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Digital Learning Task Force Should Resist Safe, GO BOLD!



Go bold or go safe?  Those are two very different directions.  Soon we will see which direction a state digital learning task force chooses when its recommendations are released next month.  The task force created last year by Governor Nathan Deal in was told in specific executive order language that technology and digital learning are the future.  What does that mean?

Far-reaching, shoot-the-moon strategies that shove aside traditional obstacles could become transformational – that is, they would forever change the landscape.  Less aggressive but politically safe thinking would become largely transitional – that is, tweaks around the edges.

Georgia has recent experience with both transformational and transitional.

Three years ago the state empaneled a special council to recommend comprehensive tax and revenue policy reform.  Ideas from that high profile special council were so transformational, landscape changing and politically charged that the council’s excellent work was almost immediately laid to waste.  The report became a victim of its own aggressive recommendations.

Three years later, Georgia has fallen behind other southern states.  Soon, Georgia will have the highest maximum personal income tax rate among all southern states, something that Texas, North Carolina, Florida and others understand as they refine economic game plans.  Georgia did eliminate the energy tax on manufacturing inputs – you could easily debate that this was only a transitional idea — but the state has as yet failed to address larger tax policy questions.

Contrast the transitional approach to tax reform with the transformational approach to criminal justice reform.  With almost his first breath in office, Governor Deal implemented a multiple-year strategy to address adult and juvenile justice reform.  Georgia is now regarded as being among the small number of states that have the best ideas and infrastructure to monitor reforms.  Georgia is absolutely a transformational leader within the justice reform conversation.

Learning policy today is stuck between transition and transformation.  We know the brick-and-mortar model where everyone learns everything inside a classroom is on the way out, but we are not quite so far down the road that everyone can learn everything through online learning.  And, there are great inequities across the state – and the nation – due to resource availability.  There are also many different kinds of learners.  One-size-fits all will never be the best model.

When the Digital Learning Task Force met last week in Fayetteville, one member said her company would be out of business today if it was still trying to succeed with a 1985 business model.  Georgia schools are funded by something known as the Quality Basic Education Act – which was enacted in 1985.  Last week Deal said he would like to overhaul QBE if he is re-elected in November 2014.  At that, it could be years before anyone sees a new formula.

Another task force member said Georgia has plenty of virtual learning resources – and plenty of traditional learning resources, that is, classrooms – but co-mingling resources has not taken place.  Disincentives, particularly how education is funded, you know, on that 1985 QBE model, provide plenty of obstacles to the successful blending of virtual and traditional learning.  Not only was there no online learning in 1985, there was no online anything in 1985!

Traditionally, school systems and states needed to create what they taught.  Now teaching and learning resources are available from across the globe, from thousands of phenomenal sources, often just one click away.  Sometimes for free.  School systems and states no longer need to spend money writing courses.  Instead, they need to invest their tax dollars toward acquisition of outstanding content and make certain that infrastructure exists to reach learners everywhere.

This year the 14-member Digital Learning Task Force work groups focused on infrastructure requirements, blended and competency-based learning, and digital content and course resources.  The report due next month could serve as a placeholder, or a playmaker.

Boldly, the task force could state K-12 public education in Georgia will become entirely digital within a certain timeframe – for example, by the year 2025 – unless there is no digital course available for learners, which is highly unlikely because digital content creation is moving faster than the ability or interest of school systems to implement new online learning options.

Boldly, the task force could start the funding formula review by recommending state and local tax dollars should follow students to digital learning environments.  School systems absolutely should receive tax dollars for enrolled students, but student education should be funded where the students are – systems should not receive funds for students who are not there.

Some folks believe good things are happening in Georgia public education but nobody knows.  That’s also a problem.  Task forces are not created to change perceptions but this one should choose to Go Bold because going safe actually means going backward.

Georgia education can no longer afford to be transitional.  It must become transformational.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Atlanta’s 20th Century Highways Model Flunked The Test



It is somewhat understandable that the Atlanta highway system was built like a wheel with the city at the center and interstates fanning out from the core.  Think about our regional rail lines as they existed before and after the Civil War:  a few rail lines primarily destined for Terminus as it was known before the city’s name became Atlanta.  The folly was to design 20th Century highways on a 19th Century rail model.  Flush everything and everyone directly into the core and you get gridlock.  Know it, feel it, own it.

