The GOP candidates for superintendent in debate tonight: Shed federal shackles. But do voters want liberation?

In watching the Atlanta Press Club debates tonight, I see little difference in the two Republican candidates for state school superintendent, John Barge and Richard Woods, making it a difficult decision for GOP voters next month.

Both oppose the federal Race to the Top grants, which has put them on the wrong side of the governor who very much wants the possible $400 million grant that will be awarded in September.

That is why Gov. Sonny Perdue has bypassed both men in favor of independent candidate Brad Bryant. The governor also appointed Bryant, a Republican attorney and a state school board member, interim superintendent to fill the final six months of Kathy Cox’s term.

Woods and Barge both favor cutting ties with the federal government, even to the extreme of rejecting federal education dollars. A Bartow County schools administrator, Barge said the federal government has “shackled” Georgia teachers. An Irwin County administrator, Woods said the federal government is responsible for the testing mania that has grabbed hold of classrooms.

But I cannot imagine that many parents would favor severing all ties with the U.S. Department of Education or turning down federal dollars. Many parents want to see their kids keeping up with their counterparts in Massachusetts and Iowa. They want national benchmarks. They want some oversight of  state schools, particularly transplants  who come here with a wariness of Georgia education quality.

I do not think many Republican middle-class parents have enough faith in the education institutions overall here to endorse Georgia becoming an island, operating on its own without any federal intervention or involvement. I can see revolt from the former New Yorkers now living in Alpharetta if the state DOE announced that it would become the only arbiter of how well Georgia schools and students were doing.

One odd part of the debate was when the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. Woods went first. Rather than using the opportunity to highlight a weakness in his opponent, Woods asked Barge to detail his 19 years of experience in education, thus creating a chance for Barge to share his credentials in detail.

Barge, on the other hand, used his question to Woods to point out that Woods’ education experience has been confined to a 1,700-student rural district.

Anybody else watching the debates?

If you ask me, I suspect the middle-class metro surburban GOP vote in November will go to Bryant.

93 comments Add your comment

TW

June 27th, 2010
8:35 pm

Voting GOP is a slap across your kids face. Voting GOP handicaps Georgia’s children for what will be an extremely competitive global economy when they graduate.

A Choice

June 27th, 2010
8:54 pm

Too bad Kira Willis, Libertarian, was not invited to the debate.
http://www.willisforsatesuper.com. Common sense ideas for education.

Alpharetta Transplant

June 27th, 2010
9:05 pm

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Alpharetta Transplant

June 27th, 2010
9:06 pm

You get what you vote for. If these right wing fringe candidates win, Georgia will deserve whatever education system is left after the Republicans destroy everything else in the name of lower taxes.

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Robbie

June 27th, 2010
9:32 pm

Why *wasn’t* Kira Willis invited to the debate? The Atlanta Press Club used to invite LP candidates to the debates.. and I’d think with all the Tea Party rah-rah that’s been going around that they’d want to show off the LP’s candidate. I wonder if she wasn’t invited, or if she just didn’t show up?

Teacher&mom

June 27th, 2010
9:33 pm

Maureen – check out this link to get an idea of just how much federal money was sent to GA last year.
http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/statetables/11stbyprogram.pdf

I’m not sure if this is correct or not but I was told that states like Iowa and Mass. try to limit their dependency on federal dollars. They focus on generating school funds at the state level. Many states do not like the constraints that come with accepting federal funds. I’m afraid that GA will have a very hard time extracting itself from the “shackles” of the feds.

Maureen Downey

June 27th, 2010
9:35 pm

@A Choice, Georgia is really not open to third party candidates yet. I hope that Kira Willis will be included in the debates after the primary.

Teacher&mom

June 27th, 2010
9:35 pm

If you scroll to the end of the pdf file, you’ll see the total amounts sent to each state. If I counted correctly, GA is in the top 10.

td

June 27th, 2010
9:40 pm

I watched both debates and I could vote for either of the Republicans in November over any of the Democrats. Maureen you really need to leave these left leaning blogs and those left leaning neighborhoods and get out into north Cobb, north Gwinnett, Paulding, Cherokee, Forsyth and the rest of non metro Georgia. The vast majority would vote to abandon Federal involvement in education in a heartbeat. Matter of fact, I think we had 6 or 7 Republican congressmen from Georgia that ran on and tried to abolish the whole department only a few years ago. If a multi millionaire hired a huge company to collect signatures and said today that it is way to difficult and dropped out of the race for Governor then I do not think the Mr Bryant is going to have a whole lot of luck.

