With GOP legislative leaders standing behind him in the Capitol today, gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal outlined an education plan that no one will dislike.
Not even his opponent Roy Barnes.
For one thing, several key Deal initiatives already exist in Georgia, including charter high schools with a math and science emphasis, a “Move on When Ready” program for accelerated high school students and incentives to sway more teachers into math and science. There wasn’t much new in Deal’s vision, which was broad enough to be applicable to any state and any party.
I asked him about his notion that we should adapt the Move on When Ready concept to elementary school students by giving them the CRCT when they are “ready” and moving them to the next class if they pass. I asked how he envisioned schools dealing with five or six third graders who passed the CRCT in December.
Would we walk them down the hall and deliver them to the fourth grade teacher? Passing the CRCT doesn’t mean a student can drop into the next grade mid-year and succeed, but Deal contends that smart superintendents and principals will figure out the logistics of how we move young kids when “ready.”
After his presentation, I spoke to two very smart women, state school board Chair Wanda Barrs and Martha Reichrath, deputy state superintendent for standards, instruction, and assessment, who thought that a move on when ready policy, as applied to younger kids, may more likely take the form of differentiated accelerated classwork within their same classroom.
Ideally, I agree that students should not be bound by their birth dates, and that schools should be routing kids all over the building for classes depending on their abilities. So, a bright second grader may go to third grade for math and fourth grade for reading. The problem is that schools lack the scheduling dexterity to assign children by skill set rather than age, and instead we get promises of differentiated instruction within the traditional confines of age-dictated classrooms. (This is not the time or place, but I think truly differentiated instruction is a rare occurrence in today’s overcrowded classrooms.)
Deal’s other big plan was reviewing how Georgia funds schools, which was a big plan for Gov. Perdue as well. But after four years, the Perdue IE2 Commission came back with a flexibility plan rather than a new funding formula, largely because the state didn’t have the money to support a funding formula that assessed what each student needed and paid accordingly.
Deal pledged that his funding committee would be more effective because he would not let them meet endlessly, but would hold them to a deadline of June 2011. He didn’t deal with the snag that any new funding formula would likely cost a lot more since we are now underfunding even the existing QBE formula.
Afterward, I talked to state school chief Brad Bryant who pointed out that the level of detail that I wanted is not what most people are seeking in education policy.
I thought about that in the context of Roy Barnes’ grasp of education, honed by eight years of working on school issues on a national level. If you want details, Barnes has them. But does the public want an education wonk as governor or are they content with someone offering a broader, albeit vaguer, vision?
And is there any real need for the governor to even have a well-crafted, well-articulated education policy since Georgia is now following a federal script?
I talked to Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield at the event – he and Deal are neighbors. He noted that the era is over when a governor can be a Michelangelo with vast expertise across disciplines who can fashion state policies on his own. Deal would surround himself with strong people in education, Schofield said.
Saying he had surveyed teachers to draft his policies, Deal opened his presentation with the statement that teachers told him, “Just give us time to teach and don’t make us teach to a test.” I think that train torpedoed out of the station when Georgia adopted the Common Core State Standards that will bring common tests to our schools. Tests are not going away.
Deal also said teachers told him that they were delighted to be asked their views since no one had ever done so, a statement I was surprised did not lead Perdue top lieutenants Erin Hames or Bert Brantley to leap to their feet in protest since the governor did his infamous teacher survey last fall. (Hames has just joined DOE, but she was Perdue’s policy director and his education ace.)
Take a look at the Deal plan and let us know what you think.