Many in the education establishment say two things:
1. “If only teachers were free to teach!”
2. “Anything for our kids!”
Well, we have an opportunity to put those two principles in action – by voting “yes” on Constitutional Amendment 1 on the Georgia ballot in the Nov. 8 election.
The amendment would allow the state to help fix chronically failing schools with the help of – or, indeed, over the objections of – local boards of education.
Much hysteria has arisen over the amendment, and the entrenched bureaucracy has roared its terrible roars and gnashed its terrible teeth and rolled its terrible eyes in an effort to scare people into voting against it.
Why? Because the bureaucracy feels threatened. That’s it.
Actually, the fear is not only overblown, it’s completely unfounded.
The amendment would allow the state to create what’s called an “Opportunity School District” – a borderless, statewide district for a limited number of failing schools. An OSD superintendent duly appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate would work with local officials and communities to find the best path forward for each failing school.
And he or she would do so in complete concert with any school board big enough and secure enough to accept the help on behalf of the children who are trapped in failing schools.
The collaboration between the state and local school districts would actually occur before a failing school is taken into the OSD. State and local officials would do an assessment of the school, and there would be public meetings with parents, teachers and administrators.
After the state steps in, there would be collaboration with the school district and formation of an advisory panel of parents, teachers and administrators.
In short, state involvement will actually deepen local involvement in failing schools.
Only schools that have failed to make the grade for three years in a row – there are 127 of them in Georgia at present, 19 of them in Richmond County – would be considered for the Opportunity School District. And the OSD can only take on 20 schools a year, so it’s phased in, and can only be overseeing 100 schools at any one time.
One exciting aspect of the proposal is that the OSD superintendent would have wide latitude to grant each school waivers from state mandates – enabling a school’s administrators, teachers and parents to be more creative and collaborative about how the kids are taught.
Moreover, state law – and sheer practicality – would require the OSD superintendent to be collaborative with local boards of education.
In short, if local boards of education want to be a player in fixing failing schools, they will have that opportunity. But they have to put their egos aside and not worry about turf – and worry more about the kids.
If it’s true that we’ll do “anything for our kids,” then surely state and local officials can work together to save failing schools.
Gov. Nathan Deal, who orchestrated a massive restructuring of our criminal justice system, also wants to help save failing schools. And there’s a natural connection: About 70 percent of those in prison didn’t finish high school. Meanwhile, under 12 percent of kids in failing elementary schools read at grade level – a key indicator of future dropouts.
Think about this: There are more kids (68,000) in failing Georgia schools than there are inmates in state prisons (52,000).
And being trapped in a failing school is its own kind of prison.
Why wouldn’t we, indeed, try anything to help them out?
It seems that many who rarely tout the principle of “local control” are now preaching it with religious fervor – oddly enough in the name of protecting failing schools from the state’s help.
“Local control is fine, if local control is producing the results you want,” Gov. Deal says.
Yet, hysteria around this amendment – some $2 million is said to have been spent by out-of-state interests, including the National Education Association, to defeat it – would have you believe this is some nefarious ploy to funnel money and power to Atlanta. Hardly. The money will still be spent on local schools. As for the power – it can be shared by local districts and the state, if local boards of education are collegial in seeking what’s best for our kids. And the state’s involvement is temporary anyway.
Much of the same hysteria being aimed at this amendment was whipped up when the state created the Charter Schools Commission a few years ago. The sky didn’t fall then, either.
Opponents claim this amendment isn’t necessary – that mere laws can pave the way for state intervention in schools. Not true: The Georgia Supreme Court made that clear enough in a 2011 ruling requiring the charter school amendment, which passed in 2012 with 58 percent of the vote.
Gov. Deal acknowledges this amendment is running behind, due to the bureaucratic forces allied against it. It’s therefore going to be up to informed, cool-headed voters and concerned parents to get it over the finish line.
Don’t believe the hysterical hype. This amendment may be the only hope that failing schools have.
If we’re truly willing to do anything for our kids, we can do this much. We can team up as parents, teachers, administrators and local and state officials to fix our broken schools.
We just have to say “yes” to Amendment 1 on Nov. 8.