I also watched the Democratic debate and Westlake sounded just like the two Republican candidates. I could vote for him except that he is a lawyer and that automatically disqualifies him in my book.

Maureen Downey

June 27th, 2010
9:45 pm

@td, Every time I talk to someone thinking about moving here, they ask about education. They have a real fear that the schools are poor quality. If Georgia were to cut all contact with the US DOE and federal benchmarks, I think metro parents would revolt.
There may be mistrust of the feds, but there is also a lot of misgivings about school quality and a sense that Georgia does not value education or hold its students to high enough standards as other states.
I think you should go to some of the wealthier burbs in Cobb or Cherokee and ask all those transplants from the northeast what they would think of Georgia going it alone in education.
Maureen

What the voters want? Mediocrity

June 27th, 2010
9:52 pm

What do the voters want? Who knows? What they don’t want is quality education; if they did, this would be the question they demand be answered of the candidates.

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?

Now before someone comes on here with some blather about funding being more important, let’s pose a pair of simple questions to dismiss them summarily.

Have you ever known, when the budget was flush with money, a “funded” school that failed? I know, too many to count.

Yet have you ever known a school where teachers were universally supported, and not second guessed, when it came time to holding students accountable for academics and behavior, that didn’t improve?

But instead of answering that, I’m sure we will hear some more blather about anything but, and the end result is already guaranteed. At the end of the next superintendent’s tenure, Georgia will remain in the bottom ten of the nation, educationally speaking.

Bank on it, but don’t bet on it, because the odds are so overwhelming that it will happen, Vegas won’t even have a book on it.

td

June 27th, 2010
9:54 pm

Maureen, I do not know any people from up north that is considering moving here, so I will take your word for what they are saying. I do know the typical working class people that I have talked to in north Cobb and Paulding county that have moved here from NJ, NY and Mich. have all told me that part of the reason they moved here was for the better schools.

Did not the same people you are talking about voted for Linder and Newt by overwhelming majorities when they both ran on the platform of doing away with the federal DOE?

Teaching in FL is worse

June 27th, 2010
9:56 pm

The more informed I become, the more it seems to me that both parties have virtually the same opnion about education. I guess it is suddenly fashionable to bash the feds.

So we abandon their money. How will we make up the 10% we lose-raise taxes? Yeah, that’ll go over big….

td

June 27th, 2010
10:00 pm

What the voters want? Mediocrity, I agree with you that funding is not the most important issue and that teachers need to be supported and able to teach in the classroom. I do not believe that the vast majority of parents want teachers to have complete autonomy in their classrooms without and checks and balances. It is a balancing act that is very difficult to accomplish but we should strive to find it.

Another Option

June 27th, 2010
10:05 pm

Another option for middle-class GOP candidates is to vote for the candidate most likely to support success in our public schools–a candidate such as Joe Martin. Brad Bryant–who has not even qualified for the November ballot–is the candidate who will perpetuate the Governor’s status quo–a status quo which balances the state budget on the backs of our children. I think middle class GOP parents, particularly in a county like Cobb which faces a huge budget shortfall, will see the fallacy of choosing a candidate who promises to continue what the Governor has started.

td

June 27th, 2010
10:05 pm

Westlake was the only Dem that talked about being against RTTT. The other two did not mention it and the reporters did not ask them directly like they did the Rep’s. Federal money is only 8% of the budget and from what I have heard it cost the counties and the state about that much to hire the people to keep up with the paperwork requirements involved.

What the voters want? Mediocrity

June 27th, 2010
10:07 pm

“I do not believe that the vast majority of parents want teachers to have complete autonomy in their classrooms without and checks and balances. It is a balancing act that is very difficult to accomplish but we should strive to find it.”

But that’s the problem td. We don’t have anything even remotely resembling checks and balances, we have institutional second guessing and scapegoating of teachers. And we aren’t even remotely close to striving for it, because then we no longer have the teacher in the convenient role of scapegoat.

And if we do the math or what $400 million brings per student in the shortest of short terms, versus what Georgia has to give up in the long term…there’s no free lunch in life, and Erase to the Top will leave a bitter aftertaste, to say the least.

