Absolute power corrupts absolutely with Opportunity School District

 

 

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal skipped the recent state Republican convention in Augusta to avoid criticism of his repeated betrayal of conservative principles (his vetoes of religious-liberty and campus-carry bills). So he wasn’t there to argue for
his proposed education reforms, due up in the next legislative session.

He did make it clear in an interview, however, that although he has broken faith with his constituents, he fully expects them to trust him with ever-increasing power over Georgia’s public education.

 

THE GOVERNOR chided constituents for being “vindictive” in opposing his education policies, which evokes guffaws from anyone familiar with his repeated funding cuts to the districts of legislators who refuse to genuflect to him. But hypocrisy aside, opposition to his proposed reforms – especially the so-called Opportunity School District – has nothing to do with vindictiveness.

OSD (which must be approved by constitutional-amendment referendum in November) is a program under which a new state bureaucracy will take over schools that, for whatever reasons, score too low on the state’s accountability rating.

“State bureaucracy” means “the governor’s office” – because the OSD superintendent will be appointed by and answerable only to the governor. Forget the state Board of Education or the elected state school superintendent, much less the elected local boards of education. All power will reside in the Capitol.

And what power that will be. The OSD superintendent/governor would have extraordinary authority to close schools; fire and replace teachers and principals; reassign students; waive state rules and policies; issue orders to the elected school boards; transfer schools to the State Charter Schools Commission; and on and on.

All this could be done with essentially no input from local parents or other community members. And a school could be trapped under the boot of the OSD superintendent/governor – or perhaps with an unaccountable charter operator – for as long as 10 years. So much for local control over education.

The governor claims this scheme has worked elsewhere. He cites New Orleans, where a Recovery School District was established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Putting aside the question whether schools being washed out to sea is the best model for education reform in Georgia, the results from New Orleans are decidedly mixed.

 

SOME OF THE taken-over schools have shown improvement in test scores – but only after they switched from open enrollment to selective enrollment, allowing them to weed out disruptive students. Overall, RSD students continue to score in the bottom 25 percent of all Louisiana students on state tests, and many parents complain they have fewer education choices now than they did before RSD.

Another supposed success story for centralized takeover comes from Tennessee, which established an Achievement School District for “failing” schools. But 2016 results show that “five out of the six schools in the ASD’s first cohort in 2012 are still in the bottom 5 percent, despite the state-run district’s goal to catapult them to the state’s top quartile within five years.”

Even if there were persuasive evidence this type of scheme can work, there is no reason to believe Gov. Deal’s office could pull it off. The governor’s people are the ones responsible for the continued imposition of the subpar Common Core national standards (now rebranded as the “Georgia Standards of Excellence” after the governor’s fig-leaf executive order requiring a standards review). They are the ones who relentlessly push the idea of dumbed-down workforce training instead of genuine education.

The chances that they would do something meaningful – such as discard progressive education fads and implement classical education – are essentially zero.

These also are the people who are neck-deep in conflicts of interest where OSD is concerned. As reported by ajc.com, “The architect of Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal to allow the state takeover of Georgia’s most struggling schools (OSD) is advising one of the state’s biggest school districts )Atlanta Public Schools) on how to avoid state intervention while also consulting the governor on education issues.” Erin Hames, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, “will make $30,000 over the next year consulting Deal on education policy even as she draws from a no-bid $96,000 consulting contract with the Atlanta Public Schools system.”

 

IT HELPS TO have friends in high places. But of course, Ms. Hames’ connections to the governor surely won’t influence how many APS schools get sucked into the OSD maw.

Right.

Parents not lucky enough to be represented by the ubiquitous Ms. Hames will watch while their voice in their children’s education is eradicated for years, if not forever. This is the governor’s idea of “reform.”

Nothing – nothing – in this entire scheme, or in Gov. Deal’s history, suggests Georgians should trust him with even more power than he has now. OSD is manifestly not the answer.

 

(The writer is a senior fellow for the nonprofit organization American Principles in Action.)

 

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