Archives for category: Georgia

Georgia’s elected officials have chosen charter schools as their way to improve education. Thus far, their bet has not paid off.

A new report from the State Charter Schools Commission finds that charter schools perform about the same as public schools. This is similar to the conclusions of many states and districts and studies. Charter schools are free to choose their students and free to push out the ones they don’t want. They are free from most state regulations and are lightly supervised. But there are few differences in performance between the charter sector and the public schools. Some might argue that test scores should not be used as the yardstick of quality, but low test scores–and the promise of raising them–was the rationale for creating charter schools. So, it is duplicitous to make excuses for their inability to bring every child to high levels of proficiency, as they once claimed they could do.

A new report about the performance of schools authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission finds a mixed bag, with 15 statewide charter schools neither excelling far ahead of nor dragging far behind the traditional public schools against which they’re meant to compete.

At the elementary school level, most of the charter schools performed as well as the average traditional school in 2014-15, says the report by Georgia State University, which provides significant detail about the performance of each school. In general, by middle school, the charters were performing as well as or better than average. High school was a mixed bag.

The Charter Schools Commission was established in 2012 by a state constitutional amendment and began working in 2013. It authorizes a subset of charter schools, with local school districts still the lead authorizer for most (the local districts work with the Georgia Department of Education, a separate entity from the Commission).

As of December, 91,000 Georgia students were attending 441 charter schools, including 97 “start-up” charter schools, 18 “conversion” charter schools, and 326 “charter system” schools in 32 charter systems, which are regular school districts that have signed charters with the state, according to a recent Education Department report. The number of charter systems is growing, though.

Here is a link to the full report, written by Professor Tim Sass of Georgia State University.

Georgia plans to create an “Achievement School District,” based on the failed model in Tennessee. It promised to take over the state’s lowest performing schools (in the bottom 5%) and move them in five years to the top 25% in test scores by turning them over to charter operators. But the schools it has turned into charters have remained mired in the bottom 5-6%.

Molly Bloom of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes here about the biggest theft in the brief history of charter schools in Georgia. That state is in the process of expanding the number of charters and is considering creating an “Achievement School District,” modeled on the failed ASD in Tennessee, in which low performing schools are turned over to charter operators.

Here is the story of Atlanta’s Latin Academy Charter School.

A $12,000 charge at a strip club. Thousands of dollars spent at Mercedes-Benz of Buckhead. ATM withdrawals of hundreds of dollars at a time.

The charges to Atlanta’s Latin Academy Charter School should have raised eyebrows. For the top state education officials and corporate executives on the school’s board, they should have set off earsplitting sirens.

Instead, the charges continued for years, siphoning more than $600,000 in taxpayer dollars that should have been spent on students.

Christopher Clemons, the school’s founder, has been charged with fraud and theft in the largest such case in Georgia charter school history.

Clemons left Atlanta after the losses were discovered.

He left a rented townhome strewn with Hermes boxes, lease paperwork for a new BMW, used boarding passes and a Rolex receipt.

He left the school so financially troubled that board members closed it.

He left nearly 200 children with few options.

And he left a cautionary tale for Georgia’s growing charter school movement. Latin Academy, with its all-star board and experienced leader, seemed on track to thrive. But behind that facade of apparent success, the school spent millions of tax dollars with little public scrutiny and operated with a lack of public input foreign to many traditional public schools.

Latin Academy’s academic performance ranked in the top 25 percent of all Atlanta middle schools in an area where neighborhood middle schools are better known for hallway chaos than academics.

Clemons is presently in jail in Colorado, awaiting extradition to Georgia.

In the last decade, the number of students in charter schools has tripled to 91,000, with more growth expected. In addition, the legislature allows entire districts to have “charter-like” freedoms, which means deregulation and freedom from oversight.

Expect more scandals, fraud, corruption, and theft. If men were angels, there would be no reason for oversight or regulations.

Could someone explain why deregulation is supposed to create better education?

Governor Nathan Deal responded to corporate threats to pull out of Georgia by vetoing a far-reaching bill that would have made discrimination against gays legal.