Keith

June 27th, 2010
10:27 pm

If both of these candidates are school system administrators, they obviously have first hand experience dealing with the federal monster and understand that we’re better off out from under Uncle Sam’s thumb.

What the voters want? Mediocrity

June 27th, 2010
10:29 pm

Choosing between this group of candidates is worse than being in a singles bar at closing time, and you’re the only one who is sober.

Maureen Downey

June 27th, 2010
10:42 pm

td, Actually, I think Martin mentioned it briefly. He was in support of it.

Maureen Downey

June 27th, 2010
10:46 pm

@td, That surprises me that people would move here from those states for schools. We had a story last year when Delta and Northwest merged and we quoted the chair of Northwest about the concerns of his employees about the quality of schools here. When Ga-Pacific moved here, that was also a big concern of the its employees, some of whom chose not to move here from the West Coast.
Maureen

td

June 27th, 2010
10:49 pm

Maureen, I think you are correct. Thank you for the correction.

What the voters want? Mediocrity

June 27th, 2010
10:53 pm

Even the states of Intoxication and Confusion are doing better than the state of Georgia at this point, educationally speaking. And this crop of candidates isn’t likely to change that.

td

June 27th, 2010
10:55 pm

Maureen, It probably depends on where you live. The person I talked to from Mich lived in the city of Detroit and the one from NY lived in NY city and their child had to ride the subway for an hour each way. I would bet anyone in the Walton or South Forsyth school districts would ask the same questions if they moved anywhere else in the country?

Maria Saporta

June 27th, 2010
11:09 pm

As chair of the Atlanta Press Club’s debate committee, I wanted to share with you our policy and our plans. We held Republican and Democratic debates because they are being contested in the primaries. We will hold general election debates in the fall when we will invite everyone who is on the ballot, including third party candidates.

Uncle Fred (the black sheep of the family)

June 27th, 2010
11:18 pm

Ms. Saporta, as a former employee of the AJC, care to share the dynamics between the AJC and the business community that manifest themselves in editor Andre Jackson writing only a single editorial in all the months the state’s largest cheating scandal has been splattered across the pages of his paper?

GET BACK IN THE HOUSE UNCLE FRED! WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO BE TALKING ABOUT SUCH UNPLEASANTNESS?

Sorry Ms. Saporta; gotta go.

[...] In watching the Atlanta Press Club debates, Get Schooled blogger Maureen Downey saw little difference in the two Republican candidates for state school superintendent, John Barge and Richard Woods, making it a difficult decision for GOP voters next month, she says. Read the complete story. [...]

Aunt Wilma-cleaning up Uncle Fred's mess

June 28th, 2010
12:08 am

Can we at least know where former AJC staffers go to blog, so we don’t have to talk about such unpleasantness here?

Mid-South Philosopher

June 28th, 2010
4:56 am

Good morning, Ms. Downey,

We have some unusual situations in Georgia education. For example:

We want our students to become educated members of the global community and to be fully capable of competing in the global economy, but we still have the albatross of “local control” hanging around our neck.

We want to be the determiners of the progress of our students and the arbiters of the value of their schooling, but we love those federal dollars.

We want to decide what should be the behavioral objectives and performance criteria for our students, but, down deep, we really don’t believe we are smart enough in Georgia to determine those. We need Massachusetts, or Iowa, or Texas to do it for us.

We want our students to have the finest education, but I would be willing to bet $500 to a doughnut that if you took a random poll of 1000 Georgia citizens this morning, you would find less than 1% who can name the top three candidates for state school superintendent from either party.

We don’t really trust Georgia teachers; we think they may not be the very best; we question their competency, but, of course, our kid’s teacher is OK.

Finally, almost everyone who is alive today in Georgia, above the age of 5, has, at sometime in their lives, attended some sort of school. That immediately qualifies them as experts on what is wrong with schools and how to reform and improve the institution!

The more I view the pubic school, the more absurd it becomes to me; however, somehow the institution continues.

[...] 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 [...]

East Cobb Parent

June 28th, 2010
7:00 am

Maureen,

You should know that the more federal $$$$ you accept the more strings – that in itself is part of the problems with GA’s education system. Instead of prostituting ourselves, we should get back to basics and let teachers teach instead of shuffling paper. I know several teachers from New York, and all said they had less paperwork and testing drill than they have here.

