Simama enters the blogosphere with “Nisha Simama – on education renewal”

Former Board of Education candidate Nisha Simama, who lost handily in the recent election to incumbent Courtney English by  a 23 point margin (61-38%) announced yesterday that she is starting an education blog titled Nisha Simama – on education renewal. As she notes in her blog Bio,

In 2013 she made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Atlanta Board of Education where she ran into opposition from those who support privatization and corporatization of public education.”

Clearly, she has adopted the national mantra espoused by anti-charter school organizations and this could be an interesting perspective from an educator who now is working at the Paideia School, a private school in Atlanta that “was founded in 1971 by parents who wanted an individualized, creative, and intellectually challenging education for their children.”

Per her press release, the blog’s

…purpose is to “be a progressive and independent voice for those who have been silenced, rendered unimportant or invisible in educational ‘reform’ efforts underway in the metropolitan Atlanta area,”

From her first post, titled LIFT EVERY VOICE IN CHARTER SCHOOL DEBATE, Simama writes,

A so-called “reform” effort in public education is being led by those who believe that free market competition will provide better quality education and that the choices provided should be supported with taxpayer dollars. [Comment – public schools include traditional and charter schools – and both are supported with taxpayer dollars.]

Proponents argue that parents should be able to choose schools that fit the needs of their children. [Comment – this sounds eerily similar to why Simama’s current employer – the Paideia School – was formed.]  

Their ultimate goal, and this was crystal clear in the last local election in Atlanta, is to convert all public schools into public and private charter schools. [Comment – I followed the candidate’s statements very closely and I sure did not hear this – in fact, far from it.]

Research shows on average charter schools have about the same success rates as traditional schools. [Comment – it is interesting that Simama points to “research” instead of the actual experience here in Atlanta – I guess it does not fit the narrative.]

Simama goes on to say,

This blog is not anti-charters per se; there are good and bad charters, just like there are good and bad traditional schools. This blog is more concerned about the privatization and corporatization of public education and whose voices get heard in the debate. [Emphasis added]

At this point, I am very confused – is the blog addressing educational reform from a national perspective or as it actually is practiced here and on the ground in Atlanta? My confusion arises as the ‘privatization and corporatization’ labels simply do not apply to APS. For that matter, I would really appreciate it if someone would define how ‘privatization and corporatization’ labels do apply to APS. Maybe Simama will address this in her next post.

She then returns to asking some good questions,

…Where is the Academy in this discussion? Where are the researchers with the real data that expose the affects [sic] of poverty on educational outcomes? Where are the teachers’ organizations that defend teachers from attacks of being uncaring, overpaid, and incapable of helping kids learn? Where are parents who send their kids to low performing schools, but pray that somehow, someway, someday their children will be successful?

But then reverts back to listing out national organizations that raise the ‘specter’ of meddling with the “education bureaucracy” that has served us so well – including the cheating scandal and our 51% graduation rate in Atlanta.

We are facing unparalleled corporate involvement in public education today and it may come at a price—the loss of public education. Even worse, this rich-guy, politician muckety-muck venture into public education means that educational policy is being driven and influenced by individuals and corporations that know little, if anything, about education.

I guess the conclusion alluded to is that we must once again place our confidence in the entrenched “education bureaucracy” that has served us so well.

But then, and it took a while, I think we get to the real point of the article,

Many of these new corporate “reformers” claim to care about what happens to students and care about the future of our communities, while at the same time they provide low wages, inadequate benefits, and undesirable work schedules for their workers… Teachers need professional development, smaller class sizes, better pay and more promising work conditions.

My sense is that the focus is really all about teachers as a special interest group – and not about improved educational outcomes. It is also interesting to note that her opponent in the race campaigned heavily on many of the exact items Simama says teachers need.

If that is the case, then why was the election result so lopsided against Simama?  Voters clearly rejected the ‘national agenda’ scare tactics, rejected fuzzy ideology that was not specific to Atlanta and rejected generalized campaign promises without any specifics on improved educational outcomes.

As they say, read the whole thing here. And a link to her blog is included in the sidebar.

And Ms. Simama – welcome to the blogosphere – I look forward to reading your thoughts and – especially – commenting on them.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

7 Responses to Simama enters the blogosphere with “Nisha Simama – on education renewal”

  1. NishaSimama says:

    As a reader of your blog, a husband and a supporter of a charter school and career academy application in DeKalb County, I would like to point out a couple of problems with your post regarding “Lift Every Voice” by Nisha Simama. First, you seem to delight in her loss, but you fail to point out that she got the second highest votes of all candidates and took almost 4 out of 10 votes. She also picked up prestigious Buckhead endorsements which you wrote about. Her point is all voices (yes, the 38 plus % too) must be heard. She also ran a dignified campaign and refused to attack the obvious ethical challenges of her opponent. Had she chosen the city councilman-elect tactics of Andre Dickens, perhaps she would have won. But that is not who she is.

