Archives for category: Atlanta

Ed Johnson is an Atlantan who acts as a watchdog for the Atlanta Public Schools. He is also a systems thinker, influenced by the seminal work of W. Edwards Deming.

He recently wrote about how the Atlanta pPublic Schools could help revitalize the city by thinking systematically instead of following its course of jumping from reform to reform.

His post begins:

Loopy APS is my mental model of interrelated causal factors exposed for all to see, question, and critique in a spirit of collaborative discourse. It began as a visual representation of my thinking about why Atlanta Public Schools cannot improve and why it can improve dumped out onto paper, static. The 2009 APS cheating scandal prompted doing so.

Then, during April 2017, by chance I discovered the cleverly named Loopy™ and promptly rendered my mental model in it. Hence the name Loopy APS.

Created by systems thinker Nicky Case, Loopy™ is “a tool for thinking in systems” and for simulating systems. It is highly effective and simple but not simplistic to use. If you can think, you can use Loopy™. It is freely available.

Loopy APS allowed seeing the dynamic behavior of a vicious causal loop that went unnoticed on paper. The vicious causal loop simulates interrelated factors influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually worsen amid a great deal of systemic instability.

It wasn’t clear at first why the vicious causal loop was in Loopy APS, as I did not knowingly model it. It was only after being able to see my thinking play out dynamically in Loopy APS did I notice it. So, to find out why, I ran Loopy APS, time and again, observing its behavior until a particular story became clear.

Reading from the snapshot image, in Figure 1, below, the story, told tersely, goes like this:

Greatly influenced by Partner Purposes, Atlanta BoE (Board of Education) and APS Superintendency provide for frustrating Authentic Education by employing SEL & Police (behavioristic practices) to favor inculcating routinized Teacher Learning and Student Leaning that obviate Wisdom, so as to obscure Democracy to allow Selfishness to flourish as Violence & Crimeto entangle Civil Society, while Atlanta BoE (Board of Education) and APS Superintendency are ever more greatly influenced by Partner Purposes.

Note the end of the story goes right back to its beginning. This makes the story a closed loop. Being a closed loop means every “thing” in the loop represents a causal factor that influences the behavior of every other “thing” or casual factor in the loop, including itself.

In other words, influence that goes around, comes around, whether directly or indirectly. Or, as Martin Luther King Jr tried to help us know and understand: “What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Systems thinker Nick Chase did this short video honoring systems thinker Martin Luther King Jr. But, alas, I guess it takes one to know one, because being a systems thinker is not ordinarily ascribed to Dr. King. To many, he remains the guy who had a dream.

The overall, systemic behavior of a causal loop may be vicious or virtuous, or status quo-keeping. In the story above, pulled from Figure 1, it is vicious systemic behavior influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually worsen.

Now, given that story, the question becomes: What needs to change, so as to transform the closed loop of causal factors influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually worsen into one influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually lessen?

This question, of course, comes from recognizing that every vicious cycle holds the potential to reverse and become virtuous and, conversely, every virtuous cycle holds the potential to reverse and become vicious.

To follow Ed Johnson’s analysis, open the link and view his graphs and finish reading.

Ed Johnson is a systems analyst in Georgia who is a strong supporter of public schools. He has consistently criticized efforts to multiply privatized charters and charter chains in Atlanta. Much to his chagrin, the Democratic nominee for State of Education is a veteran leader of charter schools and a graduate of the Broad Academy, which is hostile to public schools. Consequently, the Georgia Association of Educators has endorsed the Republican incumbent, State Superintendent Richard Woods. Johnson says: “The BIG lie is ‘charter schools are public schools.’”

Johnson wrote a post for his regular mailing list, explaining that charter schools are not public schools. He was responding to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that profiled the two candidates—the Democrat, Alisha Searcy, and the Republican, Richard Woods.

Johnson’s critique was titled, “No, AJC, charter schools are not public schools, even if Alisha Searcy pretends they are.” Searcy is a proponent and veteran leader of charter schools.

Johnson wrote:

In profiling the candidates, AJC reports that the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) is endorsing Richard Woods and suggests why GAE is doing so:


The Georgia Association of Educators is endorsing Woods, saying [school choice] policies like those [Searcy stands for] leave less money for traditional public schools. (Charter schools are publicly funded public schools governed by independent boards with government oversight.)  Her [Searcy’s] “school choice” advocacy has also rankled members of her own party.


Now, see that parenthetical statement AJC makes right after reporting that GAE is endorsing Woods?

Why would AJC do that? Why would AJC perpetuate the “Charter schools are public schools” lie?

Charter schools are not public schools, plain and simple.

Rather, charter schools are private business enterprises operating within the so-called public education industry. And that does not make them public schools.

Heck, the private business enterprises themselves have told us they are not public schools.

Take, for example, Ivy Preparatory Academy, where Alisha Searcy was, at first, Executive Director then Superintendent, so-called:


After leaving the state House, Searcy became executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academy, a network of charter schools in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. […] Searcy said her title at Ivy Prep was changed to superintendent a year or so after her hire.  She wields that in her campaign against Woods, asserting she has more leadership experience than he does.


