Archives for category: Georgia

Georgia is a little late to the Mad-Hatters’ Reform Tea Party, but its Governor Nathan Deal is rushing to catch up. At the last election, he changed the Constitution so that the decisions of local boards could be overturned, to authorize a charter school where it was neither wanted nor needed. That is an assault on local control, engineered by the corporate minds at ALEC.

Now Governor Deal is pushing a constitutional amendment to create a Georgia Opportunity School District, akin to Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, which did not meet its goals of raising low performing schools into the top 25% in the state by turning them into charters.

Fortunately there are wiser heads in the state. One is Phil Lanoue, the superintendent of schools in Athens, who was chosen as national superintendent of the year by his colleagues in the American Association of School Administrators. Phil Lanoue will be one of the keynote speakers at the national conference of the Network for Public Schools in Raleigh, NC, from April 15-17, 2016.

Without mentioning the looming battles and conflicts that reformers dearly love, Lanoue writes about what really works to improve schools.

He calls for an end to “the blame game” and advises:

The Georgia Vision Project ( was developed by researchers and educational experts, with the support of the Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Georgia School Boards Association. The impetus for this work is one we must all rally behind – to “offer recommendations which will transform the current system into one that is relevant for today’s children and youth.”

The alignment of our work with Georgia’s Vision must continue with fidelity to be shared across our state, with communities and agencies on board as well. We have a solid framework for improving our schools. For this to occur, we must stop the blame game. This is not an effective strategy, and needs to end if we are truly going to see the shifts we all hope will happen.

The metric for which we assess our students and school performance must change as well. In schools today, we should show success by demonstrating collaboration, innovation, creativity, communication and helping ensure the health of our children. However, the end game today for our students is simply a number from a score on standardized tests. These tests mostly evaluate someone else, like a teacher or administrator, or something else. We know this, but the conversations do not change and that is a major disservice to our children.

We can be much more effective if we build collaboration with multiple agencies to stabilize the often turbulent lives of our students. It can be done, and we have many examples of success across this state and country. However, building the supports we need across all aspects of our community can only succeed with a laser focus on children’s needs from birth to postsecondary education. To improve public education we must share and overlap resources. No single agency can do the work alone in supporting and educating our children. We must work together with a common focus on learning at high levels for all children.

We have a framework, as well as many examples of success. The major obstacle at this point is our decision to do this work together as Georgians. We are stronger than the sum of our parts, and together is the only way we can enact the changes that are needed to propel our state to the next level.

Bertis Downs lives in Athens, Georgia, in one of the state’s poorest communities. He is a great advocate for public education and is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education. He made his mark as manager of the rock group R.E.M. We are very proud to have him advise us, given his devotion to public schools, where his own daughters are students. This article he wrote was posted by Valerie Strauss on her blog this morning.

One of the amazing things about Athens and the Clarke County School District is that its superintendent, Philip Lanoue, was chosen as National Superintendent of the Year by his colleagues.

He writes that the over-testing culture has not been good for the local public schools. Parents and teachers don’t like it. But Superintendent Lanoue has led the way in making positive changes.

Bertis writes:

I mean, really, if this over-testing, high-stakes culture is really such a great idea, wouldn’t reformers want this environment for their own children? Wouldn’t they push the elite private schools their children attend to adopt those “innovative reforms” too? The fact that they don’t is telling. These are not educationally sound ideas, and reformers know it, even as they call these policies “innovative” as they push them to the public. Do they think we don’t know better? Of course the schools exempt from the public mandates don’t nurture this absurd over-testing culture, especially the ones labeled “innovative” by those passing the laws. Balderdash, by any other name…

Our family lives in Athens, Georgia, a community that – like most communities – values public education, and our kids go to our local public schools. Our school district has been innovating, really innovating in some pretty creative ways, some of which might even sound old-fashioned or simple. I actually prefer the word “intuitive.” Especially for the past six years, we are grateful for the leadership of Phil Lanoue, who was named 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.

He deserves the honor, and here’s why: he works to build up all Athens community schools by focusing on teaching and learning, using technology where it enhances the overall mission of educating students, working with community partners to try new techniques, enhancing efficacy, and emphasizing our community’s capacity to support the work of our neighborhood schools. Dr. Lanoue is the first to state that he isn’t the only one putting in the work. He sets a tone, supports his team members and advances good ideas that foster high-quality teaching and learning. Many of these ideas are proving themselves effective over the years.

