Sunday, February 11, 2007

Childbirth Creates Education Experts

Hallelujah! The Georgia General Assembly has stumbled on the solution to the education crisis in our state. Staggering dropout rates, scarce resources, bottom-of-the-barrel SAT scores and all other ills that plague Georgia schools will be resolved if only we put parents in charge. Professional training and schooling are not necessary to become an expert on education. Either election to the General Assembly or childbirth, both equally painful, will do the trick.

Just ask Georgia Republicans. This year, the common thread through several controversial bills is that when Republicans say "local control", they're not talking about locally elected boards of education, or even the teacher in the classroom. They're talking about parents. Speaker Richardson made that perfectly clear last session when he chastised members of GPTA as they packed the gallery in opposition to the 65% Deception. Maybe if they'd just been "GPA" he would've been a bit more hospitable. The nasty little secret Republicans don't want to tell you is that all of this has nothing at all to do with making our schools more successful. If they cared about that they would fully fund public schools. The real agenda is shifting public funds to the private sector thus splintering and dis-empowering a powerful voting block-educators and public school advocates-with whom they are often at odds. This is all about the Political Prime Directive: Re-Election.

The bills that limit the power and authority of locally elected boards of education, superintendents and other professional educators abound. For starters, HR 1 and HB 14, sponsored by Clay Cox (you will see his name again) calls for a constitutional amendment (HR1) or new law (HB 14) to allow local school superintendents to be elected rather than appointed. Why stop there, Rep. Cox? Let's also elect Medical Directors for local hospitals.

And how about Rep. Chuck Martin's brilliant idea to reduce the required number of school days from 180 to 170. That's what HB 262 would do. Apparently, families need more time to be together and "a shorter school calendar would give students who struggle with their studies more time for tutoring and summer school. It would also allow those who have a hard time focusing in the classroom to spend more time on homework and studying at home." Magic. Students will learn more by spending less time at school. Don't worry, you are not alone. Editorial boards around the state have failed to see the logic, too.

In a particularly petty and transparent attempt to teach his own unruly school superintendent in his home county of Gwinnett a lesson, Rep. Clay Cox (I told you that you would see his name again) has also sponsored HB13, a bill that takes the power to set a local superintendent's salary out of the hands of local boards of education. You see, Gwinnett Superintendent Wilbanks was a vocal opponent of last year's 65% Deception and also made the mistake of supporting Cox's opposition during the last election cycle. Tell you what, Rep. Cox, how about giving voters the authority to decide what your salary and compensation should be for your part time job as a legislator?

Of course, the two bills that have gotten the most attention are SB10, the voucher bill for children with disabilities and SB 39, the Charter Systems bill. As both of these bills head for the Georgia House, remember that both re-distribute your tax dollars to the private sector with little oversight or control by anyone you elected. Apparently, for this Republican-led legislature, increased accountability is a necessity for professional educators, but, for parents and the private sector, it is but a nuisance. As is often the case with "education reform" these bills are sound-bite friendly but severely lacking in data to support the effectiveness of the proposed strategies. They have an air of "truthiness", if you will.

The real truth is that education is more science than art. No doubt, parents are critical partners in the fight to more effectively educate children. They are the experts on their children, but professional educators are the experts on education. And politicians? Generally, they're just experts on getting re-elected.


Tina said...

Education in Georgia is not going to get any better if we don't (1) do something about poor health and poverty (2) pay more attention to research studies on how deprived children learn best. Nobody is ready to learn if he/she has a toothache, needs glasses, stayed up until 2 am the previous night, and has had poor nutrition and poor general health care. I worked in a rural county for many years and can vouch for the fact that many kids need glasses, have never been to the dentist, do not get regular meals, and do not keep regular hours.

Kathy said...

Kids using extra VACATION time to study? Such a laughable concept could only come from a Republican!
I love the part about children who cannot focus. Of course that's a poke at the learning disabled and of course, the expense of special needs.

It looks as though they are willing to sacrifice "our greatest natural resource" for votes. Surprise, surprise. No child left behind, indeed.

Chris said...

They have underfunded the QBE formula every year they have been in charge in Atlanta. My guess is most of these bills are stalking horses to get them in QBE compliance (or at least close to it).

For example, if we underfund QBE by 5%, lets just make the school year 5% shorter and viola QBE is no longer underfunded...

Amy Morton said...

That sounds about right, Chris. The funding formula is so complicated that, what, three people in the whole state really understand it? I am not one of them and only know enough to know I don't fully understand it. The complicated formula makes end-runs like this possible. They can duck responsibility and no one is the wiser.

Tina said...

During the many years I spent in education, a lot of it was spent trying to comply with the latest legislative fiats. I saw one grandiose plan after another. Each change put teachers and administrators in a flurry. No changes ever penetrated down to the level of the students, who couldn't tell you QBE from RIP on PDQ. Way too much time is spent on testing. The writing test, for example, could be subsumed in the language arts test. It has become a cottage industry for grad students and faculty wives in Athens, who are advised to grade it "holistically." Not enough time is spent on individualizing to the needs of the students. They are not ALL ALIKE in talents, interests, or testing ability, and they will never be made to all learn the same skills. By the bell curve, 49 percent are "below average" on whatever you test for, whatever way you want to look at it. A lot of high school kids who basically need a different kind of education are being discouraged and drop out because of the high school graduation tests. I personally would like to see any member of the Legislature take and pass those tests !! Will give a prize of $100 to the first one who does so! There, I put it in writing for all the world to see!
But I ramble.....