GAE panel: Still not sure where school chief stands on vouchers

School chief John Barge

School chief John Barge

Despite two audience questions today at the Georgia Association of Educators Town Hall meeting at the Woodruff Arts Center, I couldn’t tell you where school Superintendent John Barge stands on vouchers. I can tell you that he wants the arts back in schools, believes there are fair ways to link teacher pay to performance and feels high school counselors are vital.

But I was not clear on what he thinks about vouchers. (You can watch a video of the panel here.)

To the first question on vouchers, Barge replied that vouchers work because private schools choose their curriculum and their students, and, “if students misbehave or don’t perform, they get rid of them. You are not leveling the playing field if you don’t give public schools the same option. You are never going to get the competition that vouchers will create until you level that playing field.”

Pressed later as to how public schools get that flexibility to level the field, Barge replied, “Ultimately, that is not going to be something that I can do. That is going to come from the Legislature. We have to have the option for school systems to have the flexibility to tell some folks ‘no.’ “

If someone can translate the school chief’s statement for me, I would appreciate it.

On performance measures for teachers, Barge was more straightforward saying, “Basing teacher pay on a single test score is never going to work. But there are models that sound promising.” Barge said he likes the models that combine student scores on growth measures with parent surveys and peer and principal evaluations.

The panelists changed in the course of the session as some legislators had to leave, so there was a variety of folks on the stage taking stabs at questions. Here are some of their answers to questions:

House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman on the canceled salary boost for National Board Certification:  “I am committed and most of us in the House are committed to restore that as soon as funds are available.”

Barge on a test-driven curriculum that stifles creativity: “I can tell you that part of my vision is less emphasis on the high-stakes standardized tests and coming up with a plan where we don’t throw assessment of the window, but we assess better. We assess less but the results we get are better. The data that we get from those assessments are better and we can do more with them. I just don’t know whether a standardized test that we develop to measure our student performance on our own curriculum is yielding any quality data on how we are doing compared to other states in the country.”

Barge on the arts in schools: “Research is very clear on arts and the fact students engaged in art education typically perform better and post higher student achievement gains. The arts are absolutely critical. We cannot continue to move forward with a one-size-fits all mentality in our education system. We are looking at multiple pathways to our single diploma. Several of those pathways will involve the arts because the arts engage some of our students.  Our jobs as educators is try to find out what engages children in the learning process and capitalize and build on that.”

House Rep. Tom Dickson on giving kids too many chances to make up missed material to raise their grades so schools make AYP: “Students should get the grade that they earn.”

Barge on counselors being given more duties that prevent them from seeing students: “We fund one counselor for every 450 students. Our students today facing challenges we never faced.”

In his former system, Barge said the school took some things off counselors’ plates by putting teachers in adviser roles.  The system provided scripted lessons for teachers to use in their advisements, he said. “We made it as turnkey as possible,” he said.

Barge on math: He repeated there are large numbers of high school juniors without a single math core credit. (When I reported him saying this at another event, several of you said it was impossible, but he repeated the comment again today.)  He said many students struggling with math were now dropping out at the end of their sophomore year. “I am very concerned about losing the ground that we gained.”

The major revision to Georgia math will come with the Common Core Standards roll out in 2012, he said. But, in the meantime, Barge repeated his plan to award students core credits for math support classes. “So, a junior still taking Math I is probably going to pick up core credit for Math 1 support. If they pass Math I and are still struggling with Math II, they probably can pass Math I support, Math I and Math II support.”

Sen. Vincent Fort on parent trigger laws: “I don’t think it is a solution and could cause more harm than good.”

Clayton school board member Jessie Goree asked whether SACS wielded too much power, citing its recommendation to the APS board that it no longer have 5-4 splits when it votes on big issues.

Barge said: “I think that the role of SACS is an important role. I believe in local control of school districts. And SACS is a voluntary process. Where it comes into play is with your Board of Regents and the University System not allowing students to enroll who do not graduate from a SACS accredited school. Whether SACS should control selection of a superintendent, I think that is more a local control, However, in both Clayton and Atlanta, you were looking at students’ education suffering and their long-term education suffering because of the behavior of adults. And I have a problem with that. If it takes SACS, the governor or the Legislature to straighten out adults, I support it.”