Ivy Preparatory Academy applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of more than one-half million dollars, all the while suckling public money from DeKalb County and Gwinnett County public school districts:


IVY PREPARATORY ACADEMY (NAICS 611110)
1807 MEMORIAL DR
ATLANTA GA 30317
PPP Loan Amount: $643,603.00
Date Approved: 2020/04/14
Number of Jobs Protected: 53
PPP Loan Amount per Job: $12,143.45

Ivy Prep applied for and received a PPP loan because it was eligible to do so, as the private business enterprise it is in reality:


In order to be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, an applicant must be a small business, sole proprietor, independent contractor, self-employed person, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, 501(c)(19) veterans organization, or a tribal business.


Public schools were ineligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.

But charter schools were eligible.

In Atlanta, a breakdown of charter schools that applied for and received PPP loans goes like this: 

  • $4,822,200.00 to Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, Inc.
  • $4,039,752.60 to Drew Charter School, Inc.
  • $3,855,982.00 to The Kindezi Schools Atlanta, LLC
  • $1,850,000.00 to Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc.
  • $1,659,400.00 to Centennial Place Academy, Inc.
  • $1,085,420.00 to Wesley International Academy, Inc.
  • $750,400.00 to Westside Atlanta Charter School, Inc.

That comes to more than $18 million dollars ($18,063,154.60) in PPP loans that went to these charter schools.

So, here are these charter schools telling us they are private business enterprises and not public schools.

Yet, also, here is AJC saying, “Charter schools are public schools.”

One would be wise to believe the fox when it tells one it is a fox although some may choose to believe the fox is a hen.

One would be wise to not believe the “Charter schools are public schools” lie.

And one would be wise to not want to have Alisha Searcy (aka, Alisha Thomas Searcy; aka, Alisha Morgan; aka, Alisha Thomas Morgan; aka, Alisha Thomas) be Superintendent, State of Georgia.

On her campaign website, Searcy boldly and shamelessly calls attention to her charter schools track record and associations with school choice enterprises, such as EdChoice (à la Milton Friedman), Broad Superintendent Academy (à laEli Broad), and such others. See more here.

The school choice enterprises with which Searcy associates are known to be about undermining and ultimately destroying public schools, so as to then privatize and commodify them, especially when it comes to education for children labeled “Black” and other minoritized (not “minority”) children.

Thus, out of her own mouth, Alisha Searcy tells us she has not the wisdom to perceive, understand, and appreciate public schools and public education being fundamental common goods essential to the sustainment and continual advancement of democratic practice ever closer to realizing democratic ideals.

She tells us that aspects of her school choice advocacy necessarily and unavoidably begs selfishness, immediate gratification, and wanton consumerism—all attributes that, in excess, make circumstances fit for giving rise to oligarchy and such other societal dysfunctions hence the demise of democracy and civil society.

So, let’s believe Alisha Searcy when she tells us she is a far-right Republican dressed as a Democrat.

But, for Pete’s sake, do not believe, or stop believing, the “Charter schools are public schools” lie.

Moreover, let’s understand there are no such things as “traditional public schools” because that implies other types of public school exist—charter schools, specifically—and they don’t. It’s just “public schools,” so let’s just drop the qualifier “traditional,” already.

Please.
Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

A comment by Diane:

Bravo for Ed Johnson for calling out the blatant hypocrisy of privately managed charter schools applying for and receiving Payroll Protection Program money that was available to private businesse , but not to public schools.

How can a “public school” receive federal money for which public schools are ineligible? They did, but doing so was hypocritical, and the Trump administration didn’t care.

If you open the last link in Johnson’s post (“see more here”), you will learn that Searcy champions high-stakes standardized testing and co-authored a teacher evaluation bill based on test scores, although she was never a teacher.

If Georgia wants to maintain public schools with elected school boards, voters should re-elect State Superintendent Richard Woods.

Georgia educator Anthony Downer announced a call for sponsors for a rally on July 23.

Hi y’all,

As we gather and reflect on this complicated holiday weekend, I think about how my students are processing their world. Like many of you, I’m motivated by my ancestors’ struggles. I wonder how we’re preparing our young scholar-leaders to fight for equality and liberty, for equity and liberation. The recent education laws in Georgia hinder educators like me from doing just this. So we must continue to organize.

Georgia Educators for Equity and Justice and other education organizations are planning a Rally for Education (name TBA) on Saturday 7/23 at a school in metro Atlanta (location and time TBA). The goal is to highlight the voices of educators as we prepare for the implementation of new education laws during the 2022-2023 school year. Educators from across the state will speak to the negative effects of these laws on our schools and scholars. As we know, while politicians limited public comment and signed into law their draconian restrictions on education, educators were performing their primary duties. Now that we have more time, we have more to say. See below the initial details.

When? Saturday 7/23, time TBA – Please complete this form to share your opinions.

Where? At a school, ground-zero for the implementation and impact of the new education laws

Who? Everyone who opposes the attacks on public education in Georgia – This is an opportunity for our communities to rally to protect educators and students’ education. If you are an educator who is interested in speaking OR would like to sponsor the rally, please complete this form.

We will meet on Wednesday, July 13 at 4 PM. More details about this meeting and the event to follow over the next week. As we continue planning, we are eager to include as many voices and encourage as much participation as possible. This rally belongs to all of us. Once again, if you plan on attending, want to speak, want to sponsor, or have some ideas and opinions, please complete this form. Spread the word to your comrades and communities and we will follow up with additional details. Onward!

Best,

Anthony Downer

Tomorrow at 9 a.m., the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, the Southern Center for Human Rights, and the Abolitionist Teaching Netwotk will host a press conference at the Fulton County Courthouse. They will be asking the judge and district attorney not to send nonviolent educators to prison during the middle of a pandemic.

