The conflicts of interest and influence of corporations that stand to profit from high-stakes testing and school privatization efforts has long dominated the misnamed education reform movement. That movement’s real goals are to destroy classic public education and replace it with profitable ventures that play a curious game of roulette with the lives of children.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Georgia. Recently, we learned that Erin Hames, Gov. Nathan Deal’s education minion, is leaving her job. In her new role, she’ll be paid $96,000 a year by the Atlanta Public Schools system to help it avoid becoming a victim of the Opportunity School District plan which Hames developed and rammed through the state legislature. If voters approve the OSD plan next year, the state will have the power to take over failing schools and either turn them into charter schools or shut them down.
If that isn’t sleazy, I don’t know what is. Hames engineered the entire Opportunity School District, complete with junkets to New Orleans and Nashville for key legislators, testimony before committees in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and God only knows what other dealing. So now, she will go to work for the other side, helping Atlanta’s school system — and any other districts with the money to hire her — avoid what she worked so hard to bring upon them.
Hames’ credentials as an education expert aren’t at all strong. She taught for three years, then went to law school. Upon completion of her law degree, she immediately went to work on education issues for former Gov. Sonny Perdue. She stayed on with Deal, rising to deputy chief of staff and taking the lead on education issues.
Teaching for three years doesn’t move anyone beyond rookie status. And I don’t know of anyone who goes to law school to become an education expert.
But it gets worse. Hames’ new consulting company filed its corporate papers on Aug. 5, just four business days before the Atlanta Board of Education’s Aug. 11 vote on her no-bid contract. That vote that came just one day after Deal’s office announced Hames’ departure, effective at the end of August.
The agreement with Atlanta Public Schools calls for Hames’ company to, among other things, “Consult on matters of policy, legislation and political strategy; Consult in developing strategies for chronically low performing schools in the district, to include those schools presently on the OSD-eligibility list.”
It further calls for her to carry out lobbying functions and help the district develop its own legislative priorities. The agreement says there will be an evaluation at the end of the one-year contact period, but doesn’t outline any criteria for such evaluation.
I can see it now: Hames huddled with APS officials helping them strategize how to keep their 27 OSD-target schools out of the hands of the governor’s office. Hames huddled with legislators trying to convince them that she didn’t mean APS schools when she painted the dramatic pictures of “failing schools” and the pitiful children who were their “victims.”
This is how the self-selected “education reformers” operate. Their motive is profit and personal advancement. They love the idea of schools run by private organizations, staffed with uncertified teachers, cherry-picking the easy students and leaving the most vulnerable students behind. Unproven, invalid standardized tests drive every decision.
It is disgusting. It is immoral. It is repugnant to every American ideal of community, mutual support and benefit and democratic rule. It defies the values of local control in favor of centralized, easily managed power — all the while claiming “it’s for the children.”
It’s high time we kicked them all out and made them earn an honest living — as far from our schools as we can get them.
Myra Blackmon, a local Banner-Herald columnist, holds a master of education degree from the University of Georgia. She works as a freelance writer, consultant and instructional designer.