Charter school parents explain why we need Amendment One

“How can I in good conscience send my child to a school that didn’t even cheat right?”

The question from Shelby McDonald has surely been asked by many an Atlanta parent since rampant cheating on standardized tests was uncovered in the city’s public schools. Only rhetorically, of course, because the answer is: You can’t.

Unlike many of those parents, however, McDonald found a way out: a public charter school approved in 2009 by a state commission. That commission closed after a 2011 court ruling declared it unconstitutional, but it would be re-created if voters approve Amendment One in next month’s election.

“I did everything right. I looked at every [school’s] test score between here and what was driveable,” says McDonald, a widowed mother of one whose parents had pledged to drive her daughter as far as Macon each day if that’s what it took. She tried one charter-school lottery and lost. As a single mother, private school was out of the question.

“I did what I was supposed to do,” she says. “And what did I find out [about the local schools]? Y’all cheated!”

Cheating wasn’t an issue at the elementary school Rich Thompson’s daughter used to attend — at least, he didn’t think it was. But low expectations were.

Thompson was the PTA president at Deerwood Academy in southwest Atlanta when, one spring, he realized things weren’t as good as they seemed.

“We had the normal end-of-the-year Awards Day program,” Thompson recalls. “Pretty much every grade level walked across the stage, and every kid got some kind of a certificate or ribbon or trophy. The principal was patting them on the back, saying what a great job they did.”

Within a few days, however, Thompson came across the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s 2009 “Report Card for Parents,” which ranks the state’s public schools according to their test scores. Deerwood Academy’s third-graders ranked 940th out of 1,208 schools statewide. Its fifth-graders were 470th out of 1,201.

“I just got livid,” Thompson recalls. “How in the hell can everybody be so happy with our performance when one grade level is in the 900s and one is in the 400s compared with the other schools in the state? …

“There just wasn’t any interest in doing anything beyond getting the public recognition we were getting. And it just wasn’t enough for me.” His daughter now attends an independent, start-up charter school.

It wasn’t long before that public recognition proved even more hollow: Deerwood was one of the first schools implicated in the APS cheating scandal. “It was just a big sham,” Thompson says of all the certificates, ribbons and trophies.

Accolades for his son at a south Fulton school also seemed suspect to Gavin Samms.

“His teacher said, ‘He’s so wonderful. He’s so quiet,’ ” Samms recalls. “But I said, ‘He isn’t learning anything.’ “

His son, Samms says, “kept coming home with the same worksheets of things I taught him two years before.” No one at the school was interested in giving the boy more challenging work, he says.

Samms didn’t just look for another school. He started one: Fulton Leadership Academy, which the erstwhile state commission approved in 2009. Despite its focus on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and test scores that last year beat both state standards and south Fulton schools’ averages, the Fulton school board denied FLA’s application to keep its charter. The state granted it under provisional authority that is highly questionable in light of the 2011 court ruling.

“They [the Fulton board] said we’re not ‘unique,’ ” Samms says. “It’s an all-boys school. We have STEM, we have an aviation focus. … You must see African-American boys in planes every day, because apparently we’re not unique enough.”

A note to those who think Amendment One is designed to pave the way for a modern white flight from Georgia’s public schools: Like Samms, McDonald and Thompson are black. Charter schools have a higher percentage of minorities or low-income students than traditional public schools, according to the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

They’re also more likely to serve them better, to hear these parents tell it.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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361 comments Add your comment

Buzz Aldrin

October 25th, 2012
5:56 am

Hmmm…spin from one side, spin from the other.

Li'l Aynie

October 25th, 2012
6:07 am

How about improving the public schools, rather than siphoning off money to fund charter schools run by for-profit corporations, or heaven forbid, religious organizations?

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 25th, 2012
6:15 am

“How about improving the public schools, rather than siphoning off money to fund charter schools run by for-profit corporations, or heaven forbid, religious organizations?”

Because public schools can never be improved so long as they are run by the government and their agendas controlled by the NEA.