Shani Robinson contacted me this morning to ask if I would be willing to send a statement of support. I read Shani’s book None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators and was convinced that Shani was unjustly prosecuted and convicted. Investigators pressured her and others to confess or to name others. She maintained her innocence. As a first grade teacher, she was not eligible for a bonus based on student scores. She was convicted by a racist judge who had the temerity to claim that the cheating scandal was “the sickest thing that’s ever happened to this town.” Not slavery. Not murder. Not Jim Crow.

I wrote the following letter. If you read the book and are as outraged as I am by the prosecution and conviction of Shani Robinson, please send a letter of support for Shani today. You may also contact elected officials on her behalf.

Here is my letter:

A Letter to the Judge and the District Attorney:
Honorable Officers of the Court and the Law in Fulton County:

I am a recently retired Professor at New York University and a historian of American education.
I am writing to urge you not to imprison Shani Robinson and other nonviolent educators.

I have read Shani’s book, which persuaded me that the state wrongly used RICO statutes to prosecute educators accused of changing student answers on standardized tests. Cheating of this kind has been documented in many school districts, and no other district has invoked a federal racketeering statute to prosecute teachers. The usual punishment is termination.

Shani taught first grade, where the tests have no stakes for students or teachers. She had no motive or reason to cheat.

I believe she was unjustly prosecuted by overzealous investigators. She could have pleaded guilty or accused others to avoid prosecution but she insisted on her innocence.

I believe her.

I believe her prosecutors wrongly pursued her, using tactics that were intended to coerce false convictions. Her conviction was unfair and racist.

I urge you not to send her to prison in the midst of a pandemic. Not now, and not ever.

I urge you to reopen and review her case.

I believe in Shani Robinson’s innocence.


Diane Ravitch, Ph.D.

A few years ago, I reviewed Shani Robinson’s book “None of the Above,” about the Atlanta cheating scandal. Teachers were charged as racketeers for allegedly changing answers from wrong to right. When questioned by investigators, they were offered immunity if they confessed or accused someone else. Shani pleaded innocent and accused no one. She was sentenced to prison, although there was no evidence against her other than an accusation. She was a first-grade teacher whose student scores did not affect the city’s ratings, nor was she eligible for a bonus. She has appealed and is waiting, years later, to learn whether she will be sent to prison.

Valerie Strauss posted this story and wrote the introduction.

Back in 2015, an Atlanta jury convicted 11 teachers of racketeering and other crimes for cheating on student standardized tests, one of many such scandals reported in those years in most states and the District of Columbia. The fallout continues.

The key difference between all the other scandals and the one in Atlanta: Prosecutors used a law ordinarily used to prosecute mobsters — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO — to go after those they deemed guilty.

A grand jury in 2013 indicted Beverly Hall, the now-deceased superintendent, who was accused of running a “corrupt” organization that used test scores to financially reward and punish teachers. Thirty-four teachers, principals and others were also charged. All but one of the charged was Black. Many pleaded guilty. Twelve went to trial; one was acquitted of all charges and the 11 others were convicted of racketeering and a variety of other charges.

The cheating scandals — including some broad-based ones in the District of Columbia over several years — came during a time when standardized test scores had become the chief metric to evaluate teachers, principals, schools and districts because of federal policy during the Bush and then the Obama administrations. Teachers’ jobs were on the line if student test scores didn’t improve (despite questions about whether the tests really showed improvement in student achievement).

In Georgia, the prosecutions were pushed by two Republican governors, one of whom, Sonny Perdue, used the test scores that resulted from cheating to win federal funding in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top school reform initiative.

This post looks at the current state of things in this scandal. It was written by Anna Simonton, who is a journalist for the Appeal, a worker-led nonprofit newsroom covering the U.S. criminal legal system. She is the co-author with Shani Robinson of “None of The Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators.” Simonton says she is a proud graduate of Atlanta public schools.

Robinson is one of the teachers who was indicted and who maintains her innocence. “None of the Above” is revelatory about how the prosecutions were handled — the news media virtually ignored the many times the case was nearly dismissed as well as clear examples of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge in the case called the cheating scandal “the sickest thing that’s ever happened to this town,” never mind slavery, Jim Crow laws and their continuing effects, the dismantling of public housing, etc.

Here’s Simonton’s piece.

By Anna Simonton

Teachers have faced unprecedented burdens during the coronavirus pandemic — the risks of teaching in person, the challenges of online schooling, and the furor over critical race theory. Now another threat looms on the horizon for a group of former educators in Atlanta: prison.
The Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal rose to national attention in 2015 when 11 Black educators were convicted of racketeering and conspiracy for allegedly cheating or enabling cheating on students’ standardized tests. The reaction from many corners was outrage.
Commentators asserted that charging teachers with RICO — a federal statute which was originally designed to prosecute mobsters — was overreaching and harsh, that Black educators were scapegoated for a widespread problem, and that sending them to prison wouldn’t solve the systemic failures that led to cheating.

Eventually, the news cycle moved on, and the case was largely forgotten outside of Atlanta. But it’s far from over.

Seven educators who maintain their innocence are still appealing their convictions in a process that has moved at a glacial pace. Last month brought the first major development in several years: Former principal Dana Evans had her appeal rejected by the Georgia Supreme Court on Jan. 11. Evans will soon be incarcerated for one year, followed by probation, unless the trial judge agrees to modify her sentence.
Retired Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter has the power to resentence these educators to time served or any number of alternatives to prison. Now local education advocates are petitioning Baxter, District Attorney Fani Willis, and other elected officials to bring a just resolution to a case that legal experts have called “a textbook example of overcriminalization and prosecutorial discretion run amok.”

