Ed Johnson is an Atlanta community activist who is deeply concerned about the corporate reform takeover of the school board.

He wrote this open letter to the school board:

10 July 2018

Atlanta Mayor’s first-ever Chief Education Officer, an alum of TFA and BCG

Yesterday The Atlanta Voice reported that Atlanta’s new Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, has hired Aliya Bhatia to be the city’s first-ever Chief Education Officer.

Unsurprisingly, Bhatia comes into the job by way of Teach for America (TFA), Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Harvard University. BCG is known to charge exuberant fees for cookie-cutter-like recommendations to downsize and privatize public services and for being a danger to public education.

According to The Atlanta Voice (my emphasis):

“As Chief Education Officer, Bhatia will work with community stakeholders to improve collaboration and identify and advocate for policies and resources that will improve access to high-quality education for all Atlantans.”

“Bhatia will also be tasked with creating a citywide Children’s Savings Account program for every child entering kindergarten and with working across city government to ensure that public schools are a priority for infrastructure investment and public safety.

“‘Quality education can transform lives. Aliya Bhatia’s experience, passion, and commitment to creating high-quality, accessible educational opportunities will allow her to effectively partner with APS [Atlanta Public Schools] and other education and industry leaders from throughout the community as we work to improve access to education and training for all of our children and residents,’ Bottoms said.

“A native of metro Atlanta, Bhatia started her career as a teacher with Teach for America and later joined the Boston Consulting Group as an associate and consultant. She recently completed her master’s degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University[.]

“The search for this position was led by two members of Mayor Bottom’s transition team: Bill Rogers, Chairman & CEO of SunTrust Banks and Virginia Hepner, former CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center.”

So now we have Mayor Bottoms leading Atlantans to believe it is necessary to “improve access to high-quality education.” Such messaging typically exemplifies the language school choice and school reform proponents so often use to bamboozle and sucker especially Black parents and others into selfishly demanding charter schools on the pretense charter schools are public schools.

Charter schools are not public schools; they are private entities that suckle public school funds for profit and thereby necessarily help destroy public schools and public education. Top priority for charter schools requires making money off children; no profit, no school. Thus saying “high-quality education” is very different from saying “high-quality public education.” Besides, what does “high-quality” mean, anyway? Or even low-quality?

Mayor Bottoms’ messaging implicitly argues that charter schools naturally provide “high-quality education” because, after all, they are like private schools and private schools always provide “high-quality education,” unlike public schools. Therefore, it is never necessary to improve charter schools; it is only necessary to “improve access” to them, which generally means having more of them. In contrast, access to public schools is a given, and public schools have always stood to be improved, continually. Disturbingly, however, charter schools are about replacement of public schools, not about improvement of public schools.

Atlanta City Council President and Members advised what was coming

On 20 April 2018, in a separate email to Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, Post 1 At Large Council Member Michael Julian Bond, Post 3 At Large Council Member Andre Dickens, and District 4 Council Member Cleta Winslow, my district representative, I wrote:

Today I became aware of the [Mayor’s] “confidential” search for a City of Atlanta Chief Education Officer per the attachment, enclosed by linked reference.

The search bespeaks entangling City of Atlanta in Atlanta Public Schools Leadership’s continuing actions to expand school choice as a consumer good, to include inciting profit-making opportunities for private investors, rather than work on improving public education as a common good. Consequences for Black children, as a category attending Atlanta Public Schools, is education made worse for them and their learning resilience virtually destroyed. These consequences have become quite apparent during just the past three years.

Therefore, I wish to meet with you in your role [on Atlanta City Council]. I wish to share and discuss perspectives and understandings about the matter that otherwise may go unconsidered.

I can be available to meet at a time and a place convenient for you. Kindly let me know, won’t you?

Only Councilman Andre Dickens bothered to respond, explaining he had not “seen the application. The new mayor has stated during her campaign that she plans to hire an education liaison role that reports to her under her office. She has the discretion to hire staff that she sees fit as long as it fits in the budget.”

Given his explanation, Councilman Dickens then intimated disinterest in meeting.