Well-meaning politicians and planners have spent decades chasing whatever the current view was of the best balance between interstates, arterial highways, side streets and many kinds of mass transit ideas.  Atlanta has the I-285 concrete ribbon that circles everything; I-75 and I-85 carry most north-south traffic directly into and away from downtown; and, I-20 is the only meaningful east-west interstate route. Public transit is a patchwork quilt of few options for most people. In sum, this model no longer works and it has not worked for several decades.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which is where I am employed to think about things like this, favors a managed lanes concept for the regional interstate highways to carry commuters along with an emphasis on BRT – bus rapid transit that is a smarter public policy option than development of a heavy rail commuter passenger system that would be more expensive to construct and maintain.  Rail has its place in high density cities, but BRT remains a better choice, especially since it can instantly expand accessibility.

atlanta_coverNow the Reason Foundation has added its thoughts to this discussion with a new strategic analysis titled “Practical Strategies for Increasing Mobility in Atlanta.”  The report was written by Reason transportation analyst Baruch Feigenbaum.  Feigenbaum presented the study to a Georgia Public Policy Foundation audience on Wednesday, August 28 in Atlanta.   (Watch on YouTube!)

Feigenbaum wrote, “Atlanta lacks a grid of major arterial highways, which in other Sunbelt metro areas provides the critical backbone of the transportation network. In other words, Atlanta is one of the least core-oriented urban areas in the world with one of the most core oriented transportation systems.”  (YouTube link about bus rapid transit)

Reason Foundation recommendations include dynamic pricing on newly constructed managed lanes; dynamic pricing means the cost to users would fluctuate based on distance traveled and traffic conditions.  Reason also recommends congestion relief through construction of a new east-west bypass in Atlanta’s northern suburbs and a tunnel to connect I-675 to SR 400.

An east-west bypass would revive discussion of the Northern Arc idea that seemed possible in the late 1990’s but died with the end of Gov. Roy Barnes’ administration.  The western edge of the old Arc was positioned at I-75 near Cartersville with the eastern edge at I-85 near Buford.  Reason proposes a more southern path that would start near Acworth, extend past Woodstock and Alpharetta, then south past Duluth and finally end east of Lawrenceville.

The proposed tunnel to connect I-675 to SR 400 would provide another option for thousands of drivers who do not have an Atlanta destination but they have no option other than its surface highways.  Tunnels have been a controversial idea before, but such an idea, well implemented, could alleviate surface traffic within the city and also bring some relief to I-285 congestion.

BARUCH FEIGENBAUM Transportation Policy Analyst Reason Foundation

Transportation Policy Analyst
Reason Foundation

Another idea put forth by Reason would essentially become a second loop a few miles beyond I-285 that circles the Atlanta central core.  This idea would remodel existing local roads into a stronger arterial highway system to reduce the I-285 flow or at least minimize its growth stress.

Many Atlanta metro region commuters do not have driving options.  Reason proposed development of a comprehensive bus-based transit network to serve the entire region, rather than the current piecemeal system.  This bus asset would reach more people on remodeled arterial roads.  Reason also proposed that mass transit program management should be moved from GDOT — the Department of Transportation — to DCA — the Department of Community Affairs.

Reason and Feigenbaum concluded, “Atlanta’s insufficient transportation system places the metro area at a competitive disadvantage compared with other Southeastern metro areas.  This comprehensive plan is designed to meet transportation goals while remaining politically realistic.”  Reason predicted that funding and building its proposed projects could take 30 years.  “And the sooner policy makers get started on implementing it, the better.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Criminal Justice Council Gets Civil Asset Forfeiture Assignment



Governor Nathan Deal has raised the ante on civil asset forfeiture reform in Georgia by formally asking the new Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform to bring forward its own recommendation – and he means before the General Assembly returns in January.

Ten new members and five holdovers from last year’s Council were told about civil asset forfeiture reform during their initial meeting Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol.  Civil asset forfeiture reform was perhaps the most contentious issue in the 2013 General Assembly.

House Bill 1 would have limited the power sheriffs and district attorneys have to seize the assets of people who have been convicted of no crime, convert those assets to cash, and then use the cash essentially however they want to supplement their public budgets.

The legislation was angrily opposed by sheriffs in committee hearings and by district attorneys in more civil dialogue.  HB 1 passed committee but never received a House floor vote as sheriffs packed the Capitol in visible – some might say intimidating — opposition to the bill.   Technically, HB 1 remains alive and could be called to a floor vote or a new bill could be drafted.