It all began in 2010, when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) launched a state investigation into Atlanta Public Schools because he wasn’t satisfied with the district’s internal probe into a suspiciously high number of wrong-to-right erasures on standardized tests.

The problem was widespread — 20 percent of Georgia’s elementary and middle schools were flagged in a 2009 erasure analysis — but Atlanta became the focal point. Less than a week after launching the investigation, Perdue announced the state won a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant for school reform from the Obama administration. What he didn’t mention was that the grant application touted those same test scores, attributing the rise to “higher standards and harder assessments.”

Meanwhile, agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents interrogated teachers without lawyers present, trading immunity for confessions and accusations against fellow educators. The result was a dragnet that hooked innocent people along with those who cheated. When the investigation concluded by implicating 178 educators in cheating, it was up to the local district attorney at the time, Paul Howard, to bring charges.

At that point, cheating had become commonplace in school districts across the country, due in part to federal laws like No Child Left Behind, which punished schools that didn’t increase test scores each year. In most places, the consequences for cheating amounted to suspended or revoked professional licenses, fines, and community service. When Howard indicted 35 educators (who were almost all Black and all people of color) on RICO charges in 2013, it sent shock waves through the city.

Howard stretched the bounds of RICO — which concerns crimes committed for financial gain — to allege that educators conspired to cheat to receive bonus money awarded to schools that scored well on standardized tests. The indictment was so broad that two teachers at different schools who cheated without any knowledge of the other’s actions could be cast as conspirators. And the claim about bonus money didn’t square with the state investigation, which had found that bonus money “provided little incentive to cheat.”

The 12 educators who went to trial had garnered a total of only $1,500 in bonus money, and some never received any at all. One defendant was a teacher whose students didn’t even pass the test.

Others taught first and second grade, where tests were only taken for practice and didn’t count toward the metrics schools were judged upon. That was the case for Shani Robinson. She was accused by a colleague who was granted immunity by the GBI. A testing coordinator had instructed Robinson and other teachers to erase doodles students had drawn on their test booklets, a practice that was allowed under testing regulations. It wasn’t hard for her accuser to twist the scene to fit what investigators were looking for.

The trial lasted eight months — the longest criminal trial in Georgia’s history — and was marred by unreliable testimony. Most educators who were indicted had taken plea deals that required them to confess, accuse, and testify in exchange for community service instead of prison. Witnesses for the prosecution made contradictory statements so often that at one point the judge said, “Perjury is being committed daily here.” Two people even recanted on the witness stand.

At the end of the trial, prosecutors made a last-ditch effort to convince the jury that educators cheated for financial gain by claiming that their salaries — forget the bonus money — justified a RICO conviction. They reiterated that educators could be conspirators without knowing it. And where reason fell short, they relied on emotion, making impassioned declarations like, “America will never be destroyed from the outside! If we falter and lose our freedoms it will be because we destroyed ourselves!”

As if Atlanta educators were responsible for the downfall of democracy.
That was the tenor of the media surrounding the trial as well. Politicians and pundits used the case to paint public education as a failure and peddle corporate-friendly reforms. On the day the prosecution rested, and the cheating scandal dominated headlines, then-Gov. Nathan Deal (R) announced a plan for the state to take over “failing” schools and turn them into charters.

Even if cheating did signal a need for sweeping change, throwing the book at teachers hasn’t led to a better education system. Some students whose tests were manipulated have said the cheating didn’t take a toll on their academic achievement in the first place. The school district’s remediation program for those who have struggled wasn’t very impactful. And new cheating allegations have surfaced because the policies at the root of the problem have not been addressed.

Instead, two educators have served prison sentences and others are headed that way. Changing their sentences and keeping them out of prison would represent a real step toward rectifying the Atlanta cheating scandal.

Ed Johnson is a persistent, tireless advocate for systemic improvement of the Atlanta Public Schools. As a systems analyst, he opposes school choice, which helps some and hurts others.

He wrote the following letter to the Atlanta School Board after watching the Inauguration ceremonies on January 20:

20 January 2021

Inauguration 2021: “America United” and “a Union with Purpose”

“America United

Joseph R. Biden

President, United States of America

…a Union with Purpose…

Amanda Gorman

National Poet Laureate

Dear Atlanta Board of Education members:

We the people will have neither an “America United” nor “a Union with Purpose” as long as you continue to help pursue the ideological folly of school choice and charter schools with the aim of gradually but surely destroying public education and public schools.

The prayer and hope now is that each of you will reach into the deepest recesses of your heart and soul and extract any remnants of wisdom you find there that will lead you to understand that school choice and charter schools ideology is folly and absolutely contrary to there ever being an “America United” existing as “a Union with Purpose.”

The prayer and hope extend to you also finding the wisdom in your heart and soul to let go foolish Black racialist ideologues, such as one Howard Fuller, so that you may start living up to your sworn Oath of Office to uphold the Atlanta Independent School System as the public good it is supposed to be.

You swore, in part:

In all things pertaining to my said office, I will be governed by the public good and the interests of said school system.”

However, your chairman and known Teach for America alum and Howard Fuller acolyte, Jason Esteves, recently intimated his election to the school board constitutes a mandate to impose his adherence to Black racialist ideology à la Howard Fuller upon the public good that is the Atlanta Independent School System. 

