Monthly Archives: August 2012

Reformation and the Charter School Amendment

By Nancy Jester

As a member of the DeKalb County Board of Education, I have been reading with great interest, the news and debate about the Charter School Amendment that will be on the ballot in November. The usual groups that purport to speak for their members are lining up against it. The Georgia State Superintendents Association (GSSA), the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) and various teacher organizations. This is to be expected. Change is never easy and those who make significant earnings from the status quo are always reticent to embrace it.

As a requirement of law, I must participate in annual training. The GSBA puts on these training sessions. There is a large conference in June of each year in Savannah where board members from around the state gather to participate in the training and meetings. For the past two years, your tax dollars have paid for me to attend these required seminars and meetings as is the case for most (if not all) board members around the state.

As I sat in the communications seminar, I was told by a presenter that “Education is not designed to be customized.” I wondered if he had an iPod or was he still listening to 8-track? After a break, another presenter went on to talk about the Charter School Amendment and how that would cede local control to “bureaucrats up in Atlanta”. She went on to discuss how best to run a campaign against the amendment; including how to educate employees of school districts to talk with parents about the issue. I was very uncomfortable seeing how your tax dollars were being used to promote these ideas. This year, I had the honor of serving as DeKalb’s voting delegate to the GSBA. At this meeting the GSBA votes to take official positions on various issues. Among the positions the GSBA will be advocating for in the upcoming legislative session are (1) that elections for Boards should be non-partisan (they are in DeKalb but many counties hold partisan board elections) and (2) the State Superintendent should be appointed rather than elected. I found these positions to be contrary to their profession of faith in local control. I voted against these positions. I’m perplexed why the GSBA is even taking a legislative position on these matters. Perhaps it is illustrative of their true motivations. This should all make us examine their position on the Charter School Amendment more closely.

As I stated above, I understand those opposed to the Charter School Amendment fear the change that it brings to their realm. But it is past time to provide another tool to the hands of parents and dedicated teachers – a tool that releases them from the constraints and control of highly bureaucratic school districts and “one size fits all” approaches. Is it a panacea for all that ails education in Georgia? No. Indeed, all charter school proposals will not be approved and, some that are, will fail and be closed. Unfortunately there seems no effective and swift mechanism to close traditional schools that fail generations of children.

The discussion about “mechanism” brings me to an important point. Indeed, it is the central point of reformation that we need to discuss. In the early part of the 1900’s there were well over 100,000 school districts; there are now less than 14,000. We see increasing monopolization of public funding in education into large, Soviet-style, command and control education distribution systems. It is ironic that as competition and ingenuity have provided us with more individual choices and freedoms, our education distribution system has gone in the other direction. Customization and choice are the natural outcomes of competitive forces shaping a marketplace over time. I’m reminded of the quote attributed to Henry Ford, “You can have any color car you want, as long as it’s black.” Imagine if that were the case today for cars! But, for some reason, we accept this in education. In fact, we’ve gone backwards, offering a less customized, less responsive system. Education must be customized to be effective and it must be responsive to the community it serves. If we continue to fail on these metrics then the system will suffer the same fate as the Soviet economic distribution model. I suggest reading the lesson plan (link below) provided by the Foundation for Teaching Economics. This lesson provides a cautionary tale on the types of crisis that befall a distribution system that has no mechanism to receive signals and respond efficiently to them.

http://www.fte.org/teacher-resources/lesson-plans/edsulessons/lesson-2-missing-markets-and-missing-prices/

Some critics of the Charter School Amendment confuse the matter by suggesting that having a method to start a school that is not controlled by the local board of education, is tantamount to the removal of “local control”. They maintain this, despite the fact that a group of citizens would have to organize, plan, petition, govern and ultimately send their children to the charter school. That is the ultimate local control – it is micro control – it is parent control. Why are school boards and superintendents fearful of this? They often try to tell us that money will be diverted to these charters and away from their system; thus hurting the education of the remaining students. They neglect to address that they are now not responsible for the students at the charter school. They do not point out that with the absence of these students they lose only a portion of the funding for those students. They do not reconcile the equation – they will have fewer students but more money per student. I don’t doubt that they want what is best for children but their perspective is clouded by the fact that they make a living from the status quo.

