Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"State-Directed" Schools

Kathy Cox is acting like Georgia just won a prize. We most assuredly did not. Georgia is one of six states selected by the U.S. Department of Education to pilot a program allowing "differentiated accountability" under the No Child Left Behind Act. Touted and "freedom" and "flexibility," the devil is, as always in the details.

1. Not one dime. Local school systems have been told that this grand prize comes with not one extra dollar. Never mind that most local boards just signed off on their budgets for next year, and that no one has yet determined whether this program will cost districts additional money-how can it not-and if so, how much.

2. Not on our time table. When Cox (who, as we know from the CRCT mess, just loves to spring surprises on local school districts) applied for this program in May of 2008, she told the U.S. DOE that the earliest Georgia could implement the program would be the 2009-2010 school year. Now, because a condition of being a pilot project was implementation this year (2008-2009), school districts across the state learned just today that they will be expected to make changes most do not yet understand. Never mind that most school districts have very few 12 month staff positions. When you're saddled with 1.6 billion in cuts, you can't afford many 12 month positions. Who, exactly, is going to stop putting out the daily fires to sort this out? Implementation is going to be chaotic, at best.

3. Just say "no" to local control. Talk about loss of local control, Cox's plan includes the creation of "State-Directed Schools." Here's the exact language from Cox's proposal as submitted to the DOE:

State-Directed Status (NI-5 or higher)
All schools in Needs Improvement year 5 or higher will receive a State-Directed status label which involves an immediate loss of local governance and other additional consequences as determined by the GaDOE in each school’s required state directed contract.

I don't know about you, but Cox seems to be having substantial trouble with the tasks currently on her plate. I'm not sure she needs to be taking over local schools and removing authority from locally elected boards of education and locally hired superintendents. I laughed when I read the AJC explanation that this was not really taking over local schools since local boards would still get to make all non-academic decisions. Read: Local boards will get to figure out how to pay for what the State requires them to do. And, that's change, how?
4. Delay, Delay. Because of Cox's rush to accept this "prize," Cox has made it nearly impossible for local schools systems to begin their school years as planned. Cox does not plan to inform local school systems which schools will be "State-Directed" until July 21-25, just a couple of weeks before most school systems are slated to start. Expect Cox to use this as an excuse to further her argument that schools should start later this year (to give her time to clean up her CRCT mess.)
5. The Holy Grail of Charter Schools. Read the report, or at least the comparison of how things are now, and how they will be under this plan. Cox has taken this opportunity to embed becoming a Charter School as one of a few limited options schools that need improvement are forced to choose between.
So, though I am no fan of NCLB, I am also no fan of trying to turn a battleship on a dime in rough waters. Cox was right in her first submission to the U.S. DOE-we needed a year to implement these changes successfully, not the mere weeks we now have. And, you can't fix broken schools by sending a monitor down from Atlanta or by having the state take over the school. Only leadership that is out of touch with the realities of local school districts could think such a plan is a good idea.

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