School choice and charter schools ideology is not of, by, nor for the public good.

Neither is Black racialist ideology à la Howard Fuller and similar others.

Rather, school choice and charter schools ideology is of, by, and for private interests.

And so is Black racialist ideology à la Howard Fuller.  Witness the demise of Fuller’s Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) after private interests cut off their money flow.

If you were to strive to fulfil your sworn Oath of Office, then maybe, just maybe, the Atlanta Independent School System, which is more commonly known as Atlanta Public Schools, will stand a good chance of becoming a public good with a purpose.

Right now, the Atlanta Independent School System has no purpose of its own.

Rather, the system has any number of default purposes, where, at any given moment, a default purpose will manifest as any coordinated number of purposes of any number of private interests.

Naturally, in keeping with school choice and charter schools ideology, the relatively new APS Office of Partnerships and Development and the relatively new APS Office of Innovation function, essentially, to steer the Atlanta Independent School System always toward soliciting, aligning to, and sustaining the purposes of varied private interests that aim to supplant public interests.  

So, should you need prayer assistance with reaching deep into your heart and soul to find requisite wisdom essential to we the people ever having an “America United” existing as “a Union with Purpose,” much such assistance is generally available.

You only have to reach out and ask for it.

Ed Johnson

Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

Ed Johnson, fearless advocate for public schools in Atlanta, obtained a list of the charter schools in that city that received Paycheck Protection Program funding from the first CARES Act. Public schools were not allowed to apply for PPP funding. But charters were, because…they are not public schools!

After reviewing the millions in CARES money that went to Atlanta charters, Ed Johnson wrote to members of the Atlanta Board of Education:

Atlanta Board of Education members:

Some of you are, of course, pro-school choice and pro-charter school, thus serving contrary to your sworn Oath of Office vis-à-vis the Charter of the Atlanta Independent School System.

Nonetheless, hopefully all of you now know and understand the truth that charter schools in Atlanta are not Atlanta public schools, to wit:

https://mailchi.mp/4c303dcdd2b5/updated-aps-charter-school-businesses-rake-in-millions-of-ppp-loan-dollars

Thus:

·         Public schools must be spoken truthfully of as public schools, and as public goods.

·         Charter schools must be spoken truthfully of as charter schools, and as private businesses and corporations.

·         Partner schools must be spoken truthfully of as partner schools, and as public schools the Board outsourced to private businesses and corporations.

Just three types of school, thank you.

Ed Johnson

Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

As noted in the link in Mr. Johnson’s letter, here are a few of the big winners of federal dollars (they also received a proportionate share of the meager dollars allotted to public schools, so they were double-dipping in both funds):

  • Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, Inc., received a PPP loan in the amount of $4,822,200.00, based on the business needing to protect 408 reported jobs, which figures to $11,819.12 per reported job.  SBA reported the business as being located at 1670 Benjamin Weldon Bickers Drive SE, Atlanta, GA 30315.
  • The Kindezi Schools Atlanta, LLC, received a PPP loan in the amount of $3,855,982.00, based on the business needing to protect 300 reported jobs, which figures to $12,853.27 per reported job.  SBA reported the business as being located at 950 Joseph E Lowery Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30318.
  • Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc., received a PPP loan in the amount of $1,850,000.00, based on the business needing to protect 120 reported jobs, which figures to $15,416.67 per reported job.  SBA reported the business as being located at 688 Grant St SE, Atlanta, GA 30315.

Unlike small businesses which lost revenue and were forced to lay off employees or close their doors, charter schools never lost revenue during the pandemic. Their stream of government revenue never was cut off. Meanwhile, as they sucked up CARES dollars, hundreds of thousands of small businesses that needed the money went bankrupt and closed forever.

No public school received this large amount of money. The average public school received $134,500 in federal aid in the first CARES Act.

Ed Johnson, a close observer and frequent critic of the Atlanta public schools, writes here about the superintendent’s plans to adopt models developed by Eli Broad and the Waltons to transform the public schools into a business.

Johnson is a believer in the collaborative philosophy of W. Edwards Deming.

 

December 2019

Journey of Transformation: Atlanta schools to “buy” teachers by “price tag”

  • “Thinking about human beings as interchangeable commodities for sale, or abstract units of labor power, would lead merchants and planters to see human capital in much the same way that they saw animals.  And, by the time a young apprentice became a partner, he would feel ‘no more remorse in fitting out a ship for the purpose of trading in human flesh, than he would have done in sending her to catch whales or seals.’”
  • —Caitlin Rosenthal. Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management. Kindle Edition, location 1153.
Last month, Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Ed.D., gave a presentation to the Atlanta Board of Education Budget Commission on FY 2021 budgeting for what she calls “Student Success Funding,” or SSF.  The Budget Commission is a standing committee of the Board that meets monthly.

At one point during the presentation, Dr. Carstarphen invited the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Atlanta Public Schools system (APS) to more adequately explain a matter that see, Dr. Carstarphen, suggested to enquiring commission members she had already explained well enough (my insertions):

  • (50:30-51:00) “… the way the schools purchase back their positions … we allocate the dollars and they buy their teachers back.  The price tag we put on those teachers is an average salary … and all schools buy back [teachers] at that rate.  What we know, what we’ve seen is that the schools that have the highest needs … have teachers that have either less experience or they don’t have the high degrees and, for whatever reason, they are ‘cheaper.’  … So what we would like to propose is … allowing those schools to buy their positions back at the actual average [value of the price tags we put on teachers] for their school.”
Despite the Board’s decision to non-renew her employment contract beyond the current school year, Carstarphen, by her presentation, makes clear she continues to advance her Journey of Transformation of APS.