Vince

June 28th, 2010
7:11 am

Maureen….I have to agree with td on this one. Many of the students we enroll from northern states, particularly New York, tell me they moved here so their kids would have better schools and a better life. I’ve heard the same from many California transplants as well.

Sarah

June 28th, 2010
7:38 am

td, Westlake is NOT a lawyer. He got his Juris Doctor degree from GSU by taking night classes while he taught during the day. He has never practiced law. He WAS a Marine and worked in military intelligence.

Hmmm....

June 28th, 2010
7:50 am

If we are only getting 8-10% return from the fed, why not drop testing? That would be close to 10% right there. Give experienced teachers a five year contract with a pay freeze but sweeten the insurance (return to Blue Cross). Cap super pay, admin bloat, and there are a ton more ideas for cuts, but leave the classroom teacher alone.

Freedom Education

June 28th, 2010
7:57 am

There is so much to talk about in your article. When you say “many parents want…” Is this a scientific poll or are you trying to create a false impression? First, the federal government has no constitutional right to interfere in education. Second, accepting this money allows the federal government to control our children’s education (socialism). When has the federal government done anything right? Third, this $4 billion dollars (among the $2 trillion stimulus, bailouts, and takeovers) does not exist. The money must be created out of thin air, meaning, inflation must kick in, which makes the dollar worth less and worthless. The ramifications are devastating. If you make $40,000 a year, it will be like making $20,000 very soon.

NE GA area

June 28th, 2010
8:24 am

All i have seen as far as moving goes is ppl leaving the state. Several empty homes in my neighborhood, some new developments totally empty; houses just sitting there.

I have read a couple of other papers and sites that have noted that the federal government is planning to sue so that every state has a one size fits all graduation track. Every student take all the same courses. Everything is equal. WELL, if you take that out to its logical conclusion then shouldnt everyone be making the same amount of money, if everyone has the same exact education shouldnt they all have the same exact job? Everyone should have the exact same house, car, etc…..

Maybe it is time to cut ties with Washington if we are only getting 10%

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 28th, 2010
8:39 am

I watched and was underwhelmed by both candidates. In fact it would appear that the moderator of the debate was as well. He jumped in a couple of points in an attempt to drive the discussion toward something meaningful.

Both opposed RTTT, but both in their responces seemed to lack the courage of their conviction to cling to their supposed principle stand. The fact that one candidate’s experience was limited pretty much to Irwin County’s extremely small district which was the size of some metro area high schools was unnerving to me. The other candidate seemed to have a slightly wider base of experience but I still didn’t feel a strong executive quality from him.

Bottom line, I’ve not yet found a strong candidate on either side of the aisle. I need to hear more from all before I make a final choice but as of now I don’t think the republican pool presents the strongest options.

EnoughAlready

June 28th, 2010
8:41 am

“particularly transplants who come here with a wariness of Georgia education quality.”

I disagree with this statement, because my families entire generations has ties to the south and I am 100% unsure of the Georgia education quality. It has always been lacking and from what I can see from our representatives; it will not improve any time soon.

Until the people in this country and definitely in this state realize that we are “ONE” country and education is a global opportunity; we will continue to decline in educational standards.

If we cut ties with the federal government; I only see our state going back prior to the 1960’s. It was hard enough trying to get those idiots to move forward, when they stood in the doors at those state funded universities.

Public School Parent

June 28th, 2010
8:41 am

Maureen why do you persist in pushing Brad Bryant for state superintendent? Your constant reference to him winning the race is obvious, biased and not very subtle. This race is not solely about The Race for the Top which I personally feel Georgia is out of. Bryant is and continues to be a huge supporter of the high school integrated math program and a proponent of more standardized testing. Also, where was this Republican educational “leader” when the governor and legislature systematically cut billions from the education budget over the last 8 years?

I think Georgia can have it both ways– An excellent curriciulum that meets the needs of all students to compete in our global society, without testing the students to death. Under Bryant and Cox, we have stifled all the creative teachers and turned our public schools into boring factories that teach students how to “bubble” on test sheets and reguritate a state (not national) curriculum. My children are numb from the constant standardized testing. They do not like school. This is why all the out of state folks put their students in private schools.

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 28th, 2010
8:50 am

@TD: It would have been interesting to have the panel pose the RTTT question to the Dems in a manner consistant with the way it was posed to the Repubs.

Matt

June 28th, 2010
9:03 am

Mid-South Philosopher, you are so right on.

