Courage to change the classroom

WASHINGTON — In 2003, former Gov. Roy Barnes won a Profile in Courage award for his campaign to replace a divisive Georgia state flag, which was born in defiance to de-segregation, with a new banner. But fighting for a new flag wasn’t the most courageous thing Barnes did during his single term as governor. His bravest act was standing up to school teachers.

For his crusade to end “tenure” for public school teachers, Barnes was ridden out of town on a rail. If teachers were traditionally a Democratic voting bloc, they deserted Barnes en masse during his re-election campaign and helped to sweep a little-known Sonny Perdue into office.

But Barnes isn’t giving up his plans to reform education in Georgia. “I’m still a big believer in performance bonuses and teacher accountability,” he said in a telephone interview.

Barnes has a bit of an edge in pushing that idea in his current campaign for governor: it’s gained currency. Historically, teachers’ unions have railed against merit pay as unjust, unfair, a sop to teachers with high-income, high-performing students. But President Obama’s new Race to the Top program rewards performance-based pay — and has garnered support from several teachers’ groups.

Obama’s Race to the Top fund, which will award money to school districts that adopt sweeping reforms, hasn’t received the white-hot cable news scrutiny of health care legislation and hasn’t been the subject of contentious “town hall” meetings. But it has the potential to alter the landscape of local education at least as much as his health insurance proposals could change medical care. The reform program will reward states that boost charter schools; that link teacher pay to performance; and that adopt “internationally recognized” standards for student achievement.

Many education reformers believe that tying teacher pay to student performance will encourage the best teachers, weed out the worst and reinvigorate those somewhere in the middle. There is no agreement about how best to evaluate teaching skills, but even the American Federation of Teachers supports the idea of crafting an evaluation system that is rational and fair.

And what about judging student performance? President Bush’s No Child Left Behind allowed states to set their own standards for student achievement in what quickly became a race to the bottom. Universally accepted standards will help to ensure that all children are held to the same high bar.

Already, the $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund has prompted changes. With local school systems strapped for cash, several states have changed their laws to accommodate charter schools or to make provisions linking teacher pay to student performance.

And, unlike health care, support for Race to the Top extends across the aisle. Conservatives like it because it opposes union orthodoxy. Liberals like it because it promises billions more in federal aid to local schools.

“This crosses the ideological spectrum,” Melody Barnes, Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, told me. “We’ve had 41 states and the District of Columbia applying (for the grants), split half and half between Democratic and Republican governors. It has exceeded our expectations,” she said. Indeed, Obama has requested another $1.35 billion from Congress to extend the program.

While Georgia is among the 41 states trying to get some of the money, a few ultra-conservatives have found reason to complain. Rick Perry, GOP governor of Texas, says his state won’t participate because the push for universal standards of student performance usurps “state’s rights.”

Barnes, who backs Race to the Top, says “common standards are coming. There is no difference in algebra in Georgia or North Dakota or New York. . Our competitiveness as a nation depends on whether we have well-educated workers.”

Obama is said to believe that no crisis should go to waste. He isn’t wasting the funding crisis in state capitals around the country. He’s using it to push bold plans for education reform.

32 comments Add your comment

Turd Ferguson

January 27th, 2010
7:48 am

What shade of lipstick does ole Roy wear these days?


January 27th, 2010
8:16 am

I’m all for evaluating performance. Most good teachers have no qualms with it, as long as evaluators or mindful that not all students are created equal. Parental involvement is essential to developing a well-rounded student, and there are parents who don’t hold up their end of the bargain. It’s not, by any means, a “get out of jail” card. It is a factor that must be considered in determining a scale for evaluation.

Part of a teacher’s job is opening the minds of their students. There needs to be a way to evaluate cases when parents either work hard to close them or have no interest – for whatever reason – in aiding the opening process. Don’t know how you do that, but there are people smarter than I who have an idea. Point is that success shouldn’t be measured just by how well performance improves. It should also be measured by how administrators improve the system of education.

Call it like it is.

January 27th, 2010
8:17 am

Cynthia, please explain to me the purpose of beginning your article with the flag story, when IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY! If your just looking for blog hits, begin your article with something about Vick. Everything with you has to be about race. Hopefully one day you will mature.