Having a way for communities to come up with an innovative, responsive educational product is consistent with local control. It is also wholly consistent with the quintessential American notion of Republic. America was not designed to be a democratic tyranny of the majority. The rights of minority groups were protected and codified in our Constitution. Resisting tyranny, removing monopoly power, competing, innovating – these are all American and Georgian ideals. The forces of modernity will not dissipate. The winds for these changes will not calm. Education and how we distribute it to our children will eventually be shaped by more customization not less; by more responsiveness to community; by more freedom. That is where the future takes us. Please join me and reject the discussions of money and control. Please join me to improve the educational lives of Georgia’s children. Vote YES on the Charter School Amendment this November.

–Nancy Jester
DeKalb County Board Of Education
District #1

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National PTA Revises Policy on Charter Schools

By: Education Week

The National Parent Teacher Association has revamped its policy to support giving entities other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools, a new position the group argues, that will increase its ability to shape the diverse and growing sector of independent public schools.

Leaders of the National PTA, an advocacy organization with 5 million members, say their goal is to remain relevant in today’s debates about charter schools by recognizing their place in today’s education system and focusing more intently on improving their quality and oversight.

But it seems that not everyone is on board with the change in philosophy.

A state chapter of the organization, the Georgia PTA, is opposing a ballot measure that will go to voters in November to set up a state-level commission to approve charters. That puts the Georgia chapter at odds with the new national policy, according to the parent organization, which is to resolve the issue and to persuade state officials to remain neutral on the matter. The proposed amendment to the state’s constitution would give the commission the power to create charters over the objections of local school districts.

The National PTA describes itself as the largest volunteer child-advocacy organization in the country. Jacque Chevalier, a senior policy strategist at the national organization, said it hipes to persuade officials to avoid taking a stance on the issue that contradicts the national policy.

“We hope we can reach a conclusion that’s mutually beneficial,” Ms. Chevalier said. “We’re working through it right now.” She declined to say what would happen if the dispute is not resolved.

Transparency, Oversight

The new position statement was approved by the National PTA’s board of directors on Aug. 9. It represents the first change to that policy since 1995, when the charter schools movement was in its infancy.

On first reading, the changes in the policy seem relatively minor and straightforward.

The new statement emphasizes that both charter schools and the entities that typically create and oversee them—known as authorizers—be held to high standards. Authorizers need to regularly engage parents, review charters’ performance, and hold them to contracts based on their performance, the policy says. It calls for transparency in charter schools’ finances and operations and says they should neither exclude students nor divert funding from regular public schools.

The crux of the policy change comes in the deletion of previous wording that said charter schools must “be chartered by and made accountable to the state and local school boards in the districts in which they were located.”

That wording had often been interpreted as limiting authorization to local school boards, Ms. Chevalier noted. In an Aug. 14 letter to presidents of the organization’s state chapters, National PTA President Betsy Landers called their attention to the deletion, and said her organization wanted to ensure that its support “extends to all authorizing bodies and public charter schools,” as long as they are held to high standards.

Ms. Landers noted that almost 50 percent of public charter schools in operation today are authorized by “alternate bodies” and that many local PTAs are already working with those entities. She urged state chapters to become familiar with the policy and make sure their state advocacy efforts complied with it, a step she said was critical to ensuring that the organization’s position on charters remains relevant.

Georgia’s ballot proposal has generated deep rifts across the state. The state’s elected schools superintendent, John Barge, recently announced his opposition to the measure, citing concerns about the impact on regular public schools’ finances, among other worries. He has been strongly criticized for that stance by Gov. Nathan Deal, a fellow Republican who backs the amendment.

Georgia PTA officials declined to comment on their apparent break with the National PTA on the issue. In a statement on the proposed constitutional amendment last month, the state group argued that the ballot proposal would usurp local control, undermine local districts’ finances, and allow for the growth of for-profit operators of charters.