ConcernedFultonMom

June 28th, 2010
9:13 am

I was raised in the North and lived out West.

My family moved here to get away from the craziness of the housing/cost of living in California – we also saw the “handwriting on the wall” after the sham recall election that put Ah-nuld in the Governor’s mansion, and we also wanted to be closer to some family.

We were very concerned about schools – and continue to be. While I’m not sure GA should use its efforts to chase after Federal dollars, I know that “going it alone” isn’t a viable option either. Quite frankly, it seems like GA has been going it alone for quite some time…and the national rankings prove that.
What is needed now is a person with top management qualities that can understand that this is not a quick fix…heck, they’re in charge of bringing the system from the bottom. To do that, the person will need to understand that they must do more than give soundbites and high-level ideas. They are going to have to put forth an effort to mend some fences and get as many people/stakeholders together and do what is right for the children.
And what is right is to prepare them (no matter where they live in this state, no matter their parent’s income, no matter matter the zip code) to compete in this global economy.

Maureen Downey

June 28th, 2010
9:26 am

@Public School Parent, I know that you have shared negative experiences with Bryant, but I think he represents a moderate GOP viewpoint that may be more appealing to metro voters than either of the other Republican candidates. In my experiences with Bryant as a state board member and as the governor’s liaison to Clayton, he was always willing to listen and he did his due diligence.
I think there are two issues with the school super race, who is best qualified and who can actually win.
I think in this race they may end up being two different people.
Maureen

Unbiased

June 28th, 2010
9:31 am

@Maureen

“If you ask me, I suspect the middle-class metro surburban GOP vote in November will go to Bryant.”

Bryant has to collect thousands of signatures of registered voters in the next few weeks before he is on the ballot. Boyd and Norwood both failed with this plan recently as has every independent who ever sought office in Georgia’s history. Your comment above is premature to say the least.

IF Bryant gets on the ballot, don’t you think he will split the Republican vote which will give the Democrats and possibly the Libertarians a viable chance to win the election?

Morrus

June 28th, 2010
9:32 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.

kindergarden math

June 28th, 2010
9:37 am

I watched both the Republican and Democrat debates. They all answered the questions asked of them in generalities,which was best highlighted by one question during the Democrats’ debate. Since all candidates made class size a platform in their campaigns, one of the media questioners asked them, specificaly, what did they think was the proper student/teacher ratio. All 3 were given the opportunity to answer the question. None of the three answered the question , and the questioner/moderator let them get away without answering it. They all just said that it was important.This is an example of why many people are not interested in spending their time watching debates. Rarely does anyone say anything of substance and with specifics. They simply state and re-state generalities that everyone can agree with. Rarely does anyone show potential leadership by answering specifically , thereby telling voters ” This is what I believe. If you agree, then please vote for me. If not, then find another candidiate who will answer you honestly and with whose position you agree.” Political reality is that they all promise what they think you want to hear in order to get elected. Only then will you find out how they really feel, once they have incumbent beside their names. Yes this is cynical, but it is also factual.

Joel Thornton

June 28th, 2010
9:40 am

I think you are forgetting one very important factor in judging the debates from last night or any night, there is simply too little time for substantive answers. The problems facing Georgia’s education are complex–they are not such that a solution cam be offered in 60 seconds.

As to getting the federal government out of state education, the problem is that the federal government money often does little to improve education; it is more often designed to provide more oversight from the federal government. While that may comfort some people, I think the vast majority of Americans are tired of watching our federal government lumber along, growing while every other sector of employment is shrinking. Federal employees in state education come with so much red tape that they are very ineffective. So, while it sounds like a good idea, it simply isn’t.

And furthermore, $400 million dollars over four years is simply not enough money to justify the mandates in the grant. Most of the money stays at the State level and does not reach into the schools.

There are other issues on just this one matter, but as my 60 seconds are up I must leave them to another time.

Unbiased

June 28th, 2010
9:44 am

@Maureen

“If you ask me, I suspect the middle-class metro surburban GOP vote in November will go to Bryant.”

Boyd and Bryant recently failed at getting enough signatures as Independents to get on the ballot for different positions. Historically, no candidate has ever been placed on a Georgia ballot using this process. Don’t you think your statement is a bit premature considering he has to gather 10s of 1000s of signature in the next few weeks to get onto the ballot, something no other candidate has successfully done in the history of Georgia?