Archive for December 2009

If I didn't know any better….   Leave a comment

I’d think that:

  • The Emancipation Proclamation actually called for the continued enslavement of Africans
  • We were happy slaves
  • Juneteenth was created to give African Americans another reason to have a cookout
  • Malcolm, Martin, Medgar, and Rosa were fictional characters
  • Brown v. Board of Education upheld and legalized school segregation
  • There is no such thing as ‘The Talented Tenth’
  • We have actually overcome
  • The Civil Rights Movement never happened
  • Arne Duncan is the son of God, sent to save us savages
  • Blacks are too ignorant and incompetent to educate any children, especially their own
  • We’re only qualified to run a football, shoot a basketball, sing, and dance
  • Having a Black president will erase our country’s torrid and shameful past
  • That my $150,000 education is not good enough to break into the ‘Good ‘ol boy’ network

Now that my vent is over, I can get back to work.

If I didn’t know any better….   Leave a comment

I’d think that:

  • The Emancipation Proclamation actually called for the continued enslavement of Africans
  • We were happy slaves
  • Juneteenth was created to give African Americans another reason to have a cookout
  • Malcolm, Martin, Medgar, and Rosa were fictional characters
  • Brown v. Board of Education upheld and legalized school segregation
  • There is no such thing as ‘The Talented Tenth’
  • We have actually overcome
  • The Civil Rights Movement never happened
  • Arne Duncan is the son of God, sent to save us savages
  • Blacks are too ignorant and incompetent to educate any children, especially their own
  • We’re only qualified to run a football, shoot a basketball, sing, and dance
  • Having a Black president will erase our country’s torrid and shameful past
  • That my $150,000 education is not good enough to break into the ‘Good ‘ol boy’ network

Now that my vent is over, I can get back to work.

An open letter to the Georgia Charter School Commission   Leave a comment

December 12, 2009

Dear Mssrs. Scafidi & Robinson:

For the past few days, I have been reviewing the charter petitions recommended by the Charter School Commission. I must admit that I am disappointed and quite disturbed. Explanations cited by the Commission are in direct contradiction to the legislative intent of charter school law. Furthermore, either White-owned management companies or affluent community groups submitted those petitions recommended. This continual selective practice places minority grassroots groups at a clear and blatant disadvantage. If the true intent of charter schools is to create school choice options for minority and low-income students, close the achievement gap, and involve parents in the educational process, then should not those same individuals have an opportunity at full participation by way of playing an active role in creating schools within their communities?  

I have shared these same concerns with the Charter Schools Division earlier this year, as the State Board of Education did not approve our charter petition because our group neither secured nor raised the entire operating budget prior to approval, as required by Andrew Broy. The charter landscape has only slightly changed since then, as it appears that Commission is placing the same barriers before more qualified charter applicants. An abbreviated list of charter petition discrepancies follows below. As the Commission made the recommendations, I rest assured you are more familiar with the petitions and deficiencies.

  • Board membership
  • Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education
  • Conflict of interest with a board member being a paid school employee
  • Teacher salaries
  • Leadership competency – Contracting with EMO/CMO

 

Parents as Board Members

If I am not mistaken, the Obama Administration is challenging parents to become actively involved in their children’s education. As a parent and educator, it is my opinion that assembling a board comprised of dedicated parents ensures sound decision-making as it relates to children and a quality instructional program. I assume that this is a recent addition to the state’s charter school law and guidance, as Oglethorpe Charter School’s governing board is comprised mostly of parents. Oglethorpe has received federal recognition for the governance structure that includes a high percentage of parents with enrolled students. It is my sincere hope that the application of this rule applied to all charter schools, and not based solely on the proposed location of the school. 

Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education

When drafting a charter petition, it is impossible to state with 100% certainty the school’s composition, unless the proposed school’s location is in a community absent of racial and/or ethnic diversity. This holds true when determining the number of students that will receive services through Special Education. At best, the petitioner can make an educated guess based on the district’s percentage of Special Education participants. Even so, determining the actual programs, e.g., Learning Disability, Emotional Behavior Disorder, etc., must wait until students actually enroll in the school. It is clear to me, a former Special Education teacher, that this is an area of confusion for Commission and State Board of Education members. I do suppose that petitioners can model the practices of traditional districts and track 40-50% of the students into Special Education. I digress.

