Georgia Has Something on Its Mind

When voters in Georgia go to the polls, they face another decision besides Clinton versus Trump…

Have You Heard heads to Georgia where voters are about to decide whether to give the governor the authority to create a new Opportunity School District. Proponents say Amendment 1 is a way to help kids, opponents say that everything about the ballot question is misleading—down to the words that introduce the question to voters before they vote: *Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.* Because nothing brings the community together like a state takeover!

Note: Since I traveled to Atlanta, Amendment 1 has imploded in the polls. I think if you listen in to what these parents and voters have to say, you’ll hear why. Thanks for listening!

Aaron French: Hey, everyone. Welcome to this addition of Have You Heard, I’m Aaron French.


I’m Jennifer Berkshire. Aaron, I can tell by your, somewhat far away sound, that you must be in the remote Have You Heard production studios.
French: I am indeed, in a very super secret location.
Berkshire: Do you know where I am?
French: There’s definitely something different about your voice. I can’t quite place it.
Berkshire: If you’re picking up on a slight southern accent, it’s not because I’m making fun of you. I’m in Georgia.
French: What are you doing down there?
Berkshire: I headed down to Georgia with my microphone because there’s a hotly contested question on the ballot that voters are going to be weighing in on. They’re voting on whether to amend the state constitution to give the Governor the power to take over struggling schools.
French: My understanding is what makes this really unique is that it’s the first time in history that any state has put this kind of question on a ballot for elections.
Berkshire: That’s correct, and what I discovered as I went around and talked to people who are directly affected by the question is that they have a lot to say.
French: Let’s hear from them then.
Berkshire: When voters in Georgia go to the polls, they face another decision besides Clinton versus Trump. They’ll also be weighing in on a single divisive sentence. Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the State to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance? Got that?
Kimberly Brookes: You’re changing the Georgia constitution, that is major.
Berkshire: By amending the state constitution voters will the State the authority to take over some 140 struggling Georgia schools. It’s called an Opportunity School District, modeled on what happened with the New Orleans public schools after Katrina. While these independent state-run districts are now popping up around the country, what makes Georgia different is that it’s the first time the question has been put before voters. You can put parent advocate and Atlanta native Kimberly Brooks down as a no.
Brookes: It’s just misleading. Pretty simple, should the Governor’s Office intervene for failing schools. There are psychological triggers. That’s my own view of that. When you think of failing, that’s horrible. You think of these little kids. You think of the teacher. “Oh, my god, yes” but “no” because what is not said is very broad. How are you defining failing?
Berkshire: If you want to see just how intense the debate over Amendment 1 has gotten, go no further that a discussion around the preamble. Those are the 14 words on the ballot that introduce the school takeover plan to voters. “Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.”
Brookes: What does this mean? Will the parent be able to have a voice over a school in their area? If you’re a parent and you’re a tax payer and you contribute a lot to your taxes, do you want to not even have a say-so in your superintendent because they are going to be appointed? Do you not want to have any say-so in the operations and the spending of the school? Because you’ll lose those rights. Do you know that?
Berkshire: The answers to these questions are buried deep in the legislation that will go into effect if voters approve Amendment 1. With new powers the State can step in and close schools with persistently low test scores. It can turn them over to charter operators, it could run the schools directly or jointly with the local school board.
The decisions will largely be in the hands of a state-appointed superintendent. In other words, it’s complicated and, as Brooks sees it, political.
Brookes: Some of my, and I say my parents because they are mine, they’re hard working people, and they have a lot of other challenges. If the school system has the responsibility to do it. They should not be concerned about when their child goes to school any politics in one of the, supposed to be, most safest places and sacred structures, elementary school.
Berkshire: Brooks started advocating for parents back in 2012 when the Atlanta public schools closed a dozen schools. Community meetings were held for parent input. She says that even though parents spoke up, they weren’t heard. She’s worried that the Governor’s school take-over plan will eliminate the little voice that her parents do have.
Brookes: I decided to become an advocate because a lot the parents that I served as a PTA president, it was an eye opener for me. I didn’t realize the social problems that they had that influenced their ability to be involved in their children’s lives and to even understand what quality education looks like. I felt that it was my responsibility to start advocating for parents.
Berkshire: The question of whether of amend the Georgia constitution will be decided by voters across the state. The schools that dominate the take-over list are largely congregated in and around Atlanta. They have something else in common too. According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the schools on the list are attended by students who are overwhelmingly African American and low income.
Valerie Williams: Washington High was established in 1924. It was the first African American high school in the southeast. People came from far and near to matriculate here. We’ve had proud alumnus such as Martin Luther King, Jr. We have Lena Horne. We have Pearlie Dove, Nipsey Russell, Louis Sullivan.
Berkshire: That’s Valerie Williams. She’s a alumni of Booker T. Washington High School on Atlanta’s west side. It’s been on and off the list of schools that could, potentially, be taken over. It’s not the only historic African American school whose fate hangs in the balance.
Williams: What this would means for us is that, how can a state even allow a school that’s on the National Historic Registry be even in this place? That’s not only the Booker T. Washington, it’s the Frederick Douglass, it’s the Benjamin E. Mays. The schools of whom are named after great African Americans. How can you not be intentional about the success of these schools?
Berkshire: When Williams thinks about community involvement she has in mind the huge community of people who attended historic black schools like Booker T. Washington. While voters may be determining the future of these schools, Williams says their potential take-over is also a threat to the past.
Williams: What this would mean to us is our 90+ years of legacy and history would be gone. There is no other school, there is no other place in the world like our Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia.
Berkshire: If creating a state-run school district that scoops up struggling schools isn’t the answer, what is? Williams says that when she looks at successful schools in the Atlanta area, she sees a clear difference.
Williams: What I believe we need is the same equitable resources that schools that are being successful have. If we receive the equitable amount of resources in personnel that have made the north side successful, we would be successful.
Berkshire: Williams would also like to see the Governor whose the driving force behind the Opportunity School District, focus much more on the communities around the schools especially at a time when neighborhoods like hers in west Atlanta are gentrifying rapidly. It’s poorest residents risk being left behind or pushed out altogether.
Williams: If the Governor was very intentional about really pulling people up from the bootstrap, it’s not just education. You have to go into these communities. You have to show people a difference. You have to show people without displacing them.
Berkshire: By now you’re probably getting the sense that the debate over Amendment 1 in Georgia isn’t just about struggling schools or accountability. It’s about history and resources, who gets to make decisions and, above all, it’s about race. Take one of the ads that’s been airing in favor of the ballot question.
Audio of Yes on 1 Campaign ad: I think it’s devastating that there’s 68,000 children that are in failing schools.
Our children cannot wait for a good education. They deserve a good education.
The Opportunity School District is not going to affect those that are already doing well.
This is an opportunity to help those students that have been failing for decades.
I just can’t imagine what those other parents have to go through. That’s why I’m voting yes for the Opportunity School District.
Vote “yes” on Question 1.
Kent McGuire: Even in the advertising that’s on television and, now, you have a person on camera, basically, saying to us, “Don’t worry, you can vote for this. This is about other people’s kids.”
Berkshire: Kent McGuire is the head of the Southern Education Foundation, a group that got it’s start 150 years ago as part of the effort to help Blacks in the South assimilate after the Civil War. He says that he can’t help but recall Georgia’s past when he considers the proposal to set up a separate school district for students who are overwhelmingly poor and African American.
McGuire: It makes you worry that this is about creating a dual system, not about creating one really high quality system for all kids. It does make you worry about that a lot.
Berkshire: The campaign to sell Amendment 1 to voters is heavy on feel-good buzz words, opportunity, achievement, accountability. McGuire says he’s noticed one notable omission. There’s no talk about what schools that are part of the Opportunity School District will actually do. Nothing about teaching or learning.
McGuire: There is no underlying vision for teaching and learning that has been expressed here or revealed, none. I don’t think people, the architects of this, believe we have a design problem in our education system. They just think we have a managerial one. That is the tip of the iceberg, is the point I would want to make.
Berkshire: Amendment 1 is running strong among backers of Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal. They’re not the only ones who support it. Priscilla Davenport says that while many of her DeKalb County neighbors are opposing the Opportunity School District, you can put her down as a “yes” vote.
Priscilla Davenport: For me, as a parent, I feel that I know what has not worked in more than 10 years. I’m willing to make a change, to try something new.
Berkshire: Davenport grew up in this metro-Atlanta county, and she says she can still recall a time when it’s schools were a draw.
Davenport: When I was younger and living in DeKalb County School District was the top school district. Everyone was moving to attend the schools in DeKalb County.
Berkshire: Today, though, Davenport’s daughter attends a high school that’s on the state take-over list. Davenport says she chose to send her daughter to the school instead of a charter or magnet because it had been slated to undergo a transformation. Four years in, she’s frustrated that not much seems transformed.
Davenport: The education level did not really increase even though the funding and the programs were put in place. A lot of those things, maybe they just didn’t work. I’m not sure but, for sure, the education level of the school did not increase. The enrollment dropped because a lot of people after seeing that, they decided to take their children to other schools.
Berkshire: Davenport says when she looks at the list of schools that could be taken over by the State, she notices something else they share besides the demographics of the students. Few of them have really active and engaged parents.
Davenport: If you check the research on parent involvement, most of the passing schools have high parental involvement and welcoming parents and gathering parents and doing things with parents and involving parents in the educational process of their children.
Berkshire: Listening to Davenport, I’m struck by just how much she sounds like parent advocate Kimberly Brooks who’s leading the charge against Amendment 1. If Brooks fears for what a state take over will mean for parental involvement in the future, Davenport says schools like her daughter’s make it way too hard for parents to make their voices heard now.
Davenport: I did realize that as parents are actively involved in the school, it’s always not a welcome door with the leadership. When you are going in school and you’re participating and you’re being very active in your child’s education life, that’s not always wanted on a higher level.
Berkshire: Davenport says she’s under no illusion that a state run take-over will be a cure-all to the problems confronting schools like those in DeKalb County. In fact, she’s aware that similar efforts in other states have been controversial and have produced, at best, mixed results.
Davenport: No one knows whether this will work or not but we are hoping that it will work if it pass because, at least, it opens a door for our community to address education.
Berkshire: Even staunch Amendment 1 opponent Kent McGuire says he has to give the Governor some credit for raising the issue of how best to educate students in Georgia who need the most help.
McGuire: We’re not saying schools that aren’t performing well don’t need help, we do. Let me commend the Governor for taking an interest in the lowest performing schools in Georgia. He was right to do so. The real question is, what’s the best way to do that.
Berkshire: Thanks for tuning into another installment of Have You Heard. If my math is correct, that brings us up to episode #8 which means that our 10-part series is almost over. If you really like what you’ve been hearing and maybe want to encourage us to do more, or have ideas about episodes we haven’t touched on, this would be a good time to drop us a line. You can find us on Twitter. I’m @EduShyster, and Aaron is @AaronMoFoFrench. Until next time, I’m Jennifer Berkshire, and that’s what we’ve heard.

The People’s Sauce is Deepest Red

Editor’s note: When I encountered one Gochu-Juan on Twitter, I could hardly believe my good fortune. Here at last one was someone who described himself as a *one-stop shop for fusion recipes, angry socialist politics, and education policy.* And so I extended a invitation. Would Gochu-Juan consider writing something that combined all of these loves into one edible delight that I might share on this page? Happily, he accepted my challenge and, in what I will hope will be merely the first dish of a multi-course meal, the fruits of his deep red labors appear below…

By Gochu-Juan
The people’s sauce is deepest red – or, at least, it will be, if I have anything to say about it.

Displaying (5) Buldak Pastelón - 5.jpgWhile I understand that the agreement that the Chicago Teachers Union was able to strike with Chicago Public Schools a week and a half ago isn’t quite perfect, the fact that teachers were able to flex enough working muscle to force a large public school district to actually negotiate inspired me to try and honor CTU’s victory with the angriest, most passionate red sauce I could find.

First, I tried various things based off of roasted red peppers, figuring the darker tint from the oven would help, but there was no way to turn them into sauce that didn’t come out looking orange.

In my desperation, I stumbled upon Maangchi’s recipe for chijeu-buldak, which involved three of my favorite things: chicken, mozzarella cheese, and most importantly, gochujang, the thick, dark red pepper paste used for a lot of Korean cooking.

Then, like a jolt from my favorite Korean chili paste, I remembered my mission—to synthesize Korean and Puerto Rican cooking into a glorious, red-gold apotheosisand the light went off.