“We reject the state power grab from local communities in the education of their children,” the statement says, “the financial inequities, and the overt attention being given to those who intend to profit from the education of children,” the statement says.

On the Ballot

Ms. Chevalier said that National PTA officials believe the organization’s ability to advocate charter school issues, and press for improved quality in the sector, would be undermined if it was regarded as anti-charter or unwilling to consider new charter models.

“PTA has a role to play,” Ms. Chevalier said. While the National PTA recognizes that the charter school landscape differs by state, and many state chapters have legitimate concerns about specific charter policies, the organization also wants to “position the brand to inform long-term discussions about charters and assist with successful implementation of them.”

Adam Emerson, the director of the program on parental choice at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-charter organization in Washington, said the National PTA’s change in policy is significant and could help dispel the long-standing criticism that the organization’s positions are too closely aligned with teachers’ unions—or that they “focus a lot more on the ‘T’ than on the ‘P’ in the name,” as he put it.

“You wouldn’t necessarily expect them to come across so strongly on this,” Mr. Emerson said. “It’s notable they’ve taken this step at all.”

At the same time, the PTA’s call for strong oversight of authorizers and charters is in keeping with the views of many backers of charter schools, Mr. Emerson added.

In Washington state, meanwhile, the state chapter of the PTA is opposing a ballot measure that would for the first time permit the establishment of charters schools. The proposal would allow a local school board or a new state commission to authorize charters. In a statement posted on the organization’s website, its president, Novella Fraser, said her group opposes that measure because it “did not meet its criteria for local oversight.” The organization is also troubled by the lack of a requirement that parents serve on charter school boards. (Washington state officials did not respond to requests for comment.)

Ms. Chevalier said the National PTA would have preferred that the Washington state organization also stay neutral on the ballot item. But she said the National PTA is sympathetic to some of the chapter’s concerns about the proposed charter law, such as the lack of assurances of parent involvement, and thus the national group regards the Washington chapter’s stance as more in line with the national policy than the Georgia PTA’s stance.

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Lindsey And Barge Continue Charter School Debate

By Edward Lindsey

Superintendent Barge:

I appreciate your response e mail and I am copying my GOP caucus and others since they also received my first sharp rebuke to you earlier this week. Quite frankly, however, despite your protestations, you simply cannot match up your present stated position in your e mail today with your past conduct in this area. I also sharply disagree with the merits of your arguments.

You were not an education novice who campaigned in 2010 by actively seeking out support from charter school advocates and indicated “strong” support for state created charter schools. You are an experienced educator who was well versed on the history of the state supported charter school issue and fully understood at that time the arguments for and against — most of which being the same arguments we are hearing today.

Furthermore, this issue returned to a boil again shortly after you took office with the Supreme Court decision in the spring of 2011 striking down much of HB 881. In response, those of us in the legislature and the executive branch worked closely with both advocates and critics of state funded charter schools for a year to answer concerns and fashion a coalition to pass the constitutional amendment in the legislature. We also worked to maintain funding of existing state created charter schools with the help of your department.

As part of that effort, we also worked extensively throughout the process with representatives from your Department of Education for information and guidance. Throughout this long drawn out process, you never raised opposition to the proposals, voiced fiscal concerns, opposed the continued funding of existing state funded charter schools, or otherwise indicated a change of heart.

This history is what led to my blunt rebuke of your actions earlier this week.

Turning to the merits of your newly minted position, I share your stated concerns for the 1.6 million public school students in this state and the 11,000 public school teachers. Let me start of by reminding you that charter schools are public schools, charter school students are public school students, and charter school teachers are public school teachers.

Regrettably, there have been cuts in state spending on education since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008 – as with every other state in this country. Nevertheless, education has seen some of the smallest cuts of any area in our state budget. Our teachers are still the highest paid in the Southeast and after adjusting for cost of living among the highest paid in the nation. Overall funding per pupil in Georgia is also the second highest in the southeast.

The status quo on education in Georgia is unacceptable. The overall graduation rate in Georgia hovers in the mid 60% range and half of the students who come from low income households drop out before graduating high school. In my household, if my children brought home success records like this from school it would be time for serious changes. It should be same for the Georgia’s education system.

