Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Allowed To Fail

There is an interesting bit of folklore floating around the homeschool crowd in Georgia. As the story goes, when Gold-Domers were crafting their rules around homeschooling it was initially proposed that each homeschool student would have to take a nationally recognized standardized test, the scores must be reported to the school district and if the student did not measure up on those tests then that student must be returned to public schools. Then something magical happened. Someone asked a simple question: "if a homeschool student must go back to public schools if they fail this standardized test, then what do we do with the public school students who fail the same test, send them to private schools?"

We've been struggling with the second part of that question ever since.

The first answer was charter schools which were sold on a model of thrive or close. The idea was that charters would have greater flexibility to experiment with successful practices identified in the charter experience incorporated into traditional public schools. They also came with a commitment to succeed--an educational SLA--and were to lose their charter (closing the school) should they not meet these academic commitments. The problem with this was the same as always--parents. Parents have an amazing ability to delude themselves into believing THEIR child attends the best school on the planet--even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary and therefore once their child is in a charter school that school becomes sacred.

So charters are having mixed results. At best.

Now Governor Deal is proposing an "Opportunity School District", a statewide district to take over failing schools in Georgia a plan modeled after a successful Louisiana program. By nationally normed standards that would be every school in Georgia, but this educational maxim will surely be applied: when all else fails, lower your standards. By applying that rule only the lowest of the low will be taken over by this State District. At least at first. Of course this does not sit well with existing district boards, supers, and administrations, mostly due to the loss of money and to some degree the erosion of power. Mostly the money. So they're pushing back and their mantra is the well-worn "local control" meme.

That will prove problematic, because "local control" is a myth particularly when discussing public schools. One of the key qualities of public schools is that the parents of students do not pay anywhere near the total cost of educating their children. Others do. A significant portion of the cost is born by business via property taxes paid on commercial real estate. But even that is not enough. Some funding comes from the state and it comes with conditions. The state also sets certain parameters like minimum school size which is enforced by funding. Then there is the Federal school lunch program viewed as low hanging fruit by schools far and wide as the program operates without any audits of any source. Just fill out some paperwork and watch dollars roll in. And if you think our wonderful, diligent, over-worked educators would not stoop to such a fraud then you've not been paying attention to what is going on in APS and DeKalb schools of late. Then there are revolutionary, funded programs like Race To The Top... Regardless, none of these funds come without strings attached. And then there is SACS which seems to exist for the purpose of extracting tax payer dollars and protecting district Supers from any uncomfortable scrutiny by the school board. You know, the folks we elect as the sole representatives of our "local control."

And now we have an ongoing effort to change the State Constitution to allow cities (like Dunwoody) to start their own school system, extracting themselves from the current district. And again with the local control. It will be as mythical as a unicorn, but believe it they will because it isn't so much about local control as it is about the money and keeping that money local. We will also find, in very short order, that a Dunwoody City School System would sell out whatever local control there might be in order to obtain the same funding from the State and the Feds that the DeKalb system gets with all the conditions and requirements thereunto appertaining. And an unaccredited school system will not please the citizenry and we'll be dealing with the SACS issue as well.

It turns out that the real problem with local control is that it comes bundled with local responsibility, which almost no one wants. In fact, should parents want truly local control over their children's education and be willing to shoulder the associated responsibility there is a very clear and simple answer: homeschool.