Pastelón, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the closest thing Puerto Ricans have to lasagna. It’s a layered dish of plantains, meat, cheese, and various other ingredients, depending on what you want to do with it. The starchy yuca I planned to use would certainly do for a *spice sink,* counteracting the heat of the deep, dark red sauce that I was after.

Here’s how I did it. Continue reading →

How Joy Became the New Grit

Schools are increasingly manipulating students’ emotions in the name of achievementand that’s wrong says University of Pennsylvania education professor Joan Goodman…

By Joan Goodman
*No excuses* charter schools face a teaching predicament. Their long school day/year with few diverting extra-curricular activities and heavily rule-impactgoverned pedagogy is tough on students. Inevitably, strict behavior restrictions, aimed not just at controlling common misbehaviors but also behaviors that might lead to misbehavior, result in a gulf between student desires and teacher demands. To close the gulf and avoid constantly admonishing students, charter management organizations have layered onto their culture an expectation that learning is to be approached joyously. Indeed, joy has been elevated to a central value at many CMOs.

The j-factor
Uncommon Schools promotes *joy* as one of its five values; Democracy Prep advertises a *joyous culture* with enthusiasm as one of its DREAM values; Mastery lists *joy and humor* among its nine core values; and Achievement First includes the child’s joy in its assessments of  student progress. Success Academy says that, along with rigor, its schools stress *humor (joy)…making achieving exhilarating and fun!* Meanwhile, KIPP includes joy’s close cousin, *zest,* as one of the seven character strengths on its Character Growth Card. Chicago’s Noble Network has likewise embraced *zest.* According to Doug Lemov, a major source of CMO pedagogy, the Joy Factor, one of his 49 essential techniques, is *a key driver not just of a happy classroom but of a high-achieving classroom…. people work harder…when their work is punctuated regularly by moment of exultation and joy.*

When I first began visiting no excuses schools, I was struck by the striking juxtaposition of teachers presiding over silent class periods during which children diligently followed instructions, only to interrupt them periodically with the demand for reciprocal clapping, rhymed motivational cheers, and choral responses that seemed more appropriate to an athletic or marching event than an academic environment. The effort of schools to whoop up excitement appeared artificial and disingenuous given the often tedious tasks students were assigned, and the passive/receptive role they were, for the most part, expected to assume.

Stimulating this shallow ‘joy’ is, then, just another control technique designed to foster high achievement. Joy has become a ‘character strength,’ like grit, because of the results it produces, not for its own sake.

The intentional artifice is particularly clear in teacher training videos, when leaders like Lemov, or Doug McCurry of Achievement First, talk about how teachers must be skilled at quickly turning arousal on and quickly turning it off so that it serves its purpose – aiding their academic objectives. Stimulating this shallow *joy* is, then, just another control technique designed to foster high achievement. Joy has become a *character strength,* like grit, because of the results it produces, not for its own sake.

Just add sparkle
To elicit joy, the CMOs use emotional arousal techniques such as choral chanting, finger snapping, and gestural sequences. For instance, to lend *sparkle* to a lesson, Lemov advocates the Vegas Technique. This entails breaks from instruction, as brief as 30 seconds, for a ritualized routine loosely associated with the lesson. Students might, for example, do an action-verb shimmy, clap a routine to accompany a pronoun, or perform a vocabulary word charade. Achievement First’s McCurry advises teachers to plan *joyous interludes* by using four chants accompanied with gestures and 10 cheers per class. One chant, for example, is: *hey hey hey, I feel all-right,* followed with a stomp. The phrase is repeated with two stomps, then three stomps and finished off with: *I feel motivated to learn. And graduate college.*

KIPP defines chanting as a key component of *KIPPnotizing,* the process by which students come to identify with the school and its culture. As this student-family handbook from KIPP Triumph Academy, St Louis Middle School explains:

Chanting at KIPP Triumph begins in summer school, where all new students learn a series of school wide chants. For 5th graders, learning to chant their multiplication tables during summer school is an essential part of their KIPPnotizing. Since many of our students arrive so far below grade level, they often have significant deficits in terms of their multiplication facts. However, when set to a chant, students—even our most struggling students—are able to learn all of their times tables in a few weeks.

