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Thoughts on the Opportunity School District
As most of you know, I have a keen interest in public education, and so, I have been closely following the debate about the Constitutional Amendment (Amendment #1 on the November ballot) to create the “Opportunity School District” (OSD).
Those for the amendment seem to focus on the limited nature of the OSD. The OSD can only ever include 100 schools and can take in no more than 20 schools in any given year. Schools can’t remain in the OSD in perpetuity and eventually must be returned to the district. Advocates stress the urgency of the problem and make the claim that over 68,000 students are trapped in perpetually failing schools.
Those against the amendment focus on the loss of “local control” of education. They accuse the OSD as being “more government”.
I continue to be amazed that we do not research how other states hold districts and schools accountable for their results and financial stewardship. There are some successful models all around.
I wish my friends on the right would take note of the conservative states that have much more robust state systems of accountability and accreditation than Georgia. I wish everyone would ask why public schools are not accredited by the state based on a system of achievement metrics and financial stewardship rules. The state of Texas has such a system. (Click here to read about the powers the state has when districts and schools fail children and/or taxpayers.) In Texas, the state also has broad power to intervene in failing schools and districts, including state monitors, conservators, or even dissolving a wasteful and ineffective school district. They take these steps every year. If we were to adopt such a system, we wouldn’t even need to discuss the OSD. Their system of accountability, and those of many other states, make our state Department of Education look downright useless.
Back to the issue at hand.
My thought about the local control argument is this: If you fund your school district solely using local funds, then I think that the state should have absolutely no voice or influence in your district. Zip. Zero.
So long as a district receives state funding, the state has an obligation to represent the interests of the taxpayers of the state to ensure that our tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently. Why should taxpayers from Ellijay pay for failure and mismanagement in DeKalb? Why should someone from Alpharetta be forced to invest in the mess and procurement scandals that go on in Bibb County? Why don’t they get a say so? After all, it’s their money. Don’t they have a right to make some demands? Really, shouldn’t every Georgian be making that demand?
It is ironic to me that a number of high performing districts have stated they oppose the OSD. What is the argument they have against preventing your tax dollars from being wasted by bloated, ineffective bureaucracies that are failing children?
It appears to me that the policy of the state of Georgia, and all those that are opposed to protecting the taxpayers and kids from failure and waste can be summarized as this: We demand that you subsidize failure.
With every dollar of state taxpayer money sent to these failing districts, we only purchase more failure and waste. Don’t you think if these districts could have fixed these schools, they would have done so by now? What is motivating their recent concern for improving achievement in their worst schools? Even the possibility of an OSD has had a profound effect.
We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. I’m quite sure the OSD won’t be perfect. I’m sure it will have some successes and failures. But put yourself in the shoes of a single mom, with limited resources who is made, by government, to send her child to a persistently failing school. She is forced to see a parade of incompetent leaders and teachers come and go while nothing improves, because the school district has become a jobs program and a cash cow for vendors. And no one holds the district accountable for failing so many moms like this. What do we say to her? How do we allow the system to keep up this abuse of the vulnerable parents and children in these situations? They deserve for us to do something. We must try.
My only issue with the OSD is that it doesn’t go far enough. We need a complete overhaul in the way our state thinks about education and accountability to children and taxpayers. The OSD is a step in the right direction. I hope there are many more to come.
Open letter from Georgia Charter Schools Association
Last week the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) sent an open letter to DeKalb Superintendent Green and the DeKalb Board of Education. In the letter, GCSA expressed their concern about the signals the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was sending regarding charter schools, DCSD’s new charter school policy, and DCSD’s posture towards the State Department of Education’s (GADOE) requested policy revisions. GCSA requested that the DeKalb Board of Education revisit their Charter School Policy and align the DCSD policy with state statute, State BOE rules, and GADOE guidelines.