The momentum to again reconsider civil asset forfeiture law began to swing in spring and early summer.  Several news media reports asked questions about how some public officials seized personal property and spent civil asset forfeiture funds.  Governor Deal suggested another look.  House Speaker David Ralston created a study committee.  Now the Governor has formally asked the Council on Criminal Justice Reform to weigh in before January.

“We by no means intend to be running counter to the Speaker’s work group,” said Governor’s Office Deputy Executive Counsel Thomas Worthy.  “Probably it’s more perfect to say we will be running parallel to that.”  Worthy and Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs are co-chairs of the Criminal Justice Reform Council, as they were in 2012.  Boggs noted, “There are different schools of thought on that.  There are some politics involved and we’ll just deal with it.”

The Criminal Justice Reform Council membership has been significantly rebuilt since last year which reflects its new focus.  Gone are prosecutors and folks with expertise on who should be behind bars and how they should be managed inside.  The Council is smaller – down from 21 to 15 members — all appointed by Governor Deal.  New members were appointed because of their expertise in employment, housing and community-based programs.

Members include executives from Home Depot and Georgia Power, a pastor with experience in community programs and the executive director of a non-profit housing support association.  Several members are from outside the Atlanta metropolitan region.  The Governor’s Office for Children and Families executive director was appointed.  A new Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry was established to coordinate goals and monitor accountability.

The 2011 Council focus on adult reforms emphasized incarceration of violent or repeat serious offenders, and the expansion of accountability courts and treatment for non-violent offenders who would benefit more from mental health or drug counseling than incarceration.

The 2012 Council recommended ending lock-up detention for juvenile status offenders, such as school truants, whose actions would not be crimes if they were adults.  The Council pushed for and the Legislature adopted recommendations to expand community-based programs.

Last month the Deal administration announced $4.6 million in state grants for two dozen juvenile court jurisdictions to start or expand community treatment programs.  Other juvenile court applications are pending. Total grant dollars available this fiscal year is about $6 million.

“We’ve addressed what we do when (adults or juveniles) are in the system,” Judge Boggs said.  “We’re trying to address what we do before they get into the system with the juvenile courts.  Think of this as a three-legged stool.  Now what are we going to do when they get out?”

Boggs, Worthy, Judge Steve Teske, Judge Jason Deal and Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry are holdover members from the 2012 Council.  Here is a link to the Governor’s Office executive order that announced Council membership.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching the Teachers to Teach with Technology

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia school doors re-opened this month which means the serious business of Friday night football looms near.  On the academic side, the battle to achieve something greater than statewide learning mediocrity punctuated by occasional points of light resumes anew.  But there also is another mission underway, one that could potentially remake the teaching profession.

“We cannot send our student teachers into classrooms, expect them to blend, expect them to know what to do without having (technology) preparation,” says Jo Williamson, associate professor of instructional technology at Kennesaw State University.  “We cannot send graduates to (public) schools that are our clients and expect them to retrain them.”

Last year Governor Nathan Deal appointed a Digital Learning Task Force to create a statewide digital learning strategy from K-12 through higher education.  Last week the task force was at Kennesaw State University to discuss teacher preparation in the emerging new digital world.

“We have students coming in that know how to surf the web, they know how to use social networking,” says Williamson, “but do they know how to teach with technology?”  (Watch on YouTube.)  Previous generations of teachers trained for the classroom.  Next generations must become skilled and comfortable in classroom and online instruction.

Also, many teachers who have one or even two decades before retirement never experienced online learning during their educations but they must now prepare students for an increasingly digital world in and beyond schools.  They need to catch up through professional development.

It is fair to conclude that teacher preparation is not a one-size-fits-all conversation.

Michael Horn, co-founder at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, noted, “It just doesn’t make sense to carry on old practices designed to teach large batches of students.”  University system assistant vice chancellor Mary Angela Coleman told the task force, “Are there things that we used to do that we don’t need to do anymore?”  (Watch on YouTube.)

This summer Kennesaw State hired a technology coach to help train its faculty.  “If we’re going to bring up our faculty (skills) we need someone who can help them,” said Williamson.
In January, Kennesaw State will launch its first MOOC – a Massive Online Open Course – to provide existing teachers with an introduction to online learning.  “It’s going to be free to all Georgia educators,” said Traci Redish, chair at KSU’s Department of Instructional Technology.  KSU Online offers hundreds of courses leading to bachelor and master degrees or certification.

