ANALYSIS: APS Board Chair Opposes OSD, albeit with Forked Tongue
(APN) ATLANTA — On August 28, 2014 Georgia Stand Up hosted an education town hall attended by some members of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, including Leslie Grant (District 1), Byron Amos (District 2), Matt Westmoreland (District 3), and Chairman Courtney English (Seat 7-at-large).
The public pressed Board Members to take a clear stance on Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District (OSD), a policy that would allow the State to take over struggling schools, if voters approve a state constitutional amendment in November 2016.
In response, English made a statement that, on its surface, seems to heed their call.
“The Atlanta School Board is in favor of maintaining local control, so we are actually opposed to the idea and concept of OSD… We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we keep control of every single school in the Atlanta Public Schools system. We are in favor of local control and the OSD is the antithesis of local control. We don’t think it’s the right idea for our community,” English said.
But first of all, the Board does not appear to have adopted any resolution expressing such an opinion, according to education advocate Ed Johnson.
And while English used strong words like “antithesis,” and “opposed,” the meaning of his statement is murkier, and more troubling than it may seem.
That’s because even if the Board is opposed, their actions, or lack thereof, raise the question of what the Board is willing to do about it.
English says the Board is going to do everything within its power to keep control of every single APS school. In name, maybe this is true. In practice, APS schools are already under state control.
As Atlanta Progressive News previously reported, the school board voted last month to hire Deal’s Deputy chief of staff, Erin Hames, who left her post in the statehouse to sell her expertise as the creator of the OSD legislation.
While Hames is advising APS on how to operate schools in ways that are less likely to subject them to state takeover, she’s also a consultant-for-hire to the governor, thus creating a direct link between the two.
APS also struck a deal with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which has deep ties to the KIPP charter schools franchise and has advised school districts across the nation to expand charters, close schools, tie teacher pay to test scores, implement online learning, and other corporate reform measures.
BCG will receive 405,000 dollars to map out a school turnaround plan for APS in eight weeks.
Four foundations are footing the bill for the consultation, including the Lanier Sartain Family Foundation, which primarily funds charter schools and shares a board member, Mark Riley, with the Georgia Charter Schools Association.
Riley–a former Board of Education member who ran for the Post 8-at-large seat in 2013–is also a privatizer of another kind: his real estate firm, Urban Realty Partners, contracted with the Atlanta Housing Authority to demolish public housing complexes––Capitol Homes and Grady Homes––and replace them with mixed use developments.
In a scope of work document sent to APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen on July 22, 2015, BCG consultants outlined several turnaround strategies they considered effective options for Atlanta Public Schools.
These included leadership and personnel changes, longer school days, data-driven instructional decisions, and sourcing private school operators to run low-performing schools.
Here they cite KIPP as a great example of a school operator and applaud Louisiana’s Recovery School District and Tennessee’s Achievement School District––the two models upon which Deal’s Opportunity School District is based.
These are the same measures the Governor’s education team have touted as solutions to “turnaround” schools with low test scores.
Whether APS implements the changes or the state does, the consequences will be the same: privatization, union-busting, and over-testing, to name a few.
The only way to truly oppose the OSD, as English claims the board does, is to oppose the corporate reform agenda that lies at its core.
In that regard, APS is off to a bad start.