Our PolitiFact Georgia team looks at John Barge and charters: Not much of a flip.

AJC PolitiFact Georgia was asked to examine whether state school chief John Barge flipped-flopped on charter schools with his stunning announcement last week that he did not back the charter school amendment on the November ballot.

Some of his critics have been sending links to a speech that candidate John Barge gave to a conservative group as proof of his flip-flop, but I have to go on record about that 2010 video clip: Barge said nothing different in front of Tea Party supporters in the burbs than he did in front of intown parents at a campaign debate at Inman Middle School that I covered for the AJC.

In fact,  a liberal-leaning policy analyst was sitting two rows in front of me, and he was shaking his head in dismay at almost all of Barge’s responses. Barge seems to be an elected official who does not tailor his message to the crowd. He has consistently decried too much state-level bureaucracy and wasteful spending, so it is not surprising that he would oppose the creation and funding of a new Atlanta-based commission to approve charters.

Here is an excerpt of the AJC PolitiFact Georgia story. Please read the full piece if you are interested in this topic:

Many charter school supporters, including the governor, felt they were double-crossed last week when Georgia School Superintendent John Barge announced his opposition to a constitutional amendment aimed at creating more charter schools. The amendment would reinstate the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, a body that can approve charter schools that local boards reject. The state Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

“[T]his is a flip-flop for the record books,” said Bert Brantley, who was the communications director when Sonny Perdue was governor and is working with charter school supporters for the referendum. Barge’s spokesman said he has not switched his position at all.  “It was the same then as it is now,” Matt Cardoza said.

Barge’s opponents say proof of his flip-flop lies in his answers to a 2010 campaign questionnaire by the Georgia Charter Schools Association, an advocacy group. It asked whether Barge agreed with the statement “I support House Bill 881.” His answer: “Strongly agree.”

But this doesn’t prove Barge flip-flopped, Cardoza said.  The 130-word lead-up to the question asked for the candidate’s stance on funding for commission-approved charter schools, not the bill as a whole. It explained that under HB 881, if a student attends this kind of charter school, the per-pupil amount of local tax revenue that would have gone to the district for his or her education goes to the charter school instead.

Barge’s response to a separate question showed he had reservations about the commission.

It asked whether Barge supported “non-district authorizers,” or entities such as the commission that have the power to approve and monitor charters without local school board interference.

Barge’s answer: “Agree.” But he found it “greatly disappointing that we need another administrative body to do something that the local, and ultimately, the state board of education should be able to do.”

Barge’s response gave the clear impression that he supported the commission’s creation, although he held reservations about the extra level of bureaucracy it created.

“While the opponents of his position want you to focus on the HB 881 question, it’s hard to not see how he clearly felt based on his answer to the more important question regarding having a third authorizer to do what the local boards and state board can already do,” Cardoza said.

Barge’s announcement Tuesday restated this concern. He said the commission “unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education.”

Another point in Barge’s favor is that he filled out the questionnaire in 2010. It’s poor proof that he changed his stance on an issue that didn’t exist until 2011.  We found no evidence that before Tuesday’s announcement Barge had taken a public stance for reinstating the commission.

In fact, he gave the impression he’d avoid taking one. Atlanta Journal-Constitution political columnist Jim Galloway described Barge’s position in a July 25 story:

“Asked whether he would campaign for the charter school question, state School Superintendent John Barge expressed a fondness for charter schools in an email, but added this: ‘We will, of course, respect the will of the citizens of Georgia regarding how charter schools are authorized.’”

If Barge’s opinion changed on anything, it’s over whether to campaign on the issue, not the amendment itself.

Barge broke ranks with other charter school supporters when he decided to oppose the amendment, but he did not quite flip-flop.

From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

149 comments Add your comment

Tony

August 21st, 2012
5:52 pm

Dr. Barge stood up to the political machine with his convictions about educating all of Georgia’s students. He knows and has communicated that this amendment is bad for Georgia and its children. It’s a shame that the machine tries to defame his character and twist his words just because he has exposed the fraud for what it is. There is no need for Georgia to have a new funding system for only a select group of students. As a state, we should set as a high priority the proper funding for all students.

Mary Elizabeth

August 21st, 2012
6:01 pm

Tony, 5:52 pm

Very well said. Thank you for your astute post.

Ron F.

August 21st, 2012
7:31 pm

Tony: that’s what happens when you break away from the collective hive mindset and become self-aware.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 21st, 2012
9:36 pm

Ron F: “They [GSSA, PAGE, GAE] never tell you how to vote, or “urge” you in any way. They report on the legislation, their positions, and tell you to decide. I’ve voted both with them and against them and never felt pressured either way.”

Herb Garrett, in his capacity as GSSA executive director, attended a leadership conference recently as a featured speaker and launched an inflammatory political diatribe to a room full of superintendents, principals, and other school leaders, urging them to vote against the amendment. I am not going to reveal which conference so as to protect my source, who attended the conference and heard every word.

Mary Elizabeth

August 21st, 2012
10:11 pm

“Herb Garrett, in his capacity as GSSA executive director, attended a leadership conference recently as a featured speaker. . . urging them to vote against the amendment.”
==================================================

Good for Herb Garrett for taking a public stand against this Constitutional Amendment. GAE, also, is taking a public stand against it. As many educational leaders and organizations as possible need to voice their opposition to this Constitutional Amendment. (See Below.)
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“GAE lauds State Superintendent’s stance against charter school constitutional amendment

‘We truly appreciate the state’s top education official standing up for Georgia’s 1.6 million kids and against the November 6 constitutional amendment on charter schools. Dr. Barge sees first-hand the impact this constitutional amendment would have on ensuring every child in Georgia has fair access to a quality education,’ said Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) in response to today’s announcement from State Superintendent John Barge saying he could not support the proposed November 6 constitutional amendment.

‘We understood from its introduction that passage of this amendment would invalidate the decision making processes by which local communities elect their citizens to make local school decisions and be held accountable,” said Rollins. ‘GAE is in total agreement when Superintendent Barge says that he could not ’support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy …and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education.’

‘His announcement shows he fully understands the negative ramifications for our public school children should the amendment pass,’ said Rollins. ‘He hits the nail on the head when he says passage would, ‘direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).’ . . .

Rollins says the bottom line is that passage of this amendment would be a step backward from efforts to meet the promise that both we and our state constitution have made to our children. So on November 6, she and now Superintendent Barge, are asking Georgia voters to vote no on the constitutional amendment regarding charter schools.”

http://gae2.org/content.asp?ContentId=1655

bootney farnsworth

August 21st, 2012
10:47 pm

@ Ron

worst thing which ever happened to me professionally was when I began to think for myself. I started asking questions, and ……it wasn’t pretty

teacher&mom

August 22nd, 2012
6:57 am

@Dr. Henson, I attended also conference and heard Mr. Garrett speak. Yes, he did urge the participants to vote against the amendment. However, a couple of charter schools were also in attendance and even they acknowledged that while this amendment will mean more money for their schools, it will be detrimental to rural schools.

No one is fooled.

pleasebeserious

August 22nd, 2012
9:37 am

In order to allow my son to receive twenty-six AP credit hours and enter GA Tech as a Biomedical Engineering student this fall, it WAS necessary to send him to a pricey Cobb private school and therefore I am happy with my choice. The same options are not offered at our neighborhood public school. Since I have four intelligent children, this is a costly, albeit, worthwhile investment. The only students admitted to Ga Tech from our over-crowed public school were the top three students. There were ten admitted from the small, private school my children attend. It was either that or move to Finland where teachers are valued and paid accordingly..

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
11:05 am

I have no problem with Mr. Garrett, or anyone else from GSSA, GSBA, PAGE, or GAE, speaking his mind on the issues. What I DO have a problem with is state-funded organizations holding conferences and similar events and allowing such political rhetoric from one side without permitting the other the same forum. I contacted the folks in charge of the conference and asked that a speaker from the other side be allowed to attend their next meeting. I was told that Mr. Garrett did not provide political commentary, that all he did was summarize educational legislative issues objectively, and that this organization did not allow political comment at their events.

Where I come from, we call that kind of statement a “whopper.” I suspect that Rep. Lindsey, Sens. Millar and Rogers, et al, would call it an unethical use of tax dollars, probabbly illegal as well.

Mary Elizabeth

August 22nd, 2012
12:17 pm

About the proper use of the public’s tax dollars. . . .

On August 20th, on Kyle Wingfield’s blog, CS2 stated that the Constitutional Amendment’s special charter school administrators “are looking for educators with a shared philosophy, passion, and proven results. . .”

