Democrats debate: No clear winner, but a clear indication of the front-runner

It was clear the front-runner in the polls, Joe Martin, was the focus of his two Democratic opponents in tonight’s Atlanta Press Club school superintendent debates.

Given the opportunity to ask a question of another candidate, both retired Georgia State administrator and former teacher Beth Farokhi and Gwinnett high school teacher Brian Westlake chose to take on Martin, taking  aim at his lack of classroom experience. Martin has a formal background in finance and economics rather than education, but has served on the Atlanta school board and headed up a statewide coalition to overhaul school funding.

With this being his third run for the school chief’s post, Martin knows how to turn a hostile question into a golden moment. When Farokhi pressed him on his three top qualification for the job, Martin told her commitment, experience and know-how.

When Westlake hit his standard theme in this contest — the job should go to someone with recent classroom experience — Martin parried, “We are not electing the best teacher.  We are electing the person who can be the best advocate for students, parents and teachers.” And to Westlake’s mention of his earlier defeats for the office, Martin said the state would have been better off had he beaten out Linda Schrenko, who was an absolute disaster as superintendent and was eventually convicted of stealing federal education monies and sentenced to eight years in prison. (I think we all can agree with that.)

All the candidates agreed that there is too much testing, although Martin suggested that Farokhi’s notion of getting rid of all the state tests was unrealistic since there are federal requirements for annual assessments. She responded that growth-model assessments like those used in North Carolina could meet federal requirements rather than the rigid CRCTs.

In response to a question on whether CRCT cheating should be criminalized — asked by my AJC colleague Kristina Torres — the candidates were very careful not to come down hard on teachers.

Farokhi said she would not support criminalization and used the question to expound on her concerns that schools are holding pep rallies to push kids to perform better on the CRCT and starting test prep for the April tests in September.

Westlake also used the question to offer up a wider indictment of current DOE management, saying, “We need to empower people who are in the classroom who know exactly what is going on” The failure to seek advice and suggestions from the teachers  has led to the “math curriculum debacle and a one-size-fits-all policy that moves people to the four-year traditional college route,” he said

69 comments Add your comment

GATeacher

June 27th, 2010
9:29 pm

What exactly is your love appeal with this martin guy?

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
10:01 pm

When Westlake hit his standard theme in this contest — the job should go to someone with recent classroom experience — Martin parried, “We are not electing the best teacher. We are electing the person who can be the best advocate for students, parents and teachers.”

GAE teachers, are you listening? You organization just endorsed someone who just openly slapped you across the face. This is what you pay dues for, to be openly slapped across the face?

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
10:13 pm

“And to Westlake’s mention of his earlier defeats for the office, Martin said the state would have been better off had he beaten out Linda Schrenko”

Vote for me: I might lose again, but if by some miracle I’m elected, I won’t take your money and get a facelift with it?

Wow, that instills confidence.

Raised in GA Schools

June 27th, 2010
10:20 pm

Martin is spot on right saying this election isn’t about electing the best teacher. The best teacher belongs in the classroom. The best ADMINISTRATOR belongs in this leadership office. Westlake is ignorant to the needs of the office. Just because you taught a class recently does not mean you’re fit to lead the state in education policy. Durrrrrrrr.

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
10:25 pm

Someone who is in a classroom, is ignorant to the needs of the classroom? Yes, that makes sense.

td

June 27th, 2010
10:27 pm

Martin is to old for the job and should retire and enjoy his golden years. That leaves two candidates for consideration. Westlake sounds just like the two republicans and Farokhi is an Obama liberal. If I was going to vote for Westlake then I would vote for one of the real Republicans and there is no way I could vote for an Obama lib.

Raised in GA Schools

June 27th, 2010
10:32 pm

OMG… The state superintendent isn’t a glorified teacher. Everybody knows what students need. We were all one at one point. This is one of the few areas in government that everyone has some form of experience with. Not everyone has law experience, not everyone has defense experience, but EVERYONE has experience sitting in a classroom as a student. We know what we needed.
The position of state superintendent requires leadership and fiscal knowledge. There is a board and numerous employees who deal with the various aspects of education. But the most important need of the leader is… LEADERSHIP and FISCAL knowledge. The state superintendent is there to act as project manager. If someone is such a great teacher, why are they leaving the classroom? That sends a red flag to people with common sense. They must not be so great if they don’t want to teach.