MOOCs are the far edge of learning without borders. Georgia Tech offers MOOC courses, as does Emory University.  Georgia Public Broadcasting President Teya Ryan noted during the task force meeting that she enrolled in a MOOC course that had 30,000 students.   “I have to say, that kept bringing me back to the course because I was fascinated by that,” Ryan said.

Other distinct online examples:  Georgia Virtual School at the state Department of Education offers traditional and credit-recovery courses to middle and high school students; the University System’s ECORE project provides two years of basic higher education core curriculum online.  Another example is Georgia on My Line which is available at 31 Georgia higher ed institutions.

Online learning is a resource for non-traditional students – for example, working adults whose time is precious.  More and more, Georgia higher education serves older students who are not typical 18-to-23-year-olds but someone who has chosen to return to school after a lapse.

The Digital Learning Task Force will report its recommendations to Governor Deal before the end of the calendar year.  The top line message is to watch this sector closely.   The bottom line message is big, big things are happening and they will continue to develop at a rapid pace.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why School Teachers Are No Longer “Sage on the Stage”

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Youngsters are curious creatures.  They will engage in new styles of learning with excitement.  Technology enabled classrooms to undergo a seismic shift in the teacher – pupil relationship.  Smart boards replaced dumb black boards.  Pupils stacked in rows learning the same lesson has begun to shift toward pupils on personalized learning tracks with teacher participation rather than teacher domination.  Therein is the big challenge; how do you get the adults on board?

“At the teacher level, it is a huge paradigm shift,” says Matchbook Learning founder and CEO Sajan George, who developed his model after spending years designing corporate–style turnarounds of big city schools that have the worst academic performance records.  George discussed the Matchbook blended learning model at the Foundation’s May 23 leadership breakfast in Atlanta.

“You’re a teacher.  You’ve been trained in the college of education and you’ve been taught you are the sage on stage,” George said.  “You’re the master of your domain.  You control the pace, the sequence, the content.  Today, class, we’re going to study chapter one.  Tomorrow we’re going to study chapter two.  Next Thursday we’re going to have a test.”

Sajan George, Founder, Matchbook Learning (Georgia Public Policy Foundation Photo)

Sajan George, Founder, Matchbook Learning
(Georgia Public Policy Foundation Photo)

George said in traditional learning the teacher has an “all eyes on me” comfort zone.  But in the blended learning world – personalized online instruction supplemented with student–teacher sessions – kids learn at different paces and there is no single classroom plan for everyone.  Kids move ahead when ready, not when it is convenient for the teacher or the school calendar.

“They’re accessing different content, different assessments, they’re learning different standards at different times,” George said. “That feels very chaotic.  If kids need a personalized approach on how they learn, teachers need a personalized approach as well.  Different teachers have different strengths.”  (Watch Sajan George on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s YouTube channel.)

Five Georgia Board of Education board members were on hand to hear George describe the four components of the Matchbook Learning blended classroom.  Those are an individualized learning path, a teacher-led path, a group project path and finally, an assessments path that enables teachers to assess whether a student has mastered skills necessary to advance to a next level.  The four paths are simultaneous and skills are being constantly measured.

George began his career as a corporate turn-around specialist.  During his corporate years he became engaged with a St. Louis public schools turn-around request.  That experience caused him to leave the corporate world to establish Matchbook Learning.  He has consulted with public school systems in several cities that include New Orleans, New York, Detroit and St. Louis.

Matchbook targets the lowest performing schools, those that perform in the bottom five percent academically because, George says, “They are so fundamentally broken that nobody is willing to hold onto the status quo.  If we don’t design a system of education that meets the needs of our neediest children we’ll never have a public education system that meets the needs of all children.”  (Click here to learn more about Matchbook Learning.)

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ALEC: Here’s How Georgia Could Improve Competitiveness

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia’s track record as a low-tax, pro-business, pro-growth state is absolute.  However, the state has been unable to enact an important threshold – elimination or at least a sizable reduction in the 6 percent maximum personal income tax rate – and that prevents Georgia from being considered at the top of states that have low-tax, pro-growth fiscal policies.

Today the American Legislative Council released its sixth annual “Rich States, Poor States”  economic competitiveness index report that evaluates states on 15 fiscal policy sectors that include tax rates, state regulations, right-to-work laws and size of the public workforce as a percentage of statewide population.  The ALEC formula rewards low-taxing, low-spending states, of which Georgia is one.