January 27th, 2010
8:28 am

“Conservatives like it because it opposes union orthodoxy.”

There is no true conservative that approves of more federal involvement with our children,especially to the tune of 4.9 billion dollars. Thanks a pant leg Bush for opening the door.

“Liberals like it because it promises billions more in federal aid to local schools.”

This is true.. Federal Aid AND control.

Joel Edge

January 27th, 2010
8:35 am

Call it like it is
The first line ties in with the rest of the rest of the story. Courage to change the flag. Courage to stand up to union backed teachers. Get it. I don’t agree with the flag change issue, btw. Now you’ve put me in the position of defending Ms. Tucker, d**n it.

So What, Who Cares?

January 27th, 2010
8:44 am

Roy may have been brave on those fronts, but he also stole millions from the Ga 400 toll road fund for his cronies building Atlantic Station, and worse yet, he stole 100 million dollars from Ga Medicaid patients and gave the money to his out of state lawyer buddies on a contingency basis. The crook argued to money didn’t come from Ga, it was from the Federal Share. Wrong, if the money had not been GIVEN to his fellow crooks in the legal thieving business, it would have been available for Ga Medicaid. The out of state scum simple told Ga Medicaid what they already knew, how to impose a broad based tax on all health care providers in the state, while carefully increasing the reimbursement rate for medicaid providers to hold them harmless. Ga Medicaid already knew this, the Federal CMS office had been telling them for decades any tax had to be broad based. The plan was already up in running in other states, and could have been copied from them. Never, ever trust a lawyer or a politician, let alone a lawyer turned politician. I still want Roy investigated, arrested, cuffed, perp walked, tried, convicted, and sent to prison to share a cell with Bubba the but fellow. Make it so.

So What, Who Cares?

January 27th, 2010
8:49 am

Dear Call it like it is: The flag relates to one of yesterday’s blogs and ties things together nicely. It was brave of old Roy to stand up to the red neck faction, even though it would have been even braver still to have done so 20 years earlier when the red necks were much stronger and greater in number. Hmm, politically opportune bravery? Yeah, I can buy that. Of course it might have backfired, old sonny carried the red neck vote when Roy got booted out of office, an INCUMBENT losing, who would have thunk it.

quod erat demonstrandum

January 27th, 2010
8:54 am

What, Cynthia, our favorite progressive is backing Barnes plan for pay based on performance???

How does this support the progressive movement?

What ever happened to everyone being equal in pay?

Is this the beginning of the end for the progressives? We can only hope.


January 27th, 2010
9:03 am

Holy crud. I hate these days, and it breaks my jaw to say it. But I agree with Cynthia on this point. There. I said it.

I echo, however, the previous poster who questioned why Cynthia had, per usual, to inject race into her story. Ask yourself the question, Cynthia, “would the story had been as relevant without the race aspect?” I think yes. My friend, this is case-in-point why so many readers are angered by you. You inject race into everything. So much so that legitimate race issues are overlooked by your incessant “crying wolf.” But, alas, I’m wasting my breath/keystrokes.


January 27th, 2010
9:07 am

For those of you who insist I’m “injecting race” where it doesn’t belong, I refer you to the comment from JoelEdge:
The first line ties in with the rest of the rest of the story. Courage to change the flag. Courage to stand up to union backed teachers. Get it. I don’t agree with the flag change issue, btw. Now you’ve put me in the position of defending Ms. Tucker, d**n it.

Joel Edge

January 27th, 2010
9:17 am

And off topic: Happy Apple tablet day! Whatever it’s gonna be called.


January 27th, 2010
9:21 am

Ms. Tucker:

Real courage would be getting rid of two things:

The Department of Education (10 th Amendment stuff here)

P.S. Do you not know that the current Georgia flag is almost exactly the same as the old Confederate “political flag” (the stars and bars) ……… the one that flew over the Capitol in Richmond? The other one was only used by the troops because the “stars and bars” was too easily confused with the American flag in the smoke of battle.

Now which flag is more significant do you think?

Joel Edge

January 27th, 2010
9:27 am

Don’t mention that. They’ll be wanting to change this one. I would hate to go back to this one.


January 27th, 2010
9:29 am

my wife teaches 1st grade in a low income school with no parental involvement and most of the kids come in speaking very little english. how do suppose most of these kids will perform when compared to kids with a different background? and how can a ‘fair’ system be set up? impossible. the fact is there are maybe 1 at most 2 bad teachers at every school. too many i know but the problem is not the teachers. although they are an easy target. the problem is parents and the kids themselves. fix our parenting skills and our schools will follow. its that simple. the biggest issue in low income schools is not that they employ bad teachers its that the employ bad parents.


January 27th, 2010
9:33 am

I am all for merit pay rather than tenure for teachers. Kids know who the good teachers are. But the Race to the Top is just another smoke and mirrors governmental incentive dangled before states to entice them into yet another government program, which, in fact, will go largely unfunded by the government, since once it kicks off, the local government will end up having to pay for the bulk of it, with tax dollars that are not there anymore. We need to have the integrity to say no to this bait and switch government deal.


January 27th, 2010
9:42 am

Barnes is right. There are many different languages in the world, but numbers are universal. Most Americans have no idea that the metric system is the measurement system used in most of the world. In most of the world, height is measured in meters, weight is mesured in kilograms, distance is measured in kilometers and temperature is measured in Celsius degrees. For example: Right now, it’s 30 degrees Fahrenheit in Atlanta. That converts to -1.1 degrees Celsius. 55 degrees Fahrenheit converts to 12.65 degrees Celsius. The metric system wasn’t taught when I was in school, I only learned it when I started traveling abroad. Part of having a good education is knowing what’s going on in the rest of the world. In this, most schools, and most Americans are sorely lacking.


January 27th, 2010
9:46 am

Why send children to be taught by mediocre teachers when we can bring the best teachers into our homes? Let’s end the public education experiment that has failed miserably. Bottom line we can’t even afford to bus them to school. Think about the preciousa time and money that would be saved, not to mention not getting the youngest ones out of bed and onto the big yellow monsters before dawn.


January 27th, 2010
9:48 am

It doesn’t change courage to change the flag when the only folks that were truly against it were a minority of bigots. You see, if the 67% whites had not wanted it changed, it wouldn’t have been changed. But you know, a lot of conservatives like me simply did not care! In that the black minority DID care, I saw no problem in changing the state flag to something that was less a reminder of “the old south”. That is not courage. That is common sense. The only courage comes when you consider if losing that bigoted minority will cost you an election. Sure, it a few state representatives had to show some “courage”. The VAST majority, however saw very little negative implications of the vote. Thus, Cynthia, the flag issue IS an attempt to inject race into an issue where it doesn’t belong.


January 27th, 2010
9:50 am

Change in this area has been and is needed!!

Problems and challenges include the teacher’s unions, lack of discipline in the classroom, no to poor parent accountability, thug attire and behaviour, teaching to the lowest common denominator, inability to get rid of the “poor” teachers, etc. etc.

This is why we choose to sacrifice and send our children to private school!!!


January 27th, 2010
10:04 am

i agree with you today, we need to change the system. Merit pay, no unions, no tenure. NO PENSION PLANS! If we cannot kick the unions out then we need to at least make the admin/teacher unions merge into one.

We need people who want to be teachers, not people who want to be lazy and show up…


January 27th, 2010
10:09 am

jt 8:28 am
“Conservatives like it because it opposes union orthodoxy. There is no true conservative that approves of more federal involvement…”

Fine point but a good point jt. This should probably have been “Republicans like it” as a lot of conservatives believe education should be a State issue entirely. But the Republicans in Congress so far have supported this Obama initiative. And the results from the schools where this accountability practice has been tried have been exceptionally positive.

But there are two questions. One, is this a plan that seems to work? Answer – yes. Two, is this a place for the federal government to play a deciding role? Answer – this is the debate we need to have and are, in fact, having.

Look we have had state & local control of public education for over 200 years. Are we satisfied with the product? If yes, why change? If no, what is the alternative?