Cupcake time

June 27th, 2010
10:36 pm

“In response to a question on whether CRCT cheating should be criminalized — asked by my AJC colleague Kristina Torres — the candidates were very careful not to come down hard on teachers.”

So Kristina Torres took the easy way out, and asked the cupcake question, rather than ask the candidates if they would open an independent investigation into the largest cheating scandal in Georgia’s history.

I’m sure EduPAC is most appreciative of the cupcake.

Ed Johnson

June 27th, 2010
10:37 pm

“Ravitch to Obama: ‘Change course before it is too late’”
http://tinyurl.com/3677s2v

Maureen Downey

June 27th, 2010
10:40 pm

@Cupcake, If you watched it, she asked them a pretty detailed two-part question. And none of them would open an independent investigation, based on my read of their answers. If anything, they all seemed to play down the cheating issue and the extent of it.

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
10:41 pm

“OMG… The state superintendent isn’t a glorified teacher. Everybody knows what students need.”

No they don’t. Not even close. Martin may thinks he knows, but has he walked the walk? How many Super Bowl winning coaches do you know who never played a down of football?

“We were all one at one point.”

You were a fetus at one point Raised in GA schools. Does that make you qualified to be a pediatrician?

Cupcake time

June 27th, 2010
10:44 pm

We strive to give credit where credit is due. We recant our statement on Ms. Torres question. How disappointing that we don’t have a candidate who is a passionate advocate for openness and transparency.

Cupcake time

June 27th, 2010
10:45 pm

What is up with this blog filter? It even filters comments that try to give the AJC credit?

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
10:48 pm

Martin may think he knows, that should read…

Raised in GA Schools

June 27th, 2010
10:52 pm

@”GAE teachers, are you listening?”: You ignorant poop. Step into a school and notice how there is an establish chain of hierarchy. Teachers aren’t decision makers on education, they relay instructions. This elected position is a decision maker, who develops the instructions (with the help of professionals) to be relayed. In relation to being a fetus, as you so well thought of as a comeback, it does not qualify me to attain a license to practice medicine, but it does enable me to know when I am sick and what I need in order to get better. Everyone’s experience having been a student instills the ability to identify what they needed when they were being taught in school. It’s an easy concept. Grasp it.

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
10:58 pm

“Teachers aren’t decision makers on education, they relay instructions.”

Thank you for explaining, in one sentence, why public schools are in the state they are today.

“Everyone’s experience having been a student instills the ability to identify what they needed when they were being taught in school. It’s an easy concept. Grasp it.”

And I guess that’s why the average person can name more American Idol judges than Supreme Court justices. Because they have identified what is truly important.

Raised in GA Schools

June 27th, 2010
11:04 pm

@GAE teachers, are you listening?: Public schools aren’t as crappy as people make it out to be. It’s the parents who force changes on schools that hinder their operational success. Ask any teacher… Parents are the death of education. Everyone wants and expects THEIR kid to be the best and get the best, without stopping to see what IS best for their kid. How does s/he learn? Is theory based instruction more appropriate than applied based instruction? Parents don’t know, they just expect.

Blame the school systems all you want, when I see my step-mother working 50+ hour weeks in the Cobb office and at home, doing her best to manage policy-making for mathematics, I see how public educators and administrators slave for perfection based solely on the student.

You need that personal introduction.

td

June 27th, 2010
11:07 pm

Raised in GA Schools, The superintendent does have to be a great leader but besides the state office what fiscal knowledge do they need? I thought the local counties controlled their local money and the legislature set the amount of state money and QBE set the formulas that send the amount to the counties automatically?

