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The Art of Teaching Science: The Undemocratic Character of Georgia’s Chronically Failing School Turnaround Amendment

Over the next several weeks, leading up to the November 8th election, we will explore the Opportunity School District from the standpoint of research just published by the National Education Policy Center.  The 697 page book of 28 research chapters addresses the nature of schooling entitled Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms (Mathis, W. J., & Trujillo, T. M. (2016). Learning from the federal market-based reforms: Lessons for ESSA (The National Education Policy Center Series). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing).  Much of my criticism of the Opportunity (aka Misfortunate) School District will be based on the research reported in this new publication.

The misguided Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, has pushed through an amendment to the Georgia Constitution (if approved by the electorate) to will enable a czar within the Governor’s office to name 20 schools per year from around the state that are considered “failing schools” based on the state’s use of high stakes testing.  Using an arbitrary cutoff score if 60 on Georgia’s school evaluation measure, the state has identified a list of schools around Georgia that they believe are chronically failing.

The Georgia plan is essentially a “turnaround” strategy of school reconstitution.  There is a quartet of plans out there including transformation (fire the principal followed by changing around the school and testing the heck out of students to see if worked), turnaround (fire the principal and no more than 50% of the teachers, and then test the heck out of the students), restart (bring in a charter school), and closure(a devastating measure, as Chicago can attest). Closing schools is probably the worst strategy to be used in that communities are weakened and massive void of a school affects the entire community.

According to Senate Bill 133, which authorized an amendment to be placed on the November ballot, the state will use the “restart” model, and turn all “chronically failing” schools into charter schools.

The plan to restart chronically failing schools was a power play by the Governor, and 159 members of the Georgia General Assembly, as well as the charter school lobby, and funds from several philanthropic market-based reform groups.  There was nearly no advice from the 181 school districts and school boards around the state, nor the 114,000 teachers and the families of 1.6 million students.  Yes, the amendment will be put on the ballot, but as most amendments are written, it is biased in favor of Governor Deal’s pet idea.

The proposed ballot title is:

“ Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
( ) Yes

( ) No

Most citizens will not know that if they vote “yes” they are authorizing a czar in the Governor’s office to fire every principal in the chronically failing schools, and most likely start mass firings of up to 50% of the teachers in these schools.  They also do not know that a charter school management company will be hired to manage the schools, and the funds to manage these schools will come from the local school budget.  They also will not know that the charter school management company will be able to use millions of dollars worth of school buildings and land paid for by local citizens.  So in midst of local public school districts will be solitary schools, say in Kingsland or Bainbridge, that belong to a district whose superintendent works out of an office in downtown Atlanta!

Worse, the research on test-based sanctions does not support Governor Deal’s takeover plan.  The plan is a punishment model, that will turn 20 schools into economic and profitable commercial ventures, at the cost of these communities’ students, teachers and parents.  The Deal plan is based on the New Orleans Recovery School District, a corporate take-over of schools in the city, which has not been a very successful plan.

The punishment model has largely been implemented in school districts of low-income families and children of color.  And the largest form of turnaround mentality is that of mass layoffs.  And according to research reported in Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms, with over 40 years of study, the use of mass firings is not supported by empirical evidence (Mathis, W. J., & Trujillo, T. M., 2016).

The character of the Deal model is not only undemocratic, but goes against the basic principles of American public education.  It is best described in Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error when she quoted one of the founders of liberty, John Adams.  He said:

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.

This is the first of a series of posts detailing why the Opportunity School District is a bad idea for education in Georgia, and why it must be voted down on November 8th.

Vote NO on Amendment 1 on the November 8th ballot.


Please note that during the election season, many posts indicate preferences for candidates. NEPC, in republishing such posts, is not endorsing those views.

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordina...