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School choice advocate: Evidence shows an OSD could work


Longtime school choice advocate Glenn Delk is taking his fight for the Opportunity School District to the bitter end, which it may turn into for proponents.

Polls show an uphill battle for Amendment 1 as voters appear wary of changing the Georgia constitution to expand the state's ability to intervene in local schools. Even the architect of the OSD, Gov. Nathan Deal, has acknowledged he may have to find a Plan B.

Delk has defended state takeover in several Get Schooled posts and cites a new study in his final effort on the eve of the election.

By Glenn Delk

Georgians have been bombarded with competing claims from supporters and opponents of Amendment 1, Gov. Nathan Deal’s effort to create the Opportunity School District.

One of the primary claims of OSD opponents such as the teachers union is there is no empirical evidence that takeovers of poor performing schools results in greater academic achievement.  However, a recent report by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education contradicts the claims of those opposing the OSD.

As Ashley Jochim, the author of the study says: “The different approaches to state-initiated turnaround offer states a variety of ways to support school improvement: some empower states to directly shape the terms of the turnaround while others rely on local education leaders, some target selected schools, while others seek to improve entire districts… All four of the approaches evaluated were found effective in at least one context, with significant effects ranging from 0.13 to 0.24 standard deviation units.  For comparison’s sake, the Tennessee class size initiative, which reduced class sizes of between 22 to 26 students per class down to 13-17 students per class, found effects on the order of 0.11 standard deviation units in reading and 0.22 standard deviation units in math…”

Her ultimate conclusion was: This means that state-initiated turnarounds can achieve effects similar to those found in other kinds of k-12 reform…”  Ms. Jochim is very careful to admit that state turnaround efforts are not a silver bullet for successfully increasing student achievement.  She identifies four ingredients as being crucial to any successful initiative:

•The will to initiate changes to practice

•Sufficient authority to implement effective strategies

•Adequate capacity to execute the turnaround plan

•Political support to sustain changes over time

Gov. Deal has shown the will to seek, via passage of the OSD, sufficient authority.  Assuming Amendment 1 passes, he will need to search world-wide for individuals and organizations with the capacity to achieve significant improvement.  Finally, before he leaves office, Gov. Deal will need to ensure there is lasting political support to sustain changes over time.

As I’ve argued repeatedly, the most effective way to sustain these changes is to pass legislation authorizing education savings accounts so that every family has a vested interest in supporting the necessary changes.  Gov. Deal need look no further than Zell Miller’s passage of the HOPE Scholarship to see what putting control over education in the hands of the consumer.

No politician in his right mind would attempt to take away HOPE. Likewise, if Gov. Deal combines passage of the OSD with the K-12 equivalent of the HOPE Scholarship, his willingness to take the political arrows and slings will be rewarded with sustained improvement.


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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.