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Posted: 3:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Why are we still waiting for more school choice?

By Kyle Wingfield

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The sad thing about the cheating scandal at Atlanta Public Schools during much of the past decade is that APS wasn’t alone. There was also Dougherty County.

The sad thing about the racketeering charges former APS chief Beverly Hall faces in the wake of the scandal is that she isn’t the only ex-superintendent awaiting trial. There’s also former DeKalb schools leader Crawford Lewis.

The sad thing about the infighting and incompetence among the DeKalb school board members Lewis left behind is that they aren’t the only board in recent history to threaten their system’s accreditation. Before DeKalb there were the Clayton County and APS boards.

The sad thing about all these scandals is that they don’t engulf the only school systems in Georgia where students’ opportunity to get a quality education is at risk. It takes many poor performers to produce the low state educational rankings Georgia routinely suffers.

But the saddest thing of all is the continued delay from state lawmakers, and outright obstructionism from some in Georgia’s education establishment, in giving students and parents real options to escape such dysfunction.

If it’s been awhile since you thought about the APS scandal, one of the details that might have stood out in the indictment filed last Friday against Hall and 34 other APS educators is that the alleged conspiracy dated back to mid-2005. Though results on the 2009 state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests sparked the AJC investigation that brought the story to light, cheating on the CRCT began no later than 2006.

Imagine you were a conscientious parent of an eighth-grader at Parks Middle School in 2008. When your child was a sixth-grader, in 2006, she and her classmates passed the math portion of the CRCT at just a 45 percent clip. That was good for 382nd out of the 469 Georgia middle schools administering that test that year.

By the eighth grade, however, 81 percent of her classmates passed the CRCT math exam, launching them to 60th in the rankings. That’s the kind of success parents want to believe about their kids, as statistically improbable as it was.

But imagine you didn’t buy it. Imagine you doubted the gains were real, whether that meant cheating or simply the dumbing-down of standards. (You would have been correct: By 2012, the “gains” completely disappeared.)

Odds are, in a school where the vast majority of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, you would have been unable to afford to send your daughter anywhere else.

Today the situation is somewhat better for this hypothetical Parks parent. A couple of charter schools have opened nearby, though they have a limited number of desks available. Or your child might be able to receive a partial scholarship funded by a state tax-credit program.

Beyond that, you — and the majority of Georgia parents — are out of luck.

That must change.

If there was ever a time our traditional public schools, and the people who run them, could claim the moral high ground against measures to give students and parents more choice, it has long since passed. Georgia’s children shouldn’t have to wait for their district attorney (in the cheating cases) or their governor (in the cheating and dysfunctional school-board cases) to intervene.

They need their lawmakers to expand educational freedom now.

Instead, last month legislators argued about whether to expand the tax-credit scholarship program by $5 million or $12 million next year. They chose the smaller figure, in deference to public schools that lately have treated us to board-member removals and perp walks.

Less than a year after Georgia voters approved the charter schools amendment by a sizable margin of victory — most sizable in those areas where public-school dysfunction is worst — that’s all the momentum our lawmakers were willing to seize.

The kids at places like Parks Middle School, places the adults in the education establishment have turned into dead-ends, deserve better.

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