Our exchange on that blog was specifically related to those teachers hired to teach in the special charter schools established by this Constitutional Amendment and was specifically regarding their inability to become members of Georgia’s Teacher Retirement System. (Rep. Jan Jones had sponsored s bill – later pulled – which would have given principals of special charters the choice to disallow their teachers from joining the TRS. Rep. Jones also sponsored the Constitutional Amendment bill.)

CS2 stated to me on Aug. 21 on this blog as a follow up to the previous exchange: “Schools have various missions and teaching philosophies, so it is nice to have a group of like minded people working to the same purpose.”

I want fo highlight for the reading public that my original exchange with CS2 about this issue (on Kyle Wingfield’s blog) was not about “teaching philosophies” but, instead, was specifically about the fact that these special charter schools could very well disallow their teaching staff from joining the TRS. CS2 wrote at 6:56 am on Wingfield’s blog: “The state chartered special schools are being given an OPTION (not a requirement) to explore other investment opportunities besides TRS. Teachers CHOOSING to work in these schools will know this prior to being employed and can decide for themselves.”

Pertinent to my specific TRS exchange with CS2 on Kyle Wingfield’s blog and followed up on this blog the next morning, that exclusivity in hiring specific teachers (based on a “shared philosophy”) was not about a teaching philosophy but was about a specific pragmatic TRS concern, which is more political than instructional, in nature. Furthermore, that political position regarding not joining the TRS of Georgia parallels the national Republican ideological agenda of dismantling traditional “governmental” schools and teachers’ “governmental” pensions funds.

I ask this question to the public: Is it right to use public tax dollars, meant for public schools, to fund special charter schools that may have an exclusionary political vision within their teaching and administrative staffs? Public schools and public school monies, via public taxes, should be used for funding public schools that serve all of Georgia’s school children and that do not have a political agenda.

“You cannot fool all of the people, all of the time.”

=================================================

For the exact words of my exchange with CS2 (August 19 & 20) on this issue on Kyle Wingfield’s blog, read below.

—————————————————————————-

“Mary Elizabeth
August 19th, 2012
11:16 pm
‘I will be voting yes on November 6th. All teachers should be voting yes as well. I want to have options which meet my teaching philosophies!!!!’
=================================================

Teachers who vote ‘yes’ for Georgia’s Constitutional Amendment in November will be voting against their own best interests. Their options will decrease, not increase. Rep. Jan Jones, the sponsor of HR 1162 which created the words for the Constitutional Amendment that will form a State Commission for Special Charter Schools, also sponsored another bill in which teachers who teach in those special charter schools could be disallowed from being a part of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia by their principals in those special charter schools. . .”
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

“CharterStarter, Too (K. Wingfield’s blog, copied from post on M. Downey’s blog at 6:45 am, below.)
August 20th, 2012
6:56 am

CharterStarter, Too (on M. Downey’s blog)
August 20th, 2012
6:45 am

@ Mary Elizabeth – Let me just take this one point at a time.

Retirement. Perhaps you are unaware that the state is upside down with the retirement system in Georgia. Teachers are FORCED to pay into a retirement system that may or may not be sustainable by the time they retire. There are many, many other retirement investment options available to individuals that would be less costly to the individual, the employer, and provide a better return on their investment. The state chartered special schools are being given an OPTION (not a requirement) to explore other investment opportunities besides TRS. Teachers CHOOSING to work in these schools will know this prior to being employed and can decide for themselves.

It is amazing to me how easily people are led into believing they should only have one choice in life and in their careers. That is simply not true.”
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

“Mary Elizabeth
August 20th, 2012
8:17 am

CharterStarter, Too, 6:56 am

‘The state chartered special schools are being given an OPTION (not a requirement) to explore other investment opportunities besides TRS. Teachers CHOOSING to work in these schools will know this prior to being employed and can decide for themselves.’
==============================================

Your have chosen your words, above, shrewdly, which tells me a lot about who you probably are besides being a parent and teacher. If a given teacher has no other prospect for a job, because of teacher layoffs in traditional public schools, she/he may have no other financial choice but to work in one of these special charter schools. . .”
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

“CharterStarter, Too
August 20th, 2012
9:40 am

@ Mary Elizabeth – please link us to this language of which you speak. The schools (having stakeholder input) would have the option of using TRS or not.

Do you really expect that charters will hire teachers ‘just looking for a job?’ Ummmmm….no. They are looking for educators with a shared philosophy, passion, and proven results. . .”

Ron F.

August 22nd, 2012
12:51 pm

“I have no problem with Mr. Garrett, or anyone else from GSSA, GSBA, PAGE, or GAE, speaking his mind on the issues”

PAGE and GAE aren’t state funded, and I would think supers could argue paying for GSSA out of local money. Members may choose to join them, but no state money goes directly to them. I could join Students First- would it then be state funded?

Ron F.

August 22nd, 2012
12:57 pm

“Where I come from, we call that kind of statement a “whopper.” I suspect that Rep. Lindsey, Sens. Millar and Rogers, et al, would call it an unethical use of tax dollars, probabbly illegal as well.”

Yes, and I’m sure they wrote the book on ethics…that’s rather like crediting Satan for writing the Bible. I’m sure they attend conferences that support what they believe in, conferences that are one-sided.

I get it now- everything traditional public school- very, very BAD, and we’re just stealing from the taxpayers. Everything charter- perfect, revolutionary, and cutting-edge.

Prof

August 22nd, 2012
1:08 pm

I see that according to that bill discussed by Mary Elizabeth and CS2, the membership of TRS could be substantially reduced if the principals of state chartered schools could prevent their faculty and staff from joining. This in turn could affect the financial stability of TRS…. I wonder if this is connected with the push by some state legislators to reduce state pension payments by TRS that I’ve heard about?

This interests me as a TRS member.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
1:54 pm

“PAGE and GAE aren’t state funded, and I would think supers could argue paying for GSSA out of local money. Members may choose to join them, but no state money goes directly to them.”

The conference I’m referencing was not hosted by PAGE, GAE, or GSSA. It was hosted by an organization that is funded by state school dollars, along with local school dollars paid by member districts. Regardless of how anyone feels either way on the issue, for a publicly funded organization to allow GSSA’s executive director to wax all firebrandy on the constitutional amendment issue isn’t the way that the public’s dime is supposed to be spent. And then to lie about it and claim that there was no political presentation made–well, that speaks for itself.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
1:55 pm

Prof, all of my staff and I at our state-chartered special school district participate in the TRS system.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
2:00 pm

Ron F, if I were to spend the public monies entrusted to our school district in any manner other than legal to the letter, I’d expect to be fired, possibly prosecuted, and our charter school would most likely be closed. When was the last time you saw the latter occur in a public school district in Georgia? The former occurs pretty doggone frequently in some places.

Mary Elizabeth

August 22nd, 2012
2:22 pm

“Prof, all of my staff and I at our state-chartered special school district participate in the TRS system.”
==========================================

The bill regarding the TRS and Special Charter Schools, sponsored by Rep. Jan Jones in the past legislative session, would have given special state charter school principals the OPTION of deciding whether or not to allow their teachers to join the TRS. Principals of these special charter schools would have that option, not their teachers. (Teachers in these special charter schools would only have had the option of whether to accept employment in those schools to begin with.)

That legislative bill was tabled, but it was presented. Even though Dr. Henson’s particular special charter school staff “participate in the TRS system,” if that bill were to be presented and passed in the next legislative session, other special charter school principals might choose to disallow their teaching staff from joining the TRS, in the future.

The essential question to ask is: “Why was that TRS bill for special charter schools created to begin with?”

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
2:30 pm

I don’t know the answer to the essential question. For my staff and me, all of whom are veterans of the public school system, participation in TRS was an attraction. I thought that some charter schools have their employees participate in their management company’s 401k system now, instead of TRS, but I might be mistaken.

We don’t participate in the state health benefits, but TRS is definitely important for us.

John Konop

August 22nd, 2012
3:03 pm

…….In order to allow my son to receive twenty-six AP credit hours and enter GA Tech as a Biomedical Engineering student this fall, it WAS necessary to send him to a pricey Cobb private school and therefore I am happy with my choice. The same options are not offered at our neighborhood public school. Since I have four intelligent children, this is a costly, albeit, worthwhile investment. The only students admitted to Ga Tech from our over-crowed public school were the top three students. There were ten admitted from the small, private school my children attend. It was either that or move to Finland where teachers are valued and paid accordingly..