Karl Marx

October 25th, 2012
6:19 am

LiL Aynie please tell us just how public schools are loosing money? Last I checked they do not fund Charter schools BUT THEY DO KEEP THE PROPERTY TAXES THEY COLLECT. Talk about double dipping.

Aquagirl

October 25th, 2012
6:20 am

They’re also more likely to serve them better, to hear these parents tell it.

And there’s the argument for big government intervention? Desperate parents know a state appointed board will serve them better than a local elected board? Where does this magical knowledge come from?

I thought “we gotta do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, let’s throw more money at the problem” was a liberal mantra. Amazing how that’s acceptable when the money is being thrown at you.

As a taxpayer, my interest is in ALL children using MY tax dollars. Creating a little lifeboat for somebody’s precious snowflake (while leaving the other precious snowflakes behind to whatever fate befalls them) is not in my interest. If the local-based system of education is so prone to crappy performance, we need to have a discussion about why small, local government is so bad it needs help from big state government. Maybe local control is not a magic panacea.

Oh, wait, I can see why so-called conservatives would rather throw a bunch of kids away rather than face that argument. You might have to reason and use your brain instead of chanting slogans. You might have to question one of your basic precepts and give up your little fiefdoms.

Well, too bad for those kids who will be left out. Guess it’s not all about the chiiiillldren after all.

Numbers-R-US

October 25th, 2012
6:21 am

Amendment one is a scam to give the for-profit education industry a bigger market from which to access tax dollars. Highlight the public schools that have problems as the AJC and others have done. Promote improvement through transparency. Then again, that’s not your goal, is it.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 25th, 2012
6:24 am

Aquagirl, I know this simple fact will be lost on you, but this amendment only allows an appeal process when a parent / charter school application is turned down by the local school board.

You know, the boards that are captured by the system the day they are sworn into office?

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 25th, 2012
6:30 am

“Amendment one is a scam to give the for-profit education industry a bigger market from which to access tax dollars.”

Yeah, ’cause making money while educating our kids is so bad.

How about this, Numbers? Let’s make sure that all the textbook providers are doing so at cost, shall we? Can’t make money off of teaching our children, now can we? And those construction firms that build our schools? Sorry, but no more profits for you, either. Oh, and those food services that sell lunches to the kids; better not be making any money on them. No computers, band instruments, whiteboards or pencils unless everybody provides them without a shred of profit.

THIS is how ridiculous the “we can’t have for-profit education” argument is.

Numbers-R-US

October 25th, 2012
6:36 am

The last thing we need is a k-12 school system modeled after Phoenix University. Except for Tiberius and Kyle, et al. We should all make as much profit off of them as possible.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 25th, 2012
6:41 am

“We should all make as much profit off of them as possible.”

Nobody has said that, Numbers, But when you’re caught with your pants down in an argument, the best thing is to just make up stuff, right?

If the job of educating kids gets done as good, if not better than public schools, why shouldn’t the people who accomplish that make some money?

What’s the goal here? Education? Or making sure someone doesn’t profit from it?

Aquagirl

October 25th, 2012
6:42 am

You know, the boards that are captured by the system the day they are sworn into office?

If those boards are being captured by the system, then we need to discuss the system. Not enable a few people to escape and let the rest to rot.

Your utter lack of concern for a lot of kids is showing. Not that it matters to you or a bunch of so-called conservatives.

Numbers-R-US

October 25th, 2012
6:51 am

Nobody has said that, Numbers, But when you’re caught with your pants down in an argument, the best thing is to just make up stuff, right?

That was such a quick backtrack, I thought you were Mourdock or Romney posting for a moment there.

Numbers-R-US

October 25th, 2012
6:53 am

Your utter lack of concern for a lot of kids is showing. Not that it matters to you or a bunch of so-called conservatives.

So long as there is a profit to be made, it’s all good with these conservatives. They only believe in using the label “non-profit” when looking for more tax deductions.

cc

October 25th, 2012
6:55 am

We continue to repeat the mistake of pouring money into a system that is not producing the desired result. Government indoctrination centers (public schools) are a failure. Those students who excel in learning do so DESPITE the abysmal education offered in those centers.

