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Georgia Should Not Take Over Failing Schools

A potential new law proposed in Georgia would amount to a vast expansion of state power over local school districts, and has the troubling potential to emulate education 'reforms' which have fared poorly in other states.

Georgia Senate Bill 133 would allow the state to take control of failing schools by creating one statewide "Opportunity School District," according to WRDW.  The bill aims to start on a small scale, stipulating that the OSD can only take over 20 schools in the first year and can only have one hundred in its purview at any one time, Atlanta Progressive News reports.

So what are the problems with this bill, exactly?

According to Dr. Lowell Greenbaum, the trouble is that the bill would effectively amend Georgia's constitution by allowing a governor appointee to bypass the state school superintendent in order to take over local school operations, infrastructure and funding if a school has low standardized test scores.

There are also concerns as to whether or not SB 133 does an adequate job of preventing companies from taking advantage of the OSD model in order to profit, according to Atlanta Progressive News.  It is common for charter schools in the state to contract with for-profit management companies such as Edison Learning Inc., which has been embroiled in various scandals over the years.

The top-down approach SB 133 seems to take has been a proven failure in other states.  The OSD model evokes the "achievement district" model which has been advocated and implemented for failing schools in Louisiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas and most recently California, according to a report from the Center of Popular Democracy.

Achievement districts are school districts which are effectively privately controlled, but operate with public money.  Although advocates argue that they allow for school choice and improve educational outcomes, CPD's report finds these districts effectively amount to state takeovers of local school systems and that students going to these schools typically see negligible improvement in educational outcomes.

One of the purported benefits of creating achievement districts -- namely, staff management -- has also been a mirage.  These districts are often "breeding grounds for fraud and mismanagement at the public's expense" and have high rates of staff turnover, creating confusion and a disrupted learning environment for children.

The most depressing finding in the CPD report is that these districts typically fail those students who are most in need of a high-quality education: low-income students of color and those with special needs.  

In some areas of the U.S., such as Newark, New Jersey, state management of local school systems has failed for so long that the state of New Jersey has begun to return Newark schools to local control.  

Local control is certainly no panacea in itself -- as Muhammed Akil of NJ Spotlight points out, there is a reason Newark schools came under control of the state in the first place -- but local control is, at the very least, more accountable and democratic to the citizens actually being affected than the top-down approaches pursued in many states.

Georgia voters will ultimately vote for or against SB 133 on Nov. 8.  While Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and other supporters of the bill will tout other states' success in implementing these districts, voters should take a closer look at the real record of success of these programs in other states.  The record is not very pretty, and voters should consider whether or not a less top-down approach to school reform may be superior in the long term.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: WRDW, Atlanta Progressive News, Center for Popular Democracy, NJ Spotlight / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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