Nonetheless, on 22 April 2018, I followed up to Councilman Dickens, with copy to various others that included all council members:

Yes, I know it is Atlanta Mayor’s personal decision to add to the staff of the Office of the Mayor various positions by whatever title, including the position titled “Chief Education Officer.” And that is the concern. The Mayor’s “Position Description for the Position of Chief Education Officer, City of Atlanta” reads as if the Atlanta superintendent [Meria Carstarphen, Ed.D.], or a devotee of hers, such as the one elected last year to Atlanta City Council from having served one term on the Atlanta school board [that being TFA alum Matt Westmoreland], may have written it or controlled the hand that wrote it.

Atlanta Mayor’s position description for Chief Education Officer, City of Atlanta, is, without question, pregnant with school choice and school reform language the superintendent and her devotee are known to speak and work to make happen. Consequently, the position description strongly intimates the Mayor seeks a person of low moral and ethical integrity who, if hired, will further normalize and expand the superintendent’s school choice ideology and machinations that target especially Black parents to become willing, selfish participants in destroying public education in Atlanta for all children and in destroying Atlanta Public Schools as a public good.

Surely you will agree “education liaison” connotes a very different expectation than does “Chief Education Officer.” The former connotes assisting communications and cooperation and such; arguably, involvement. The latter connotes command and control, as by “governance and outcome targets,” as you say; arguably, entanglement.

Besides, the title “Chief Education Officer” is generally understood to mean, in corporate-speak, the top administrator of a local education agency; for example, Chief Education Officer of Chicago Public Schools. However, City of Atlanta is not a local education agency.

Moreover, alarmingly, Atlanta Mayor’s position description for Chief Education Officer, City of Atlanta, allows a “camel’s nose in the tent” to institute quasi-mayoral control of Atlanta Public Schools in a way that can effectively skirt City Council’s lawmaking authority and responsibility. City of Atlanta quasi-mayoral control of APS will have a structure like that of, for example, DC Public Schools, but without the necessity of being codified, thus allowing for democratic ideals and proceedings to be undermined to benefit private interests at the expense of public interests. Not surprisingly, the politics of mayoral control of DCPS are known to precipitate fraud and ethical and moral lapses as normal behavior, as the recently fired DCPS Chancellor, Antwan Wilson, demonstrates.

Expect City of Atlanta quasi-mayoral control of Atlanta Public Schools to be, at least, a first step for the superintendent to begin doing away with the publicly elected Atlanta Board of Education. After all, the superintendent once brassily intimated to Atlanta school board members during a public board meeting that the school board is in her way.

Finally, it is interesting to note Atlanta, the so-called Black Mecca, will eventually find itself on the trailing edge of the nation’s emerging rejection of bipartisan Bush-Obama-DeVos school choice and school reform ideology. Witness, for example, recent teacher strikes and walk-outs in several cities and states. This should not come as a surprise. People beaten down will take only so much. Atlanta, especially, should know this, and should have learned the lessons by now.

Why must being on the trailing edge be the case for Atlanta, the so-called Black Mecca? Why did Atlanta, the so-called Black Mecca, even allow the “camel’s nose in the tent” that is Atlanta Public Schools in the first place by hiring a pro-school choice superintendent [Meria Carstarphen]? Why now allow that camel’s nose into the tent that is the Office of the Mayor? What has Atlanta, the so-called Black Mecca, yet to learn about lack of authentic education that sustains intergenerational cycles of servitude, hence poverty?

Should you change your mind and wish to meet to discuss more about the Mayor’s “Position Description for the Position of Chief Education Officer, City of Atlanta,” I can be available; it’s up to you. In the meantime, I, as a reasonable person, believe the public has a need to know about this, hence my Bcc (which is a way to avoid displaying a very long list of cluttering email addresses and is not meant to imply secrecy; people Bcc’ed may reply or not as they wish).

Perhaps one now knows why one would have been wise to put aside ones Black racialist ideology during last year’s mayoral runoff election in order to cast a rational, well-informed vote for Mary Norwood.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA| edwjohnson@aol.com

Bcc: List 2