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
11:11 pm

“@GAE teachers, are you listening?: Public schools aren’t as crappy as people make it out to be. It’s the parents who force changes on schools that hinder their operational success. Ask any teacher”

Better yet, ask the ones who left. Lack of authority to discipline students, and lack of administrative support are always near the top of any list. Now the question is, is it just the parents, or is it that schools cave into the parents who squawk the loudest when it comes to making excuses for their child’s behavior choices?

Raised in GA Schools

June 27th, 2010
11:15 pm

@td: The superintendent will oversee and set fiscal budgets for the department. Not only will they manage expenditures, they’ll also have to plan budget proposals. I should have specified “departmental”. The independent districts are not monetarily supported or governed by the DOE.

Raised in GA Schools

June 27th, 2010
11:17 pm

@GAE teachers, are you listening?: It goes both ways. As a public employee, you sometimes have to cave to the individuals who you serve. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 27th, 2010
11:23 pm

@GAE teachers, are you listening?: It goes both ways. As a public employee, you sometimes have to cave to the individuals who you serve. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

The problem is Raised, it happens all too often, and as you say, it’s one of the things that is killing public education. Yet the educational establishment is more than culpable when for example, it pushes “research” that claims that the teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s education, because they don’t want to take on holding parents accountable for their children’s behavior.

And so it goes.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dakarai I. Aarons and Dakarai I. Aarons, Ann Duffy. Ann Duffy said: Georgia State Supt debates. Dems: no clear winner http://ht.ly/242wd; Reps: no clear difference http://ht.ly/242×4 via @AJCGetSchooled #gaed [...]

A Choice

June 28th, 2010
7:20 am

The Atlanta Press Club omitted the third party candidate, but it promises to have another debate including the Libertarian. I, personally, would like to see how Kira Willis, the Libertarian, answers these questions. Her website is straitforward and makes sense.
http://www.willisforstatesuper.com

Hmmm....

June 28th, 2010
8:11 am

How much is coming to GA from the feds?

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 28th, 2010
8:19 am

I believe it would be extremely shortsighted to reduce the scope and level of prerequiste qualification for State Supertindant to solely experience as a classroom teacher. What’s truely required in a position of this ilk is a effective Executive Manager.

I believe experience as a classroom teacher would be a great bonus to bring to the position but job requires so much more that frankly doesn’t natural lie in the skill set of classroom teacher. When you consider the wide array of supports built into the job there is no shortage of expertise that one can rely upon to ensure the observations from classrooms across the state are accomdated in the process.

A great teacher doesn not an effective State Supertindant make !!

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 28th, 2010
8:21 am

@ A Choice: Yet another example of how the voters are often delivered false choices when it comes to managing the issues invovled with evolving public education in this state. I’m still questioning in general why this position has to be a party driven race in the first place.

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 28th, 2010
8:25 am

@ TD: If part of the job is to set stragetic plans about curriculum that the entire state is to follow, then one would have to have some sence the fiscal impact. Further, I’m sure on some level the legislature consults with the Supertindant and the State BOE when debating fiscal matters.

dagnabit

June 28th, 2010
9:02 am

I’ve already voted for Westlake.

Maureen Downey

June 28th, 2010
9:02 am

@Hmm: http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/statetables/11stbyprogram.pdf

THis year, we are getting nearly $500 million. I am not sure where we would make up that money. I still think it is farfetched to argue that we could either make up that money or do without it.
Maureen

EnoughAlready

June 28th, 2010
9:32 am

It’s as though most believe that only teachers should have a say so about who should head education in this state. However, the parents and students are the ones who stand to lose or win more by being active in the selection process.

I don’t need someone who has been in the classroom recently; I need someone who listens to everyone (teachers, parents and students). Also, just because I don’t teach doesn’t mean I do not know what is best for my child or other students. I work everyday with the product of public education and I can definitely point out those who were not educated successfully.