It is not strictly the fault of many of the teachers for they must teach to the lowest level in the class. The brighter students become bored and tend to lose interest.

Why is there so much opposition to an alternative means of education? Is it because we must promote the idea of equality of outcome? Must we produce equally ignorant graduates? Isn’t this just a tool used in the ‘dumbing down’ of America?

If we rely on the government indoctrination centers, we will be producing ‘dumbed down’ and ignorant citizens and voters. Maybe that is the reason primarily democrats so vigorously defend the public schools and just as vigorously fight the charter school amendment? Could the opposition’s purpose be to produce more democrat voters?

@@

October 25th, 2012
7:13 am

Opponents believe that black parents and their children don’t deserve better.

I think it’s what GWB called THEIR soft bigotry of low expectations.

cc

October 25th, 2012
7:26 am

@@:

I believe President Bush made a very valid point . . .

Eddie Hall

October 25th, 2012
7:32 am

A couple of points; Yes many think this amendment will take us down the road of segregation, but not just divided on racial lines, but along socio-economic ones.
If parents will not get involved and ELECT good BOE members, and demand improvement from the ballot box, why should the rest of the state pay the price for a few failed systems? Be careful when you give up your right to vote to an “appointed” committee. It is a start down a slippery slope. Last but not least, Why does NONE of the pro-charter supporters, including the media, fail to discuss the states this has been tried, and is working no better, and even worse, than what we now have, and they are run by some of the very same companies pouring money into THIS campaign? Another question to Kyle. Why not feature the MANY systems that are successful and maybe try to model the failing ones after THEM? I will be voting NO! We can do better than this.

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
7:32 am

Kyle, I do try to keep an open mind when reading the cases you make, but frankly this one is starting to smack of “we had to destroy the village in order to save it[1].”

Yes, this metro area’s public schools have serious issues. Yes, we have to be flexible in how we address them. No, we do not need to create an overarching statewide authority that institutionalizes and normalizes what should be a rare occurrence–the takeover of a school district.

also too:

A note to those who think Amendment One is designed to pave the way for a modern white flight from Georgia’s public schools: Like Samms, McDonald and Thompson are black. Charter schools have a higher percentage of minorities or low-income students than traditional public schools,

…which doesn’t really prove much of anything. small sample size, correlation doesn’t equal causation, et cetera.

I’ll leave you with thoughts from a guy with whom I’ve had some very, very serious issues, who is about as far from being a bleeding-heart liberal as you can get, who said this about the referendum:

“Go ahead and approve charter schools, but make sure you use a vehicle that’s already available to you. (With this amendment) you’re setting up a dual school system, and quite frankly folks … you know we’ve had two school systems before in this state. We used to say they were separate but equal. Now, the separate was correct, but I don’t think the equal was, do you?”

—–

1. which, yes, I recognize, is an apocryphal quote. Work with me here.

Permanent

October 25th, 2012
7:34 am

Changing our constitution is a very serious, very permanent action. To change it to resegregate GA’s schools run by out of state corporations is a really bad idea. Letting seven people in Atlanta instead of our local communities have the say-so is a really, really bad idea. Vote no.

Buzzy

October 25th, 2012
7:35 am

The taxpayers of Georgia already by our Department of Education to manage charter schools.

I plan to vote NO on this amendment because I don’t want these schools managed by the current majority in our legislature. Too many cooks spoil the soup.

Really?

October 25th, 2012
7:37 am

The University of Phoenix and all the so-called ‘universities’ of similar ilk are a perfect example of what is wrong with for-profit education. Would you seriously hire anyone with an on-line degree? Really? I don’t believe if you have a choice of hiring a college graduate with equal grades from UGA, GT or U of Phoenix that the latter would stand a chance. Get real. You want government money to fund your private school but that support stops at post secondary education. Why would that be? If it is fine for grade, middle and high school, then it should be o’k for post secondary education… but it isn’t … everyone knows that and these ‘universities’ are under severe scrutiny for essentially fraud. How can it be flawed at that level and not at the grade, middle or high school level? It can’t. It’s the same.

