Gov. Nathan Deal should have signed his Opportunity School District legislation at a Morehouse College education forum this morning headlined by former NBA star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his wife and former Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
“This legislation is groundbreaking. It's unheard of,’’ said Johnson, who acted as master of ceremonies while his more controversial wife limited her role to panelist.
Deal signed the legislation this afternoon at the Gold Dome, a more sedate setting than the Morehouse forum where fiery speeches and biblical references by Atlanta’s Rev. Gerald Durley and former CNN pundit Roland Martin lent a revival feel to the day.
In blasting critics of the black leaders in Georgia who backed Deal’s plan, Martin said, “Too many of us are apologizing for standing up for kids…We’re putting unions and civil rights group in front of kids … (who) believe there is only one way to educate kids. Public schools, charter schools, online, homeschooling … I don’t care what way a child gets educated, as long as they get educated.”
The program was sponsored by Johnson’s education advocacy group Stand Up and Rhee's StudentsFirst . Morehouse President John S. Wilson introduced the pair by saying, "This is a power couple if I have ever seen one or known one."
Rhee’s comments followed a pragmatic path, telling the 100 people in the audience they need to identify the failing schools in their communities eligible for takeover, study successful reform models including the charter schools her husband founded in Sacramento, St. Hope Public Schools , and then present a plan for their school.
“It is doable,” she told the crowd. “You don’t need more to do this than who is in here right now.”
In what ought to be considered a warning shot for APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Rhee and Johnson cited the five elementary schools, two middle and one high school in Atlanta’s Carver cluster as ideal candidates for state takeover.
Flashing slides of the schools' failing grades from the state Department of Education and the enrollment, Johnson said a takeover would help 4,690 APS students. “This is manageable," he said, “Eight principals, 15 teachers at each school. This is not an unattainable goal and the Opportunity School District gives you an opportunity to do that.”
No one mentioned the extensive reforms already under way in the Carver cluster under Carstarphen, and whether ditching those to start anew with another plan would help or hurt, although I have to assume that question crossed the minds of APS school board chair Courtney English and board member Matt Westmoreland, both of whom were at the forum.
When Deal signed his bill, he issued this statement:
By signing the Opportunity School District bill, we are promising better days ahead for students trapped in failing schools. The power of positive change now rests in the hands of Georgia’s voters, and I know they share my belief that every child can learn and should have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for the workforce or for college.
There are currently 139 schools across Georgia that have received a failing grade from the state accountability system for at least three consecutive years. Too few of these students go on to higher education, too few attain job skills and too few get a high school diploma. Too often this leads to a life that never fulfills its potential. With this new system, we can and will do better.