Georgia does well … ranked as the eighth best state nationally and up two spots from one year ago.  But therein is part of the challenge.  Georgia ranked eighth in the first ALEC report five years ago, then slipped several spots and only now has it reclaimed the eighth spot ranking.

To see that idea from another angle, ALEC does not consider Georgia has done enough with tax and regulation policies in five years to greatly improve its ranked position vs. other states.

Rich States, Poor States“Georgia has become one of the most Republican states in the country and it’s also become a very fiscally conservative state over the last 10 and 20 years,” said co-author Stephen Moore, during an ALEC conference call this week.  “If there’s a state that could eliminate its income tax it would be Georgia.  The table is set for that.  We’ve been pushing it for a long time.”

The 2010 Georgia Special Council on Tax Reform recommended elimination of most personal income tax deductions and adoption of the lowest possible revenue neutral income tax rate with 4 percent as the original target.  The Legislature has never come closer than almost voting on a bill that would have reduced the maximum personal income tax rate to 4.5 percent.  There was no personal income tax reform legislation during this year’s General Assembly.

Nine states do not collect personal income tax.  “I’ve always thought Georgia should be the next domino to fall especially because, who are your neighbors?” said Moore, who is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board.  “You’ve got Florida and Tennessee, both which have no income tax.  You’re what we call an income tax sandwich.  You’re sandwiched between two states that don’t have (state personal income tax) so that puts you at a competitive disadvantage.”

Moore, ALEC’s Jonathan Williams and economist Arthur Laffer are the co-authors.  “Georgia can do some other things that would not necessarily cost from a revenue perspective,” said Williams, who is director of ALEC’s Center for State Fiscal Reform.  He cited additional pension plan reform, requiring a super majority legislative vote for tax increases, and mandatory government spending limits, along with reduced state liability and workmen’s compensation costs.

The 2013 edition of ”Rich States, Poor States” also highlights funding and obligation problems posed by public sector pension plans, which the non-partisan State Budget Solutions says are underfunded by some $4.6 trillion.  Williams said the federal government recently filed suit against Illinois “for basically fraudulent pension accounting.  We find that issue in a lot of states.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.    Click here to read “Rich States, Poor States.”  Click here to watch Stephen Moore speak to the Policy Foundation 2013 annual dinner on the Foundation YouTube channel.)

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Data Is An Onion … You Have to Begin to Peel Back the Onion”

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Imagine this scenario:  An automaker prepares to launch a new car amid much fanfare.  The car launches to modest immediate success and then it flops.  This is a real story.  The Ford Edsel was an epic failure because Ford was wearing blinders in its commitment to the Edsel.  Had the company listened to consumers it would have known that auto owner tastes were changing and the Edsel was no longer what people wanted.  Edsel was the wrong car at the wrong time.

It’s all about data.  Business has known for generations that the most successful launches and ongoing companies are those that constantly absorb data, intently study what it contains, reach unemotional conclusions about what it means, and establish a focus armed with knowledge.

You might think that would also be second nature to education but not so much.

“We use data in all other sectors.  It’s new in education,” says Paige Kowalski, director of state policy initiatives at the Data Quality Campaign, a non-profit education think tank in Washington, D.C.  Kowalski told an Atlanta conference this week that although some believe data is ‘the hammer, you’re going to get punished with it,” she prefers to think data is the “flashlight to really be able to shine a light on what we are doing well and where we need to improve.”

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education brought Kowalski to Atlanta for its spring forum, “Data Driven Decisions – Dynamic & Daunting.”  GPEE President Stephen Dolinger opened the conference with this observation, “We have wallowed in a land of not having the data that we need but we are on the front now in Georgia and that’s a good thing.”

Bob Swiggum spent 27 years at Georgia-Pacific where he was VP of Information Technology.  Three years ago he crossed into public sector education to help the state rethink everything it knew – or at least whatever the state thought it knew – about how to use data analysis to produce better experiences for students both during and after their K-12 education years.

Swiggum received less than a warm reception from local public school systems who thought they had seen this horse ride into town before.  “We went out to the districts and said; what do you want?”  Swiggum told the GPEE conference.  “They wrote me what I call an eleven-page epistle.  It was ten pages of what they didn’t want and one page of what they did want.  Pretty much they didn’t want the state to get involved in their stuff.”

