Monthly Archives: January 2016

Education groups lining up to fight Georgia governor’s plan for failing schools

Both sides of the aisle are clearing the education table for the fight over the Opportunity School District (OSD) constitutional amendment vote in December.

The Governor’s Education Reform Commission released its final report last month. Some parts, like merit pay for teachers, are more controversial for others. In preparation for the battle on OSD, the Deal team has decided to push these initiatives to next year. Furthermore, it would appear the Governor is attempting to cozy up to the educational establishment by increasing state funding and insisting on a 3% raise for teachers across Georgia.

Education SPLOST, a 1% sales tax for capital projects, vote has been moved from Nov to May 2016 for all metro Atlanta school districts (although I’m not sure that announcement has been made yet). School districts want to clear their plate for the fight against OSD. There will also be a number of Transportation SPLOST votes on the ballot in November and school districts want to avoid any confusion between all of these issues.

Lee Shearer with Online Athens reports on the education establishment circling the wagons in preparation for the fight against OSDs.

By LEE SHEARER

Education groups across the state are gearing up to campaign against the proposed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment that Georgia voters vote on in November.

If passed, the legislation allows Gov. Nathan Deal to pick up to 20 schools a year, up to a total of 100, from across the state in a special school district for schools labeled as poor performers that would be run through the governor’s office, under the supervision of a superintendent picked by the governor.

One Clarke County school, Gaines Elementary, is among the 120 named by the governor as possible candidates for the district because of low pass rates on state achievement tests.

Some 20 organizations are meeting to develop a coordinated statewide strategy, according to Karen Solheim of Athens, president of the Georgia Association of Educators’ retired teachers organization.

Solheim met with the Clarke County Board of Education’s legislative committee Tuesday, along with Valarie Wilson, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association, who attended the meeting via telephone.

The Clarke County school board is already on record as opposing the school district; turning back the so-called OSD is one of the legislative priorities for this year adopted by the full school board at a meeting earlier this month.

But the school board and board members have to limit their roles to education, said the board’s lawyer, Michael Pruitt. State law prohibits the board from advocacy on legislation and from spending tax money for advocacy, he told them.

State legislators last year voted to put the OSD question on ballots in this November’s general election, and also authorized a bill that partly outlined how the OSD would work.

The governor’s Opportunity School District superintendent could choose four options for schools whose low scores landed them in the OSD, including one that would remove them permanently from local control, although local school boards are required to provide school buildings and equipment for the OSD school and to contract with the OSD to provide services such as transportation to any local schools pulled into the OSD.

The options include “shared governance” of the troubled school between the governor’s superintendent and the local school board; a simple takeover of the school by the state; converting the school into a state charter school; and as a last resort closing the school.

If the governor’s superintendent takes the charter school route, the schools would be set up as nonprofit corporations with a board of directors appointed by the governor’s superintendent, with the authority to hire a for-profit private company to operate the school.

Schools converted to charter schools might not ever return to a local school board’s control, even if they began to post passing grades on an A-F grading scale the state is creating. They will be eligible to remain state charter schools, under the supervision of their state-appointed boards, according to legislation the state General Assembly adopted last year.

But except for money details, the governor’s office has not revealed how the overall process will work, Wilson said.

“None of that has been shared at all,” she said.

The Georgia School Boards Association hired a consultant to examine “growth” rates at more than 100 schools Gov. Deal identified last year as candidates for the OSD. That consultant found that the OSD candidate schools showed on average more growth from year to year than top schools, Wilson said.

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Filed under Opportunity School District

Texas School Triples Recess Time And Sees Immediate Positive Results In Kids

A Texas school started giving children four recess breaks a day, and teachers and parents say the results have been wonderful.

Recess is a lot more than just a free break for kids to play after lunch period. That free, unstructured play time allows kids to exercise and helps them focus better when they are in class. Now a school in Texas says it took a risk by giving students four recess periods a day, but the risk has paid off beautifully.

According to Today, the Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas, has been giving kindergarten and first-grade students two 15-minute recess breaks every morning and two 15-minute breaks every afternoon to go play outside. At first teachers were worried about losing the classroom time and being able to cover all the material they needed with what was left, but now that the experiment has been going on for about five months, teachers say the kids are actually learning more because they’re better able to focus in class and pay attention without fidgeting.

“There was a part of me that was very nervous about it,” said first-grade teacher Donna McBride. “I was trying to wrap my head around my class going outside four times a day and still being able to teach those children all the things they needed to learn.”

But now she says that not only are the students paying better attention in class, they’re following directions better, attempting to learn more independently and solve problems on their own, and there have been fewer disciplinary issues.

“We’re seeing really good results,” she said, and those results make sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that recess is “a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.” Even adults have a hard time concentrating and working their best when confined to a chair all day, so it’s amazing that we expect kids to be able to focus and learn without any way to exercise and blow off steam. When kindergarten students or first-graders are forced to sit still all day and allowed only one 15-minute break to play, as the Eagle Mountain students were before this experiment began, it’s only natural that they’d start to fidget and act up in class. Giving them regular breaks to play outside is good for their minds as well as their bodies.

“You start putting 15 minutes of what I call ‘reboot’ into these kids every so often and… it gives the platform for them to be able to function at their best level,” said professor Debbie Rhea, who is working with Eagle Mountain Elementary and other schools to increase the amount of physical activity and play time children get at school.

Rhea’s program calls for schools to add the four 15-minute recesses a day for kindergarten and first-grade students, and then adding another grade every year as it goes on. And teachers aren’t the only ones seeing good results from this program, either. Some parents say they’ve noticed their children being more independent and creative at home, and they also say the extra recess time has helped their kids socially. It’s a lot easier to make friends on the swing-set than when you’re all silently watching an adult explain math problems, after all.

Giving up class time for regular, short recess breaks seems like an exchange that pays off well, because after recess kids learn more efficiently and enthusiastically when they are in class than they would if they were just strapped to their desks all day. Kids today have a lot of things to learn in a short amount of time, but it looks like the best way to help them learn is to give them time to play and be kids.

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Filed under Georgia Education

Atlanta looks to charter schools to manage its worst schools

If Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) passes this year, almost half the schools in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) could be taken over. The school district would in turn lose almost half its state and local funding.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is circling the wagons and last year hired Deal education adviser Erin Hames, an architect of the Opportunity District. The district’s plan to keep the money is to beat the OSD to the punch and turn the failing schools into charters under the governance of APS.

Molly Bloom with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Atlanta school district leaders could put some of the city’s worst schools under the management of charter school groups before the state does it for them.

Just before the December vacation, Atlanta Public Schools formally announced it was seeking organizations like charter school operators, local nonprofits and companies that run charter schools to improve the performance of the schools that could fall under Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, if voters approve the plan this fall.

If the plan is approved, the state would be able take over a limited number of Georgia’s lowest performing schools and close them, run them or convert them to charter schools.

Atlanta’s proposal comes even though some members of a parent advisory committee on how to turn around Atlanta schools said they didn’t support bringing in charter school operators.

Atlanta schools need to improve quickly, Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan said. “If that means doing some controversial things, then that means we have to do it.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said he was “deeply skeptical” of the Atlanta’s proposal to bring in charter groups.

“One would hope that the superintendent would have a clear view and vision of how to solve the problem instead of farming it out to an outside company or entity,” he said.

The school board is scheduled to consider hiring groups in March. Anyone hired could begin work as early as this fall.

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Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Opportunity School District, School Choice