To read the letter from the Georgia Charter Schools Association in its entirety click here: OpenLetterFromGCSA
Last week, I attended the DCSD community engagement session regarding their petition to become a “charter district”. I was disappointed by this meeting and the presentation made regarding the charter district petition. At one point, a school district official defended their hesitancy towards autonomy for charter schools by saying that, “Well, you don’t just hand over the keys to the car to your 16-year old.” That’s right – that’s what they think of us. Given the track record of DeKalb bureaucrats, ponder that analogy for a while.
DeKalb’s idea of being a “charter school district” is not congruent with chartering philosophy. The concept of chartering is that pursuant to a contract, the school will be held accountable for their performance. If the school fails to perform, those involved in that school get removed. This philosophy is much better than allowing failing schools to exist in perpetuity, as is currently the policy of traditionally managed schools. We already have ample evidence on how DeKalb’s bureaucracy performs. DeKalb has languished at the bottom in almost every performance index while taxing at one of the highest millage rates in the state. The same bureaucrats that got us to this place cannot get us out.
DeKalb simply doesn’t want to give up control. There is too much at stake for those at high levels within the bureaucracy. If DeKalb relinquishes control then the jobs program and doling out contracts to their friends would end. The county’s rationale for pursuing a charter school district is to continue to obtain the waivers (class size, spending, etc.) that allow them to continue to bloat the central office while packing kids and teachers into crowded classrooms. I hope our new Superintendent sees through the well entrenched bureaucrats. I hope the GADOE sees through the charade that is this charter school petition.
DeKalb County School District – upcoming meetings and public hearings about charter school district petition
School Flexibility Option Community Engagement Sessions
The focus of these sessions is to get stakeholder input on the Local School Governance Teams (LSGTs) that will be required at each school and how those teams will have the opportunity to assist in the governance of the school and request flexibility from state law and Department of Education rules and regu-lations.
Region IV Lithonia High School Tuesday, September 29 @ 6:00 PM
Region III Stephenson High School Wednesday, September 30 @ 6:00 PM
Region II Lakeside High School Thursday, October 1 @ 6:00 PM
GA DOE has an established deadline of November 1, 2015, for submission of charter petition applications. The petition’s current draft can be reviewed at the link below It hasn’t changed since last year.
As a part of the legal obligations associated with submission of a charter application to the GA DOE, the District has requested that the Board hold two Public Hearings on October 5, 2015, with the first occurring at 1:30 PM and the second occurring at 5:30 PM. This will allow the public an opportunity to speak directly to the Board and offer input on the charter application. Finally, the District has requested that the Board hold a called meeting during the week of October 19, 2015, to allow the Board an opportunity to adopt a resolution supporting the charter application and its submission to the GA DOE.
Why was information withheld from the DeKalb Board of Education?
Last week, in advance of the school board voting on a new charter school policy, the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) sent DeKalb a letter outlining necessary revisions. This 8-page letter was withheld from board members (they did ask to see this), who were then asked to vote on the policy. To my knowledge, board members have still not received this letter. I wrote to the Georgia DOE and requested a copy of the letter and they quickly responded. Here is that letter:
GaDOE Review of DCSS Charter School Policiy and Regulation – 2015-09-11
Additionally, here is the email exchange between the DeKalb school district and the Georgia DOE: Email exchange between DCSD and State DOE regarding charter policy
Of particular importance, on Friday, September 11th, at 7:31pm, the Georgia DOE indicated that:
“Your response will be a good indicator of DCSS’s commitment to being a good charter partner. The State Superintendent and SBOE are as hopeful as we are that our renewed partnership will continue in a healthy fashion.”
On Monday, the DeKalb Board of Education passed the charter policy without ever being provided the Georgia DOE’s letter containing requested revisions and guidance on on its charter policy. DeKalb passed the charter policy without including any of the changes requested by the state DOE. Of particular importance is the very first revision that the GADOE noted in their 8-page letter. Here’s that requested revision:
1. Please remove “unique” and “innovative” from the initial paragraph of the proposed DCSS Policy in which it is stated that DCSS seeks to authorize high quality charter schools with “innovative, unique…academic programs”.