Charter schools are not a silver bullet – there is no one silver bullet – but they are a critically needed tool in the tool box for education reform. Confining children to low performing traditional schools with no hope of an alternative or choice is morally wrong in the 21st century, and under Georgia’s existing state constitution we already have a duty to provide a quality education for every child in Georgia.

I chaired the Charter School Study Committee in 2007 and studied charter schools in Georgia and around the country. Georgia’s present system has left us far behind other states in progress toward true education reform by virtue of many systems’ refusal to even consider charter schools or by other systems literally fiscally starving them to death.

Our charter school proposal provides a simple pressure relief valve – not a fire hose – by giving parents an alternative path for consideration of a charter school application. They must still meet rigorous standards for consideration and if they fail to perform as promised they can be shut down. (Let me know the last time a traditional public school was shut down for poor performance.)

You speak of local control. I believe the ultimate local control should rest with the parents and the students. Therefore, I will let you stand with the status quo education bureaucracy. I stand with the students and their parents who deserve better.

In closing, let me also add that I will work with you on other education issues in the future despite my deep disappointment in your reversal on this matter.

State Representative Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta)
Georgia House Majority Whip

cc: Georgia House Republican Caucus

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John Barge’s Reply To Edward Lindsey’s Open Letter

Dear Rep. Lindsey,

Thank you for your comments on my position on the charter schools amendment. As the state’s top education official, I felt it was important stand up for the 1.6 million students and 111,000 teachers in Georgia’s public schools. I fully support creating high quality charter schools, but I cannot support the constitutional amendment. It would be harmful to the 2,300 public schools in the state that have been cut more than $4 billion since 2008. I am a true conservative who believes in limited government and fiscal responsibility. Establishing a charter school commission would go against both of those principles. First and foremost, we must work to restore school calendars to 180 days and make sure teachers are getting their full annual pay. A new state agency that duplicates the existing work of the state Department of Education and the powers of the State Board of Education – while taking away local control and costing taxpayers millions of dollars – is just plain wrong. If the amendment passes, I will honor the wishes of Georgia voters, but I could not stay silent on an issue so critical to our public schools. I look forward to continuing to work with you on issues relating to education in Georgia.

Sincerely,

John Barge
State School Superintendent

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An Open Letter to State School Superintendent John Barge

John:

I read with interest – and surprise — your statement today opposing the Charter School Amendment. I also went back and reviewed your responses to the questionnaire you filled out when you ran for office in 2010 which can be found here http://www.gacharters.org/wp-content/uploads/John-Barge.pdf, in which you stated that you “strongly” supported the State Charter School Commission and the creation of state charter schools.

If you were in court on cross examination the people of Georgia might enjoy watching you answer one of my favorite questions when someone impeaches themselves by testifying two entirely different ways to the same question: “were you lying then or are you lying now?”

But we am not in court. Therefore, let me simply say that as one public official to another that the most important attribute one person can have is personal trust in the public arena. You have squandered that today – as well as selling out the children of Georgia who need a State School Superintendent who does more than simply cower before the entrenched forces of the status quo.

State Representative Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta)
Georgia House Majority Whip

cc: Georgia House Republican Caucus

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John Barge Opposes Charter Schools

By John Barge

I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students, but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia’s students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts – much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average of the Charter Commission that would be revived if the amendment passes).

I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education. What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).

I trust our local school districts will continue to approve only high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students, and I am committed to working with all of our school districts to ensure that high quality applicants are not denied locally – including mediating between high quality charter school applicants and any local districts that are reluctant to approve them, as provided by existing Georgia law.”

I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students, but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia’s students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts – much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average of the Charter Commission that would be revived if the amendment passes).

I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education. What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).

I trust our local school districts will continue to approve only high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students, and I am committed to working with all of our school districts to ensure that high quality applicants are not denied locally – including mediating between high quality charter school applicants and any local districts that are reluctant to approve them, as provided by existing Georgia law.

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