In Cherokee county the % of high achieving students (top private school type kids) getting into Georgia Tech was very high in my kids class last year. Also many got into other top schools like U of Chicago, Emory, Cal Berkley…….

Congratulations on your kid getting accepted, but students like that in many high school in Georgia can get the classes they need via AP and or joint enrollment. My wife and I are pleased with preparation out kid got before entering Georgia Tech.

Ron F.

August 22nd, 2012
4:57 pm

“When was the last time you saw the latter occur in a public school district in Georgia? The former occurs pretty doggone frequently in some places.”

Now I can’t quote the numbers without some research, but I do recall hearing recently of folks charged for just that. I’m also not sure your “doggone frequently” is provable either. We’re audited and errors caught when they happen about as well as anywhere else it would seem to me. If you know of any that haven’t been, shouldn’t you be notifying the appropriate legal authorities?

Once again, I’m not trying to nitpick, but it is getting old to hear the outright attacks on a system you claim to want to help change. It would seem you’re more about ending it completely, but I realize I could be wrong. Your words here often come across that way, and I’m sure some of that is a knee-jerk reaction to the criticisms and scrutiny your program faces. I remember being referred to as “foot soldiers for the status quo” in an article of yours I read once, and it didn’t do a whole lot to make me want to read more about what appears to be a well planned system. I just don’t see how we’re ever going to get to the point where your successes will be longed for in traditional public schools if the rhetoric is always so bitter between towards those of us who still believe in what we do in the public system and honestly hope that change will occur. There are a lot of us out there.

Mary Elizabeth

August 22nd, 2012
5:30 pm

“I thought that some charter schools have their employees participate in their management company’s 401k system now, instead of TRS, but I might be mistaken.”
===========================================

That is interesting news, Dr. Henson. Thank you for posting that information for readers.

Here is what I am, now, seeing could happen in the future. Some special charter schools, especially those given authority to function by a Special Commission of Charter Schools (which the Constitutional Amendment would create), whose members would be appointed by a Republican governor, might have principals within those charter schools who would choose the OPTION of disallowing all of their teachers to join Georgia’s Teacher Retirement System – as the TRS bill sponsored by Jan Jones last year gave principals of those special charters the option of doing.

Those principals of those schools might want their teachers to form private, not public, retirement plans, based on “their management company’s 401k system.” Thus, if enough principals of charter schools opt for private market 401k retirement plans for their teachers, then that would be consistent with the Republican ideological agenda of dismantling both public “government” schools and also dismantling “governmental pension plans” of teachers. Mission accomplished – in terms of the Republican ideological agenda of transitioning these state workers from public to private pension plans.

And, imo, Prof is astute to recognize, in posting at 1:08 pm, that if “membership of TRS could be substantially reduced,” that that situation “could affect the financial stability of TRS.”

I will mention, again, that in July a recently retired teacher, at a social social function, had shared with me that a member of the TRS had advised her to retire as soon as she was able because of major changes that would be occurring at the TRS in the next few years. Additionally, a leader of a Georgia professional educator’s organization (one which is not political) had told me – after I informed that person regarding the Jan Jones’ TRS bill in last year’s legislature – that the word-of-mouth was that TRS would be undergoing major changes within the next two or three years.

Prof, also, posted at 1:08 pm: “I wonder if this is connected with the push by some state legislators to reduce state pension payments by TRS that I’ve heard about?”

If you are a member of the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia, you need to connect dots, imo, between charter schools, Republican legislation in Georgia’s House and Senate, and the Teacher’s Retirement System funds. In my opinion, these recent moves are all connected politically, and they are not advantageous for Georgia’s public school teachers as a whole, especially those who are nearing retirement.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
10:43 pm

Mary Elizabeth, it would be the charter school’s board of directors that would make any decision regarding whether a staff participated in TRS, not the school’s principal. All Georgia charter schools, even those with management contracts or education services contracts with private, for-profit companies, are governed by nonprofit boards of directors. Therefore, if a charter school staff participated in the management company’s 401k, it would be the decision of the charter school board for that to be the case, not the management company’s decision.

The Charter School Commission members were not all appointed by the Governor–it was a combination of appointments. From the Commission’s bylaws: “The Commission will consist of seven (7) members, with three (3) members being appointed by the State Board of Education from a list of individuals recommended by the Governor of the State of Georgia, two (2) members appointed by the State Board of Education from a list of individuals recommended by the President of the Senate of the State of Georgia, and two (2) members appointed by the State Board of Education from a list of individuals recommended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia. The Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall each recommend a list of no fewer than two nominees for each appointment to the Commission. Each member shall serve a term of two (2) years; however, for the purpose of providing staggered terms, of the initial appointments, three (3) members shall be appointed to one-year terms and four (4) members shall be appointed to two-year terms as determined by the Georgia State Board of Education. Thereafter, each appointee shall serve a two-year term unless the State Board of Education, after review and upon recommendation by the initial recommending authority, extends the appointment.”

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
10:53 pm

As I’ve posted here before, I am the chief administrator of a state-chartered special school, Provost Academy Georgia, that has a contract with an education services provider, EdisonLearning, Inc. I am an employee of the PAGA Board of Directors, NOT EdisonLearning, and the same holds true for all of the school’s employees. There are no EdisonLearning staff on the Board. EdisonLearning does not make any operating decisions for the school. We have contracted with EL to provide us with back-office support in areas such as human resources and finance. We have a School Operations Manager, employed by the Board, who reports to me. She and I make all budget decisions in consultation with the Finance Committe of the Board and seeking input and advice on some issues from the EL Regional Comptroller. EL assists us with grant writing, technology infrastructure, equipment, and support. We enjoy a tremendous staff development resource from EL’s pool of national trainers, all of whom, like my staff and me, are veterans of the public schools. My administrative staff and I design all of our staff development, and EL provides us with trainers and materials based on OUR DESIGN, not a cookie-cutter program dictated by them.

If our Board were to hire administrators and central office staff to do all of the things that EL does for us, we would spend far more on salaries and benefits for them than the annual fee for services that we pay EL. This allows to operate with a very lean central office (only 3 administrators plus a Community Outreach Manager), not the “bloated bureaucracy” that so many on this blog decry.

Provost Academy Georgia does not profit from its own operation. EdisonLearning is a privately held stock corporation and operates on a for-profit basis, making its money on the services we and other schools (most public school districts, not charter schools) purchase from them. All of the other vendors we (and all public schools) deal with, including educational publishers, technology manufacturers, school furniture companies, etc., are for-profit companies. All those who continually bemoan the evil “for-profit charters” need to do a little studying up on what an effective charter management contract looks like.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 22nd, 2012
11:03 pm

Ron F., I don’t want to see the end of public school districts. What I want is a sea change in the attitude of the people who run public school districts, that the schools are places where children are to be educated and educated WELL, not run as employment agencies for adults. I want to see the district monopoly broken and competition introduced, because a rising tide lifts all boats. I have seen firsthand in several districts that the mere idea that a charter school might be introduced pushes school boards and central offices to start offering families more and better choices for their kids in the district programs. I want to see the hypocrisy and lying by those who claim to speak for the education establishment come to a screeching halt, or at least exposed for what it is. I’d like for the education of children to become the true focus of those in charge of public education at the local district level, not control of dollars and decision-making power. Those things will not happen from within the American public school district machine. It will take a revolution from the outside. That’s what I hope to help engineer, in my own little corner of the public school world. My staff and I would like nothing more, three to five years from now, for school districts to call us and say, “Can we come and see what you’re doing so we can do it, too?” Replicating our success, when we achieve it, and scaling it all high schools, those in large school districts in particular, is our dream.

Ron F.

August 22nd, 2012
11:35 pm

And if you do it well, Dr. Henson, they will come. You’re right that much of the administration and leadership in public education needs to be thrown out with yesterday’s newspapers. Go after them, and you might find a lot of us in the system cheering you on and joining the cause. I only ask for caution as you lump teachers into that mix. Many of us who stay in the traditional schools really do care about our jobs and see what we’re doing as an essential part of making education in this country work. I’m not saying don’t push your revolution, just be careful who you label as the enemy. While my view of charter schools has evolved greatly in recent years, I can’t get past the often inflammatory rhetoric that makes us all seem like blind sheep following the herd. Right now, you need our support via votes to gain some ground. It would be beneficial to your cause to recognize the efforts, often silent, of many fantastic educators still on the other side of the fence. Attack the leadership; goodness knows APS and Dekalb alone provide ample opportunity for well deserved scathing commentary. But keep in mind that many of us watching you from this side would feel much better about supporting you if you didn’t label us so caustically for our sacrifice for the sake of, and our love and dedication to, children where we are now.