Conflict of Interest of Board Members

The Internal Revenue Service provides specific guidelines on developing a Conflict of Interest policy for non-profit organizations. If the Commission has a policy beyond that of the IRS, it is imperative that petitioners have access before assembling their boards and hiring key personnel. I noticed that several petitioners received feedback regarding the potential conflict of interest of a board member who was also a potential employee of the charter schools. This is especially troubling considering that several charter schools in existence have individuals serving as founding members and employees. These charter schools have been approved by the local and state boards. In fact, one charter school in Gwinnett County has a husband and wife receiving compensation form the charter school. That, to me, sounds like a clear conflict of interest. Furthermore, other charter schools employ founding members. I digress.

Teacher Salaries

Neither the Commission nor the Charter School Division provides any guidance on setting teacher salaries, or salaries for other employees for that matter. I personally addressed this same issue with Andrew Broy, Clara Keith, and Kathy Cox earlier this year. As none of these individuals is directly involved with an organization’s efforts to recruit qualified and dedicated staff, neither they nor the Commission should have the authority to determine appropriate teacher salaries. The benefits of charter schools are numerous. One of them is the ability for teachers to have some creative freedom within their classrooms, as opposed to teaching to the test. Many teachers are willing to sacrifice a few thousand dollars for the opportunity to work in an environment where they will be treated as professionals and adults; traditional schools tend to devalue the importance of those liberties. It is quite possible that several charter school petitioners already secured verbal commitments from individuals wishing to work at the proposed schools; however, Georgia law stipulates that a teacher cannot sign a new contract while teaching under contract with another school system. As Education experts, all Commission members should possess this information.

Leadership Competency

“Neither does (insert charter school name here) propose to contract with an educational management organization for the provision of experience in educational services.” Again, if petitioners are required to contract with educational management organizations, then the Commission should make that information available to petitioners before they dedicate months and years to community outreach, marketing, researching, and writing the petition. Furthermore, many grassroots organizations oftentimes spend their own money to cover expenses associated with creating a charter school. If it is the intent of the Commission, legislators, Charter Schools Division, and Kathy Cox to create an  EMO/CMO-only charter environment in Georgia, please extend a professional courtesy to students, parents, and educators and make those intentions known locally and nationally.

In closing, I would like to point out the fact that for-profit management companies masked as non-profits have the upper hand here in Georgia. This is evident in their policies of locating schools only in districts where 60%+ of the students qualify for Free and Reduced priced meals, yet none of the parents are directly involved in the creation, management, or daily operations of those schools. That smacks of blatant racism. The laws, State Board of Education members, and Charter School Commission members are perpetuating the unspoken belief that minorities are not qualified to educate their own children, let alone anyone else’s. Spare me the rhetoric of your best friend being (racial/ethnic) or being married to a (racial/ethnic minority), as anyone who recognizes these policies, but says nothing to change them, is just as guilty as those who wrote them.

I have written this letter with an open mind and clear conscience. I am expressing concerns on behalf of those who still have an interest in resubmitting their petitions for future consideration. After spending more than 2 years of my life and time researching and developing a petition, I have accepted that changing Education from the inside may not be correct choice for me. As long as my principles and integrity remain non-negotiable, I am confident that the kind of radical change necessary for Georgia’s families must come from the outside. The Center for Education Reform was obviously extremely lenient in assigning a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia’s charter school law.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these observations.

Good day,

Monise L. Seward, Ed.S.

Parent-Educator

Georgia's Charter Commission: Same story, different day   Leave a comment

In 2008, legislation was passed to the create the Charter School Commission in Georgia. Formally known as House Bill 881, the Commission was created in response to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education (LEAs) throughout the state, particularly in the metro-Atlanta districts. This past summer, the Commission approved its first charter schools: Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls’ school in Norcross, GA; and Charter Conservatory of Liberal Arts & Technology in Statesboro, GA. Since both schools are now Commission-approved, they will receive full state and partial local funding. Despite the intent of House Bill 881, charter schools still receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools. This is one reasons Georgia’s charter school law received a ‘C’ on the Center for Education Reform’s annual charter school report card.

Although it appears (to outsiders) that Georgia has made some strides with its charter school policy and authorization, I can’t help but wonder: Is the process really any better with the newly-formed Commission? During the most recent charter cycle, the Commission approved five (out of 35) new charter petitions: 2 CMO-based schools; 2 community-based schools; and 1 petition that was resubmitted to receive Commission approval, after being approved as a State Special Charter School earlier this year.

