Society

Georgia Should Take Control Of Failing Schools

| by Nik Bonopartis
Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, GeorgiaBooker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia

Shaniaya Hunter, a junior at Greene County High School in Georgia, had just returned to school after being out for an eye infection when she asked her teacher a question about an upcoming test.

"I have been around for 37 years and clearly, you are the dumbest girl that I have ever met," the teacher responded, according to a recording of the conversation on a school-issued iPad. "You know what your purpose [is] going to be? To have sex and have children, because you ain't gonna never be smart."

Hunter's mother complained, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but the school district wouldn't even say if it had taken steps to discipline the teacher. He kept his job, going on teaching as if nothing had happened.

Greene Count High School is classified as a "priority school," according to the Georgia Department of Education, meaning it ranks in the lowest 5 percent of state schools in terms of academic achievement.

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It's one of dozens of schools in the state that could be absorbed into a state-run "Opportunity School District" if voters approve a measure to allow the state to take over schools in a November referendum.

If a school district isn't even responsive to a student who was insulted and put down by her own teacher, in front of her entire class, is it really surprising that it fails at preparing its students for achievement exams and college?

If voters approve Georgia Senate Bill 133, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal will appoint a superintendent for his statewide Opportunity School District who can pick up to 20 failing schools annually and place them under state control. It's a smart, necessary move.

Locals could retain some control under a "shared governance" agreement, but some schools would be outright taken over by the state. Others could be closed permanently, and some could be converted to state charter schools, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

In Atlanta, 60 percent of the district's 73 schools are underperforming and "are either in one of two categories: OSD eligible if the button were to be pushed today or at high risk for OSD eligibility," Chief Schools Officer Donyall Dickey told Education News.

An article iSchoolGuide, an online education news source, details how leaders in Atlanta are scrambling to get their schools out of bracket for a possible state takeover.

The question is, why now?

Wasn't it important to do that before? Isn't that their job? Why does it take a governor's threats to take over local schools for administrators to take poor performance seriously?

The truth is that there's little oversight of schools at the local level. This is a nationwide problem, not just a Georgia problem, and it's been compounded by the death of local newspapers that once served as watchdogs of local government and local schools. As a result, parents don't always have a reliable, neutral source of information about their schools, and district leaders often operate in the dark.

There's also little accountability for teachers, another problem that isn't unique to Georgia. Woe is the politician who proposes any kind of measurement system that would hold teachers accountable for how they do their jobs. If a teachers' union even gets a sniff of that sort of plan, its response is by default nuclear, and lawmakers who propose ways to measure teacher performance can count on the fact that the unions will make them pay for it come election season.

Unfortunately, it's not just teachers' jobs at stake -- it's the future of the children they're supposed to educate. Whether critics of Deal's plan like it or not, there's no disputing the fact that some of these schools have been failing for years, and everything they've tried has failed to improve achievement scores and graduation rates.

The Opportunity School District is a fresh idea, modeled after the Recovery School District in Louisiana. When the state government took over around 100 schools after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005, those schools saw improvements in graduation rates, tests and even students qualifying for college scholarships, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Georgia's school administrators have had their shot. After years of failed policies, it's time for them to step aside and make way for a new approach that could make a difference.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: iSchoolGuide.com, EducationNews, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2) (3), Athens Banner-Herald, Georgia Education Reform Commission / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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