When finished—and it can be finished, we must now understand—the journey will have brought APS to a permanent state of being “run like a business” and, in that state,  destroyed as the democratically governed public good is it supposed to be.

Thus the word “finish” must now be understood as signifying something real and consequential.  To continue thinking the word means something rhetorical or non-specific poses a grave risk to ever reclaiming and restoring APS as the public good it is supposed to be.

Entangled actors

In their joint report, The Strategic CFO: A Guide for School Districts, billionaire Eli Broad’s The Broad Center and Education Resource Strategies (ERS) lay out the essence of the matter as related to SSF.

So, too, does the partnership of ERS and APS, in the joint presentation, Student Success Funding: [APS] A District in Transformation.

Moreover, the APS CFO talks about student-based budgeting in the ERS Q&A, Student-Based Budgeting Takes Root in Atlanta.

ERS is a consultancy that says it helps clients to maximize—operative word, “maximize”—usage of capital resources, including “human capital.”  But as the Taguchi Loss Function teaches, maximal usage of a resource that is a system rapidly drives down the value and usefulness of the resource to point of it becoming a great source of waste.  In what follows, remain mindful that an individual “human capital” (e.g., an individual teacher) is a system.

And then there is the Walton Family Foundation’s 2017 grant of $350,000 to APS “To support research related to student[-]based budgeting” (my emphasis).  Research?  For what purpose, as related to student-based budgeting?  Maybe to establish the effectiveness of student-based budgeting and to use APS as a guinea pig in experiments to do that?  Was not the effectiveness of student-based budgeting a given?  Again, the APS CFO talks about student-based budgeting in the ERS Q&A noted above.

Thus we have Eli Broad, a private actor, in partnership with ERS, a private actor.  And we have ERS, a private actor, in partnership with APS Leadership, a public actor.  And we have APS Leadership, a public actor, in partnership with the Waltons and Eli Broad, both private actors.  This then means the public cannot know and trust the motives and behavior of any of the actors independently of each other; the actors are entangled.

Innately born systems thinking children learning to picture entanglement

So, how might we model and think about APS Leadership, ERS, Eli Broad, and the Waltons being entangled on the matter of student-based budgeting or, more relevantly, what Carstarphen calls Student Success Funding, or SSF?

Well, on a recent tour of Beecher Hills Elementary School, an Atlanta public school, goosebumps popped up when I noticed on a wall a display showing children were learning to “Organize our thinking using Venn Diagrams.”  (I regret I failed to take a snapshot.)

So let’s take the children’s lead, here, and make and use a simple Venn diagram to organize seeing and thinking about SSF being a common motive of the entangled actors as well as to represent a “finish”-able end to the superintendent’s Journey of Transformation of APS.

We might also recognize that thinking about SSF begs also thinking about a situation like that of Carstarphen having been superintendent in Austin, Texas, but all over again here in Atlanta.

Fortunately, a seemingly democracy-practiced Hispanic citizenry of Austin lead putting an end to her machinations and operating in cahoots with Eli Broad and the charter schools industry, soon enough.

In contrast, however, an apparent consumer-craving Black Atlanta citizenry, intersecting, Venn diagram-wise, with a paternalistic White Atlanta citizenry, is demanding destruction of APS as a public good, both actively and passively, as by silence.  Such Black and White behaviors continue to intersect as Atlanta elites’ old fashioned but still functioning Atlanta Compromise, which lets Eli Broad, et al., know Atlanta is an easy mark, I suggest.

  • “The leading figures in the actual Civil Rights Movement explicitly challenged the idea that the free market could deliver Black people from racism.” (p. 82) …
  • “Corporate education reform favors privatization and ‘free market’ solutions to school governance (‘running schools like a business’ and so on) and is, therefore, necessarily antithetical to the ethos of trade unions and of collective bargaining.” (p. 83)
  • –Brian Jones, Keys to the Schoolhouse: Black Teachers, Privatization, and the Future of Teacher Unions, Academia; accessed 4 Dec 2019.
Similarly, persons that preach a selfish, free market, “by any means necessary” ideology of education for children labeled Black–for example, as do the people of the Black organization known as BOOK (Better Options for OUR Kids), with funding by the Walton Family Foundation, support by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and now propaganda distribution by The 74–are so horribly racially insular as to pose a real and present existential threat to the human development and dignity of the very children they so loudly profess to care about.

But then such racially insular people show it’s not the human development of the children they care that much about.  Rather, such racially insular people show they care mostly about the children developing as a race, a race to forever believe and perpetuate it is oppressed, and a race to forever believe and perpetuate “white supremacy” is something real.  Such racially insular people show they care about developing the children just as Eli Broad and the Waltons and similar others would have it.

Anticipating intended effects

Whether the matter is framed to be about student-based budgeting or Carstarphen’s euphemistically named Student Success Funding, or SSF, some essential effects to anticipate from the superintendent’s Journey of Transformation of APS are:
  • schools turned into and managed as free market performance centers
  • principals turned into and managed as free market schoolhouse CEOs and marketers
  • teachers turned into and managed as free market fungibles to be bought and sold, as needed
  • schools and school facilities opened, closed, and sold off, as needed, to maximize usage of capital; alternatively, the portfolio model by the marketing name, “Excellent Schools”
Thus we might now understand Carstarphen’s response to non-renewal of her employment contract that she has yet to “finish the work” she was hired to do.  We might now understand her Journey of Transformation of APS can indeed reach the state of being “finished,” taking a total of about 15 years, she now says.  And when finished, all schools—public, partner, charter—will be running not just like an ordinary business but running like a conglomerate of businesses on the style of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, for example, capable to generate its own internal market.