The bill would have given legal protection to anyone who refused service to a gay couple, and government officials who refused to issue marriage licenses would have been protected. The theory of the bill was that it was intended to protect the religious liberty of people who do not approve of gay marriage or of gays in general. Public services could be withheld, based on religious convictions.


Companies such as Disney, Salesforce, and athletic organizations had threatened to withdraw their businesses from Georgia to protect their gay employees. If Apple had any business in Georgia, it would surely have left too, since its CEO Tim Cook is gay. There were even concerns that the Super Bowl might be shifted away from Atlanta. Corporations don’t join these protests because they have gay executives, but because they want to be able to hire the talent they need.


There is the additional problem that if states can pass laws saying that people can refuse to serve customers or clients based on their religious principles, then some might choose to discriminate against Catholics, against Jews, against Muslims, or against any group that offends them. Such laws cannot stand and are best not passed, or if passed, quickly vetoed. They will not be upheld by federal courts in any event.





The state legislature in Georgia is nearing the passage of legislation that would reduce the number of mandated tests and reduce the role of tests in teacher evaluations.


Legislators are responding to complaints about the sheer quantity of tests. They also recognize that the state’s test-based evaluation has caused high attition, especially among new teachers.


Not everyone was pleased with the reduction in testing pressure:


“Some still oppose the rollback in Georgia, including the group StudentsFirst, which pushes for better public schools and more alternatives to them. At a hearing in the House last week, Georgia director Michael O’Sullivan said research supports the use of test results in a third to a half of teacher job reviews, and Ryan Mahoney, regional director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said students need to get used to taking tests since they’ll be taking them to get a driver’s license, to gain admission to college and to get a job. “Tests are a part of life,” he said.”



Unfortunately, the same proposal adds tests for children in first and second grades, “to be sure they are on track.” On track for what? For taking standardized tests in third grade. Can’t trust their teacher’s judgment. Tests know best.

Gene Glass, the eminent researcher, reviews here the year just finished. 

It is a month-by-month account of big events in education.

For example:




Scientists at the American Institutes for Research release study that shows that the first two hours of the school day – from 5:30 am to 7:30 am – account for less than 1% of the day’s learning due to students’ somnambulant state. Study recommendations include delaying the start of school until 5:45 am, so as to ensure that high school grads will be college and career ready.



The American Association of University Professors releases the results of a 14-day study that pronounces 99% of America’s high school graduates “not ready for college.” AAUP petitions the federal government to create a special loan program to support all Freshmen while they complete two semesters of remedial courses.



The National Association of Manufacturers issues a statement in response to Common Core supporters that they have “not the faintest idea what skills will be needed by persons entering the workforce of 2025.”



Nothing happened in public education in the month of August as tens of thousands of teachers treated their union thug representatives to cruises on their yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.



Allene Magill, writing on behalf of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, explains why teachers don’t want “merit pay” based on test scores. They have no objection to extra pay for extra work or other kind of performance, but tying their compensation to test scores is offensive to them.


“The most rewarding aspect of teaching occurs when a former student lets an educator know the difference he or she made in their life. After more than 40 years as an educator, I’ve experienced that many times. I assure you that not once has a former student told me how much he appreciated my contribution to his score on a standardized test. Students have, however, talked about the importance of their relationship with me as their teacher — the encouragement to work hard, the extra attention to help them grasp a concept, a kind word when life got tough, extra responsibilities that built confidence and leadership experience, and making time for the arts and non “core” subjects.

“We’ve committed a disservice to all students and educators over the past 20 years by focusing on performance on standardized tests and reducing opportunities for building great student relationships. Initially, standardized tests were reserved for core content every few years, and teachers could maintain enough flexibility to nurture and support students. Now teacher evaluations are tied to all content. No subject can be studied without the student taking an assessment that stamps her effort with a score while also passing judgment on her teacher.”


Pay for test scores is demeaning to teachers. Yet Governor Nathan Deal and his Education Reform Commission insist that every school district develop a plan to do it.



Please, someone tell Governor Deal that merit pay has been tried for a century and has never worked. Teachers need to collaborate, not complete.




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.”