Success of Georgia ‘Rewards Schools’ underscores charter debate
by Don McKee
November 02, 2012 12:56 AM | 2767 views | 1 1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
Three cheers for the seven schools in Cobb and Marietta recognized as “highest performing” or for “high progress” in graduation rates and state assessment tests.

The schools are on a list of “Reward Schools” in Georgia, announced by the state department of education. Their progress is notable because these are Title I schools that have high numbers of low income students with the special challenges relating to their circumstances in life.

Making the list of “highest performing” schools were Westside Elementary in the Marietta system, while Sawyer Elementary made “high progress” status. Five Cobb schools made the “high progress” list: Fair Oaks Elementary, Lindley Elementary, Sky View Elementary, Austell Intermediate and Osborne High.

State schools Superintendent John Barge called these schools “shining examples of what we can achieve in public education in Georgia.” It’s an apt description of the hard work of teachers and students in schools that face tremendous challenges. These public schools, derisively called “government schools” by some critics, are succeeding in spite of all the difficulties.

This success story comes amid the hot debate now underway concerning the proposed state constitutional amendment to empower the state to override local districts that deny charter applications. As I have said before, charter schools are fine, but the proposed amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot should be voted down because it takes away local control that has long been enshrined in the Georgia Constitution.

At this critical time for local control, the progress of the “Reward Schools” underscores the vital role of public education in serving all segments of the population — including children whose parents are not engaged like those who can choose a charter school or help in starting one. Are there problems with public schools? Of course, and many times they have been pointed out in this column and this newspaper. But again, the solution must be found in holding elected school board members accountable through the political process — not in changing the state constitution in order to create a politically appointed commission to rule on and overrule local districts with respect to charter schools.

As this issue heated up a couple of months ago, Barge came out in opposition to the proposed amendment — and in opposition to his fellow Republicans. The GOP power structure, led by Gov. Nathan Deal, has gone all out in support of the amendment. Barge threw his support behind fixing what’s wrong with the public schools — starting with getting all of them back to a full 180-day school year with restoration of essential services including transportation, student support and full pay for teachers.

Until that happens, Barge said, not another dollar should be redirected from local school districts, and definitely not an additional $430 million instate funds over the next five years for the average of seven new state charter schools per year. And he opposed “a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools.”

Barge is right. Proposed Amendment 1 is wrong. It’s that simple.

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Off Balance
November 02, 2012
Just one man's opinion, but I believe Barge to be an honest man who tells us what is good for Georgia's school system.
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