Mary Elizabeth

August 23rd, 2012
2:27 am

Dr. Henson, 10:43 pm

Thank you for your detailed response to me, and for supplying me with additional information in a courteous manner. Let me address your points, individually, in sequence, which is not how I normally post, but with your post so full of detail, I believe that that format will work better in responding to your post, in this instance.

(1) Dr. Henson: “Mary Elizabeth, it would be the charter school’s board of directors that would make any decision regarding whether a staff participated in TRS, not the school’s principal.”

Mary Elizabeth: Dr. Henson, I have no doubt that that is true regarding your experiences and it may well be true with other charter schools; however, I specifically focused on the fact that in the Jan Jones’ legislative bill regarding the TRS, the words were specifically that “the principal” of the special charter schools would have the option of determiing whether the teaching staff of his/her school would be allowed to become members of the TRS. I recall that word choice very well because I focused, for an extended time, on comparing the options given to “the principal” as compared with those given “the teachers” in those special charter schools relative to those teachers becoming members of the TRS.

Of course, we could both be correct. You are speaking from your experiences and knowledge base as a special charter school administrator, and I am speaking, specifically, of that TRS legislative bill and its wordage.
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(2) Dr. Henson: “All Georgia charter schools, even those with management contracts or education services contracts with private, for-profit companies, are governed by nonprofit boards of directors. Therefore, if a charter school staff participated in the management company’s 401k, it would be the decision of the charter school board for that to be the case, not the management company’s decision.”

Mary Elizabeth: In your 2:30 pm post, you had stated, “I thought that some charter schools have their employees participate in their management company’s 401k system now, instead of TRS, but I might be mistaken.” You did not mention a Board of Directors at that time, but I had assumed that the principal would have acted in that role in deciding on the management company’s 401k for his staff. It really is a moot point, however, regarding whether the principal or the Board of Directors were to be the decider of the pension plan for teaching staff members in the special charter schools because, in either case, their ideological persuasions may be identical in believing in the value of privatizing teachers’ pensions over the value of continuing to sustain government based pensions through the TRS.(I realize, from your earlier post, that in your particular school that you and your teaching staff value being part of the TRS, but that may not be the persuasion of other Boards of Directors in other Special Charter Schools.)

Moreover, I hope that you and readers will read the following words from the link which I provide below. The article is written by Los Angeles teacher, Sarah Knopp:

“The pressure to cut costs in order to have money left over for expansion forces nonprofit entities to act in a similar fashion to their for-profit cousins.” (I do not know how rapidly EdisonLearning, Inc., the management corporation for your special charter school, seeks to expand its services to others and how that might effect your particular situation. I simply wanted to show that this situation can happen in other charter school cases.)

“There is fierce competition over who will get the contracts, especially among nonprofits. And nonprofits are, of course, allowed to pay their administrators very high salaries as well as keeping a small profit.”

“And then there is corruption. Celerity, a nonprofit charter school that made an attempt to co-locate on the campus of Wadsworth Elementary in Los Angeles, contracts out all its services to a for-profit firm, Nova, run by the same owner. This backdoor model—of a nonprofit funneling dollars to a separate, for-profit entity—is common. Kent Fischer explained it in the St. Petersburg Times:

The profit motive drives business…. More and more, it’s driving Florida school reform. The vehicle: charter schools. This was not the plan. These schools were to be ‘incubators of innovation,’ free of the rules that govern traditional districts. Local school boards would decide who gets the charters, which spell out how a school will operate and what it will teach. To keep this deal, lawmakers specified that only nonprofit groups would get charters. But six years later, profit has become pivotal…. For-profit corporations create nonprofit foundations to obtain the charters, and then hire themselves to run the schools.34″ (Again, I am not trying to imply this will happen in your particular nonprofit school, I simply wanted the readers to know that this has happened with some charter nonprofts. The number 34 in the quote, above, refers to the documented footnote in Ms. Knopp’s article.)

http://www.isreview.org/issues/62/feat-charterschools.shtml
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(3) Dr. Henson: “The Charter School Commission members were not all appointed by the Governor–it was a combination of appointments. From the Commission’s bylaws: ‘The Commission will consist of seven (7) members, with three (3) members being appointed by the State Board of Education from a list of individuals recommended by the Governor of the State of Georgia, two (2) members appointed by the State Board of Education from a list of individuals recommended by the President of the Senate of the State of Georgia, and two (2) members appointed by the State Board of Education from a list of individuals recommended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia. The Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall each recommend a list of no fewer than two nominees for each appointment to the Commission. Each member shall serve a term of two (2) years; however, for the purpose of providing staggered terms, of the initial appointments, three (3) members shall be appointed to one-year terms and four (4) members shall be appointed to two-year terms as determined by the Georgia State Board of Education. Thereafter, each appointee shall serve a two-year term unless the State Board of Education, after review and upon recommendation by the initial recommending authority, extends the appointment.”

Mary Elizabeth: Thank you for this detailed information. Allow me to point out to you and to readers the following sequence of information: Governor Deal, is a Republican and of that persuasion; The President of the Senate, Lt. Govenor Cagle, is a Republican and of that persuasion; The Speaker of the House, Speaker Ralston, is a Republican and of that persuasion. Moreover, as stated in the article above: “Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal purged the state board, replacing longtime members with his own appointees, most of whom support charter schools.”

From that composite list of “deciders” of who will become members of the state Charter School Commission (if the Amendment to the Constitution passes), if appears that the deck is stacked – if you will – for most part, if not all, for those state Charter School Commission members, more than likely, to be of the Republican persuasion, which is to advocate for private market corporations working in conjunction with public charter schools, as their managers and advisors in some situations – and not to advocate for traditional public run “government” schools.

This fact makes me even more uncomfortable with the upcoming Amendment to the Constitution being passed in November regarding the sustaining of our traditional public schools, and it further confirms, in my opinion, my belief that HR 1162, which became this Constitutional Amendment, has had as many political goals as educational ones.
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It is very late, so that I will respond to your 10:53 pm post tomorrow. Again, thank you for the details contained within your post at 10:43 pm, as well as for the time and effort that you gave toward sharing those details on this blog.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 23rd, 2012
10:20 am

Mary Elizabeth posted, ‘From that composite list of “deciders” of who will become members of the state Charter School Commission (if the Amendment to the Constitution passes), if appears that the deck is stacked – if you will – for most part, if not all, for those state Charter School Commission members, more than likely, to be of the Republican persuasion, which is to advocate for private market corporations working in conjunction with public charter schools, as their managers and advisors in some situations – and not to advocate for traditional public run ‘government’ schools.”

Well, I’m a Blue Dog Democrat, and a card-carrying member of Democrats for Education Reform. I am very much in favor of public schools–charter or district–working with privately held corporations, nonprofits, and anyone else who can provide services that are research-based best practices that WORK FOR KIDS to improve education.

Improvement of failing schools and eliminating bad practices at all schools is not a partisan issue. The national Democratic Party, the NEA, the AFT, the AASA, the NSBA, et al, don’t OWN the issue of public education the way they used to. I don’t share the “conspiracy theory” mentality of many of the posters to this blog. I don’t believe that there is a nefarious Republican plot to dismantle the public school system in this country and replace it with a privatized system. I also don’t believe that the re-establishment of the Charter Schools Commission would set up a “shadow” privatized system of public education.

There is a battle going on right now between those of us who are willing to face the fact that many children are being shortchanged in the worst way by being held hostage to the public schools in their districts. We have to do something to help them, and waiting for the school districts to fix the problem hasn’t worked. Creating charter schools that demonstrate best practices that work is a very public way to force the hand of school boards, central offices, and other foot soldiers of the status quo (yes, Ron F., I use that phrase when it’s appropriate) that it is not acceptable to waste children’s time any longer.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 23rd, 2012
10:44 am

EnteRon F, thank you for your constructive criticism. I have been quite caustic at times in my characterization of the education establishment for what I believe is very good reason–but know this, I am a champion of teachers who take the time to know best practice and use it in their classrooms, who do whatever it takes, who don’t complain about kids and parents, who aren’t afraid to be judged based on how their students perform on a variety of assessments, both standardized and teacher-created–in other words, those who get it done. They are not legion in the American public school system. We need more people like that to go into public education and STAY in it. The reasons why we don’t have that are numerous, but bad administrators, meddling school board members with political axes to grind, pay cuts and furloughs, and other outside-the-classroom factors are prime among them.