    Nisha respects charters and private schools but she will not be bought by the special interest of the charter fanatics. But don’t try to confuse your readers on equating private charters with private schools. Private school parents like me pay over $20 grand to send our children to private schools, on top of paying for public education. Private charters want the pubic to pay and they also want relief from all the rules that traditional schools have to play by. You expect your readers to accept on faith that Atlanta charters are different than those around the country, but you offer no evidence. What is good about all of this is that Nisha is making you show your true hand, which is not to follow the money, but to be a covert mouth piece for the privatization of public education.

    Jabari Simama

    • Mr. Simama – First let me say that I appreciate that you are a reader of my blog – I hope that you have found it informative and useful.

      Second, it is also good to know that you are a supporter of some public charter schools, career academies and that you (like myself) had to make a difficult choice when deciding where our children would be educated. It appears we both made the same decision and sent our children to private school because of our concerns regarding the state of public schools – I have written before about this difficult decision and its financial impact on our family. Having said that, I do want to respond to a couple of other issues you raise.

      Quite honestly, I did not delight in Ms. Simama’s loss. As you may be aware, in advance of the election, I committed to stay neutral and did not endorse any candidate as my intent was to provide a comprehensive forum for all the candidates to present their views and let the voters decide – and I abided by that commitment. However, now that the election is over – I will give you my views on her candidacy as they evolved over the election season.

      The first time I heard Ms. Simama speak was at the NAPPS candidate forum. It was one of the first forums held and around 20 candidates came to address voters. After the forum was over, I privately said to my wife that there were three very impressive candidates – and your wife was one of them.

      Ms. Simama was articulate, very knowledgeable and delivered her message in a very professional manner. At the time, I noted that she was someone to watch closely as it was clear to me that, if elected, she would be a forceful and persuasive voice on the Board. In addition, current Board members indicated that, during her prior brief tenure on the Board, she was a great person to work with and was a strong contributor to the process. I also noted at the time that incumbent Courtney English was likely in for the run of his life.

      My admiration continued to expand as the list of prominent endorsements came one after the other and the list of supporters that were hosting the Wednesday meetings was very impressive. But I must admit that something happened along the way.

      As I believed that Ms. Simama would be a strong force on the Board, I wanted to fully understand what direction she would push in. In other words, what were her positions on the key issues the new Board would have to address. I extensively reviewed the statements she made at a number of forums, and quite frankly, while she presented herself really well, I found that her statements lacked any real substance or specifics on the issues she addressed. As I say, it sounded good, but I was unable to decipher what she actually stood for and how her platform would specifically address the critical needs of APS.

      As I did with many of the other candidates, I wanted to privately meet with Ms. Simama to candidly state my concerns regarding what I viewed as a lack of substance in her presentations. She in fact agreed to do so and set a day to meet, but then failed to respond to an email that would have set the time and location. I was disappointed, but the decision was hers and one that I had to abide with. I also found it unfortunate as my sense is that voters choose her opponent for many of the same reasons that raised my concerns about her candidacy.

      Was I delighted that she lost? No – but I must admit that I had some sense of relief as I did not understand what she stood for. However, now that she has more fully voiced her opinion in a way that is no longer constrained by attracting voters, my concerns have been confirmed.

      Regarding your point that “all voices must be heard” – as I noted in my post, Ms. Simama raised some excellent questions in this regard and I support her efforts to provide these “voices” with an outlet so they too can be heard.

      However, my strongest objection to her post – which I hope came out loud and clear – was the manner in which she conflated the national ideological “privatization and corporatization” issues (which she referenced or alluded to six times in an eight paragraph post) with how the public charter school process is conducted in Atlanta. I am all for a debate on public charter schools and am happy to engage fully in one that is focused on what is actually occurring in APS. In my view, the facts should be presented to the public and voters and parents will decide. However, I am not interested in a debate that focuses on “national ideological issues” when convenient and conflates or ignores the facts on the ground.

      In that regard, I accept your criticism that I offered no facts “that Atlanta charters are different than those around the country.” While I have spent a great deal of time looking into the issue, I have not presented in a comprehensive manner all of my findings on the blog. This is an omission that I will correct in the near future.

      However, I hope that you will also accept as a fair criticism of Ms. Simama’s post that she made no attempt to justify her numerous connections between the national agenda of “privatization and corporatization” to how public charter schools are approved and monitored in APS. Hopefully we will hear her analysis on this in the near future as well.

