Macon County’s entire school system, kindergarten to 12th grade, is failing. Taliaferro County is another one. Taliaferro, I’m told, had been in a combined school district with Greene County. When its students were not graduating high school, it pulled out of the consolidated district and built a single elementary, middle and high school. Its entire school system is failing. There are 146 failing schools in Georgia that have been failing for at least three years. Fourteen are in Bibb County.
In several school districts around the state, there is not a single school board member with a college degree. Most of those school districts are composed of failing schools. In some places, it seems institutionalized. The parents did not go to college and they have no expectation their children will go to college, so there is no expectation that the schools will pass.
We can quibble with the standardized testing metrics that calculate whether a school is failing or not. Unfortunately, that is the metric used by both the state and federal government. Some argue more money can improve schools. The data, however, suggests otherwise. Of the 146 schools that are failing, half spend more per pupil than the state average.
There are, in fact, a number of schools inside and outside Georgia that spend relatively little money per student and have high achieving schools. Tift County is routinely cited as one of the best school systems in the nation. It is not, however, an urban, mostly white, or even highincome school system.
Money seems like the easy answer, but the data suggests otherwise. There are institutional problems, there are family problems and there are political problems that prevent a lot of schools from passing. In a lot of cases it is squabbling adults who cause the problem, putting their political interests ahead of the educational interests of children.
Into all of this, Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a plan to address what government can address. He proposes a state takeover of failing schools. His plan requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and a vote of the people.
Deal’s plan would take 20 failing schools per year, hand them over to professionals to develop changes within the individual schools, and hold them for five years. The schools would be exempted from local school bureaucracies and policies, essentially seeing if local school politics, policies and inflexibility were holding back the schools. Teachers would, inside the system, stop being school board bureaucrats within their schools.
After five years, the schools would be released from the system into the wild. They could go back to their school system, become charter schools or try something else. If the school continues to fail after five years, it would stay in the system up to five more years. No more than 20 schools a year and no more than one hundred schools total could be in the system at one time.
This plan has been successfully implemented in Tennessee and New Orleans. Both areas have transformed failing schools to passing schools. But the plan requires Republicans to get over their “local control” mantra and requires Democrats to get over their “give them more money” mantra. Battle lines are already being drawn.
We know from the charter school movement that black mothers in Georgia are pretty willing to let Republicans fix schools. Deal’s first hurtle will be whether two-thirds of the Legislature will even give black mothers a chance to approve or reject his plan.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.