- No state law, SBOE rules, or GaDOE guidelines require charter schools to implement unique or innovative programming that is not conducted elsewhere in a school district.
- Therefore, requiring “innovative, unique” academic programs in a new charter school or one seeking renewal places a greater burden on charter schools than is legally required.
- The goal in creating charter schools is to produce higher student performance in exchange for autonomy from the state and local district regardless of the academic model selected or the degree to which that model is unique or innovative.
DeKalb has hard-wired into their policy the onerous requirement that a charter school must provide a “unique” or “innovative” academic program. I predict that DeKalb will use this requirement to deny any and every charter not connected to the “friends and family” that run the district.
On that very same evening, the DeKalb administration recommended denial of a Spanish language immersion charter school to be located in the McNair cluster area. The McNair cluster of schools have struggled academically for years and now have been denied a school choice option. The reason for denial? The program wasn’t innovative as DeKalb already has a language immersion charter. That’s true. It’s in north DeKalb. What is also true is that one of the Board members who voted to deny this charter represents the district in which this charter school was to be located. What is also true is that a Board member who voted to deny this charter sends their children outside of their district through school choice programs, including the charter language immersion school in north DeKalb. So, school choice is good for the school board members who can get their children across town. School choice for the McNair kid who didn’t get in the lottery or isn’t able to get to North DeKalb in the mornings, well, apparently, tough luck. Your Board member and your DeKalb bureaucrats, have decided that this charter petition wasn’t “unique”. My advice to all new charter school petitioners: Argue that your charter petition is unique because you won’t fail children. Apparently, that’s a unique feature from my perspective.
The school district also denied the Druid Hills Charter Cluster last year. Soon, the district will take up renewing charters for conversation charters, like Chamblee Charter High School. If the district isn’t a good charter partner with the state DOE, can we expect Chamblee’s charter review and recommendation to get a fair shake? And, what do these developments portend for DeKalb’s application to the Georgia DOE to be a “charter school district”? At this point, DeKalb asking to be a charter school district, seems a bit like, an abusive parent submitting their name for a “Parent of the Year” award.
Georgia Education Per Pupil Spending, Graduation Rates, Tax Climate, Poverty Rating & Free/Reduced Lunch Percentage
In January, I posted this blog about education spending and results in Georgia.
In May, the US Census office released updated per pupil spending numbers. I have updated my regional map with these numbers, along with Georgia’s tax climate ranking, poverty ranking and the percentage of students receiving free/reduced lunch.
Georgia is still spending more per pupil and has a lower gradation rate than all of our border states. Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi all spend less per pupil, have higher graduation rates, better tax climate rankings and more poverty than Georgia. South Carolina and North Carolina both spend less, have higher graduation rates, similar poverty rankings but are rated below Georgia in tax climate. But look for both South and North Carolina to improve their tax climate rankings. North Carolina passed a major tax reform bill this year. South Carolina is working on a major overhaul.
What is Grover Norquist Referring To?
Local Boards of Education are required to publish tax and expenditure data. See https://ted.cviog.uga.edu/ted/Default.do . Don’t know what Grover Norquist is referring to, but it appears [you are] campaigning on something that is already there.
What’s up with that?
Accounting Manager at Ga Dept of Education
Georgia Loses Money Earmarked For Teacher Merit Pay
With all of the talk about recent weather and traffic events, we’ve lost an important education story.
Georgia, has now become the first and only state to forfeit Race to the Top (RT3) grant money. Officials in Georgia were warned last July to address failures in implementing a new teacher evaluation system or lose almost $10 million in funding for a teacher merit pay system.
