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Posted: January 29, 2013 8:41 p.m.

We bought the charter hype

An article in the AJC last week noted that $2.7 million was spent by proponents of the charter school amendment as compared with $262,822 spent by those who opposed the amendment. Among those who contributed to the proponent campaign were K12 Inc. and Charter Schools USA, both for profit companies that manage charter schools. Walmart heiress Alice Walton contributed $600,000. Other large contributors were StudentsFirst of Sacramento, Calif., American Federation for Children, PublicSchoolsOptions.org of Arlington, Va. Please notice that very little, if any, of the money spent to advocate for this amendment was local. Also please note that the majority of the money came from companies which would stand to make money from charter schools. This money was not donated in a spirit of altruism. They were not concerned about the quality of education for the children of Georgia; they were concerned about their own pocket books.


Conversely, the money opposing the amendment came from the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Federation of Teachers. Yes, these people also have a monetary interest in the amendment. But not as large a one. Most school superintendents and school board members will retain their positions even if a charter school is started in their district. That cannot be said for teachers. As long as the premise of the charter is approved, the charter school is not required to hire certified or even college-trained teachers.


The majority of the money spent in advocating the passage of the amendment was used for TV advertisements. We saw happy young children, black and white, male and female, exclaim how awful their old schools were and how much better the charter schools they are now in are. They praised the discipline of their new schools and the amount of knowledge they were gaining.


Who can resist such testimonials? Who wants to deny a child the best education possible?


I am reminded of a TV ad where a young woman is standing on the curb waiting for her date, a French model. She met him on the Internet. She exclaims that if something is on the Internet, it must be true because “they” can’t put anything on the Internet if it is not true. Then her date comes slouching up and cannot even pronounce “bonjour” correctly. He is obviously not a model. She happily goes off with his arm around her shoulders.


The point of the advertisement, obviously, is that you need to do your research and that everything on the Internet is not true.


It should be equally obvious that you need to do your research about TV advertising because everything that is in a TV advertisement may not be true.


We are skeptical of advertisements that promise to help us lose weight magically with no dieting or exercising. We are skeptical of advertisements that offer us products that will cure all our ills or products that take all the drudgery out of cooking. Just one small payment and shipping and handling will get us what we need. We can even get the second one free if we just pay another shipping handling fee.


What the advertisement does not tell you is that the shipping and handling fee is generally more than the cost of whatever you are considering ordering.


Why were we not skeptical of the advertisements for the charter school amendment? Why did we buy the hype? Basically, we allowed ourselves to be brainwashed by out-of-state money.


We didn’t do our research. And TV news did not do it for us. The AJC did, in the weeks before the election, report the amount of money that was spent to promote the amendment and how much of it came from out of state. TV news, given its time restraints, cannot give you a full story. An hour news show probably has only about 35 minutes of actual news; the rest is advertisements and cute banter as they move from one story to another.
I know I work for a newspaper and am biased, but I prefer to read my news and go back over what I don’t understand and get the details available. I don’t have the news read to me; I read it.

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at ptravis@covnews.com.

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