Having said that, public school teachers are going to have to become part of the solution, not defenders of the status quo. Continuing to fight to the death to preserve a compensation structure that rewards longevity over performance doesn’t help public opinion of teachers. Complaining constantly over class sizes in spite of the research base hurts their credibility. Continuing to pay union dues, and those who pay GAE dues are supporting the political agenda of the NEA, hurts their credibility as well.

We pay our teachers and advisors at Provost Academy Georgia competitive salaries, give them excellent corporate benefits, and ensure their membership in TRS. We are working in this, our first year, to explore options for making our salary structure one that takes into account the growth of the school and the performance outcomes of our students, not a simple series of step raises. Teachers and advisors will be leading this exploration, with the help of our School Operations Manager and EdisonLearning’s school finance experts. I’d rather pay truly great teachers (”great” being determined by several objective factors, not my personal opinion) salaries exceeding $75,000 a year as our enrollment grows and let them use technology tools and differentiated instructional strategies to manage class loads far beyond what they would have in a brick-and-mortar classroom, than pay a building full of teachers with wildly varying levels of skill, experience, and accomplishment based on the number of years they’ve been working and keep their class loads at 150 or fewer. And I have an entire staff filled with fantastic teachers, all veterans of the Georgia public school system, except for one who has taught in the cloud his entire career, who agree. We are all tired of trying to fight the system from within to engineer the kind of changes that need to happen to make school work for KIDS instead of adults.

We got tired of trying to think outside the box. Now, we are creating our own box.

Mary Elizabeth

August 23rd, 2012
11:58 am

Dr. Henson, 10:20 am

“I don’t share the ‘conspiracy theory’ mentality of many of the posters to this blog. I don’t believe that there is a nefarious Republican plot to dismantle the public school system in this country and replace it with a privatized system.
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In all due respect, Dr. Henson, I will turn 70 years old later this year and, being the daughter of a dynamic governmental publc servant, the city manager of a South Georgia town, who had been a ghost writer for a progressive governor of Georgia, and who knew powerful politicians, personally, such as Sen. Herman Talmadge and Sen. Sam Nunn, and who was a Democratic campaign organizer in South Georgia for many statewide political elections, I have followed political movements all of my life, especially as a result of being his daughter. Also, having spent seven years of my early adult life in New York City, where I received my undergraduate degree, I also have seen another, more liberal political and philosophical vision than has existed, and still exists, in Georgia, today, for the most part. Later, as the city manager of a North Georgia town, my father had welcomed Sen. Robert Kennedy there, and my father, also, was an admirer of President John Kennedy, as well as of FDR, both progressive, if not liberal, Democratic presidents.

I believe you are speakfully truthfully about what you believe, but I also believe that you are either naive as to what is happening politically in this nation and state, or you must work so closely with the powers-that-be in your line of work that you simply have decided not to see what is happening.

I would urge you, and other readers, to read about ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) in depth. This organization was formed in the mid-1970s and has a significant number of Georgia’s Republican polticians among its members. State Sen. Chip Rogers is the National Treasurer for ALEC. Sen. Rogers, of course, is Georgia’s Senate Majority Leader. Observe carefully who has funded ALEC over the decades. The great majority of its funders have not been Democrats. The Koch Brothers have been among its major funders.

I would also urge you – and others – to read about the national, and state Republican ideological agenda not only to privatize public education, but also to privatize Social Security, and Medicare. I am sure that you must have heard of the phrase “starving the beast of government,” the philosophy of which many Republicans have endorsed. (The efforts by Republicans to dismantle Social Security have been attempted by Republicans since FDR, with whom most Republicans have fervertly disagreed in political philosophy. Franklin Roosevelt, of course, established Social Security so that all Americans never, again, would have to undergo the severe hardships which they endured during the Great Depression. As late as a few years ago, President George W. Bush pursued a committed campaign to privatize Social Security, but his efforts were not supported by the majority of the American people.

Read the work of Common Cause, Media Matters, Nobel Prize Winner of Economics, Dr. Paul Krugman, in his columns for the New York Times, the blog of Katrina vanden Heuvel of the politcal magazine “The Nation,” at the link, http://www.thenation.com/blogs/katrina-vanden-heuvel, and specifically, read lengthy article entitled, “Covert Operations:The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama” by Jane Mayer in “The New Yorker” magazine, August 30, 2010, to become more savvy into what has, in fact, has been happening for decades in America to turn our nation into one which embraces a more “Ayn Randian,” libertarian, business model, within its policies and institutions, including those within education. That article mentions the political group, Americans for Prosperity, of which I think you and others should also be made aware.

Personally, I believe that there should be a balance in vision and policies. I also believe that this nation has been led to become out-of balance in its vision and policies. I am trying to help restore that balance.

I am, also, an advocate for traditional public education, functioning at its best. I spent almost a decade working closely with an outstanding instructionally-based principal who had been the Associate Superintendent of Instruction in the metro county school system where I worked. He promoted me to become his Instructional Lead Teacher. I have never seen a private, or a charter school, come close to understanding, and implementing, the intricacies of instruction for each student’s continuous academic advancement as this principal had accomplished in his model, multiaged grouping, team-teaching school. It functioned as a public school model, at its best.

I believe that charter schools can work closely with traditional public schools for the betterment of both. They need to work in harmony with one another. I urge all readers to read the link which I have given previously to the Sarah Knopp 20-page article on the charter school movement in America to understand better the politics, and national dynamics, within the charter school movement.

Dr. Henson, I will now attempt to address your 10:53 pm post last evening, with specificity.

LD

August 23rd, 2012
12:08 pm

@Dr. Henson – I’m very interested on some of the specific ways you’re changing the box. The charters in my area, imo, really did nothing “innovative;” they used different texts, and a slightly different delivery model, but nothing that I hadn’t seen before. When I asked one of the principals which sections of Title XX they had waivered for classrooms/instruction, the answer was, “None.” I do know that some students need a different environment than their zoned school. However, in all the my reading about, talking to people at, and (limited) visitation of charter schools, I have not heard of anything in instruction that is remarkably different. Any SPECIFIC examples you can give are appreciated.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 23rd, 2012
1:00 pm

LD, we are a virtual charter high school. Currently, all of our students work “in the cloud” from home. We offer a complete catalog of high school courses and require our kids to earn at least two STEM elective credits in addition to their Georgia graduation requirements. Our course catalog contains 12 STEM courses beyond the graduation requirements, including Java, HTML, Sports Medicine, Superstars of Science, Forensics, and Introductions to four different types of engineering. We offer a full slate of Advanced Placement courses as well, and a variety of special education support services.

Our courses are designed to be engaging and interesting, and our teachers are among the best in the state, all Georgia-certified. Much of the student work is done asynchronously, with teachers intervening when it becomes apparent that a student has difficulty, or when a student requests assistance or a conference. This practice allows the teachers freedom from having to create traditional daily lesson plans and manage behavior to prevent disruption of student learning. Many assignments can be computer-scored, reserving the teachers’ time for providing thoughtful feedback on “big” assignments such as essays, research projects, etc.

Students are able to advance as quickly as they wish, as long as they can demonstrate mastery of their subjects. In this regard, we are revolutionizing the concept of time as it relates to high school. It is entirely feasible, for example, that a student who is strong in English might start 9th Grade Literature this month and finish it by October, and World History by December, while taking until February or later to finish the math and science courses. Rather than making the student wait until the end of the semester or school year to start the 10th Grade English and History courses, they can start as soon as they’ve finished the 9th Grade courses, continuing to work in math and science at a slower pace as needed.

Our students are case-managed by Advisors who carry a much lower caseload than traditional high school guidance counselors. Advisors check in regularly with kids and their families and serve as their primary point of contact for the school.

Online learning exclusively isn’t for everyone, but it sure does appeal to an awful lot of kids. For our urban students at high risk of dropping out, we are in the process of opening Magic Johnson Bridgescape centers. Our Teachers and Advisors will work from the centers, providing the caring adult connection for the at-risk students who will attend in four-hour shifts. Those students will spend about 80% of their time at the centers working at high-tech stations on their online coursework. They’ll have the benefit of Teachers in person to provide tutoring and pull-out instruction, often remedial reading, as needed, as well as a daily check-in with their Advisors. Unlike the Performance Learning Center model (”sold” by a Georgia nonprofit organization, by the way), our Magic Johnson Bridgescape centers will not screen out kids who read below the 8th grade level, or restrict them only to students who have presented no disciplinary issues in the past. Unlike some privately run alternative centers for at-risk high schoolers who pay their staff very low salaries and consequently end up with not the best teachers, we are staffing our centers with the same outstanding and accomplished faculty who also teach our honors and AP students in the cloud. This is, in my opinion, the single best and most significant innovation we offer–ALL kids get the BEST teachers. We couldn’t do this in a brick-and-mortar model with the traditional staffing structure, which limits the resources of time and space. We’d have to choose which kids get the strong teachers and which ones get the lesser teachers. This way, everyone wins.