Fort took a different view, saying that SACS had wandered into tenuous territory with its mandates to APS.  “If SACS has gotten to the point they can tell boards to vote a certain kind of way, not by a 5 to 4 vote, but by the overwhelming majority, I have a problem with that.  It would be just like telling the Legislature that we need a 56 to 0 votes in the Senate on important issues. It doesn’t work that way. Elected officials need to take their conscience and their constituents into consideration in their votes.”

–By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

30 comments Add your comment

Veteran teacher, 2

February 21st, 2011
5:21 pm

Given his comments above, one has to wonder if Superintendent Barge has read the Common Core Standards for High School Math. He has this much ballyhooed plan that schools can follow a traditional path when Common Core is implemented. Surely he knows that the STANDARDS FOR THIS TRADITIONAL PATH ARE THE SAME ONES WE ARE CURRENTLY USING IN MATH 1, MATH 2, AND MATH 3!! The order for the first two courses is slightly different to create an almost all algebra class for 9th grade and an almost all geometry class for the 10th grade. All the standards are the same and it is still ONE SIZE FITS ALL! In fact, Common Core adds a few more standards for high school math than are in the current GPS. I fail to see how the Common Core roll-out is going to revise high school math. Surely they don’t think that changing the order of two of the classes fixes any problems!!

Dr. John Trotter

February 21st, 2011
5:24 pm

I think that Dr. Barge is a level-headed educator, and I wouldn’t wish his job on anyone. It is hard to please all parties. I like his reluctance to rev up standardized testing. I dislike his apparent tip toeing around the fact that SACS wields way too much power over local school boards. Local school board are established by the Georgia Constitution. SACS bascially stakes its power on the link that the legislature made with SACS (and GAC) with the HOPE Scholarship. I believe that the State should establish the Georgia Schools Accrediting Agency (GSAA), and GSAA would ultimately be accountable to the People of Georgia.

Dr. John Trotter

February 21st, 2011
5:27 pm

Please forgive my typo. Local school boards [not board] are established by the Georgia Constitution.


February 21st, 2011
5:58 pm

“I am very concerned about losing the ground that we gained.”

Hmm…. what progress and when did we make it???


February 21st, 2011
6:27 pm

Quote: “Barge replied that vouchers work because private schools choose their curriculum and their students, and, “if students misbehave or don’t perform, they get rid of them. You are not leveling the playing field if you don’t give public schools the same option. You are never going to get the competition that vouchers will create until you level that playing field.”

So… if a child is kicked out of a private school mid-year, will the prorated balance of her voucher money immediately be transferred to the public school that is forced to admit her because all children are legally required to be enrolled in school? And is he saying that public schools won’t have a level playing field unless they also have the option to expel underperforming students? I have no idea what to say to that. (And I hope I’m misinterpreting his words.)

If I’m not, then I agree that one of the biggest advantages that private and many charter schools have over publics is that they can remove students who don’t succeed or don’t “fit in”. That is a very effective motivational tool for parents who have either paid tuition or worked to get their child admitted to a charter. Obviously, there are many other factors involved in a child’s success in either environment, but that does put public schools at a significant disadvantage.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

February 21st, 2011
6:56 pm

Can anybody name one thing that GAE has done that has improved the conditions under which our teachers work everyday to help our kids learn?


February 21st, 2011
7:02 pm

Let’s be clear about this.

I am on the Board of Supervisors of a pretty good private school in middle Georgia. We will NEVER accept any type of “voucher” payment from the state if acceptance requires any type of government regulation of our private school. Because there almost certainly has to be government regulation in regard to prohibition against discriminatory admission requirements (for example, our privatge school does not accept mentally impaired students), it appears to be a foregone conclusion that private schools accepting government payment will have to give up their independence from government regulation if government money means that much to them.

Columbia Co educator

February 21st, 2011
7:10 pm

i can name more things that a weak bargaining position has done to adversely affect student achievement (”kids learning”). politicians can ram any ill-advised curriculum down the throats of educators and administrators can accuse teachers with high standards – and little tolerance for slack work habits – of not doing enough to allow their students to make up missed work and/or reteach the same lesson in as many possible configurations as imaginable (”differentiated instruction”). when are educators going to be able to point out the DISSERVICE we are doing to our students by turning them into button-pushing right/wrong answer machines who expect the world to adapt to them (rather than working harder to learn)? i would LOVE for unions to have more power in this state both for the students and for the educators who serve them.