Read on to learn ahow Lanoue has provided positive leadership to the schools and the community.

Maureen Downey tells the story on her blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Georgia was late opening charters so it has not seen scandals like Ohio and Florida. Here is the first big one.

She writes:

“An AJC story this week reveals troubling allegations about the much heralded Atlanta Latin Academy and its charismatic and well-regarded founder Chris Clemons.

“Police have called Clemons a suspect in the disappearance of $600,000 from the school.
That is likely to shock people who knew him. The Georgia Charter Schools Association describes Clemons as “visionary” on its website.

“A 2007 profile of him by a MIT publication — Clemons holds a MBA from the prestigious school — quotes a former colleague as saying, “He’s brilliant. I don’t know anyone who can keep up with his mind…If he believes in something, watch out. The sky is the limit for him.”

AJC reporter Molly Bloom wrote:

“Atlanta police are investigating the alleged theft of more than half a million dollars from a charter school, according to a police report.

“More than $600,000 was taken from Atlanta Latin Academy bank and credit card accounts through ATM withdrawals to pay for dinners, nonwork-related travel, bonuses to employees and “personal entertainment at local nightclubs, ” according to the report.

“School founder Chris Clemons and the school‘s operations director were the only staff members with access to both accounts, school board chairman Kaseem Ladipo said.”

At this point, Clemons is the only suspect.

Welcome, Georgia, to the wonderful new world of charters, where public money mysteriously disappears.

Governor Nathan Deal likes to point out that both his parents taught school, but it’s not clear what kind of school they taught. Clearly he doesn’t like public schools. He has proposed legislation based on Tennessee’s failing “Achievement School District.”

Jack Hassard, a Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Georgia State University, explains that Governor Deal’s plan will set in motion “the infrastructure to tear Georgia’s public schools apart.”

The author of the plan was a young reformer with three years of teaching experience. Her name is Erin Haimes. She has now set up a consulting firm and is being paid to help districts figure out how to avoid the consequences of the law she wrote.

Hassard writes:

“Where does this path take public education in Georgia? It’s a path that is based on fear. It’s a path that is based on competition. It’s a path that is based on greed. It’s a path that is based on opinion and not knowledge.

“As others have said, the plan that will be voted on in the 2016 election, and will be supported by a group that Hames will lead, and will be targeted by organizations and families outside of Georgia who stand to make a financial killing in the state.”

Philip Lanoue, superintendent of the Clarke County public schools, wrote a strong column opposing Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to takeover “low-performing” schools. Deal wants to copy Tennessee’s faltering “Achievement School District,” which has shown no progress in the past four years. Why anyone would copy a failed model is puzzling.

Lanoue cites several reasons for opposing the state takeovers, the most fundamental being the elimination of local control of schools. He may not have known when he wrote this article that elimination of local control is

He writes:

The Opportunity School District superintendent will have final decision-making authority over all aspects of the school, which would no longer be under the control of local superintendents and school boards. This is in direct contrast to current governance structures in public and charter schools, which require checks and balances through board governance models. In addition, the superintendent would have sole authority to select schools that qualify as “failing” schools. This does not align with the current movement to have more local control, as the selection of schools does not require any level of input by the State Board of Education, local boards of education, local school districts, governance entities or communities. The current budget for this program includes 3 percent administrative costs, and is concerning in this time when public education budgets are already suffering.
Here in Athens-Clarke County, a governance model based on democracy is a cornerstone of how we operate — as it is across the state. To take away democratic principles is monumental and allows Georgia communities to be stripped of their identities as having primary responsibility of educating their children. To impact schools and communities, we must take a collaborative and comprehensive approach to reform centered on the creation of dynamic learning environments strongly joined with quality early literacy; physical and mental health care; and positive and safe home and school environments. In a time where collaboration is the key to systemic change, simply changing governance as the key to reform has a greater result of creating divisions — not unity.
Educators, school boards and local school communities have the ultimate responsibility for providing engaging learning environments that ensure all students achieve. To change the Georgia Constitution to take away that responsibility will fragment communities across the state, and sets a very dangerous precedent for future decisions in educating all Georgia students.