We are spending our very first School Year Staff Development Day in a couple of weeks doing staff development “in the cloud.” We will use webinars for Teachers and Advisors to confer with our EdisonLearning technology partners and see how it’s going with the eSchoolware learning management system. We’ll send out training materials on child abuse reporting and sexual harassment for staff to review at their own pace, modeling what our Teachers do for our students in class.

We have taken our pool of staff development money and divided it evenly among all of our Teachers and Advisors, given them the authority to spend it, and will allow them to choose the trainings and conferences that most appeal to them. Any schoolwide training and development we provide onsite in Atlanta is tailored to staff requests and differentiated by needs assessments, not presented in isolated sit-and-get sessions that we administrators plan in order to fill 8 hours.

Those are a few specific things we are doing differently.

Mary Elizabeth

August 23rd, 2012
2:34 pm

@Dr. Henson, 10:53 pm, August 22, 2012

I had planned to have a response to your 10:53 pm post of last evening by this time, but I have been studying and becoming informed regarding Provost Academy, Georgia, as well as becoming more informed about Edison Learning, Inc., and Magic Johnson Enterprises and the Magic Johnson Foundation.

Some of what I have learned, I have been pleased to discover. I do, however, have questions regarding other elements of which I have learned. It may be as late as tomorrow before I can construct a cohesive post regarding the wealth of knowledge of which I am learning today.

Would you be so good as to tell me the current student population of the Provost Academy in which you are the chief administrator? Also, could you tell me the number of certified teachers that you have on your staff. And, If this is not an inappropriate question for public knowledge, I would, also, appreciate knowing what your annual operating cost is, or what your budget is, annually, in order to operate each school year. Knowing that would help me analyze with greater depth. Would you break your annual funding down into how much money you receive from the state of Georgia via public tax money as a charter school, how much you receive from grants, (and from where the grants come, if possible), and how much money your school receives from the Magic Johnson Foundation? There may be, also, be other sources of funding for your school of which I am unaware. Would you be able to educate the public to those sources of funds, also.

I would need that information, along with the information which I am in the process of learning, to respond with depth. I salute your efforts to work with students who have dropped out of school, or who are in the process of doing so. As a former public school teacher and leader, I was, also, highly motivated to serve those particular students with as much skill and compassion as I could generate. We have more in common than you might realize.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 23rd, 2012
9:22 pm

Mary Elizabeth, everything you ask for is public record because we are a public school. Our enrollment as of today is at 269 students. We have a goal of 750 students for School Year 2013 and will accept students all year-round. If we have more then 750 enrollees, then we will happily accept them.

We currently employ nine Georgia-certified teachers and five degreed advisors, all of whom have either teaching or counseling certificates, some also with social work licensure, and several with graduation coach experience. We also employ three administrators, including me, a community outreach manager, an administrative assistant, and a data owner (more commonly known as a registrar).

Our state funding is approximately $4,440 per pupil. We won an Implementation Grant in the amount of $600,000 from the State Board of Education. This grant is part of a federal block grant for charter schools from the U.S. Department of Education. As a public school, we are eligible to draw Title I, Title IIA, IDEA (special education funding), and funding for alternative education for students who present at high risk. We are in the process of finalizing the specifics, but I anticipate our operating budget to be in the neighborhood of $5 million for this first year of school. Our community outreach manager is working with the grants department at EdisonLearning to identify additional sources of grant funding available to public schools.

We do not receive any funding from the Magic Johnson Foundation or from Magic Johnson Enterprises. Mr. Johnson has designated 5% of his Foundation’s scholarships annually for Bridgescape graduates, so some of our students may benefit from those if they meet the Foundation’s qualifications. We will receive assistance from MJE’s marketing department in the form of forging relationships and setting up partnerships with businesses in the communities we serve so that our students will receive mentoring and work-based experiences such as internships and job shadowing opportunities.

I think we have a lot in common, Mary Elizabeth, especially when it comes to teaching and learning. I read quite a lot of the same things you mention in your posts; my interpretation of them is substantially different, I suspect. :)

Dr. Monica Henson

August 23rd, 2012
9:31 pm

Also, we have applied for a state Facilities Grant that would provide us $30,000 in reimbursement of our lease of space for our headquarters and flagship Magic Johnson Bridgescape center in downtown Atlanta. We have not been notified whether we have won this grant.

John Konop

August 24th, 2012
8:46 am

Dr. Henson demonstrates this issue about charter schools is not black and white. I support strong well run opportunities that her school provides. And I do think the public schools should embrace what she is doing and cordinate with her. On the other hand I am suspect of some charter schools which are not tightly run with have very little value add. We tax payers should be put in a situation that the charter school is at less risk than the tax payers while the money goes to a private venture.

LD

August 24th, 2012
10:17 am

@Dr. Henson – thank you for your detailed response. I think your plans are wonderful! However, in reading your plans, it would appear that the only classroom waiver you are implementing is the seat time requirement (by allowing your students to work at their own pace). If there are others, please let me know. The rest of your plans appear (to me) to be the best practices of instruction, intervention, and mentoring. I wish you the best of luck!

John Konop

August 24th, 2012
10:20 am

Sorry,

….We tax payers should NOT be put in a situation that the charter school is at less risk than the tax payers while the money goes to a private venture……

Dr. Monica Henson

August 24th, 2012
11:04 am

LD, we hold a “blanket” waiver of Title 20. We have the ability to invoke several waivers as we need them.

So far, we are using mastery learning for credits, which is not a Title 20 waiver. This is possible because we are essentially an alternative school, although not all of our students are “typical” alternative school students. Only those who meet the state’s criteria as alt. ed. students will generate that funding stream, but all of our students are able to take advantage of mastery credit instead of seat time.

“Class size” in the traditional sense doesn’t apply to us because of the nature of virtual learning and mastery credit. Our teachers will carry far larger class loads than a brick-and-mortar teacher would, but their use of the technology platform and individualized learning plans and pacing for students allow them to manage those loads effectively–this seems to most educators to be a paradox, more kids + individualizing their learning is not only possible but easier than traditional teaching, but it really does work. I did this myself in my own classroom when I was a teacher (back when the earth was cooling :) )–individualized learning plans and pacing–and I was able to manage relatively large class sizes of 35+ English students and still assign lots of essays and projects. By concentrating the teacher’s grading time on “big” projects, and allowing for computer-scoring of “minor” assessments (I used a grading station and self-scoring by students, as I didn’t have all the technology bells and whistles available to me back then), teachers’ time is freed up for the studentswho really need individual and small- group attention. We also benefit from a tutor pool that is available 8 AM to 10 PM in the interactive research center in our learning management system–this is provided by EdisonLearning as part of our annual education services contract.

Students are able to access reteaching and re-assessment in the LMS courseware if they are unable to demonstrate mastery on a particular concept, similar to the concept of “reaching the next level” in gaming. However, if they don’t show mastery, they don’t simply repeat the same instruction–the system provides a different method of reteaching before allowing the student to retry the assessment (randomly generated items ensure that they don’t just memorize the questions). After a few tries of reteaching and reassessment, the LMS generates an Alert to the Student, Teacher, Advisor, and Parent. The Advisor consults with the Teacher and the student can either be referred to a central services tutoring appointment, which the Advisor can help the student set up, or the Teacher may elect to conduct a live learning session (similar to Go To Meeting, except with video capability) with the student, or a group of students with the same issue.

Teachers will use several different research-based best practices in online instruction. Pretty much all of these do not require a waiver under Title 20.

We don’t need to observe square footage of space per student, because most of our students will work in the cloud and not in a center. Federal ADA requirements are not waivable, so our centers will have to meet those specifications. State safety requirements are not waiveable, either.

I hope that this clarifies the waiver issue for you.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 24th, 2012
11:08 am

Mr. Konop, and any readers of this blog: please feel free to visit us anytime! We plan to have the Atlanta flagship center open by early November, and our satellite Magic Johnson Bridgescape centers in Macon, Augusta, and Savannah open by or before spring semester, as long as we meet our enrollment targets and have the funding available. Our books are wide open for the public to see, and we welcome public questions and scrutiny. We are truly creating our own box, and we are excited to share it with the world, especially the taxpayers who are enabling us to embark on this marvelous adventure into the future of high school education.