The following jingles from KIPP are illustrative:


A is for audacious
What could be wrong with teachers using stomps, chants and *sparkle* as a means of generating *joy* in their students? For one, the chants, like those from KIPP have little to do with learning and less to do with education; indeed, they may work against it. Education is not recitation; it is becoming knowledgeable and curious about our human heritage—physical and cultural—about the properties of the universe from atoms to galaxies, about the heights and depths of civilizations, about current threats to the biosphere and the dignity of living beings. History is a dramatic story of events and dilemmas, brave and principled heroes, vain and villainous deeds that should stir reason and emotions. Claps and jingles get in the way of this pursuit. A better antidote to low interest is a fascinating rather than fast-paced, even frantic lesson.

Emotional manipulation?
But there is something more disturbing at work here than abetting memorization rather than deeper learning. Educators at no excuses schools assume the Image result for joyauthority to manufacture emotional states in students in the service of academic achievement, while at the same time disallowing genuine emotional states – anger for example – when they interfere with teaching. They stimulate *joy* so that their students will greet the strict codes of discipline and daunting academic expectations at these schools with eagerness and excitement.  But genuine joy cannot be canned or imposed. As C.S. Lewis described it, true joy is experienced as descending upon us, stabbing us unexpectedly; unlike pleasure, it is not in our power to procure. Real joy must come from within.  While it is possible to set the stage for a joyous experience, it is inauthentic, even manipulative, to demand, regulate, and use *joy* to improve a test score or make students pliant to authority figures.

That is not to say schools shouldn’t plan for fun, have games, skits, songs as a release from work, or sometimes to facilitate rote learning. It is also true that through such activities there is important social learning and opportunities for inventiveness.  But that is qualitatively different from stimulating a culture that imposes bursts of joy, excitement, zest. The harder, more essential, task is to stimulate genuine intrinsic interest in students rather than externally induced transient excitement. We’ve known since Piaget that without significant and authentic input from students themselves, without engagement through interaction, learning will be a collection of evanescent bits and pieces; hardly joyous.

Joan Goodman is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a psychologist. She did an interview with EduShyster in 2013 about The High Cost of No Excuses.

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Apples to Apples

I talk to Richard Whitmire, author of The Founders, about the NAACP moratorium, the *charter pushback movement* and how to measure Success… 

1471902369_3354.png (600×375)EduShyster: Let’s start at the end of your new book, The Founders: Inside the revolution to invent (and reinvent) America’s best charter schools. You wrap up with three challenges facing charter school expansion, one of which is what you call *the charter pushback movement.* It seems to be gaining steam, even since the book came out. How concerned are you about, say, the NAACP moratorium or the Black Lives Matter platform which makes many of the same demands?

Whitmire: I’m concerned about it because any time you start playing race cards it gets a little dicey. I think the unions are pushing any edge that they can get in this battle and they’re doing quite a good job of it. Frankly it doesn’t surprise me at all because if you’re looking at this from a political perspective, in other words, how to build a political base in *x* city, then the traditional school system—forced assignment, no charters—really works out better for you. I saw that in Washington DC when I was doing the Rhee book. Marion Barry had that Department of Education just overflowing with people. It was all part of his political machine. And it worked out really really well for him and it worked out really really well for the people who were employed there. The only people it didn’t work out well for were the kids. But from a political machine point of view, that’s the model you want. That’s the model that’s preferable. So it’s understandable why they’d push for that. But again, you have to look at those who are aspiring to be political leaders or already are and then those parents, and I come back again and again to those 4,000 parents on the waiting list for the Brooke Charter School in Boston. They’re all either Black or Hispanic. Who are you going to listen to: the NAACP or those parents? I choose the latter. Continue reading →

Order in the Court

gavelA lawsuit challenging Massachusetts’ charter school cap on civil rights grounds gets tossed. And that’s not a nothingburger…

No sooner had we been instructed to drain the words *drain* and *siphon* from our collective vocabularies than an order came down on from on high, ordering us to re-instate them. I speak, of course, about this week’s Superior Court decision tossing a lawsuit challenging the Bay State’s charter cap on civil rights grounds. It’s time to head to court, reader. And must I remind you that as t’is now after Labor Day, no white shoes allowed? That is unless you happen to be clad in white bucks on behalf of, well, white bucks. Continue reading →