' education. We stayed for 4 years until moving to Cobb. When I got here I couldn't believe how much wool had been pulled over my eyes--

The charter had

no library or librarian. The books children could borrow were

from the teachers 's personal

classroom library. There were 12 computers in the computer lab. Our technology instructor was actually an IT guy who left out kids to play computer games

most times. Although FL had laws mandating 30 minutes of daily physical

activity we only had PE 1/week. FL also had class size caps that the charter circumvented by hiring a floating "parapro" who was actually a useless parent who sat in the corner playing on her phone most days. The teachers turnover was high - we lost 40 teachers and 2 principals over the 4 years we attended. Most leaving to return to public schools. Behavior problems didn't exist because they were "not invited back" after strike 2. When my son was physically assaulted at school the teacher called for assistance in the classroom and was told there was "no staff available" to remove the problem child. I didn't even know anything had happened until I picked my son up from school. I had to wait 3 hours the next morning to see the principal. He asked me how he should handle the situation! The management company couldn't even give the local charter an extra $300 to replace stolen stop signs so parents were asked to foot that bill.

I oppose the OSD Amendment because all kids deserve a quality public education and we should be striving for increased quality for ALL kids

not just for those whose parents will take the time to seek out a better option.


And were you able to take your kids out of that school at any time and transfer back to your zip code school?


Why did you stay for four years if the school was that bad?


The best, most persuasive discussion of this I have seen yet!


I guess we'll be on a more or less steady diet of articles opposing this education reform.

Until Election Day, or until the teachers' union bosses say we've had enough? 



@30303 Yesterday there was an article supporting it. . There are more folks against it so obviously there's more articles to such


@30303 Hi EduKtr, What a well thought out response to the article- but hey, you did get your $10 for posting the word "union" in a negative way.