January 27th, 2010
10:14 am

January 27th, 2010
10:15 am

I understand the problem. My mother, a retired school teacher, doesn’t agree with the concept of merit pay because she thinks it will be evaluated unfairly. (Mom was an excellent teacher with high standards. She once stood up to a baseball coach who wanted her to give his players a passing grade they didn’t earn. She refused.)
But it ought to be possible to construct an evaluation system that assesses where a child started — with little English comprehension, say — and where the child finishes at the end of the year.

Call it like it is.

January 27th, 2010
10:16 am

Cynthia, its obvious that you have already thrown your support for Barnes for the next Governor, which in itself is enough reason for me not to do so. But for the other readers with such short memories, King Roy is not the answer for Georgia. Let me be clear, I’m no supporter of the Ox, but Roy had his chance and blew it. He is a career politician and spent his off years since being booted off by the voters of Georgia, handling high profile case after high profile case to keep his image in the news.

He sued the state over voter ID’s something to which more then 85% of Georgia citizens wanted.

He currently represents Brown CEO of Cobb EMC for taking funds from the co-op and putting them in his pocket, and also rep’s him in a criminal case.

He rep Jim Maddox for ordering county employees to pave his driveway.

He rep Judge Brooks Bitch on serious ethic violations, he later resigned after the feds got involved, and Roy snuck out the back door with a pocket full of money.

He has rep Dekalb County in fighting giving any funds to Dunwoody, money to which they deserve.

But King Roy plays the game well, in one beat he is filing class action law suits against the state of Georgia at around $700.00 an hour, then he will turn around and be the good ole boy and rep a guy keeping chickens in his backyard in Roswell.

Barnes is not the answer and don’t let Cynthia kid you that he is.


January 27th, 2010
10:55 am

Joel Edge:

I know and I’m sorry. I just can’t help it when I see such ignorance of history.


January 27th, 2010
11:01 am

CT, it aught to be possible to do alot of things. i honestly hope they can come up with something. I would hate to see a ton of very good teachers leaving inner city schools where they are needed most because they are being dumped on and paid less for things that are largely out of their control. Both my parents were teachers for 30+ yrs, neither of them had any idea who their union rep this teacher union thing is not nearly the problem people make it out to be…it all comes back to the parents. good parents=good students. its really that simple. we’ll see what happens, meantime I’ll get wife’s resume together today :)

Mid Ga Retiree

January 27th, 2010
11:04 am

Merit evaluation for teachers must also include evaluation of the student (ability, willingness to learn, physical/mental abilities) and the student’s home situation (two-parent home, single-parent, non-caring parent). Somewhere along the line people need to realize what our parents’ generation realized, that not all children are equal, some can’t learn at the speed of others, some won’t learn, and these children should not be the reason that those with the desire should be held back.


January 27th, 2010
11:21 am

“ability, willingness to learn, physical/mental abilities”…exactly right! how do we measure these things from year to year?

So What, Who Cares?

January 27th, 2010
11:29 am

We are already paying teachers to improve the performance of their students, now roythecrooks wants to give them a bonus if they actually do their jobs? Ok, but only if we first cut teacher pay by 10%, then us 5% of that money to fund the bonus programs. The taxpayers keeps the other 5% for his/her ’s trouble.


January 27th, 2010
5:15 pm

How can a civil servant be awarded a bonus of merit pay?

quod erat demonstrandum

January 27th, 2010
5:46 pm


Teachers are Civil Servants?

Local school boards should control the local schools. Standards should be set and local boards monitored by the State school board.

I would even be supportive of standardized pay schedules within the state, with room for local boards to give or not give bonuses and pay increases.

But on another subject closely related.

Why do private schools spend less per student than public schools?

Shouldn’t the education of our young be in the hands of the private sector (under the jurisdiction local school board)? We have this set up in many areas and it seems to work.


January 27th, 2010
10:44 pm


Carola Conces

January 27th, 2010
11:36 pm

I am a Georgia Tech student and used to intern for the Georgia Senate Budget Office, where I worked on the education portion of the state budget. Now I write a Georgia policy and issues blog from a student perspective, and today wrote about teachers unions. Please check it out and feel free to leave me some suggestions. Thanks!