One of the CMO-based school raises concerns. In the budget submitted with the charter petition, National Heritage Academies proposes fees totaling more than $1 million dollars the first year of operation. The school plans to enroll 500 students during the first year. Basically, National Heritage Academies will receive their guaranteed fees off the top of the school’s revenues, including grant funds and Title I allocations. Hmmmm. Interesting. None of the grassroots groups that submitted charter petitions included management, licensing, or facilities fees in their budgets; only one community-based group was approved. This particular group is comprised of affluent parents in an established DeKalb County neighborhood.

I must admit that I am completely dismayed and utterly disgusted at the blatant profiteering occurring within the charter school community. The state’s quest for Race to the Top funds puts traditional grassroots groups (Read: minorities without access to large sums of capital, whose children will likely attend said schools) at a clear disadvantage. The charter school culture continues to cater to for-profit companies masked as non-profits. I posed the question: Have Charter Management Organizations run amok? in another blog post. I stand corrected: There is no need to frame that statement in the form of a question. It is painstakingly obvious that they have had a considerable amount of help and for all intents and purposes, it’s perfectly legal. Well, at least for now it is. The most damning affect, in my opinion, is the perpetuation of this implied ‘Great White Hope’ theory or attitude much like the ones we have seen in D.C. and New York. despite media hype or lore, Blacks are qualified and competent enough to educate kids, and not just our kids. As long as there are implied barriers (e.g., if you don’t have $1 million dollars – don’t apply) are in place and supported by politicians, the governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, and the Charter Schools Commission, minorities may as well sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else ‘race’ to the top.

Georgia’s Charter Commission: Same story, different day   Leave a comment

In 2008, legislation was passed to the create the Charter School Commission in Georgia. Formally known as House Bill 881, the Commission was created in response to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education (LEAs) throughout the state, particularly in the metro-Atlanta districts. This past summer, the Commission approved its first charter schools: Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls’ school in Norcross, GA; and Charter Conservatory of Liberal Arts & Technology in Statesboro, GA. Since both schools are now Commission-approved, they will receive full state and partial local funding. Despite the intent of House Bill 881, charter schools still receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools. This is one reasons Georgia’s charter school law received a ‘C’ on the Center for Education Reform’s annual charter school report card.

Although it appears (to outsiders) that Georgia has made some strides with its charter school policy and authorization, I can’t help but wonder: Is the process really any better with the newly-formed Commission? During the most recent charter cycle, the Commission approved five (out of 35) new charter petitions: 2 CMO-based schools; 2 community-based schools; and 1 petition that was resubmitted to receive Commission approval, after being approved as a State Special Charter School earlier this year.

One of the CMO-based school raises concerns. In the budget submitted with the charter petition, National Heritage Academies proposes fees totaling more than $1 million dollars the first year of operation. The school plans to enroll 500 students during the first year. Basically, National Heritage Academies will receive their guaranteed fees off the top of the school’s revenues, including grant funds and Title I allocations. Hmmmm. Interesting. None of the grassroots groups that submitted charter petitions included management, licensing, or facilities fees in their budgets; only one community-based group was approved. This particular group is comprised of affluent parents in an established DeKalb County neighborhood.

I must admit that I am completely dismayed and utterly disgusted at the blatant profiteering occurring within the charter school community. The state’s quest for Race to the Top funds puts traditional grassroots groups (Read: minorities without access to large sums of capital, whose children will likely attend said schools) at a clear disadvantage. The charter school culture continues to cater to for-profit companies masked as non-profits. I posed the question: Have Charter Management Organizations run amok? in another blog post. I stand corrected: There is no need to frame that statement in the form of a question. It is painstakingly obvious that they have had a considerable amount of help and for all intents and purposes, it’s perfectly legal. Well, at least for now it is. The most damning affect, in my opinion, is the perpetuation of this implied ‘Great White Hope’ theory or attitude much like the ones we have seen in D.C. and New York. despite media hype or lore, Blacks are qualified and competent enough to educate kids, and not just our kids. As long as there are implied barriers (e.g., if you don’t have $1 million dollars – don’t apply) are in place and supported by politicians, the governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, and the Charter Schools Commission, minorities may as well sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else ‘race’ to the top.

Georgia's charter law receives a C: Can we strive to be better than average?   Leave a comment

The Center for Education Reform recently released its annual report card grading states’ charter school laws. Georgia’s charter school law, passed in 1993, received a grade of ‘C’ for the past two years. In 2008, Georgia received a  ‘B’ because of the newly formed Charter School Commission. Interesting, we expect our students to improve each year, yet our charter school law received a lower grade this year. I will come back to that later.