      You also present a concern that “Private charters want the public to pay and they also want relief from all the rules that traditional schools have to play by.” I believe that you are referring to “Privatized Schools”, which PBS defines as (see,

      “Privatized Schools are operated by for-profit companies. The school or school district negotiates a contract with a private firm or education management organization and pays them an amount that varies from district to district. The company pays the school’s operating expenses – and in some cases teacher salaries – and keeps any capital remaining.”

      While you do not need to take my word for it, simply ask any official with responsibility for public charter schools in APS if this exists in Atlanta. I think you will receive the same answer I did – which was a resounding NO.

      And finally to your allegation that now I am exposed as “a covert mouth piece for the privatization of public education.” Please Mr. Simama. There are over 350 posts on this open and public blog – and one of the most recent ones ( speaks to the idea that student educational outcomes should trump many of the arguments on both sides.

      My only response to your charge is – “Heh” – and, if you don’t mind, please pass me one of the conspiratorial tinfoil hats.

  2. Jabari Simama says:

    Mr. Stockwell,

    Thanks for your substantive response. Still, it is difficult for me to believe that you could conclude that a 30-year educator who has taught teacher education to graduate students (like her opponent was until a few months ago) would lack substance in relationship to a 28 year-old TFA alum who only had 5 weeks of teacher training. Campaigns are not only about style, rhetoric, false statements, and empty promises; they should be about a lifetime of commitment to the very issues and people one claims to care about. Nisha has that (and she supports good schools, period. Why else would she have spent 20 years at the Paideia School?). Her opponents don’t want independent thinking; they want control and assurance that they will be able to count on one’s vote when a charter matter comes before the Board. Not exactly buying votes . . . but close to it.

    Your perception that those who are best equipped to serve on a School Board are those who perform better in a 15-20 minute highly controlled and rigid candidate’s forum, attended by virtually no one but the candidate’s nod-squad, and not structured for candidates to engage each other, is beyond my comprehension. Her loss of the election was not about her lacking substance, but it was because those who support charters ensured that her opponent had plenty of campaign cash to compensate for his lack of real experience in life and education. I am sorry that you and Nisha did not get an opportunity to speak more about the issues; perhaps you will now. There are lots of things you can say about Nisha Simama—but no one who knows her would join you in saying that she lacks substance on educational issues. I hope that the two of you continue to dialogue on issues important to education in Atlanta, both in each other’s respective blogs or in real life. In the end, we agree it is about the children of Atlanta and their educational outcomes.

    -Jabari Simama

  3. mustsleep says:

    There is no such thing as for-profit charters in the state of GA. It’s illegal. If people think a not-for-profit charter is a for-profit charter in disguise, then they should do their due diligence and then report the school to the board of ed. To make sweeping generalizations about either traditional-publics or charter-publics (by def. not-for-profit in GA) seems counter productive to me as a taxpayer looking for the biggest bang for my buck.

    I am immediately turned off by conspiracy theorists from both sides of the aisle, personally. This city needs education experts who bring a variety of perspectives to the table based on fact, not fantasy. Do we not have enough very alarming real-world issues at hand in this city? Do we need to layer on vast, internecine conspiracies?

    Alice Jonsson

  4. mustsleep says:

    I think it’s also important to point out that the GA DOE considers HQCS (high quality charter schools) to be schools that are “independent from the authorizer (local, state) and EMO, CMO (Education Management and Charter Management Orgs). Independent means they set their own budget, make personnel decisions, contract for services provided by the district, governing board members are selected/recruited without district or EMO/CMO assistance, and have an independent auditor and attorney.” From Charter Schools in GA Commission Presentation pdf as of 2013-01-29.

    If there was some kind of plot to privatize pubic schools using charters, it’s not gaining much traction at the top of the education food chain in GA.

    Thank you – Alice

  5. Another comment says:

    @Jabari Simama, wow you are a complete Sociopath. Why would rational people continue to elect anyone associated with you, or Burrell Ellis. Do you think your crap doesn’t stink! Even the Catholic Church has come out and stated that the Pope is not infaliable. In fact only two incidences of which a Pope has declared infalability.

    People are tired of crooks. No one is entitled to be elected due to the color of their skin, or who their spouse is associated with.

    Obviously, some folks never learned about the Sherman anti-trust act of 1890, covers Bid rigging. The facts are overwhelming that you were involved in Burrell Ellis’s bid rigging scheme to either reward his donors or penalize those who did not.

    Courtney English’s youth doesn’t matter as much as your wives connection to you and your connection to the corrupt.

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