Dr. Jim Arnold, superintendent of the Pelham City schools, explains why Georgia has a teaching shortage. The answer can be summed up in a few words: Governor Nathan Deal and ALEC, and one very long sentence:

Is it any wonder that many teachers have finally reached the point where they are fed up with scripted teaching requirements and phony evaluations that include junk science VAM and furlough days and increased testing that reduces valuable teaching time and no pay raises and constant curriculum changes and repeated attacks on their profession from people that have no teaching experience and the constant attempts to legislate excellence and cut teacher salaries and reduce teacher benefits and monkey with teacher retirement and SLO’s for non-tested subjects and state and federal policies that require more and more paperwork and less and less teaching and tighter and tighter budgets that mean doing more and more with less and less and longer school days and larger classes with higher and higher expectations and a political agenda that actively encourages blaming teachers for societal issues and the denigration of public education and market based solutions and legislators bought and paid for by ALEC and a continued reliance upon standardized test scores as an accurate depiction of student learning and achievement with no substantive research to support such a position and top-down management from people that wouldn’t know good teaching if it spit on their shoes and slapped them in the face? No wonder teachers are discouraged. No wonder teacher morale is at an all- time low. No wonder more and more teachers are retiring.

Please read the rest to find out what should be done about Governor Nathan Deal’s embrace of Alec’s agenda to get rid of public education.

Dan DeLamater of Athens, Georgia, is a conservative Republican, a public school parent, and an insurance executive. Maureen Downey posted his article on her blog “Get Schooled” in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

DeLamater says he is “disgusted” by Governor Nathan Deal’s proposal for a statewide “opportunity school district,” in which the state would abrogate local control and take over low-performing schools. He wrote: Unfortunately, opportunity in this administration is defined by crony capitalism not beneficial education reform.

DeLamater came to see that ALEC was behind the state takeover plan:

First, we have learned about ALEC, a hideous national legislative-steering organization where lobbyists, private interests, and legislators craft legislation behind closed doors. There is no sunlight on this entity. There is no accountability. Participants are back-room puppet masters controlling the local and national political agenda. Until recently, most of us had no idea it even existed.

Regarding one important topic, ALEC is admittedly and proudly against public education. The for-profit education industry rules ALEC’s agenda here – including testing companies, consultants, for-profit schools. And lest you doubt ALEC’s influence in Georgia, know that state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, has served as National Chairman for ALEC.

Second, we have learned that Gov. Deal has become enamored with state takeover of school districts. The power play topped the governor’s education agenda in the last legislative session, in the form of the legislation to allow a state-wide referendum to create the “Opportunity School District.”

This state takeover is contrary to the long-standing “conservative” mandate of local control within the Republican Party since a state takeover clearly usurps locally elected school boards. This is contrary to any information provided by the governor’s appointed Education Reform Commission as their recommendations are still under construction to this day. This is contrary to our state’s Constitutional mandate as Georgia state government is forbidden to control local school districts.

Third, we know the governor hired an inexperienced but eager-to-lead Erin Hames as his education expert. The statewide-elected Georgia state school superintendent was evidently not an appropriate expert for Gov. Deal. This is not a surprise, of course. After all, Deal has minimized and circumvented the voters’ superintendent for years – John Barge previously and Richard Woods recently.

Hames lobbied for the takeover law, pushed it through the legislature, then–before leaving public employ–created a consulting business to advise districts on how to avoid falling prey to the law she helped to pass.

Her first contract was a no-bid contract with the Atlanta Public Schools for $96,000.

DeLamater writes:

The APS Board has $96,000 available to hire Ms. Hames. I fear for those who are not as fortunate as the APS. Or Gov. Deal. Or Ms. Hames. Or their friends. I wonder where public school children in Georgia fall in this pecking order… you’ll be hard pressed to find their interests represented by anyone involved in this sordid tale.

Columnist Myra Blackmon of Athrns, Georgia, sees through the so-called “reform” movement: its goal is to disrupt and destroy public education.

Blackmon describes the latest shenanigans in Georgia. The Governor’s education aide, Erin Hames, crafted legislation to create an “opportunity school district” modeled on the one that failed in Tennessee. The state will close or take over the lowest scoring schools and hand them to entrepreneurs to run as charters.