PhilB

June 28th, 2010
10:22 am

Hear the Georgia School Superintendent candidates:

Republicans John Barge and Richard Woods
http://www.statesboroherald.com/multimedia/1489/

Democratic candidate Beth Farokhi
http://www.statesboroherald.com/multimedia/1481/

Democratic candidate Joe Martin
http://www.statesboroherald.com/multimedia/1480/

Libertarian Kira Willis and Democrat Brian Westlake
http://www.statesboroherald.com/multimedia/1495/

Maureen Downey

June 28th, 2010
10:24 am

To all, I have the links for all the candidates on their Q&As from last week. Please search the blog by candidate’s name and you can have all the direct Web site links. (They are also in my Savannah stories on the panels there.)
Maureen

Mid GA Retiree

June 28th, 2010
10:25 am

To have someone elected to the job of state schools superintendent who is not a teacher, who could bring a different perspective to that department, who could possibly “think outside the box” to make the department better, might be exactly what our Department of Education needs. At least it’s something to think about.

HStchr

June 28th, 2010
10:25 am

I’m telling you folks, while we split hairs here, we’re missing one IMPORTANT point. Testing concerns everyone, but the only candidate with anything specific about changes to testing is Farokhi. Look at the North Carolina growth model used for testing students. I’m telling you, there’s an important point worth considering there. Don’t overlook Farokhi because she’s not as high profile as some of the other candidates.

HStchr

June 28th, 2010
10:47 am

If I’m reading correctly, many here think that being a classroom teacher and an effective manager/business leader are mutually exclusive. Why is it so hard to believe that a lowly teacher might just have the experience and ability to work with people and be an effective leader at the state level? That’s the problem with today’s “executive” positions in education. We think that someone needs experience in everything BUT education to be able to run for state offices. SHEESH!! I feel like a scullery maid in this discussion since I am just a pitiful, inexperienced classroom teacher…

Kira Willis

June 28th, 2010
12:36 pm

@HStchr:
I find that ironic, too. Teachers are the masters of thinking outside of the box. They have to be because they continually have things handed down to them but manage to do with less money, less resources, more students in the classroom, and more politics from their downtown offices, which hand down incredible amounts of paperwork and edicts.
However, once again, no one has asked teachers what they want, what they need. No one has asked the parents what they want or need in a school. No one has asked the community what it wants and needs from its high school graduates.
What we have is a paternalistic group of people who “know what is best” without ever stepping into the classroom.

@Kira Willis

June 28th, 2010
12:47 pm

Ms. Willis, if you really want to set yourself apart, why not answer this question”

“What policies do you support, that will have a direct, tangible effect on empowering the classroom teacher to hold students accountable for both behavior and academics, and what mechanisms do you support to make administrators and school systems accountable for following it?”

Every other candidate who’s been on here, or had a supporter come on here, has run away from the question. I thought the libertarians were the ones who were “outside the box” enough to embrace questions like this.

Some of us really want a different choice than what the Dems and Repubs have to offer, but not if, when it comes to core issues, it’s not really any different.

Kira Willis

June 28th, 2010
1:03 pm

@@Kira Willis,
I promote school choice, which is a win/win for all parties. Parents can choose the school their children attend, and schools can hold the students accountable for following its rules and regulations.
One school can not be every thing for everyone. Therefore, if we have school choice, we hold all stakeholders accountable: the teachers, the administrators, the schools, the parents, and the students. If a child wishes to attend a school that has a great arts program, why should that child not be able to attend it because of an imaginary line on a map? If a child wishes to work in the technical field, then he should be afforded the opportunity to attend a school that is strong in the technical area. If we allow choice for our children and their parents, we will see a definite change in the school climate and the behavior of our students.
If a student does not wish to abide by the rules of the school, then he/she has the choice to go to a different school.

@Kira Willis

June 28th, 2010
1:30 pm

My follow up would be, do you not think, even under “choice” that there should be basic things that no teacher should have to tolerate, that are having to be tolerated on a daily basis now, if that school is going to receive state funds? That there should be some basic authority that a teacher has, and some mechanisms in place to hold administrators accountable for enforcing that authority?

What about for example, the child who has wantonly violated school rules in more than one school. Should a new school be compelled to take him? Should an unending series of new schools be compelled to take him?

Or should he insteard be confined to an alternative school setting, even if we give that parent the choice of choosing what alternative school the child will go to?

At what point do we stop kowtowing to the “needs” of those students who refuse to behave, or to the point, the parents of those students who refuse to parent, and start giving some real “choice” to parents to send their children to schools knowing they will be free from extreme and chronic disruptions to the learning environment?

@Kira Willis

June 28th, 2010
2:12 pm

Where’s Westlake? Where’s Martin? Where’s the rest of them? Every time they, or one of their supporters make an appearance, they take off when confronted with a question. The Barge supporter stepped up. Kira Willis stepped up. Why are the others so afraid of addressing the following:

“What policies do you support, that will have a direct, tangible effect on empowering the classroom teacher to hold students accountable for both behavior and academics, and what mechanisms do you support to make administrators and school systems accountable for following it?”

It’s been posed several times yet nobody, out of the 400,000 people who read this blog, has made the case that it isn’t a legitimate question.

Dewey

June 28th, 2010
2:37 pm

In practical application school choice only creates greater disparigies between schools. Parents that know how to work the “system” get into the better schools. Meaning that involved parents could help their child escape from the poor performing schools they are zoned into because of economic conditions. In most cases these are the highest performing students in those particular schools. Thus causing a downward spiral. Heaven forbid we allow involved parents to do this it would wreck AYP at many schools and it would unfairly consiquence uninvolved/uninformed parents’ children.

Even though logistically impossible for large districts, instead of vouchers why not just determine the mean price of house within a district. Every school’s population must fall within 1 standard deviation of that mean household price regardless of location. I know impossible: transportation, how would it be implimented, etc… and most importantly that would mean rich kids would have to go to school with poor kids unthinkable. Besides it would just mean the large districts would just break into smaller districts to avoid such a thing.

????

June 28th, 2010
2:56 pm

Is it my imagination, or was a new blog topic on a study of charter schools just put up, only to be quickly taken down again?

Attentive Parent

June 28th, 2010
3:17 pm

Maureen,

Does the $500 million you cited include the one time ARRA money? If so, we’re already looking at less next year from the feds.

Before someone says RTT, the maximum Georgia at the state level gets in any given year if it wins in Round 2 is $50 million.

The other $50 gets divided among the participating districts each of the 4 years of payout.

Plus Linda Darling-Hammond has said her consortia’s tests will need to be graded by people, not computers, and will thus be more expensive to the states.

Plus the textbook publishers believe that Common Core will create a financial kick for them. Someone must pay for all those new books and prof devt.

RTT may end up like PRISM where the state, certain universities and school districts got a financial windfall but then all the school districts ended up with greater expenses.

teacher for 30 years

June 28th, 2010
3:20 pm

Leave the teaching to the teachers! Let’s vote in an administrator who has the experience to lead in the educational field, that leaves Dr. Beth Farokhi, as the most qualified candidate the way I see it. I agree with the puzzlement as to why GAE endorsed Joe Martin.

redweather

June 28th, 2010
3:47 pm

We need an educator in this position, not a would-be politician, and least of all an Executive Manager. But is either Farohki or Westlake ready for prime time? I’m having trouble believing they are. A Libertarian as State Superintendent of Public Schools? Libertarians don’t support the public funding of public schools.

????

June 28th, 2010
3:56 pm

Am I the only one who saw the new blog on charter schools that was taken down almost as soon as it was put up?

GAE teachers, are you listening?

June 28th, 2010
3:58 pm

We know the leadership endorsed Joe Martin; we really don’t know what the rank and file members wanted, but if rank and file members don’t speak up about it, they get what they get.

Maureen Downey

June 28th, 2010
4:03 pm

@???, I did post, and then I realized that the info was embargoed until tomorrow. The media call was today and usually reports are released at the time of the media call. I read the report, but did not look at the actual press release until after I posted. So three minutes after posting, I had to pull. I will repost tomorrow or, if the embargo is broken, will release accordingly.
Maureen