In a recent Atlanta-Journal Constitution article Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, notes two reasons why Georgia’s grade remains at ‘C’: (1) its independent authorizer is still largely controlled by the Department of Education; and (2) inequitable funding of charter schools. In Georgia, the funds do not follow the child. Although the new authorizer has alleviated part of the funding issue, charter schools are still underfunded when compared to traditional schools. Allen points to districts for doing a ‘…bad job of approving and funding schools.’ She’s is absolutely correct. The creation of the commission was due largely in part to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education, especially in the metro-Atlanta districts such as Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County, and Gwinnett County. Allen also cites the pending lawsuits challenging the commission’s authority to allocate funds as having a negative affect on Georgia’s grade. Andrew Broy, Associate Superintendent, thinks that some categories are more weighted this year. He contends that consideration should be given for the state’s new initiative to provide charter schools with vacant buildings. Allen directly asserts, “That’s not enough.”

Now back to my question: How can we place improvement standards on students and teachers, when the legal ‘experts’ cannot identify weaknesses in our state’s charter school law and make the necessary changes? Better yet, are we really in a position to push for national standards, more teacher scrutiny, and enter the ‘Race to the Top’ when charter laws receive grades that are average or failing? Based on the Center for Education Reform’s report, it appears that very few states are actually prepared to receive those funds and use them wisely. I said it before and I will say it again: This whole ‘racing’ concept makes me very uncomfortable. How will the U.S. Department of Education determine which states are truly competent enough to use the funds for the intended purposes? Other writers have asserted that this is not really a competition for the most qualified, but instead a popularity contest. If that is in fact true, I expect D.C. to receive a windfall. But again, I am no expert. I don’t claim to be one, but I do have enough common sense to know this could potentially be a monumental waste of money.

In case you haven’t already heard, California, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia are the only states to receive a grade of ‘A’;  nine states received a grade of ‘B.’ Those with average or less-than-average scores can be found by clicking here.

Georgia’s charter law receives a C: Can we strive to be better than average?   Leave a comment

The Center for Education Reform recently released its annual report card grading states’ charter school laws. Georgia’s charter school law, passed in 1993, received a grade of ‘C’ for the past two years. In 2008, Georgia received a  ‘B’ because of the newly formed Charter School Commission. Interesting, we expect our students to improve each year, yet our charter school law received a lower grade this year. I will come back to that later.

In a recent Atlanta-Journal Constitution article Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, notes two reasons why Georgia’s grade remains at ‘C’: (1) its independent authorizer is still largely controlled by the Department of Education; and (2) inequitable funding of charter schools. In Georgia, the funds do not follow the child. Although the new authorizer has alleviated part of the funding issue, charter schools are still underfunded when compared to traditional schools. Allen points to districts for doing a ‘…bad job of approving and funding schools.’ She’s is absolutely correct. The creation of the commission was due largely in part to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education, especially in the metro-Atlanta districts such as Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County, and Gwinnett County. Allen also cites the pending lawsuits challenging the commission’s authority to allocate funds as having a negative affect on Georgia’s grade. Andrew Broy, Associate Superintendent, thinks that some categories are more weighted this year. He contends that consideration should be given for the state’s new initiative to provide charter schools with vacant buildings. Allen directly asserts, “That’s not enough.”

Now back to my question: How can we place improvement standards on students and teachers, when the legal ‘experts’ cannot identify weaknesses in our state’s charter school law and make the necessary changes? Better yet, are we really in a position to push for national standards, more teacher scrutiny, and enter the ‘Race to the Top’ when charter laws receive grades that are average or failing? Based on the Center for Education Reform’s report, it appears that very few states are actually prepared to receive those funds and use them wisely. I said it before and I will say it again: This whole ‘racing’ concept makes me very uncomfortable. How will the U.S. Department of Education determine which states are truly competent enough to use the funds for the intended purposes? Other writers have asserted that this is not really a competition for the most qualified, but instead a popularity contest. If that is in fact true, I expect D.C. to receive a windfall. But again, I am no expert. I don’t claim to be one, but I do have enough common sense to know this could potentially be a monumental waste of money.

In case you haven’t already heard, California, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia are the only states to receive a grade of ‘A’;  nine states received a grade of ‘B.’ Those with average or less-than-average scores can be found by clicking here.