Today the state is very involved.  Swiggum has appeared before more than 150 groups to explain how a suite of new digital products will help learning professionals and parents more precisely understand what student groups and individual students need to achieve success.

Data that originates with local district annual reports is housed on state servers and can be recalled as fully collated information.  District leaders can recall data on schools, the schools on their classrooms, and teachers can sort individual data.  Identity is protected where data needs to remain anonymous.  It is now possible to assemble and make easily accessible a student’s entire public school academic history in Georgia.  This is an enormous benefit in today’s mobile environment; for example, the annual student turnover is 30 percent in Atlanta schools.

“Data is an onion,” says Rubye Sullivan, Atlanta Public Schools director of research and evaluation for school improvement.  “A metric is just the number at the top.  Knowing a number does not give you action.  You have to begin to peel back the onion.”  Sullivan said that historically public schools have not been very good at having or interpreting their data.

“We now understand that students in the ninth grade who fail both math and English are nine times more likely to be a dropout,” Sullivan said at the GPEE conference.  “We didn’t have the data before to be able to unpack it in a way where we truly could pinpoint this group of students, where their risk factors were, provide that information back to counselors or graduation coaches to turn that data into action.  It is the power of big data and education coming together.”

The ability to track how students perform academically after high school, especially when they attend state universities and colleges, should have a positive impact on K-12 preparation.  “If students leave us and we don’t know what happens to them we’re not able to build our school goals,” said Brian Cook, head counselor at Morgan County High School.

Here is the challenge: Take any sample group of 100 Georgia high school students and just 67 will graduate.  One-third never graduate.  Eleven who enroll in higher education will graduate from four-year schools after four years and just two from technical colleges after two years.

“This is not what we wanted for our state,” said Mary Ann Charron, chief program officer at the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement.   GLISI managed a pilot project that brought ten public school teams and the technical college system together, to focus on better preparation for student post-secondary choices.  That’s what this is all about.

(Footnote: the Ford Edsel debuted in 1958. Production was canceled after 1960 when Ford manufactured fewer than 2,850 Edsels.  About 34,000 Edsels were never sold to anyone!)

Additional Resources:

YouTube Paige Kowalski Presentation

YouTube Bob Swiggum Presentation

YouTube Georgia Partnership Panel Conversation

Website for the State Department of Education Longitudinal Data Systems Project

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Big Brother Knows Best Mentality Works Against School Choice

Louisiana Court Rejects Funding Formula; Texas Lawmakers Reject Choice

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

This week’s Louisiana Supreme Court opinion that struck down a school choice funding formula finds the usual suspects who want to prevent families from using their tax-paid dollars to send their children to the schools of their choice.  As we saw in Georgia, people who stand in opposition to expanded school choice believe the money belongs to them, which is a big brother knows best mentality.

Some Louisiana background:  The state was in education chaos before Hurricane Katrina swept through eight years ago.  The unanticipated blessing from that life changing hurricane was that it gave the state, communities and families an opportunity to rebuild horrible school systems, notably in New Orleans.

Especially during current Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure Louisiana has started to reinvent education with the idea that when you start with a clean slate, you might improve over what was there earlier.

This, of course, is a free market education idea so it stands to reason that people who want to continue the big-brother-knows-best mentality would be none too pleased at bolder and fresher ideas.  One among several ideas was Jindal’s creation of a voucher scholarship program that provided 5,000 low income students the opportunity for expanded school choice somewhere other than their local brick-and-mortar neighborhood school.  Louisiana Scholarship Program enrollment for next fall would be 8,000 students or about two-thirds of all pupils who applied.

You can guess who got uptight and went to court; that would be the associations that represent Louisiana teachers and public school system boards of education.  These are the same kinds of organizations that went to court in Georgia after the 2008 General Assembly created a path and the funding formula for expanded charter school options.  In Georgia, you can throw in the very vocal association for state superintendents that fought furiously to overturn the state law.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled against the creation of a charter schools alternate authorizer. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled against the vouchers funding formula without making a comment on school choice proper, but the effect unless somehow remedied would be to reduce options for families.  Georgia lost its leadership position on school choice but fortunately last November voters here sent a different message when they reinstated the idea of an alternate authorizer, meaning a new State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia that began its work this spring.

Louisiana’s Governor – who many believe has White House aspirations – issued a statement that tried to assure families the state budget will find the money to keep choice alive although Jindal’s initial statement did not provide any additional detail about how to make that possible.

School choice – the bigger idea of it at all – is no longer in question.  Whatever you think about the current White House administration, the President, the Department of Education and the Republican and Democratic national party platforms are all on board with school choice.  There are still those trying to erect roadblocks and overall, school choice work certainly is not done.

The appetite for new aggressive school choice legislation was limited during this year’s Georgia General Assembly.  Most wind went out of the sails after last year’s bitterly contested effort that resulted in the constitutional amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved last November.  An enhanced tax credit scholarship bill passed, as did a clean-up of the existing special needs scholarship.  A “parent trigger bill” that would allow parents or school personnel the right to convert failing traditional public schools to charter schools passed the House.

What legislatures and state courts are doing with school choice across the country is a muddle.  School choice advocates in Texas cannot get their bills through the House which rejected a bill last month.  This legislative recalcitrance goes against the grain of Texans.  A Texas Public Policy Foundation study published last week said two-thirds of Texans favor the creation of statewide education scholarships and 72 percent favor business tax credits for private schools.

Contrast the Louisiana and Georgia judicial experiences with Indiana where the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously – the vote was 5-0 – in April that public tax dollars could be used to fund private school tuition.  The Louisiana Supreme Court vote was nearly unanimous – 6-1 to strike down using public tax dollars to fund private school tuition in a vouchers program.

Families must be allowed to use their tax-paid dollars to send their children to the schools of their choice.  Not the government’s choice, not the choice of school boards or unions that represent teachers.   It is their choice, the folks who actually paid the tax dollars.  Keep Choice Alive!

(Click here to read the new Friedman Foundation analysis “A Win-Win Solution — The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” that examines the impact on students and communities.  Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia’s Intense Focus on Children Sold for Sexual Services

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

The video is black and white except for one dramatic effect; the very attractive young woman is wearing bright red lipstick.  The image of a man lurks in the background as she says, “I’m an exotic dancer.  I wanted to be an actress.”  Then another girl, “I’m an addict.”  Then another girl, “I’m being sold for sex.”  Then the man says, “Now they are living my dream.”

This video to create public awareness about sexual exploitation of juveniles was released in April on YouTube by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Office for Children and Families.  In March, Attorney General Sam Olens announced “Georgia’s Not Buying It,” a coordinated federal, state and local law enforcement crackdown on adults who purchase sexual services with juveniles.  A website was created.  A video was produced.

These initiatives are part of an intense effort to identify and protect endangered juveniles who are usually young girls, crack down on the adults who sell their sexual services and target the sexual predators who purchase children.  The initiative includes public, private, non-profit and faith-based organizations together under the umbrella of a Governor’s Office task force.

Now it’s time to go to school.

Monday and Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Education will host “Human Trafficking: Not Just a Global Problem” in partnership with Bryan College and many Georgia public sector and non-profit organizations who are named on the conference website.  Registration was closed at 300 participants for the two-day meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

There is so much demand for information on this subject within the education community that Georgia Public Broadcasting will record the conference and DOE will create a classroom curriculum to educate students about sexual services trafficking.  With video, DOE wants to reach “anyone who has contact with a child during the day,” said DOE spokesperson Dorie Turner Nolt.

Georgia's Not Buying ItThe Atlanta metropolitan area has been described as a hub for child sexual services in part because the international airport provides easy access for persons who want to purchase sex with children, although the airport is clearly not the only reason for predatory activity.  One of the challenges ahead for the task force is to refine the data to understand the scope of the problem.

“Georgia is way behind in statistical information because we have not had a mechanism in place to capture the data from all the law enforcement agencies to victims’ services agencies to non-profit agencies,” said Sandra Putnam, special agent in charge of the child exploitation and computer crimes unit at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  She will speak on Monday.

The GBI focuses primarily on domestic child exploitation.  Federal organizations including the FBI and Homeland Security focus on international angle prosecutions.  The GBI launched a stand-alone human trafficking unit in July 2011 that was folded into the computer crimes unit last November.  “A lot of child sex trafficking is done through the Internet,” Putnam said.

Between July 2011 and December 2012 the GBI child exploitation unit worked 468 investigations, recovered 51 juveniles who were being used for sexual services and made 55 arrests.  But an arrest does not necessarily mean a conviction and sometimes, it does not even result in a court case.