In the letter regarding the forfeiture, federal officials stated:
On September 16, 2013, I notified the State of my intent to withhold $9,904,629, pursuant to sections 454(a)(1) and 455 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) (20 U.S.C. § § 1234c(a)(1) and 1234d), until the State submitted a credible plan detailing its strategy for coming into compliance with this section of its Race to the Top grant. To date, the State has not submitted such a plan. ….. To date, the OALJ has not received an application for a hearing nor have I received a written show cause response. As a result, the Department is withholding $9,904,629 of Georgia’s Race to the Top grant award, effective with this letter.
I’m not a fan of some of the aspects of RT3 but if the state commits to it, one has an obligation to manage it properly. Whether you like RT3 or not, this is an embarrassment at the national level for Georgia. The headline draws attention to the poor state of affairs regarding education management in our state. Furthermore, it removes funding that would have gone to our best performing teachers.
Georgia’s Department of Education created the very evaluation system they failed to implement. The evaluation system had problems from the start. The length of the 358-page evaluation handbook is a clue that the system may have failed under the weight of its own complexity.
Given that it is National School Choice Week, the story of a failed evaluation system is ironic. The simplicity and equilibrium of parent choice in education as a metric and driver of success is all the more compelling, compared to the byzantine and lengthy teacher evaluation system created by bureaucrats.
Georgians deserve more choice and less bureaucratic failure.
I am pleased to hear the DeKalb school system’s accreditation status has been upgraded from “probation” to “warned”. I worked diligently to shine light on the poor fiscal management of DeKalb. Some of my work was even cited in the SACS report from 2012. Clearly DeKalb still has a long way to go. Academic achievement and growth in many schools is unacceptable. DeKalb’s graduation rate, at 58.9%, is far too low. Of the 25 high schools in DeKalb, 8 have graduation rates below 50%, while only 4 have rates above 75%. All four of these schools are specialty or magnet schools.
I appreciate that SACS finally recognized that DeKalb needed some sort of intervention. The entire episode exposes the structural weaknesses in our state’s accountability model. While SACS can provide a useful and supplemental service via their third party accreditation products, Georgia must not continue to abdicate it’s role in holding districts accountable for their results and financial management. AdvancED/SACS has 5 standards for school district accreditation. While these standards are meant to drive improvement in various processes for a school district, not one standard measures outcomes for children. There is no minimum graduation rate or achievement level necessary to earn accreditation.
In many states, the accreditation status of schools is determined by their Department of Education or comparable public agency. Texas and Virginia both accredit their schools based on defined, measurable performance results. Their graduation rates are 87% and 89% respectively. These states are rewarding success with autonomy and no longer accept failure without consequences. Additionally, Texas has a Financial Integrity system that has 20 indicators that measure the financial health of a district and push money to be spent in the classroom.
From the Texas Education Agency’s website:
“The purpose of the financial accountability rating system is to ensure that school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices and achieve improved performance in the management of their financial resources. The system is designed to encourage Texas public schools to manage their financial resources better in order to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes.”
Georgia has 0 financial integrity measurements for our school districts.
If Georgia had a system for financial integrity, like Texas, DeKalb county could not have engaged in the deceptive budgeting practices I uncovered. School districts would be forced to allocate money to instruction and not a bloated bureaucracy. If Georgia’s Department of Education had an accreditation system like that of Texas or Virginia, our schools would be rated and accredited based on measurable performance outcomes.
I am running to be the State School Superintendent to bring these types of structural reforms to our state.
The Real Story of Per Pupil Spending
In October, the Marietta Daily Journal published an article I wrote about Common Core, Common Core is No Path to Prosperity. Subsequently, Politifact ran a piece examining my comments about Georgia’s aggregate spending on education. They confirmed that, indeed, Georgia does spend in the top ten on education in the nation. Click here to review the U.S. Census data on that. The Politifact article went onto discuss per pupil spending by state – a topic that I did not address. Their point was that if one reviews per pupil spending, Georgia’s ranking drops significantly. They further indicate that ranking drops, “when adjusted for regional costs of living…”. The citation embedded in their article for this claim doesn’t given the adjusted per pupil data, rank or methodology used for adjusting the figures. It’s fair to assume that their per pupil spending data is adjusted using CPI information by region (their stated level of adjustment).
