It’s a Must: Say YES to Fixing Georgia’s Failing Schools

200px-Georgia-state-capitol-dome

The opposition to Georgia’s opportunity school district referendum has stockpiled millions of dollars to fight against desperately needed measures to help students in failing schools.  The opponents of Amendment 1, which voters will consider this November, include the Georgia Association of Educators and the Geogia AFL-CIO, along with many other members of the public school establishment.  The National Education Association has dedicated 1.5 million dollars for an ad campaign to oppose the Opportunity School District, and opposition groups recently spent $730,000 to run television ads against the initiative.

The Opportunity School District initiative, known as Amendment 1, addresses the 127 failing schools in Georgia that have not attained a 60 percent score for the last three consecutive years on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index.  The Opportunity School District (OSD) is a proposed constitutional amendment that must receive voter approval on November 8th, and is modeled after similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee.  This legislation will allow the state to temporarily step in to aid schools that have struggled for years to successfully educate students, who are compelled to attend based on their zip code.  The state’s involvement would last anywhere between 5 to 10 years and then would return to local control.

Recently, Governor Nathan Deal presented his case in support of the OSD at the Georgia Education  Leadership Institute:

Let’s start talking about the children.  Let’s make sure that our schools serve their best interests and change them when they don’t.  Let’s end a status quo that does not produce results, despite ever-greater sums of money.  Let’s listen to the numbers – which have no agenda – instead of to the advocacy groups and resentful partisans who do.

He addressed the constant demands by opposition groups to simply spend more money on education in Georgia:

…I worked with the General Assembly to allocate a total of $8.9 billion in state funds for K-12 education in the FY 2017 budget.  That includes $300 million in additional funds for salary increases for educators….You know, it’s funny that we often get accused of cutting spending on education, when in actuality we’ve increased it every year that I’ve been in office.  In fact, my administration has spent more of the state budget on education than any administration in the past 50 years since Governor Carl Sanders was in office.

He continued his address stating:

But as I said at this very same venue last year, the underlying issues facing our classrooms today – the challenges that often lead to academic failure – cannot be solved by simply throwing more state dollars at the issue.  And we know that money alone does not result in improved student performance because over the forty-year period between 1970 and 2010, education spending nationally increased 185 percent in the United States while performance on our national exams remained the same.

Many opponents of Amendment 1 argue, as they almost always do, that improving education can be done by allocating more funding for education.  Current opposition also includes a rejection of the state’s involvement in education in favor of continuing local control.  But if local control has continually yielded schools that cannot properly educate students, then why should that failure continue to be enabled and funded?

The Georgia Federation of Teachers website includes this dubious statement on why voters should oppose the referendum: “What parents, educators and community members really want is schools where educators are respected and well-supported, and children can get a well-rounded, vibrant curriculum.”  As a parent, I can assure you that my chief priority in the education of my own children is, instead, a stellar education that guarantees a bright future for my kids, rather than propping up a school that continues to fail.

Georgia must improve these schools that have already failed to educate 68,000 students, regardless of how loudly powerful bureaucrats, lobbyists, and interest groups that act in the interest of adults may complain.

-Rhonda Gatch

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We the Parents will not Accept Excuses

Education reform is a unique issue because it is a nonpartisan one.  In a nation where our citizens and lawmakers are polarized to the point of total gridlock, education reform unites  leaders and parents of widely varying political views.  After all, our kids cannot even vote- but if they could- do you suppose that they would vote for uniform curriculums that follow a two-dimensional, monotonous model of one-size-fits-all methods and strategies from a bygone era of factory efficiency, mass scale, and minimal innovation and individualism?

Would our kids vote to increase their class size and decrease access to technological innovations, in order to secure early retirements and plump pension plans for teachers and administrators?  No, they obviously would not support today’s educational establishment that seeks to preserve its monopoly on power while denying innovation and individualization in the classroom and in communities that have very unique needs.  Our kids need champions who demand alternatives to the status quo which stubbornly clings to our failing educational system, destroying dreams, unique gifts and talents, and curiosity in its path.  Our kids need parents to speak up for them, refusing to accept the relentless pursuit of this tired educational factory model of uniformity that permeates many American schools.

Rest assured that there is a myriad of alternative methodologies and models from which to choose.  And these choices are not untried, thanks to daring independent schools, public magnet schools, and public charter schools.  Research-based education exists, but laziness within this sluggish, lethargic, and unresponsive system prevents its implementation.  Perhaps it seems risky to take bold action, but it is simply foolhardy to refuse to do so.  When kids are languishing every day, eight hours a day, in classrooms that do not begin to meet their needs, hand-wringing and sympathy do not suffice.