Mary Elizabeth

August 24th, 2012
4:11 pm

Dr. Henson, 9:22 pm, August 23, 2012

As I had mentioned in my 2:34 pm post to you yesterday, I salute your efforts, and those of your staff, at the Provost Academy, especially regarding those students who have dropped out, or who may drop out, of school. I, also, want to thank you for providing the details in your post through which I could analyze, with specificity.

I spent yesterday reading your comments, and researching information not only regarding Provost Academies, but also regarding Edison Learning, Inc., the corporation which your Board of Directors has hired to manage or to assist your school. I, also, read about the Magic Johnson Foundation (and Magic Johnson Enterprises) with which Provost Academy will be working. I, also, want to salute Magic Johnson’s efforts in behalf of students who are at risk for dropping out of school.

However, in studying the financial data, carefully, I want the public to realize the following:

Your school serves 269 students and your annual budget is (approximately) $5 million dollars.

The DeKalb School System serves over 102, 000 students, and it has an annual operating budget of 774.6 million dollars (for 2012, per Wikipedia).

To serve 102, 000 students (as the DCSS does) in schools such as Provost Charter Schools each with an annual budget of 5 million dollars, would take 380 charter schools (such as Provost) and would cost that public school system $1,900 million annually, instead of the $774.6 million annually that it presently costs the DCSS to serve 102, 000 students within its traditional public schools.

That increase in cost would force the DCSS annual budget to be 2.4 times greater than it presently is. That means that to educate all 102,000 students – with as low an enrollment as your school presently has (269 students) with an annual operating expense of 5 million dollars – would take 380 charter schools and would cost tax payers 2.4 times more than they are presently paying to educate all 102, 000 of DeKalb County’s public school students.

If the powers-that-be were to grant $1,900 million dollars to the DCSS for its annual budget instead of its present 774.6 million dollars annual budget to serve all 102, 000 students in that metro public school system, (which would be 2.4 times greater than the present annual budget), I would imagine that instruction in the DCSS would be greatly enhanced, also, especially if administrative and overhead costs were kept to a minimum, and the additional funds were to be placed on enhancing public/teacher interaction and instruction.

There is only so much money from taxes for education in this state. The money must be carefully allocated. If the amendment to the Constitution were to pass in November, the state Charter Commission could assign as many special charter schools as it desired without accounting to individual school systems throughout the state, but the money going to those special charter schools would eventually reduce the money allocated to those traditional public schools systems throughout the state, simply because, again, there is only so much money to be allocated to public schools in Georgia.

These are reasons why I strongly support the authorization of the number of public charter schools assigned in Georgia to be kept to the local school districts’ Boards of Education. They, alone, will be able to equitably determine how many charter schools should be assigned to serve ALL of the students in their districts. I am not against charter schools, and from the excellent work done in Dr. Henson’s school with students, I think that some public charter schools – working with traditional public schools to enhance instruction for every public school student in Georgia – could greatly enhance the instruction of all of Georgia’s students. However, the numbers of charter schools within each district must be kept under control and balanced with all the public schools in each district, for financial reasons and balancing, in order to serve equitably all of the public school students in each school district throughout this state.

I have much more to add from my research yesterday, but I will post my thoughts in sequential posts, in the next day or two. This is enough, now, to post, regarding the budgetary aspects of balancing public charter schools with traditional public schools in Georgia.

Mary Elizabeth

August 24th, 2012
5:53 pm

I should mention that not all of this year’s annual operating budget of Dr. Henson’s charter school comes from public tax dollars.

Mary Elizabeth

August 24th, 2012
9:27 pm

CORRECTION to my 4:11 pm post:

I stated, twice, at 4:11 pm that it would take the DeKalb School System’s creating “380 charter schools” to serve all of that large school district’s 102, 000 students in settings whereby each of its schools would serve as few students as are presently being served in Dr. Henson’s charter school of 269 students.

I was thinking, but did not write effectively, that it would take the DeKalb School System’s creating “380 charter-LIKE schools” (similar to small magnet schools) to serve all of . . . . . .”
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I need to be that definitive with my word change from “charter” to “charter-like” in order to clarify that the DeKalb School System could not possibly rely on 380 public charter schools – each financially dependent upon receiving grant money yearly in order to operate – in order to serve all of its 102,000 students, yearly. A school system of that size and impact must have continuity and cohesion from year to year. Thus, it must rely on public taxes – and not on grants which can be withdrawn from year to year – in order not only to operate not only for a given year’s duration, but also to be able to project programs and policies for the next several years, and even to project for the next decade. Thus, the great majority of its schools – regardless of how large or how small each individual school might be in population – must rely upon public taxes which are stable, rather than upon grants, which are more precarious as to whether or not they will be forthcoming from year to year.

Mary Elizabeth

August 24th, 2012
10:11 pm

Dr. Henson stated in her post at 9:22 pm last evening, August 23, 2012, the following:

“Our state funding is approximately $4,440 per pupil. We won an Implementation Grant in the amount of $600,000 from the State Board of Education. This grant is part of a federal block grant for charter schools from the U.S. Department of Education. As a public school, we are eligible to draw Title I, Title IIA, IDEA (special education funding), and funding for alternative education for students who present at high risk.”
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Dr. Henson, further, stated in that same post:

“Our community outreach manager is working with the grants department at EdisonLearning to identify additional sources of grant funding available to public schools.”
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According to my math, since Dr. Henson’s charter school serves 269 students, and since her school will have been allotted $4,400.00 in per pupil funds from the state, that means that Dr. Henson’s school will have received $1,194,360.00 from the state from public taxes for her $5,000,000.00 operating budget for this year. That would mean that the remaining amount of money needed for her charter school’s 5 million dollar operating budget for this year would need to be forthcoming from grants. Of that additional amount of grant money needed, the “Implementation Grant in the amount of $600,000 from the State Board of Education” has already been awarded.

These financial factors all need to be recognized and weighed. Again, I do appreciate the fact that Dr. Henson has been willingly transparent in sharing her charter school’s funding and budgetary information for the coming year with the public.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 24th, 2012
11:37 pm

Mary Elizabeth, our budget is a work-in-progress right now while we are in the startup phase. My $5 million guesstimate for the full fiscal year 2013 is exactly that–a best guess, based on our efforts to predict the future. We have kept our staffing and facilities expenses low enough to be able to operate the virtual school on the actual dollars generated by our enrollment. The “real” budget should be complete by the end of the coming week.

The students who will populate the Magic Johnson Bridgescape centers will draw down brick-and-mortar charter funding, which will be approximately $6,400+ per pupil, in addition to alternative education funding and potentially some IDEA funding as well. We have based our initial budget estimates on our “best guess” that our Bridgescape students would generate an additional $2.4 million in alt. ed. and brick-and-mortar funding. We have no way of knowing for sure how many of those students we will attract outside of metro Atlanta.

As of today (Friday 8/24), we have a total of 332 students enrolled, with a Savannah-area cluster looking like the first one that could grow large enough to populate a satellite center outside of ATL. The good news is that enrollment is robust and shows no sign of stopping for now, and we are in the process of remodeling and fitting out our flagship Magic Johnson Bridgescape center downtown. We hope to have it open in early November.

We are enjoying the benefit of EdisonLearning’s Enrollment Services Center, which markets our school via direct mail, radio and television ads in markets outside of metro Atlanta, and our website. They also process enrollments and track activity for us in a weekly dashboard. I have to remind readers that we receive this service as part of our annual management fee we pay to EL, and it is a tremendous value for the money.

This is the great benefit of entering into a contract for educational services and support with a private, for-profit company–for the price of what a metro Atlanta district would pay in salary alone for two experienced central office administrators, we are getting full service enrollment and marketing, public relations, human resouces, financial management assistance, a complete learning management system and technical support for it, central services tutoring for our students, and training and staff development for our administrators and teachers. That’s an economy of scale that we could not possibly attain on our own.

In the interest of full disclosure :) , I’d like to point out that I spent one year working for EdisonLearning as their employee, so I’ve had a unique opportunity to see “the inner workings” of their education services division. They are a terrific company, and I can’t say enough about how well they support our school. They earn every penny of every dollar we pay them, and the value we receive is amazing. I am confident that in the spring, our student performance outcomes will demonstrate that our partnership is a great value for the taxpayers.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 24th, 2012
11:41 pm

“That would mean that the remaining amount of money needed for her charter school’s 5 million dollar operating budget for this year would need to be forthcoming from grants.”