I was pleased that Politifact noted that my fact on aggregate spending was correct. Pursuant to their further critique, they would have preferred I discuss per pupil spending. The main reason I did not discuss per pupil spending is there are significant differences in the wage structures for education professionals and their benefits between states. The largest components of costs in K-12 education are salaries and benefits so adjusting each state relative to each other would be necessary for an accurate comparison.
I downloaded the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most current Occupational Employment Statistics to gather salary/wage data for each state. I isolated those occupational profile codes specific to K-12 education in each state. I averaged these wages to determine an average salary. I then compared this average salary to Georgia’s average salary. As you would expect, some states have significantly higher salaries than Georgia. These states are often those that we think of as having a higher cost of living. For example, adjusted against Georgia’s salaries, New York’s educational salaries are 31% higher; Massachusetts are 17% higher.
After developing a measure between Georgia and every other state, I used this to adjust each state’s per pupil spending relative to Georgia’s and then ranked the states’ adjusted per pupil spending. The result is that Georgia’s per pupil spending is in the middle of the pack. We rank 25th in per pupil spending on instruction and 28th in total per pupil spending.
I’ll leave you with this. Every state that borders Georgia has a higher graduation rate. And, every state that borders Georgia spends less per pupil than Georgia. You can go west to Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas and you will find that they too, also have a higher graduation rate and all but Louisiana spend less per pupil than Georgia.
Nancy Jester says on May 13, 2014 at 2:24 pm
I hope this offers clarity:
I am advocating for adopting a system of financial integrity indicators that are rated and disclosed via a report generated by the State DOE. I would like to see us adopt a system similar to the Financial Integrity Reporting System of Texas (FIRST). This system collects data on 20 indicators of fiscal health for each district in Texas (they have over 1000). Each indicator is scored and a composite FIRST rating is then given to the district. Districts are required to hold a public meeting to discuss and disclosure their FIRST rating. Furthermore, Texas has a list of consequences for districts with poor performance records, including poor fiscal management. We have nothing like this in the state of Georgia.
Here is what the Texas Education Agency says of the FIRST:
The purpose of the financial accountability rating system (Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Title 19, § 109.1001) is to ensure that school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices and achieve improved performance in the management of their financial resources. The system is designed to encourage Texas public schools to manage their financial resources better in order to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes. The system will also disclose the quality of local management and decision-making processes that impact the allocation of financial resources in Texas public schools.
I also advocate for on-line check registers. Most districts in Texas now have these so that taxpayers can see timely data for each financial transaction. They can find this information easily on the district’s website. There is no need to hunt for data or only have access to old information.
The Cato Institute released a report titled “Cracking the Books” in which Georgia received an F for reporting of educational expenditures. I agree that we need to improve our financial reporting and disclosure for our educational tax dollars. School districts are not even required to hold a public review of their proposed budget. (If there is a change to the millage rate they must hold meetings about that.) This year HB 886 was introduced to require school districts to hold 2 public meetings prior to passing the budget, requires the budget be placed online, and requires that a line item budget be made available upon request at no charge.
Another missing aspect in Georgia’s stewardship of the public’s money is that we do not determine the efficacy of each dollar spent. Other states are performing studies where they are “studying the intersection of academic progress and spending for efficiencies in public education.” Georgia should be doing this as well.
The Georgia DOE website does not offer an intuitive and helpful system of data that can combine relevant and timely information on the finances of each district. Georgia’s citizens should be able to access a report that not only has financial data but also the correlating achievement and staffing data. This will allow Georgia’s citizens to see the results they are getting for the dollars they are spending.
The bottom line is that HOW we spend the taxpayers’ money will drive results. We are not even measuring this. We make getting information difficult and often provide old data. We must do better.