Now the Atlanta Public Schools system has hired Hames for $96,000 a year to figure out how to keep its low performing schools from being taken over by the state. So Ms. Hames gets to write the bill, then is hired as a consultant to avoid its consequences.

Blackmon writes:

“If that isn’t sleazy, I don’t know what is. Hames engineered the entire Opportunity School District, complete with junkets to New Orleans and Nashville for key legislators, testimony before committees in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and God only knows what other dealing. So now, she will go to work for the other side, helping Atlanta’s school system — and any other districts with the money to hire her — avoid what she worked so hard to bring upon them.

“Hames’ credentials as an education expert aren’t at all strong. She taught for three years, then went to law school. Upon completion of her law degree, she immediately went to work on education issues for former Gov. Sonny Perdue. She stayed on with Deal, rising to deputy chief of staff and taking the lead on education issues….

“This is how the self-selected “education reformers” operate. Their motive is profit and personal advancement. They love the idea of schools run by private organizations, staffed with uncertified teachers, cherry-picking the easy students and leaving the most vulnerable students behind. Unproven, invalid standardized tests drive every decision.

“It is disgusting. It is immoral. It is repugnant to every American ideal of community, mutual support and benefit and democratic rule. It defies the values of local control in favor of centralized, easily managed power — all the while claiming “it’s for the children.”

Myra Blackmon, a regular education columnist for Online Athens (Georgia), “almost choked” when she read that Governor Nathan Deal’s education advisor said about the governor’s “reform” commission, “if the group doesn’t recommend doing away with paying for training and experience, then I’m not sure that we’re going to change anything about the way business is done.”

Blackmon pointed out quite correctly that experience matters in teaching as it does in every other important job or profession. So do advanced degrees, as they represent greater knowledge for the teacher of what he or she is teaching. She asks: “Who do we want teaching our children”?

She writes, with more commonsense and knowledge that either Governor Deal or his “expert” education advisor:

First, the assumption that standardized test scores are the sole measure of student achievement is wrong. Standardized tests do a lousy job of measuring in-depth learning. It is very difficult for such tests to assess how well a student understands concepts, applies them across subjects and integrates them into other learning and into everyday life.

It’s easy to assess how well students can spell and define vocabulary words, but standardized tests don’t measure how a student uses those words in conversation, helps others understand what they mean or uses them in an essay in another course.

Second is the assumption that teachers are all that matter in a child’s learning, and that if a child has trouble learning, absent diagnosed disabilities that prevent it, that is all because of the teacher. If you believe that, you know little about the realities of poor children’s lives or the decades of research and documentation about how they learn.

Everything I’ve read says that socioeconomic status is the single largest contributing factor to a child’s academic performance. Poor children start school behind in vocabulary, basic readiness measures and the social skills that kids need to learn in a classroom setting.

My own experience in public schools and my conversations with dozens of teachers in many states confirms what the researchers tell us. A child entering pre-school who has had learning-oriented day care, been read to extensively and had enriching life experiences like travel, is already way ahead of the one who doesn’t know colors, or even how to hold a book. I have seen these children struggle from the first day. It is heartbreaking.

The third assumption is that teaching is simply a technical skill that can be learned by anyone in a relatively short period of time. It is not. Teaching is a complex process that requires understanding of the different ways in which children learn, how to apply multiple teaching methods based on individual needs, how to accurately assess learning and how to respond to the needs of 20 or more children at the same time.

I reject those assumptions, so I reject the premise that we don’t really need to compensate teachers for advanced degrees or years of experience.

Do you want your child taught by the teen next door? By someone who dropped out of high school? By someone who never taught before? Or would you prefer to have an experienced and credentialed teacher?

This is the story of a young man, Paul Serrato, who graduated first in his class at Apalachee High School in Barrett County in Georgia. His parents emigrated from Mexico, where they had hard lives. He too had to work hard. Nothing came easily. Paul understands and acknowledges the sacrifices that others made on his behalf.


He was accepted at Stanford University.


Here is the video of his speech at graduation.


Public education gave him opportunity, and he made the most of it.


My favorite line from his speech: “We may be self-directed, but we were not self-made.” His family, his teachers, his classmates helped him succeed.


This is public education at its finest. Doors open to all, without a lottery.


This community can be proud of its schools.




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