Not true–federal Title, IDEA, and alternative education funding, along with the brick-and-mortar charter differential would make up the remaining funds. It would be fiscally irresponsible to launch a school without clear, reliable funding streams in place. The Charter Schools Division at GaDOE reviews all state special charter applications rigorously, and had we forecast the need for nearly $2 million in grants other than state and federal block grants, they never would have recommended us to the State Board of Education for approval.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 24th, 2012
11:45 pm

A final note: we also had to submit “contingency” budgets showing how we would make adjustments if our actual enrollment was far short of our 750-FTE goal. Again, this is part of the caution that GaDOE’s Charter Schools Division exercises in ensuring financial viability.

Dr. Monica Henson

August 25th, 2012
8:21 am

“I should mention that not all of this year’s annual operating budget of Dr. Henson’s charter school comes from public tax dollars.”

Federal block grants (Title, IDEA) are tax-funded. State allotments for FTE are tax-funded. Alternative education supplements are tax-funded. The Implementation & Facilities Grants are tax-funded. I’m not sure where you get the idea that not all of our operating budget comes from public tax dollars. I would love for us to win some funding from private individual donors, which is by far the biggest source of philanthropy in the U.S., as well as nonprofit and corporate grants, but so far we haven’t applied for any.

John Konop

August 25th, 2012
9:04 am

In all due respect Mary the per pupil funding amount is less than we pay now. I realize virtual learning is not for everyone and or every class. My own niece uses a vitual learning charter school and it has worked very well for her. In my opion public schools should embrace this concept and use it conjunction with their facilities. Why not let students use this and still be eligible for extra curricular activities, classes offerd in high schools…….. It seems a hybrid joint projects could be put together that would create more options and save tax payers money by joint use of facilities, facultiy……. We must move past this us verse them debate, and Intead work toward improving the system. I have no doubt after reading your debate with Dr. Henson both of you have the students best interest at heart. But in life must issues are not black and white, we must find the best shades of gray.

Mary Elizabeth

August 25th, 2012
10:50 am

Dr. Henson, I think that you and I are having a dialogue on this thread which should be very valuable to the general public regarding the best use of public charter schools to best serve the students in Georgia. I appreciate this exchange. I must raise some concerns I have about public charter schools, however, and I believe that others may share some of my concerns. Our dialogue on this blog will give you an opportunity to response to my concerns, and vice versa.

I will number the concerns I have, for clarity. I will use more than one post for these concerns.

(1) My first concern compares the cost of funding individual and relatively autonomous public charter schools with the cost of serving a much greater number of students in county or city public school districts.

You stated the following at 11:37 pm, August 24, 2012: “This is the great benefit of entering into a contract for educational services and support with a private, for-profit company (Edison Learning, Inc.) – for the price of what a metro Atlanta district would pay in salary alone for two experienced central office administrators, we are getting full service enrollment and marketing, public relations, human resouces, financial management assistance, a complete learning management system and technical support for it, central services tutoring for our students, and training and staff development for our administrators and teachers.”

I must point out that Provost School serves only about 300 students (269 was the student population which I had used previously to compare with a large metro school district’s operation, the DeKalb County School System, and, as of yesterday, 8/24/12, your enrollment had increased to 332 students). DCSS serves over 102,000 students. I had mentioned that it would take around 380 charter-like schools, similar to yours, to serve all of those 102,000 in DeKalb County. If each one of those 380 schools had to hire a management company such as Edison Learning, Inc. for the services it would provide for EACH of its 380 charter-like schools, then the total expense would be much more than having a few administrators do the same job for the WHOLE school system as Edison Learning, Inc. does for Provost School.

Let us examine the specifics. You say that you are able to hire the services of Edison Learning, Inc. for the cost of two county-level administrators of a major school district. I would estimate that each county office administrator would earn about $100,000. per year. That would mean that two county-level administrators would earn about $200,000. per year. So, I would assume that you are paying Edison Learning, Inc. somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000. per year for their services.That would mean that you would be paying them about 4% of your total operating budget for the year. However, you must remember that your management compay serves only about 300 students, and since 380 charter-like schools, similar to yours, would be needed to serve all of DeKalb County’s students, then the cost to the taxpayer would be about $76,000,000. to serve all 102,000 students, or just under 10% (9.8%) of its total 2012 operating budget of $774,600,000. – a much higher number than simply paying two public school central office administrators $200,000. to oversee the same role that Edison Learning, Inc. does for your school of 332 students, for the entire school system of 102,000 students. (I realize that the DCSS would need more than two administrators to perform the same functions you mention for the whole system, but not a great many more. The savings to the DCSS comes through having a large number of schools -143 – and their total student populations -102,000 – served under one Board of Education, instead of a myrial of smaller, almost autonomous public charter schools such as Provost, each of which would hire its own management company such as Edison Learning, Inc. Also, I realize that the salary of a DSCC county office administrator could be either be lower or higher than I estimated. For instance, if you are paying Edison Learning, Inc. closer to $400,000. yearly, instead of the $200.000. which I had estimated above, then that percentage of your total operating budget would increase to 8%.) The point is that dividing students into smaller units of rather autonomous public charter schools does not appear to be financially sound for the school system, as a whole, or for the taxpayer. Therefore, the number of public charter schools which operate within each district must remain controlled and perhaps limited. It seems to me that the best way to help all of the students would be to focus those limited charter schools on serving at risk students who are candidates for dropping out of school, as your school does, since the drop out rate is so high – between 34% and 40%. The percentage is higher for minority students.

The reading public may be interested to know that I have analyzed some of the actual figures that “Charter Starter, Too” posted to this blog on August 20, 2012, relative to Georgia’s public school systems that use the services of a for-profit managing company, in order to let the public know what percentage of the overall operating budget for a given school system the hired, for-profit, managing company would be receiving. The DeKalb School System was not listed in that group; however, another metro school system, based on that list, did use the services of the for-profit managing company mentioned. That school system was the Cobb County School System. I was able to find that the operating budget for CCSS for 2013 is $841,000,000., or 841 million dollars (googled). The figures given by CS2 for the CCSS to hire the for profit management company, Ombudsman, was $2,533,587.50. for 2011. I realize that it is not totally valid to get a percentage based on two different years for the operating budgets of the school district (2011 for the Ombudsman management service cost to the CCSS, and 2013 for the overall operating budget for the CCSS); nevertheless, giving this percentage will help the public analyze more closely than not giving a percentage at all. I was not able to find the CCSS’s operating budget for 2011. The percentage of $2,533,587.50 (for Ombudsman’s services in 2011 to the CCSS) to the overall operating budget of the CCSS for 2013, of $841,000,000., is less than 1% of the overall operating budget; it is approximately .3% of the overall operating budget paid for by public taxes. It seems that the profit motivation in public school systems may be less than thought.

Dr. Henson, I do have some concerns about public charter schools hiring management companies based on a for-profit basis. I believe that your intentions are centered on the students’ growth at Provost, instead of on profit, but I am not at all certain that that would hold true for all public charter schools who hire managment companies that are based on for-profit. I will pose my concerns, in this regard, in my next post on this thread.

Before I leave this post, however, I should state for the public that, although Provost’s per pupil funding will increase from $4,440. to $6,400.+, once Magic Johnson’s brick and mortar Bridgescape schools are added to the Provost School’s online design, you had stated that Edison Learning, Inc. would be helping you to write applications for additional grants – so that that part of your budget may be more precarious from year to year than the more consistently stable operating budgets of county school systems, it would seem.

Mary Elizabeth

August 25th, 2012
11:10 am

John Konop, 9:04 am

I have always voiced that I thought that public charter schools should work in harmony with traditional public schools to find the best answers and choices for all students. It is my position that the assignment of public charter schools should remain with the local school districts, instead of with the state of Georgia’s Charter Commission, so that the local districts might better manage their financial allotments to serve all of the students’ needs in the district.. I continue to maintain that the number of charter schools in each district must be carefully weighed, balancing that number against the greater good of serving the interests of all of the students in the school district.

It is not my position that the Constitutional amendment – which would create a state Charter Commission – would give the financial stability nor the instructional cohesion that would serve the best insterests of all of the students in the state of Georgia because those schools special charter schools would be removed from accountablity to the local school districts, which give close attention to detail in their areas. Appeal based on disagreement with local school districts is already available by law to the state Board of Education through Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools.