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Folks Could Get Run Over When Debt Limit Rubber Meets the Road

Mike Klein

Chances are extremely high that you know someone who receives Social Security or Medicaid or unemployment compensation or another federal benefit payment.  If so, they may be scared.

More than 1.6 million Georgians receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income monthly benefits.  Some receive both.  Nobody knows what they will receive starting next week when direct deposits and paper checks are due on August 3 and 10.  That’s just one way that you can look at the real world impact of adults behaving angrily in Washington political circles.

The federal debt limit ceiling fiasco that has Washington in volcanic gridlock has become some kind of weird super energy cell that drives politically bitter conversations and it holds a lightning bolt over real Georgians whose lives might depend to a great degree on federal assistance.

About 15 percent of all Georgians – about 1.5 million — receive Medicaid benefits.  Twelve percent – about 1.2 million — receive Medicare benefits.  The state has more than 200,000 enrolled in the children’s health insurance program.  What happens to them next week?  Medicaid and the PeachCare children’s program cost Georgia about $694.4 million per month.

About 181,000 Georgians receive weekly unemployment compensation benefits.  Will those checks still be written next Friday if the federal government suddenly goes into fiscal default?

These are real world, feet-on-the-hot-pavement questions.  No doubt, the next several days in Washington will be historic, regardless of how it plays out, but away from Washington real world folks are trying to understand the impact created by something way beyond their control.

Unemployment checks appear safe.  “The long and short of it is the unemployment insurance payments will go out like they are supposed to,” said state labor commissioner Mark Butler.  Checks are written on Friday.  This week Georgia paid $47 million to 181,665 recipients.

In an average month, Georgia writes almost $200 million in unemployment benefit checks.  Funds to cover those checks are derived from taxes paid by employers into the unemployment insurance trust fund.  The state account is flush and Georgia has not needed to borrow money from Washington since April.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits would be less certain during a Washington financial default.  The federal government owes benefits payments to 28 million Americans next Wednesday and 27 million more payments are scheduled one week later

President Barack Obama famously said he could not guarantee benefits will be paid unless Congress agrees how to raise the debt limit ceiling and sends legislation he is willing to sign.  Others contend payments, or at least partial payments, could continue by selling Social Security trust fund bonds in a scenario that raises cash, but also requires issuing other bonds.

All that matters to folks are their checks and direct deposits.  The Social Security Administration website has nothing that would help citizens through this minefield.  When I looked today the top news announcement on the SSA website was an entry about reduced hours in field offices starting next month.  There was nothing about possible delayed benefits or even how one should follow that information trail.  Equally unhelpful: the White House website.

Each month in Georgia more than 1.4 million people receive more than $1.5 billion in Social Security benefits, according to data provided by the SSA’s Atlanta public affairs office.  Another 228,500 receive almost $118 million per month in Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Or to describe that in a different context, 17 percent of Georgia residents depend on SSI or Social Security checks, based on newest SSA available data from December of last year.

Moody’s Corporation, the big international debt ratings service, recently named Georgia among a small number of states that would be least affected by a federal government default.  Still, the percentage of federal dollars inside the state budget is great.

The current fiscal year budget includes $18.1 billion in state funds, $10.8 billion in federal funds and about $8.6 billion from other sources, including the lottery, tobacco settlement funds, motor fuel taxes and other receipts.  So to have some percentage of that in doubt for any length of time is a big deal for everyday folks from all walks of life, particularly those using health care.

Brian Robinson, deputy chief of staff for Governor Nathan Deal, said this in an email:  “Because of the uncertainty surrounding what Congress and the president will do, federal agencies have not contacted their state counterparts to discuss potential funding disruptions.”  Governor Deal’s office asked agencies to report how they would be affected if the federal payments faucet slows down and how they would prioritize their spending.

At some point, rubber always meets the road.  This time, a lot of folks could also get run over.

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

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tom Price: Debt Limit Battle Could Propel Obama to Re-Election

Mike Klein

Georgia congressman Tom Price warned Thursday that the outcome of the debt ceiling limit battle in Washington could send President Barack Obama down the road toward a successful re-election bid unless Republican Party members decide to hang together and vote together.

“It is imperative to stop the madness in Washington,” Price said during a conference call with health care policy analysts from around the nation.  “The bill that will be on the (U.S. House of Representatives) floor this afternoon is not at all what I would have wanted it to be, nor likely what you would have wanted it to be, but it is I believe the only kind of construct that can get through the Senate and force the President to be signed into law.”

The Galen Institute and the Institute for Policy Innovation originally scheduled the four-term Georgia congressman for a health care policy discussion.  That was forced to share the clock with the debt ceiling controversy that seems to change almost hourly.  Price said Republican Party members should support the bill advanced by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

Congressman Tom Price

“If something like this doesn’t happen, then I believe Barack Obama’s hand is strengthened to a huge degree,” Price said, “and not just in the area of the debt ceiling and spending, but in every other single aspect that the Congress will deal with over the next 15 to 16 months and make him much more likely to get re-elected.”

The House debt limit ceiling bill has broken the Republican Party into factions.  Three Georgia congressmen – Phil Gingrey, Tom Graves and Paul Broun – oppose the Boehner legislation because they believe it does not cut enough from federal government spending.  Tea Party Republicans oppose the bill.  Others argue the Boehner bill is the best option at this moment. Continue reading

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Should Create Ultra High Performance Schools for Smartest Kids

Mike Klein

Georgia is shopping for ideas.  In particular, ideas that will shape a competitive state, one that is fundamentally attractive to investors, corporations considering relocation and industries that might want to be created from scratch here.  In an ultra-competitive society it is not too much to suggest that the state with the best ideas will produce a post-recession vibrant economy.

On Monday, Governor Nathan Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative held a conference at Georgia Tech.  The theme went like this:  The state must pass next year’s transportation sales tax; it is crucial to growth and jobs.  Incentives matter.  Smart regions require lots of smart people. Georgia has the political will to succeed.  As Atlanta goes, so goes Georgia.  And so on.

Then on Thursday the state Department of Education released 2011 AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – and graduation rates.  There were a couple messages.  Georgia has only a “slim” chance to meet No Child Left Behind 2014 goals, which a lot of folks consider unreasonable.  The most important message is we must do more to educate every child for lifetime success.

In the spirit of offering ideas, here are two for consideration:

Establish Ultra-High Performance Schools

Everyone agrees it’s all about education and a prepared workforce.

Georgia should create a generation of Ultra-High Performance Schools – public schools for exceptionally gifted kids.  Organize them as state special charter schools.  The investment is worth it.  Make sure smartest kids are identified before middle school or earlier.  Incentivize parents of smart kids to move them into Ultra-High Performance Schools where they will experience the highest level of education.  Encourage these kids to stay smart and not be embarrassed about being smart. Continue reading

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

“Slim” Chance Georgia Will Meet No Child Left Behind Goal in 2014

Mike Klein

State schools superintendent John Barge believes chances are “slim” that Georgia will meet the federal government’s No Child Left Behind 100 percent proficiency requirement in three years.   The first-year superintendent made that clear Thursday when the Department of Education released 2011 AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – and graduation rate reports.

Notably, the state did not release 2011 AYP results for the Atlanta Public Schools system which is embroiled in a test cheating scandal.  The DOE website said results are being withheld until it “can determine which data are impacted by the investigation findings.”  Some 179 educators were identified as possible test cheaters after a ten-month special prosecutors’ investigation.

AYP is the national education measuring stick created by No Child Left Behind.  President George W. Bush signed controversial legislation into law nine years ago.  It mandates that schools nationwide improve math, languages and graduation percentage rates in successive years for schools to be judged as having met Adequate Yearly Progress expectations.

State School Superintendent John Barge

During the 2002-2003 academic year an elementary school could meet AYP if 60 percent of third graders passed reading and language arts standardized tests.  Today the minimum is 80 percent, next year 86.7 percent, one year later 93.3 percent, then 100 percent in 2014.  The formulas are similar for all elementary, middle and high school AYP standardized tests.

In a statement that accompanied the report, Barge said, “The goal of 100 percent proficiency for all of our students by 2014 is well meaning, but because there are so many variables in the lives of children that schools cannot control, the likelihood of achieving this goal is slim. There is so much more to a school’s and a child’s progress than one test score at a single point in time.”

The state DOE reported the 2011 initial high school graduation rate was 79.5 percent, nearly identical to last year, but that bears discussion later.  DOE said the percentage of schools statewide that made AYP declined to 63.2 percent from 71 percent last year.  The percentage of schools graded “Needs Improvement” increased to 17.5 percent from 15.4 percent last year. Continue reading

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AYP Results Out Thursday; Ivy Prep Proposes Two DeKalb Campuses

Mike Klein

Thursday will be a headline maker when the state releases 2011 graduation rate data and AYP – the Adequate Yearly Progress reports that are tied to the No Child Left Behind initiative.  The state will not break out its voluminous data into special subsets – for instance, Atlanta Public Schools that were identified for test cheating during a recent special prosecutors’ investigation.

Last week a department official said DOE would report two graduation rates – the “Leaver Rate” that has been traditionally used with AYP evaluations and the new “Cohort Rate” that all schools nationwide must use starting next year.  DOE has data for both methods but on Wednesday a spokesman said it will hold back reporting the “Cohort Rate” until this fall.

The “Leaver Rate” is often knocked for producing artificially high numbers because at best it is an estimate that does not count all students, for instance, dropouts.  The “Cohort Rate” method tracks every student over four years and it is considered to be much more accurate.

Last year Georgia reported an 80 percent graduation rate using the “Leaver” method.  A state DOE official said the 2011 “Cohort Rate” could be 15 percent lower – a significant difference.  AYP and graduation data will be posted on the DOE website at about 2:00pm Thursday.

Ivy Prep Proposes DeKalb County Campuses

Meanwhile, Ivy Prep Academy could become three schools under an idea unveiled Wednesday.  The high profile Gwinnett County-based all-girls charter school has applied for two state special school charters – one each for new boys and girls schools in DeKalb County.  Ivy Prep officials were not available to discuss the new plan, but a state official explained how it might work.

“They’re able to do this because they were denied by the DeKalb Board of Education last Monday night, July 11,” said Louis Erste, state DOE charter schools division director.  The state board of education could vote on Ivy’s two petitions at its August 10 meeting, or even earlier.

Ivy Prep requested DeKalb permission to open boys and girls schools in the county during the 2012 – 2013 school year.  The board said no.  It also rejected Ivy’s request for DeKalb local dollars to support DeKalb resident girls who already attend the Academy’s Gwinnett location.

State special charter authorization for DeKalb boys and girls would appear to improve Ivy Prep’s financial position.  Currently the Academy has 200 DeKalb girls in the Gwinnett location but this fall there will be no local share dollars from Gwinnett or DeKalb to support their instruction.  This would increase the amount of per pupil state assistance.  The original location would continue to operate under as a Gwinnett school system local charter.

Ivy Prep’s petition filed with DOE Wednesday was not released.  The school could locate boys and girls inside one building or in different buildings.  One possible location could be the Atlanta address for Peachtree Hope Charter School which will not open next month.  Peachtree withdrew its DeKalb County application and it has not applied for a state special school charter.

DeKalb County resident parents of Ivy Prep students could soon be faced with a decision about where to send their children.  “It will be a family decision in each case,” said Erste at DOE.  “The girls that are at Gwinnett could continue to go to Gwinnett if they so choose.”

Extra Charter School Funds Possible

In another move, the state may have a found a way to increase the base award paid to four schools that were originally authorized by the now defunct state charter schools commission.  The four schools could see their individual awards increase by $300,000 to about $1 million.

Three eligible schools will open this fall – Cherokee Charter Academy in Canton, Heritage Prep Academy in Atlanta and the statewide digital learning Georgia Connections Academy.  Provost Academy is the fourth school; it would receive funds to prepare for a fall 2012 opening.

Erste said the state DOE is encouraged about its prospects after conversations with the U.S. Department of Education which must approve the change.   “They’ve indicated there shouldn’t be a problem but until you get the final answer you don’t have it,” Erste said.  The increase would apply only to former commission schools that did not previously receive a base award.

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

July 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia High School Graduation Rate Could Take a Steep 15% Plunge

Mike Klein

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Erroll Davis recently described high school graduation rates as “great works of art.”  Next week the state Department of Education is expected to release new data that will make it seem like the rate fell off a cliff, down perhaps 15 percent.

Also next week, the Southern Regional Education Board will warn policy makers, educators, parents and anyone else who listens that the new national model for tracking students might result in significantly lower graduation rates.  The number will be more honest if not perfect.

SREB’s “Transitioning to the New High School Graduation Rate” will say “some states may see a decline, especially those that have mistakenly counted dropouts as transfers and those that have counted as a graduate a student who earned a credential other than a regular diploma.”  SREB is headquartered in Atlanta; it advocates for improvement in K-12 public schools and higher education in 16 states, including Georgia.

Nine months ago Governor Sonny Perdue’s office announced the state’s 2010 graduation rate rose to an all-time high at 80.8 percent – up 17 percentage points in seven years.  The governor credited his graduation coach program. “We did something no other state had even thought of – put a graduation coach in every middle and high school and focused their efforts on students at risk of dropping out,” Perdue said.

This was a watershed moment for the outgoing administration because Perdue had made an 80 percent graduation rate an important goal of his education initiatives.  The state reported actual graduates grew from 65,213 to some 91,561 seven years later, a real improvement.

A source who is familiar with the anticipated Department of Education report indicated the 2011 graduation rate “will likely be at least 15 percentage points lower.”  How does that happen?  Well, that takes us back to how Erroll Davis described graduation rates – “great works of art.”

Georgia and 31 other states have used what education insiders describe as the “Leaver Rate” – which is defined on the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement website as “an estimate of the percentage of students who entered ninth grade and graduated four years later.”

Beginning with the 2011-2012 school year all states must adopt exactly the same formula that tracks every high school student from ninth grade through graduation or any other result that includes dropouts and GED credentials.  It also requires a better effort documenting transfer students.  It has a name – Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.  Georgia will report it this year.

Actually, the state Department of Education will report two graduation rates next week … a “Leaver” traditional rate that will be used in the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) calculations and the “Cohort” rate that will be the new standard rate going forward for all states.

“Georgia is reporting its new graduation rate even before the federal regulations take hold requiring states to report the new rates, which reflects well on the state’s leaders,” said SREB communications director Alan Richard.

As the SREB will report next week, “Cohort” will produce more honest results because “it is not an estimate and requires states to follow students from school to school in the state – no longer mistaking students who drop out as transfers.  For years, states have over-reported transfers and under-reported dropouts, which produced inflated graduation rates.”

All students who enter ninth grade in any given year become the new freshman cohort.  Each student will have a unique identifier.  Student progress – or lack of progress – during the next four years will be tracked.  Because each student will have his or her own unique identifier it will be possible to know who graduated, who transferred and to where, and who dropped out.

Besides “Leaver” – the calculation method Georgia has traditionally used – some states have used the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate.  AFGR compares graduates to ninth graders four years earlier and it makes no attempt to account for transfers.  Using the AFGR method, next week SREB will report Georgia’s 2008-2009 graduation rate was 67.8 percent.

Remembering what Erroll Davis said about “great works of art” – there is yet another method, the Cumulative Promotion Index which simply tracks how many students advance year-to-year. Using that method, next week SREB will report Georgia’s 2006-2007 rate was 57.8 percent.

That would mean at least four methods to calculate graduation rates have been in play for several years, and no wonder it causes confusion.  “Because states were allowed to choose among these types, the results were not comparable from state to state,” SREB will report next week.  “Even states using the same type of calculation did not figure the data the same way.”

SREB communications director Richard said the new Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate “likely will be the most accurate high school graduation rate yet and is considered by all to be ‘the gold standard.’   We now have the data systems to track more accurately whether students really transfer between schools and districts and states, or whether they leave school entirely.”

SREB’s “Transitioning to the New High School Graduation Rate” will name Georgia among six southern states that use data effectively and seem well-positioned to change how they report graduation rates.  Others are Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland and Virginia.

“Some SREB states expect their graduation rates will drop when they begin reporting the four-year ACGR,” the report says. “Those states need to focus on direct communication with key constituencies and the media to ensure that messages about what has changed are timely, clear and accurate.”

Now we return you to “great works of art” – Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Lady Gaga!

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

July 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal Improves State Special Charter Schools Funding

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal has approved a financial rescue package that will significantly improve state funding for eight former brick-and-mortar state commission charter schools.  The schools were notified Thursday in an email from the state Department of Education.

Tony Roberts, chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, was elated when he heard the news:  “Governor Deal said at the beginning of this crisis that he was going to take care of the children in these schools and he really made it happen by encouraging the state superintendent to have a streamlined approval process for state special charter schools and now he has seen to it that those schools get full funding.”

What this means on a practical level is eight brick-and-mortar schools that were uncertain about their 2011-2012 financials can open next month assured of funding levels that they would have received from the now defunct Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  The state Supreme Court ruled the commission was unconstitutional in a widely controversial May decision.

“The state will forward fund the bricks-and-mortar state-chartered special schools for an amount equal to the average local share they would have received if they were locally approved,” said Louis Erste, charter schools division director at the state Department of Education, adding that will bring revenue to “the same amount they would have received as a locally-approved charter school in their approved attendance zone.”

Those eight brick-and-mortar schools are Atlanta Heights Charter in Atlanta, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, Cherokee Charter Academy in Canton, Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia, Fulton Leadership Academy in south Fulton County, Heritage Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, Odyssey School in Newnan and Pataula Charter Academy in Edison.

Governor Nathan Deal

“We don’t know the exact dollar figure at this point,” said Erin Hames, Governor Deal’s deputy chief of staff for policy, “but (the Governor’s Office) had to make a quick decision because some of these schools were set to meet tomorrow to determine whether they could keep their doors open this fall.”

Roberts said it is his understanding the cost to the state is uncertain.  Mark Peevy, former executive director of the defunct charter schools commission, had estimated about $10 million.  But since Peevy made that estimate this spring two schools – Heron Bay Academy and Provost Academy – decided they will not open until the 2012 – 2013 school year.

Roberts also said he believes this is a one-year fix: “There is no commitment that this will continue beyond this first year.”   The decision to improve funding for brick-and-mortar state charter schools does not impact the online learning state charter special schools such as Georgia Cyber Academy and Georgia Connections Academy.

Two brick-and mortar schools – Ivy Preparatory Academy in Gwinnett County and the Museum School of Avondale Estates in DeKalb County – accepted local school district charters.

Ivy Prep and Museum School funding already includes local share dollars for their students who reside in the counties that granted charters.  To illustrate how complicated this has become; Ivy does not have full funding guaranteed for students who reside outside Gwinnett County.  That is still unresolved.  Ivy draws students from several metro counties, including DeKalb.

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

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Khaatim El: Scandal Tests “Whether Soul of Atlanta Has Been Truly Stirred”

Mike Klein

Former Atlanta Public Schools board chairman Khaatim S. El released a statement Monday evening after his resignation from the APS board.  El presided over the board during its most controversial hours when the board was largely considered dysfunctional and the city found itself under a national microscope for one of the worst test cheating scandals on record.  Here is the complete text of the former board chairman’s statement:

“Dear neighbor and friend,

“I struggled tonight at the Board meeting to find the words to express how I feel. I take no solace in knowing that my beliefs have been confirmed by the recent report issues by the State of Georgia.  But in the end, whether right or wrong, the conclusion is the same – I failed to protect thousands of children (children who mostly come from homes similar to mine).

“I for one don’t want to see this Board go back to the so-called 2009 “Board of Excellence” because that Board failed to protect children who were cheated by this school district. That Board was told to stop asking questions and to stop visiting schools.

“In the end, that Board fell for a “micromanaging” ruse perpetrated upon it. Ultimately, it took civil disobedience to challenge the status quo and to get to this very uncomfortable, but necessary, day.  With that said, I’m confident that this Board under Brenda Muhammad’s leadership and its new Superintendent Erroll Davis will coalesce and do what’s best for children.

Khaatim S. El

“It remains to be seen, however, whether the soul of Atlanta has been truly stirred – Atlanta is facing a genuine crisis of character, character that is decaying because of fear, intimidation and retaliation.

“I believe three questions should haunt Atlanta for the foreseeable future:

“1)    Why was the cheating scandal so exclusively pronounced for some children and not for others (splitting sharply along racial lines) and yet equal in its mistreatment of the poor and disenfranchised? Why were these children – mostly low income and African-American – so cavalierly denied access to America’s promise?

“2)    How did we – the elected officials, business leaders, and the system itself – become complicit in, through our actions and in our silence, a deal with the Devil that sold out a generation of children for the sake of the city’s image and the district’s “perception of success?”

“3)    Who, in the end, benefited from this collusion? Why did powerful people use their positions to punish those who dared to speak out? Why was legislation created to expressly limit the voice of the electorate, the people? What was behind the decision to place into law a provision to “restrict the powers of the Board” as outlined in the APS Charter?

“If Atlanta is lucky, these questions will force the community to confront a long overdue and difficult conversation about race, class and power. And while some people will proclaim that we must move forward now to put this episode behind us, for the sake of the kindergarten classes that starts next year and the year after that, Atlanta will have to be uncomfortable for a while before we can truly claim victory.

“It has been said that “A man should be able to find an education by taking the broad highway. He should not have to take by-roads through the woods and follow winding trails through sharp thickets, in constant tension because of the pitfalls and traps, and after years of effort, perhaps obtain the threshold of his goal when he is past caring about it.” A parent right here in this auditorium demanded such; I just hope she was heard.

“To my colleagues and for the courageous acts of Brenda Muhammad, Courtney English, Nancy Meister, and Yolanda Johnson you have demonstrated that against all odds, you will hold steadfast to your oath of office and act boldly when it comes to the welfare of children entrusted in your care. It is on your shoulders that this challenge now rests.

“To my neighbors, friends and supporters, thank you. You gave me the voice to speak out, even when it was unpopular to do so. You demanded that I stand when others suggested I sit. Thank you, for the chance to serve, to grow, to learn, and the opportunity to do what’s right.

“What I wasn’t able to do for children in Atlanta, I hope to accomplish in the city of Newark where I’ve been asked to help lead Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s contribution of $100M to turn around that city’s schools.

“With that, I am announcing my resignation as a member of the Atlanta Board of Education, effective immediately at the adjournment of this meeting. The general counsel is prepared to brief the Board on the process for naming my successor to serve until the November municipal election.

“Warmest regards, Khaatim S. El”

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

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal Claims Four Area School Superintendents

Mike Klein

Vigorous reinvention of the scandal plagued Atlanta Public Schools system executive leadership team continued Monday evening when four area superintendents were replaced and the immediate past board of education president resigned.

All four area superintendents were named in a test cheating report released last week by Governor Nathan Deal and special prosecutors.  Four middle and elementary school principals will replace the ousted area superintendents.  At least 183 APS personnel were implicated in the report; all are being removed from classroom or teaching supervision assignments.

Atlanta interim superintendent Erroll Davis announced the changes during a board meeting just a few hours after his appearance before the Atlanta Rotary Club.  Davis was joined at Rotary by special prosecutors Mike Bowers and Bob Wilson whose test-cheating scandal team included dozens of Georgia Bureau of Investigations agents along with private law firm attorneys and other staff.

Ousted area superintendents Tamara Cotman, Robin Hall, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts were named in the report, which is the result of an investigation that began last August.  All four reported to APS system superintendent Beverly Hall, who is subject to possible criminal prosecution.  Hall retired at the end of June.

Former APS board chair Khaatim S. El released a lengthy statement upon his resignation.  In part, El said three questions “should haunt Atlanta for the foreseeable future.”  They include:

1)    “Why was the cheating scandal so exclusively pronounced for some children and not for others (splitting sharply along racial lines) and yet equal in its mistreatment of the poor and disenfranchised?  Why were these children – mostly low income and African – American – so cavalierly denied access to America’s promise?”

2)    “How did we – the elected officials, business leaders, and the system itself – become complicit in, through our actions and in our silence, a deal with the Devil that sold out a generation of children for the sake of the city’s image and the district’s “perception of success?”

3)    “Who, in the end, benefited from this collusion?  Why did powerful people use their positions to punish those who dared to speak out?  Why was legislation created to expressly limit the voice of the electorate, the people?  What was behind the decision to place into law a provision to “restrict the powers of the Board” as outlined in the APS Charter?”

The third series of questions refers to a new Georgia state law passed this year that would allow the Governor’s Office to remove members of the Atlanta Public Schools board of education.

El was a controversial board chairman.  He pushed questions about how the school district was responding to media reports about cheating on standardized tests.  Hall steadfastly insisted that no cheating occurred, but that was refuted by the ten-month special prosecutors’ investigation.

Backwash from the Atlanta scandal has reached all the way down into DeSoto, Texas.  Monday evening the Desoto Independent School Board placed its new superintendent on indefinite paid leave after one day on the job.  Kathy Augustine is a former APS deputy superintendent. Augustine was named in the special prosecutors report.  She has denied any wrongdoing.

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

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Bowers: APS High School Graduation Rates “May Have Some Fallibility”

Mike Klein

When the Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal investigation was released last week one section implied some business community sectors were more interested in protecting the city’s brand than in getting out all the test-cheating facts.  Now the two special prosecutors who ran the investigation are saying the business community has no choice: It must stay involved.

“Just because something has gone wrong does not mean that the business community should back up and get out of the game,” former DeKalb County district attorney Bob Wilson said at a Monday luncheon.  “No.  It means you do what you do with your own business when there’s a setback.  You stay in the game (and) you work harder but do it with your eyes wide open.”

Wilson and former state Attorney General Mike Bowers took no questions last Tuesday when they joined Governor Nathan Deal at a news conference.  On Monday they said more than 183 persons who have been already identified were involved in cheating.  “I will guarantee you there are many more than that because we ran into a wall of silence,” said Bowers, “a wall of silence that grew out of an atmosphere of fear and retaliation.  That’s all you can call it.”

The test cheating scandal was launched by former Governor Sonny Perdue last August to investigate 2009 state competency tests given in Atlanta elementary and middle public schools.  There was no high school component, but during questions Monday a Rotary Club guest inquired about possible problems inside city high schools.

“There were things that came to our attention that gave us some concerns, yes,” Bowers said. “The high school graduation rates may have some fallibility.”  Atlanta public high schools posted a 39 percent graduation rate in spring 2002, according to state Department of Education data.  Three years later in 2005 the city claimed a 71.7 percentage rate.  It was 66.3 percent in 2010.

Erroll Davis, the former University System chancellor who has a one-year assignment to clean up Atlanta public schools, said Monday that graduation rate calculations “are works of art, quite frankly.  They keep changing processes and numbers,” Davis told the Rotary luncheon.  “I believe the state will be adopting a new standard and everybody’s graduation rate will be lower.”

Monday evening the Atlanta Public Schools board of education was scheduled to take action on 183 named APS educators in the Bowers-Wilson report.  Davis has said they will not be allowed to return to classrooms.  “They have forfeited the right to be in front of children,” Davis said.

District attorneys in Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas county district attorneys are making decisions on criminal charges.  Bowers said investigators conducted 2,100 interviews, including some people more than once.  “You never get the required information in the first interview,” he said. Several hundred subpoenas were issued and more than 800,000 documents reviewed.

“What caused it?”  Wilson rhetorically asked.  “We originally went in wondering how much the (salary) bonus incentives played in this process and we determined in the end, relatively little.”

Wilson added, “The pressure to keep one’s job, the pressure not to be publicly humiliated (at) teachers’ or principals’ meetings, the pressure to not be put on a professional development plan as if it were a weapon vs. an instructional tool weighed immensely heavy in the process and was without question, the overriding factor.”

Davis stepped into the frying pan, knowing full well what to expect, when he became Atlanta schools interim superintendent on July 1, just one day after his University system retirement.  A newly reconstituted city schools board gave him a one-year contract after the cheating report.

Davis has begun to dismantle the administration of retired superintendent Beverly Hall, who was blamed in the Bowers-Wilson report for creating a culture that led to classroom corruption.  On the elementary and middle school tests, that included teachers voicing answers, pointing out the answers, seeing the tests and then teaching the answers and allowing more than allotted time.  Hall and others from her administration could face criminal charges.

“Leadership is accountable,” Davis said.  “All problems are leadership problems.  All problems are management problems and that is where we will solve them.”  Atlanta year-round schools reopen this week and all public schools resume session next month.

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

July 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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