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
7:41 am

Guess it’s not all about the chiiiillldren after all.

I feel genuine pity for any Amendment One supporter who truly believes otherwise.

This is on the ballot, worded as it is, for one reason and one reason only: Profit.

dc

October 25th, 2012
7:45 am

How about not sacrificing my kid so you can piously claim it’s better to “fix the public schools we already have”…….. The few kids that attend our worst schools and actually want to learn, are dragged down in life by the thugs around them who don’t. So they end up stuck in a life of poverty and ignorance. And yet we continue to hear people say that allowing these kids the opportunity to move into an environment where learning is actually valued somehow hurts those “left behind in the big public school”…….seriously?

The reason these few kids (and parents) who actually care need to be allowed an alternative, is exactly because of the “other kids” who don’t give a crap.

It amazes me how many self proclaimed “caring” liberals can actually make the heartless decision to not open up a way out for these families. What a bunch of complete hypocrites………. When you vote, please consider this……and care enough about the students (they are what matters….not the school itself, which is just a tool) to give them an opportunity and a way out to a better life.

Gail

October 25th, 2012
7:55 am

I understand that some people do need alternatives to their local school but I don’t think changing the state constitution is the answer. Make a law to create an appeals process if that is the problem.
Remember the HOPE scholarship? Do you really trust the same people who changed the rules in the middle of the game on thousands of college students to be the ones approving the people serving on a charter school commission?

What you are told now about funding can change next year. i was told that currently charter schools get $2100 more state tax dollars per student than public schools get per student.

What’s to prevent the legislature from changing the funding allocations? Nothing. They may decide that charter schools need even more money next year. They will have the power. This indirectly affects state funding to public schools. And is the commission going to work for free? Where will they get the money to pay them? It will come from the education budget that is allocated to all the school;systems.

And what determines “upon the request of the local communities?” I was at a community meeting on the Charter school amendment the other night, and I think there was someone in the audience from ALEC. He was the first person with a statement during the Q&A section. He was not from my community. Since it says “upon the request of the local communities” does that mean we get to vote on the request? I don’t think so.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
7:58 am

Deerwood Academy’s third-graders ranked 940th out of 1,208 schools statewide. Its fifth-graders were 470th out of 1,201.

So, how do you fix that? Oh, maybe that is too tough a question for the cons? Let’s not do the difficult work of addressing the problem. Instead, let’s go over here and create an identical system that won’t have those problems….for a while.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
8:00 am

You think this looks like a good answer but all this will do is siphon tax dollars into the greedy hands of a couple of companies. Once they have bled the state dry they will move on to another state and do the same thing.

And all you folks who voted for this solution will be looking for where you can get reamed again in order to “fix” the problem.

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
8:01 am

Do you really trust the same people who changed the rules in the middle of the game on thousands of college students to be the ones approving the people serving on a charter school commission?

Glad you asked. Why, no. I do not.

And that is a great example of what to expect down the road if this abomination is passed. These are not people who are likely to care about the actual individuals who are at the end of the battering ram being applied to shape their lives. I respectfully submit that they will care about the livelihoods of those who will profit from the schools and, of course, the political machine to which favors will be owed.

How “conservatives” who have the nerve to use that term to self-identify can back such a thing truly boggles my mind.

I was at a community meeting on the Charter school amendment the other night, and I think there was someone in the audience from ALEC.

Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. They’ve been working very hard for their clients to get this, um…”Crammed down our throats,” I believe is the phrase we’re supposed to use when it comes to heartless government takeovers, right?