APS central office will function as the conglomerate business controlling all other businesses and each individual school will have the ballyhooed “freedom and autonomy in exchange for accountability” to function like a specialized business or branch (i.e., theme school, academy, whatever).  Still, each specialized business (i.e., each school) will be subject to certain common business management practices (think again about the Beecher Hills kids learning to make and use Venn diagrams) that originate with the controlling business (i.e., APS central office) for maximizing performance at that level.

For example, individual businesses (i.e., schools) will be subject to being opened, closed, and sold off, as needed, so as to continually maximize any or all of their financial performance, customer traffic (i.e., school enrollment), consumer satisfaction (i.e., illusory parental school choice), and other matters.  Teachers will be reduced to fungible commodities to be bought and sold at the cheapest, competitive price the internal market will pay, so different specialized businesses (i.e., schools) can also continually work at maximizing usage of the human capital they have bought—all the while generating enormous amounts of squander as well as waste of human potential.

Good, effective business marketing (i.e., lying) required

What the Walton Family Foundation calls “student-based budgeting” is also know by other conceptually accurate names, including student-based allocation, weighted student funding, and fair student funding.  But now comes Carstarphen’s marketing name, Student Success Funding, which gives no conceptual clue about the reality of the matter.

Naming the matter “Student Success Funding” makes for good business marketing.  The nature of such business marketing—and all that such business marketing implies, including manipulating consumers to believe they need something when they don’t, to consume something when they shouldn’t, to not consume something when they should, etc.—keeps with Atlanta school board chairman Jason Esteves marketing The City Fund’s truthfully named “portfolio model” by the catchy name, “Excellent Schools.”

Carstarphen’s apparent jovial easiness with business marketing leaves no doubt of it harkening back to even when “human capital” was sold at auction based on the financial accounting value, or “price tag,” owners and managers of the human capital had recorded in their “price lists.”  Carstarphen has been repeatedly advised, in public Board meetings, to let go the “human capital” language and remove it from strategic planning.  But she refuses to do that, and now we might see that the entangled SSF actors suggest why she refuses: they all stand to benefit from destroying APS as a public good.

It is also obvious that the superintendent’s carefree morals and ethics about marketing allow her to effectively be okay with the management of schools as free market performance centers, to be okay with teachers as buyable and sellable commodities, to be okay with students as customers, and to be okay with parents as consumers of schools they would choose as if choosing a Happy Meal from a McDonald’s menu price list.

And, most disturbingly, to be okay with continuing to manipulate children into marketing the “APS brand” as entrants in the Superintendent’s Annual Winter Card Contest.  Why any parents would allow their child to be used in this way is puzzling.

Similarly, perhaps following Carstarphen’s lead or command, some Atlanta public school principals have taken to talking about their school as a competitive “brand,” as if doing that is necessary to compete with the KIPP brand, the Kindezi brand, the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School brand, etc.

  • “Two years ago I realized ANCS was a direct competition.  I had to figure out how to make parents see my school as a viable option for parents.  I don’t want it to be a competition about which is better but what fits best for my kid.  How can we make sure that Parkside is a viable neighborhood school of choice?”
  • —Principal, Parkside Elementary School, 29 Aug 2019

Funding Atlanta public schools to improve

However, funding APS as the public good it is supposed to be and budgeting for that is immaterial to the entangled SSF actors—APS Leadership, ERS, Eli Broad, the Waltons.  And let’s not forget Bill Gates.  “What about Bill Gates?,” Carstarphen once asked me in a meeting in the midst of my trying to help her understand the golden opportunity her becoming Atlanta superintendent held for her to not do in Atlanta as she had tried to do in Austin.  To understand that APS needs, has always needed, and always will need, improvement, not one-off turnaround.  Fool’s errand on my part because, obviously, Eli Broad, et al., came to Atlanta with her.

The Austin Chronicle put it this way about Austin’s citizenry seeing her to the exit door:

“[Carstarphen] never understood or cared for the public mood.”
The table below lists and gives a short description of so-called “ERS Principles” the APS Leadership have apparently adopted, as given.  However, not one reference so far discovered even suggests that any ERS Principle represents a fundamental truth or proposition based in reality.  Rather, each principle inscribes, arguably, a statement of belief about free market ideology suitable for marketing SSF.

References about SSF, variously named, warn:
  • SSF is complex (e.g., this by ERS, itself)
  • SSF is fraught with implementation challenges (e.g., this)
  • SSF lacks research-based evidence that it works (e.g., this, which references APS)
  • SSF reproduces racial inequality that undermines funding equity (e.g., this and this)
  • SSF requires principals to be competently burdened “school CEOs” more so than knowledgeable leaders of educational practice and improvement

Open a window onto morals and ethics of SSF

To bring clarity and transparency to SSF in a way that exposes it for what it is, Carstarphen might engage her Accountability and Information Technology Division to model SSF as either or both a data model, so as to expose, as MLK Jr put it, the “interrelated structure of reality” SSF portends; and, a process model, possibly dynamic, so as to expose the interrelated behaviors SSF portends and to have a basis for predicting those behaviors, over time.

