Education leaders in Middle Georgia and beyond are gearing up to fight Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District proposal.
The measure, which will be on the November ballot, would allow a statewide district that could take over as many as 20 schools a year that have scored a 60 or below on the College and Career Ready Performance Index for three straight years. The CCRPI is a score on a 100-point scale that encompasses test scores, graduation rates and student growth measures that is intended to provide an all-inclusive assessment of schools and districts.
“When we talk about helping failing schools, we’re talking about rescuing children,” Deal said on his website. “I stand firm on the principle that every child can learn, and I stand equally firm in the belief that the status quo isn’t working.”
In the same statement, Deal described fixing the state’s educational issues as a “moral duty,” and he said the Opportunity School District bid is a big part of that.
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“Failing schools keep the cycle of poverty spinning from one generation to the next,” he said. “Education provides the only chance for breaking that cycle.”
The governor is asking the question and he is not an educator. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote to destroy public education.
BJ Shepherd, President of Bibb Association of Educators
BJ Shepherd, president of the Bibb Association of Educators, sees things differently, though. He said voting for the proposal would be “a vote to destroy public education.” Deal doesn’t have a background in education, having served in the military before pursuing a law career, Shepherd said in an email.
“If the state comes in and takes over, what are they going to do differently in my classroom that I have not already done?” he asked. “How do they know what has worked and not worked in regards to my students’ learning?”
Shepherd, a third-grade teacher at Williams Elementary School, said teachers would also be concerned about the effect the OSD would have on teacher pay and the Teacher Retirement System. Recent counts reflect that nine Bibb County schools, including Williams, would be eligible for takeover if the bill passes, as would Twiggs County High School.
In contrast to Deal’s aims to curb poverty by fixing education, Shepherd suggested that poverty must be addressed before students can achieve at a higher rate.
“OSD will attempt to fix education by replacing educators, but much more needs to be done than that,” Shepherd wrote. “First, we need to solve the poverty issue and support our kids outside of school hours. Let’s start there before we begin to blame teachers about bad scores on a standardized test.”
The CCRPI, which is at the core of the school takeover plan, is based largely on students’ Georgia Milestones assessment results. Those results were not available until November 2015 for the 2014-15 school year, and as a result, CCRPI scores related to the 2014-15 school year were not released until May of this year.
Milestones scores for the 2015-16 school year are expected to be released this year.
The Georgia Association of Educators and other groups originally planned a news conference for July 9 in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to announce initiatives to “Keep Georgia Schools Local.” That event was postponed due to other protests and incidents in Atlanta, including a man found hanging from a tree in the park in what has initially been ruled a suicide.
GAE President Sid Chapman said in a statement that the organization’s opposition to the measure is based on what he perceives are voters’ values when it comes to education.
“The state level ‘take-over’ of local schools, which is what OSD would do, is intrusive and falls well outside of the values of what we feel most Georgians hold regarding our children, which comes down to local control,” Chapman said.
In a past visit to Middle Georgia, state school Superintendent Richard Woods advised parents and school employees to keep themselves informed about the ballot measure. Beyond that, he said his job was to make sure there weren’t failing schools to put on the OSD list.
“Regardless of whether or not it passes, our job is to offer services and supports in order to keep schools from qualifying,” superintendent’s office spokeswoman Meghan Frick said in an email.
Election Day is Nov. 8. The Opportunity School District question will be on the ballot statewide.
Middle Georgia schools currently on OSD list *
Appling Middle School (Bibb)
Ballard-Hudson Middle School (Bibb)
Brookdale Elementary School (Bibb)
Bruce Elementary School (Bibb)
Hartley Elementary School (Bibb)
Ingram-Pye Elementary School (Bibb)
Riley Elementary School (Bibb)
Southwest High School (Bibb)
Williams Elementary School (Bibb)
Twiggs County High School
* Data from 2015-16 school year has not been released