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
8:02 am

oy. forgot to turn off the slanties after the first paragraph, before turning them back on again for the fifth, @ 8.01. my bad.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
8:03 am

dc,
quit whining and go pony up for a private school. Quit looking to the rest of us to provide special privileges for your kid.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
8:05 am

allowing these kids the opportunity to move into an environment where learning is actually valued somehow hurts those “left behind in the big public school”

No one is NOT allowing these kids any opportunities. Open your wallet and pay for it or pipe down.

JDW

October 25th, 2012
8:07 am

@Tiberius…”What’s the goal here? Education? Or making sure someone doesn’t profit from it”

The goal is the best education at the best price. Adding a profit motive siphons money from that objective while atthe same time making the education secondary to the profit. Thats why the stats on the quality of education provided by for profit institutions are abysmal.

MAY

October 25th, 2012
8:08 am

To all that say change your local school board….the board in Gwinnett County have served an average of twenty something years. If you take out the longest standing member, it’s still something like 16 years. It can be nearly impossible to turn over one seat let alone four. They’re protecting the status quo and that’s what a no vote will do. If you vote no, don’t walk around like you care and say stupid things like ‘change the system we have’. The wall the establishment has built around itself will absolutely not allow for rel change. Charter schools are simply options. The boys at Fulton Leadership Academy are doing great, really great, but big Fulton education doesn’t want to see that happen. I don’t know why but without the state approval process, those boys stand a greater chance of falling into lifestyles that cost the taxpayer a heckuva lot more than a state approved charter school. Vote yes if you really believe small change can occur.

Aquagirl

October 25th, 2012
8:09 am

It amazes me how many self proclaimed “caring” liberals can actually make the heartless decision to not open up a way out for these families.

…sez the con who wants to “leave behind the thugs.”

Your claim to the moral high ground is repulsive and screamingly fake.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
8:14 am

Maureen, alleges that Mitt Romney lied about the value of Staples, pretending its stock was virtually worthless so as to prevent Maureen from getting much money from her ex-husband.

http://www.salon.com/2012/10/25/an_actual_october_surprise/

That would be sweet justice for that woman! Take the bully down, Maureen!

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
8:18 am

Go to your CTO and tell them you know a programmer with a degree from U of Phoenix and then watch them roll on the ground laughing before they go to HR to discuss replacing you with someone who has a brain.

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
8:18 am

the board in Gwinnett County have served an average of twenty something years. If you take out the longest standing member, it’s still something like 16 years. It can be nearly impossible to turn over one seat let alone four.

I would have a tremendous amount of personal sympathy for this sentiment, save for one thing: Hardly anyone bothers to get off their fat butts and vote in school board elections.

If there were a will there’d be a way to purge the GBOE of its skunks. From my experience, there ain’t no will.

(and this dovetails nicely with those who bemoan–with a great deal of justification, frankly–the lack of parental involvement in their own kids’ school careers. In this case, it’s a lack of VOTER involvement. which is pretty dumbfounding, frankly, given how much of each voter’s actual income is forked over every year in property taxes to fund these enterprises.)

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
8:25 am

Go to your CTO and tell them you know a programmer with a degree from U of Phoenix and then watch them roll on the ground laughing before they go to HR to discuss replacing you with someone who has a brain.

But Finn, they have such pretty commercials, with people who are Going Places. What you say can’t be true; I saw otherwise on my TeeVee.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
8:28 am

looks like Elizabeth Warren is pulling ahead in MA.

mwuahahahahaha

Whirled Peas

October 25th, 2012
8:31 am

Our public schools are a black hole where normal rules do not apply. Political correctness and mediocrity are the governing principles. You can put as much money in these things as you want, they will all be mediocre. In the 1980’s the Kansas City school system was taken over by a Federal Judge forcing racial busing on the people. He dictated a major increase in money going into the schools. The judge demanded highly paid teachers, shiney new schools with great facilities and lots of professional attention. It didn’t matter. As whites left the school system, the grades dropped. The judges efforts to make people behave has he wanted failed so badly that they gave up on racial busing. They should have given up on government monopoly schools too. But some people learn too slowly.