Do not tell me that you are a supporter of freedom, free enterprise, competition, or American innovation if you simultaneously stand with the established power-brokers and power-mongers of our public education system.  Do not tell me that you are frustrated and want to find solutions, too, when you deny every opportunity to implement reforms and community level changes.  Parents and concerned citizens must be unafraid and unyielding in calling for immediate action, innovation, and improvement in our children’s educational opportunities.

We must demand more choices, and we cannot accept the excuses of the past when it is the future which our kids will face that hangs in the balance.

-by Rhonda Gatch

What will it Take to Empower Parents in Georgia?

Parent Revolution in Los Angeles with Mayor Villaraigosa.
Parent Revolution in Los Angeles

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

In Louisiana, it took hurricane Katrina.  In Los Angeles, it took a “Parent Revolution.”  In Georgia, what will it take to empower parents to engage in their children’s education and to force the urgent and necessary changes that will guarantee a successful education and future for their kids?  A new bill that is working its way through the legislature in Georgia will open the gates to unprecedented input and control for parents over their children’s education.  Rep. Ed Lindsey, along with Rep. Brooks Coleman, Rep. Jan Jones, Rep. Mike Glanton, Rep. David Casas, and Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan, has sponsored HB 123: the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The most current version of HB 123 in Georgia is linked here

The Parent and Teacher Empowerment act will allow a majority of parents OR a majority of teachers-faculty and instructional staff members- to convert an existing school into a charter school or to impose any of six possible turnaround models on a low-achieving school.  A low-achieving school is defined as a public school “that is in the lowest 20 percent of all public schools in this state based on school performance as determined by the Department of Education.”  Other guidelines that may lead to a school qualifying as “low-achieving” may include a school that has received an unacceptable rating on student achievement or on achievement gap closure.

While laws such as HB 123 are often referred to as “Parent Triggers,” the Georgia law that is being considered will also provide unprecedented power for teachers to effect complete makeovers of their schools without waiting decades for obvious problems to- perhaps? one day? -be addressed.  For communities which desire to convert their traditional public school into a public charter school, this act would give those parents and teachers new leverage. Most importantly, however, is a revolutionary transfer of decision-making power into the hands of parents.  Rather than continuing to waste the critical, precious hours of students every day in a classroom where learning has not been taking place, parents of these students can organize, sign a petition, or cast a vote that will transform their school.

For communities who simply want to force improvements in their own neighborhood schools, the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act provides six possible turnaround models:

  • Removal of school personnel, including the principal.
  • Complete “reconstitution” of the school, removing all personnel, appointing a new principal, and hiring all new staff.
  • Relocation of a student, by the parent, into other public schools in the local school system according to a list provided by that school system.
  • Employment of a management team or monitor.
  • Preparation/implementation of an intensive student achievement plan.
  • Complete restructuring of the school’s governance plan or its internal organization.

Although at times there have been some minute improvements in academic achievement in Georgia’s schools, and some schools are very successful, the stubborn fact remains that this state struggles to attract businesses and lacks a well-prepared work force.  Georgia continues to score near the bottom in national education measures.  Most parents  appear to be lulled into hopeless acceptance of a system that is continuing to fail Georgia’s students.  But this bill turns the current paradigm on its head and then gives parents and teachers new seats at the table.

Accepting the status quo and its control over your child’s education in Georgia public schools is no longer going to be the necessary reality after the passage of the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The educational establishment cannot usurp the decision making authority of parents over their own children’s education any longer if this law is passed.  The status quo educational leaders and lobbyists for the educational establishment in this state expect parents to sit down, shut up, bake some cookies, and “Leave it to the professionals.”  With power to make crucial decisions and determinations about educational strategies, curriculum, models, and faculty, parents no longer must settle for being sidelined and ignored.  Georgia parents, teachers, and students should not silently wait years and years on the DOE- Department of Education- plan to work its supposed, repeatedly-promised magic when there is a genuine opportunity to be empowered instead.

-Rhonda Gatch
Co-Founder, Moms for School Choice

Coming in near the Bottom in Education is not Okay

U.S. students recently finished 25th in math and 17th in science in the ranking of 31 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Watch this new brief ad from Students First! Also check out the Global Report Card website to discover how your school district compares and performs.

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