February 21st, 2011
7:10 pm

The education establishment will always seek to erect barriers to true reform. Union affiliated groups like the Georgia Association of Educators channel their money and resources toward the Democrat Party precisely to help thwart reform. That’s two very good reasons why GAE’s #2 and fading among Georgia teachers themselves.

Like the columnist, I’m guessing that Mr. Barge has a much broader vision of education reform than GAE ever will.

What's best?

February 21st, 2011
7:27 pm

I’m waiting to hear from What’s best for kids?

long time educator

February 21st, 2011
7:32 pm

I read his comments to mean that he doesn’t think vouchers are fair if their purpose is to make public schools try harder by creating competion with nonpublic schools for money. The two groups do not operate on a level playing field and the competition would not be fair because nonpublic schools are able to pick and choose their students and expel them if they do not follow rules. I read his other comment to mean that if the legislature passed laws that would give public schools the right to expel or even decline enrollment of certain difficult students, then the issue of vouchers could be raised. Since this is not going to happen, I think this is a backward way of saying he is against vouchers.

What's Best for Kids?

February 21st, 2011
8:34 pm

What’s Best is here. Been a long week…already.
If we are truly going to open the free market in education then we need to start with school choice. I’m not saying go crazy and open up the flood gates, although I would like that very much.
I am saying start with the schools within counties. Allow for parents and students to choose the school(s) that best fit their needs and go from there.
For the naysayers out there, what we are doing is not working because parents don’t have buy in at their schools. They are told to go to the school that a small group of people decide upon. If parents are given a choice, they will choose the school that is best for their children.
It is a win-win for both schools and parents. Don’t like our rules? Choose a different school. The bar gets raised by the teachers, the administrators, and the communities.
So what happens to the bad schools? They close. And then some enterprising educators see what is working, model it, open up schools that do work, and everybody gets what he wants: a good, solid education for our young people.
WBfK’s two cents on this one.


February 21st, 2011
8:40 pm

At present he does not favor vouchers. When the legislature passes law that will allow the public schools to throw the “garbage” out, then he will favor them.


February 21st, 2011
9:03 pm

….if students misbehave or don’t perform, they get rid of them. You are not leveling the playing field if you don’t give public schools the same option. You are never going to get the competition that vouchers will create until you level that playing field.”

What is he talking about? Are we expelling kids if they don’t perform or misbehave? Its public school-we have to serve the masses. Anyone? Bueller?


February 21st, 2011
9:05 pm

What’s best for kids? What is your position on transporting the children who choose to attend a school outside their district but within the same school system? Are the parents going to pay for it, or do you expect the school system to provide transportation for children to attend school outside their geographic district? Just curious.


February 21st, 2011
9:06 pm

Could someone please tell me how RttT is going to be funded when the money runs out? Will a teacher get a measley 500.00 bonus? I thought we were suppose to be earning what coaches earn….


February 21st, 2011
9:30 pm

Can you please get a clarification from his office on the …if kids misbehave comment ? If our new Superintendent is suggesting that the Legislature figure out a way to expel kids from public school for low achievement or acting out, then I am at a complete loss for words.


February 21st, 2011
9:43 pm

I hope that Mr. Barge will grow a SPINE!! The only thing that is going to save Georgia educationis vouchers for private schools, and HOME SCHOOLING! Would you send your child or grandchild to an APS school; one in DeKalb or Clayton Counties? It has become tantamount to child abuse!

Our elected officials are so weak kneed that they will take no action — though the AJC has found the leads and a lot of the fact for them!!

history teacher

February 21st, 2011
10:14 pm

I have a few questions about the vouchers. Will private schools lower their tuition in order to accept the vouchers as full payment for tuition. I have heard a lot of comments about vouchers giving parents choice. However, what choice does it provide for parents who are struggling to make ends meet? How will they come up with the extra tutition that the voucher doesn’t cover? Also will the private schools be required to take any child with a voucher, including children who speak English as a second language, or special needs children. Will they be required to take that child who has just gotten out of YDC. I am afraid that the reality of vouchers will create a segregated educaitonal system divided between the haves and have nots. I am aware that in some areas we already have that. However, there are many places in Georgia where this is not the case. Georgia is a lot bigger that Atlanta and decisions for the entire state shouldn’t be based on what APS are or are not. I am also interested in the criteria private schools will have to meet to be eligible for vouchers. Will they have to jump through the same stupid AYP hoops that public schools do? How many mandated state tests will they have to take? Georgia is so quick to jump on any quick fix that comes along. I have been teaching for 25 years and I have lost count of all of the wonderful programs that I have had to endure that promised that they had the answer for all that ails us in education. Unfortunately Georgia refuses to listen to those of us with the experience to offer real solutions. Vouchers are one of those quick fixes that sound great on paper, just like all of those wonderful programs I have had to endure.