Structure and behavior are like opposite sides of the same coin; there cannot be one side without the other side.  An essential component of an SSF Model will be unambiguous and hype- and marketing-free definitions of things and relationships between things modeled.

(My post, Lexical Conventions for Enterprise Data Modeling, is freely available to the superintendent and her administration to draw from, as have some folk at major corporations even in faraway places such as the U.K.  So is my article, Enterprise Modeling: Checking with Reality, as published by Business Process Trends.)

Then, with either or both SSF Models in hand, people might be helped to see the complexity, inequality, absurdity, and various kinds of squander to come from implementing SSF, and then decide to reject SSF before it can be implemented and the damage done.

Even so, and essentially without expense, moral and ethical concerns alone should give pause and reason enough to reject Student Success Funding and instead commit to funding the Atlanta Public Schools system with the aim of starting the system off on a never-ending, unfinishable Journey of Continual Improvement and, along the way, detoxify APS of accumulated charter school industry squander, so the system can get back to being the wholly public good it is supposed to be.

My insertion, original emphasis:
  • “Planters strove for rationalization, standardization, and fungibility when it served their interests. Their ownership of capital [including human capital] gave them the power to commodify as they chose.”
  • —Caitlin Rosenthal, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management. Kindle Edition, Location 3511.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

Jeff Bryant writes here about the billionaires who corrupted the school leadership pipeline. Chief among them, of course, is billionaire Eli Broad, who created an unaccredited training program as a fast track for urban superintendents.

Bryant has collected stories about how superintendents who passed through the Broad program hire other graduates of the program and do business with others who are part of their network. The ethical breaches are numerous. The self-dealing and the stench of corruption is powerful.

Bryant begins with the story of a phone call from Eli Broad to one of his graduates:

It’s rare when goings-on in Kansas City schools make national headlines, but in 2011 the New York Times reported on the sudden departure of the district’s superintendent John Covington, who resigned unexpectedly with only a 30-day notice. Covington, who had promised to “transform” the long-troubled district, “looked like a silver bullet” for all the district’s woes, according to the Los Angeles Times. He had, in a little more than two years, quickly set about remaking the district’s administrative staff, closing nearly half the schools, revamping curriculum, and firing teachers while hiring Teach for America recruits.

The story of Covington’s sudden departure caught the attention of coastal papers no doubt because it perpetuated a common media narrative about hard-charging school leaders becoming victims of school districts’ supposed resistance to change and the notoriously short tenures of superintendents.

Although there may be some truth to that narrative, the main reason Covington left Kansas City was not because he was pushed out by job stress or an obstinate resistance. He left because a rich man offered him a job.

Following the reporting by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times about Covington’s unexpected resignation, news emerged from the Kansas City Star that days after he resigned, he took a position as the first chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, a new state agency that, according to Michigan Radio, sought “radical” leadership to oversee low-performing schools in Detroit.

But at the time of Covington’s departure, it seemed no outlet could have described the exact circumstances under which he was lured away. That would come out years later in the Kansas City Star where reporter Joe Robertson described a conversation with Covington in which he admitted that squabbles with board members “had nothing to do” with his departure. What caused Covington’s exit, Robertson reported, was “a phone call from Spain.”

That call, Covington told Robertson, was what led to Covington’s departure from Kansas City—because it brought a message from billionaire philanthropist and major charter school booster Eli Broad. “John,” Broad reportedly said, “I need you to go to Detroit.”

It wasn’t the first time Covington, who was a 2008 graduate of a prestigious training academy funded through Broad’s foundation (the Broad Center), had come into contact with the billionaire’s name and clout. Broad was also the most significant private funder of the new Michigan program he summoned Covington to oversee, providing more than $6 million in funding from 2011 to 2013, according to the Detroit Free Press.

But Covington’s story is more than a single instance of a school leader doing a billionaire’s bidding. It sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide.

Charter advocates and funders—such as Broad, Bill Gates, some members of the Walton Family Foundation, John Chubb, and others who fought strongly for schools to adopt the management practices of private businesses—helped put into place a school leadership network whose members are very accomplished in advancing their own careers and the interests of private businesses while they rankle school boards, parents, and teachers.

Covington’s tenure at the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan was a disaster, and the EAA itself was a disaster that has been closed down.

Bryant compares the Broad superintendents to a cartel.

The actions of these leaders are often disruptive to communities, as school board members chafe at having their work undermined, teachers feel increasingly removed from decision making, and local citizens grow anxious at seeing their taxpayer dollars increasingly redirected out of schools and classrooms and into businesses whose products and services are of questionable value.

In fact, Broad superintendents have a very poor track record. They excel at disruption and alienating parents and teachers by their autocratic style. Despite their boasts, they don’t know how to improve education. They are not even skilled at management.

What they do best is advance themselves and make lucrative connections with related businesses owned by Broadie cronies.

The Atlanta Board of Education announced earlier today that it was not extending the contract of its superintendent.

Ed Johnson has been an outspoken critic in Atlanta of the drive for privatization and the behaviorist methods that have been in favor in Atlanta since the arrival of the late Superintendent Be early Hall, who literally drove teachers, principals, and students to produce higher test scores with promises of rewards and threats of punishment. Hall’s tenure ended badly.

Ed Johnson warned about the fruitless pursuit of miracles and quick fixes.

This was his response to today’s news. 

It is the sound of wisdom.