“In order to go through with prosecution you have to have a victim who is willing, understands that she is a victim and has the ability to testify,” Putnam said.  “Once some of these girls get rescued and get treatment they don’t want to go through that process, they don’t want to testify.  A lot of these girls wind up back on the streets.”

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports it received 446 Georgia calls last year with 172 calls originating from Atlanta numbers.   “Operation Guarding Innocence” coordinated by the GBI and 46 other federal, state and local agencies announced 98 arrests last month.  Almost 1,000 persons were charged with internet sex crimes in Georgia since 2002.

“Trafficking is happening in Georgia all areas, not just in Atlanta,” said Fulton County senior district attorney Camila Wright.  Some studies have estimated that thousands of cases occur monthly in the Atlanta metropolitan area but professionals have begun to walk away from those estimates and they are clearly only comfortable with the hard data that their agencies develop.

“We are finding that the more law enforcement gets trained to spot it the more cases we have,” said Wright who speaks on Monday.  “I have four times as many cases now as I did last year just from training, learning to spot it and develop more cases.  I do not think that is because there is an increase.  We’re spotting what is there.”

Wright said the idea that children being sold for sexual services is an inner city problem is wrong.  Sexual service buyers tend to come from “north or south of the perimeter.  When girls are listed in Atlanta (buyers) tend to be people with expendable income.”

Nationally, the internet has become a haven for juvenile sexual images.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited children website reports that in the 2011 calendar year it viewed 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child pornography, a 400 percent increase since just 2007.

Wright recently spoke at a Fulton County sheriff’s department meeting.  “A lot of the speakers clearly thought the girls know nothing,” Wright said.  “The girls know.  The kids see this stuff.  They are approached.  They are solicited.  People try to recruit them all the time.”

Putnam said she wants to help educators “just understand that some of these girls may be true victims.  A lot of times we have these high school girls who are delinquent, they are acting out, they don’t do good in school but if you really get in there and start asking the right questions, it’s not too hard to make the connection that they may be a true victim of being trafficked.”

The conference does not include young women who were sold for sexual services.  “We’re not in it for the shock level,” said Nolt.  “We want educators to realize this affects them, too.”

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Should be Obvious: Fix Families First to Fix Kids

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

This idea is almost too obvious:  Fix families and you might alleviate pressure on overburdened state justice systems as there might be fewer folks showing up in juvenile and adult criminal courts.  This week the Campaign for Youth and Justice echoed that idea in a new report that states:

“Given the history of the juvenile justice system, which has historically kept families at arm’s length, coupled with organizational and fiscal challenges facing agencies today, it is not surprising that many justice systems are struggling to meet the needs of families.”

The Family Comes First executive summary further states that despite legitimate efforts to improve outcomes, “what has been missing is a vision of what a transformed justice system looks like when that vision honors and supports families before and after their children have contact with the system.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  Last week Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told me that dysfunctional families are the primary reason that juveniles enter delinquency and in the worst cases commit crimes of such serious nature that they are charged as adults.

Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske (Photo by Administrative Office of the Courts)

Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske (Photo by Administrative Office of the Courts)

Teske targeted the proliferation of single parent dynamics and parents with weak problem solving skills.   Teske served on the 2012 Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and he was a leading architect of its juvenile recommendations that were signed into law last week by Governor Nathan Deal.   (Click here to watch Teske on YouTube or click here to read the article.)

The Campaign for Youth and Justice offers several recommendations that you will already find in Georgia juvenile justice reform legislation signed last week by Governor Deal.  For instance one idea in Family Comes First would be, “states should develop fiscal strategies to fund prevention, diversion, and family and community-based programs .”

imgresGeorgia already is moving in that direction as it will make $5 million available in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to assist communities with the expansion and creation of local-based programs.

Another Family Comes First recommendation is the adoption of improved assessment tools, again, an idea advanced for two years by Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in adult corrections reforms adopted last year and again this spring in HB 242, the juvenile justice reforms legislation.

The Family Comes First executive summary states, “In the past few years, the juvenile justice field has made major strides in elevating the importance of family involvement to overall system reform efforts. We have come a long way even though we have far to go.”  It says families must have improved access to basic information.

My view: This makes sense as you don’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it.  No doubt, a first encounter with the juvenile justice system can become a dizzying experience.

(Click here to learn more about criminal justice public policy on the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project website.  Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment


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