2 cents

February 21st, 2011
10:33 pm

do ppl really think if they get vouchers they can send their kids to a top end private schools. lets do the math; the vouchers will be around $8000 a year. the high end privates in the area i have heard charge $16000 to $24000 per year; the only thing the private schools will do is increase their rates by $8000 or just not take any government monies.

Do ppl really think these rich persons want your kids in the same building with them? They started these schools for a reason….. hmmm, can you figure that one out?

HS Public Teacher

February 21st, 2011
11:03 pm

@2 cents…

You have hit the nail on the head.

No. The vast majority will be unable to use the vouchers. However, the republicans in GA do not want that little secret out. They want to (as usual) evoke the emotions of the populus with ridiculous claims and lies to get their way. So, why are they doing this?

They are doing this so that the uber-wealthy will be able to be reimbursed to a degree for sending their kids to private school. And no, if you are reading this you are NOT the uber-wealthy.

Pass any version of this as law, and the kids will still be going to the same schools. The only difference is that OUR tax dollars will be going even more into the uber-wealthy pockets.


February 22nd, 2011
12:12 am

The only thing that GAE does faithfully is collect the dues…I have gotten nothing but the run around each time I have contacted them for assistance regrading some issues. I am dumping them and keeping my funds since my salary has been cut. I get sick to the stomach when I calculate all the money that I have given to this organization. The conversation about vouchers for regular education will continue and become a reality I think. The passing of the special needs voucher bill has open the door.

Former Middle School Teacher

February 22nd, 2011
5:19 am

Jim stated the fact about vouchers that no one talks about. Private schools don’t want them, and will not take them. With the money comes rules and regulations that they will not follow. This whole voucher debate is a waste of time.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

February 22nd, 2011
7:36 am


Our teachers need an organization that helps provide school environments in which they can help our kids learn.

Our teachers would be wise to refrain from paying their hard-earned money to organizations that don’t directly help them provide school climates conducive to our kids’ learning.

Many of our public schools will become places for learning only when our teachers work together with parents to insist upon it.


February 22nd, 2011
8:57 am

Dump GAE..join PAGE. Much less expensive and more conservative.

What's best for kids?

February 22nd, 2011
9:21 am

Parents are responsible for their own transportation. They should be any way.

Top School

February 22nd, 2011
4:25 pm

I received counsel “there is nothing we can do…and three letters that were laughed at by APS…ALL THIS FOR MY 25 YEARS OF MEMBERSHIP TO GAE.

CEASE and DESIST- Georgia Association of Educators

Georgia Association of Educators’ attorney Michael McGonigle wrote three letters requesting APS to manage the APS Grievance Process. Letters were dated Dec. 3, Dec. 6 and Dec. 18 of 2001.
As the Holiday Break approached…Reich’s retaliatory behavior escalated.

Top School

February 22nd, 2011
4:28 pm

Northside Atlanta already has vouchers…
Donations/Jackson Elementary…explaining how it works.
They don’t kiss and tell…

The mystery behind the “Principal’s Fund”, Miscellaneous Account, Reorganization Account, General Fund, Title One Funds, PTA, Media Account, moving funds from one account to the other??? APS Accounts-Tax Paid Money
APS-Open Records requests did NOT clear up the mystery behind Reich’s school accounts…the money was everywhere… “Just give me the money”

[...] I posted earlier this week that I didn’t quite get a comment Georgia school chief John Barge made about vouchers at a Georgia Association of Educators’ panel Monday. He said private and public schools have to first be on an even playing field, which couldn’t happen until public schools are able to tell more people “no.” [...]

[...] I posted progressing this week that we didn’t utterly get a criticism Georgia propagandize arch John Barge done about vouchers during a Georgia Association of Educators’ row Monday. He pronounced private and open schools have to initial be on an even personification field, that couldn’t occur until open schools are means to tell some-more people “no.” [...]