How Did We Forget That We’re All Stakeholders in the Public Schools
In the November election, by a startling margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, voters defeated Georgia’s constitutional amendment to allow the establishment of a state-takeover school district. During the campaign as voters learned that the state would likely operate struggling schools through huge, private, charter management companies, they turned against the plan. It’s amazing that anybody except right-wing ideologues thought the Georgia Opportunity District was a good idea in the first place, but maybe until the campaign for Amendment 1 got under way, people were relatively uninformed. Unless we are teachers or parents, we may not be paying close enough attention to public education these days to understand the ins and outs of any particular school governance plan. When was it that so many of us stopped really considering ourselves active stakeholders in the way our community educates its children?
Myra Blackmon, writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, considers the role of the public in the defeat of Governor Nathan Deal’s Georgia Opportunity School District: “Liberals and conservatives, rural and urban residents, people of all races decided that a state takeover of local schools deemed poor performers is not a tolerable solution. At the same time, there was no ballot initiative that let people weigh in on exactly how they want to improve education.” Blackmon explains that people gathered together when they were informed enough to fear a bad plan. She encourages people to stay engaged and work together to improve the schools that would have been turned over to the state: “Georgians have a unique opportunity to continue to work across partisan and demographic lines to address problems in schools that serve large populations of poor people in communities that often lack resources. There are several possibilities for this unusual alliance to continue its newfound influence.”
“Most schools, once absorbed by the state district, are converted to charters. Although all 3 state takeover laws provided for other options, 107 of the 116 schools currently operating have been converted to charter schools.”
“Of the 44,000 students enrolled in these schools, 96% are African American or Latino.”
“Student results have not justified the takeovers. In Louisiana where the Recovery School District (RSD) is the nation’s first all-charter district, 41% of the schools received a D or F grade under the state’s accountability system. In Tennessee, student results under the Achievement School District (ASD) lagged behind those of students in schools that were being supported by the local district… In Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) 79% of students either showed no improvement, or lost ground on state assessments.”
Finally there is the issue of rapid turnover of teachers—in Michigan, a turnover rate of 50 percent in the first two years. In Tennessee, after the first year, 46% of teachers left their jobs.