Vote for good schools for our children. Vote yes on charters.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 25th, 2012
8:32 am

“Your utter lack of concern for a lot of kids is showing.”

Point out where any lack of concern exists, Aquagirl.

That’s right. You can’t. Making up stuff just like Numbers does.

JKL2

October 25th, 2012
8:33 am

dc- The reason these few kids (and parents) who actually care need to be allowed an alternative, is exactly because of the “other kids” who don’t give a crap.

Well said. I find it amaizing how all these people who spent years complaining about “no child left behind” are now endorsing it as the holy grail of our education system.

stands for decibels

October 25th, 2012
8:43 am

Point out where any lack of concern exists, Aquagirl.

I think the bit about “dragged down in life by the thugs around them”, which AG reasonably interpreted as favoring “leaving the thugs behind”, which she specifically cited, covers that.

Making up stuff just like Numbers does.

Tiberius, your concern is duly noted.

/drive by. back later, perhaps…

cellophane

October 25th, 2012
8:50 am

I’m tired of hearing we need to approve this amendment because of the cheating in APS. APS has approved more charter schools than any other school district. Options are being created for APS. This amendment does not guarantee charter schools will be created where they are needed. With private for profit companies in charge, charter schools will be created where they are profitable (wealthy suburbs). And the talking point about public schools getting to keep “all the local tax dollars”– hello, have you seen a 5-year history of a local tax digest lately? Those numbers are dropping 5-10% annually, tens of millions of dollars dropping out of the local side of funding. There is no big funding windfall created when charter kids leave a local school district when the property values are in free fall.

Bob

October 25th, 2012
8:55 am

Aquagirl, why are you concerned about kids that may be left out of charters. Close to 45% of Atlanta public school kids don’t graduate now, how have you helped those kids and why do you want the status quo ?

Georgia

October 25th, 2012
9:03 am

Remember, understand the way the bill is worded on the actual ballot. Because of clever phrasing, a yes vote means you favor passage and want Obama to release his college transcripts. A no vote means you favor status quo and want Obama to release his passport records. If you don’t vote then you blame the whole education mess on the Mohammed Video. I hope that helps.

Peach Fuzz

October 25th, 2012
9:03 am

If the local schools are falling behind, what’s to say new schools under a separate government entity will fare any better? Fix the local schools first, before creating a new problem. Where’s the guarantee that new charter schools won’t cheat test scores to maintain their funding? This sounds like a lot of smoke and mirrors. Just say “No” to the charter school amendment.

Russ Moore

October 25th, 2012
9:08 am

I worked as a consultant on Dr. Samms’ school (Fulton Leadership Academy). I can attest that it is absolutely unique. It also has a dynamic board of local parents and leaders that is everything you would want in such a group: diverse, committed, cooperative and very, very focused on the students and student achievement. The boys wear uniforms to school. The parents – many of whom are poor – are rich in engagement. They are determined that their children will avoid the traps that most African-American boys face in public schools: drugs, crime, gangs, cheating, and bad scores. FLA teaches morals as well as academics, and the students learn (as the school name suggests) TO BE LEADERS. Responsible leaders. We need more leaders like Gavin Samms and Rich Thompson. Kudos as well to FLA’s other founder, Richardean Anderson (an African-American woman).

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
9:14 am

Good line:

[Republican] party’s near-unanimous acceptance that government should not do much of anything beyond fielding an army, policing sexual conduct and subsidizing corporations.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/i-might-be-disillusioned-about-election-2012-stakes-country-are-still-huge

One perspective....

October 25th, 2012
9:15 am

If the local schools are falling behind, what’s to say new schools under a separate government entity will fare any better?

So… don’t do anything because the charter school might not be better? What kind of twisted logic is that?

People keep saying “fix the current schools first”. What, in the last 100 years of trying, makes you think that is possible? Why should a kid be trapped in a school TODAY because you believe that the school might be able to be fixed by some nebulous future miracle?

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 25th, 2012
9:16 am

Peach Fuzz, that sounds like the conservative argument against government spending and current federal debt levels.