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Passing the Opportunity School District would be one victory. More must follow for real opportunity.


Atlanta attorney Glenn Delk has been urging greater school choice in Georgia for 25 years and has done legal work for charter schools, most of it pro bono. In this essay, he encourages Georgia voters to pass the Opportunity School District.

By the way, I asked Michael O'Sullivan, state director of StudentsFirst Georgia -- who met with the AJC two weeks ago -- to write a piece explaining how, as was cited at the AJC meeting, the OSD has learned from the mistakes of the Tennessee Achievement District and NOLA.  If that piece comes, I will post here. The AJC is also waiting for a piece from the pro OSD Georgia Leads, which I will run it if comes.

In the meantime, here is Delk's piece:

By Glenn Delk

Watching the debate over Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District proposal reminds me of the speech given by Winston Churchill, in November, 1942, after his army defeated German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at El Alamein, when he told the House of Commons “…Now this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning…”

For 65 years, Georgia and the entire country have fought battles over how best to implement the Supreme Court’s admonition that, if the state decided to provide its citizens with the benefit of an adequate education, the Constitution required it to provide the benefit on equal terms to all citizens. Since 1951, we’ve argued about the best way to meet that constitutional obligation.

What Gov. Deal is really saying  with the OSD is that families who are forced, mainly by economic reasons, to send their children to failing schools,  have the same opportunity as middle and upper-income families to choose the best school for each child.

However, just as Churchill did not promise his country that victory at El Alamein meant victory in World War II was assured, Gov. Deal does not claim that passage of the OSD proposal, by itself, will provide equal educational opportunities to all students. Instead, if voters approve the proposal and admit we’re now failing a large segment of our children, we will be at the end of the first phase of providing equal opportunity to all. Following passage, if it happens, the governor, other political and business leaders, and all of Georgia’s citizens, must work together to make sure that the nearly 65,000 students now trapped in failing schools have quality choices.

If we don’t follow passage of the proposal with a concerted effort to attract providers of high quality schools to Georgia, combined with an equally strong effort to support home-grown operators, we’ll be repeating past mistakes, not learning from them, as Churchill and his military leaders did after a series of defeats preceding victory at El Alamein.  Instead of a new state agency to “manage” schools taken over, we should offer families more choices.

As Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen said recently, “…People like choice…They want to pick their president.  They want to pick their Happy Meal.  The concept of choice is appropriate in a country focused on democracy…”

To her credit, superintendent Carstarphen and her board have begun, even before passage of the OSD, to give Atlanta parents more quality choices by conducting a national search for operators of high-quality schools to open in Atlanta, while at the same time providing local operators to operate previously failing schools.

Like Churchill, Dr. Carstarphen has learned from past failures, heeding research such as the recently released study from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance.  Published October 18, 2016, the report studied the differences in school takeovers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

As a news report on the study said, “…The Tulane report emphasizes the commonsense idea that these sort of interventions work only when new schools are markedly better than the ones closed or taken over…The New Orleans data suggest that, at least in some circumstances, closures and takeovers can have significant positive effects on student outcomes, including test scores and high school graduation rates…”

Just as Winston Churchill correctly identified that one victory over Rommel did not eliminate the need for D-Day and hundreds of other battles, we must realize that winning the approval of the OSD will not eliminate the need for additional victories in the fight for equal opportunity for all.

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.