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