Pelham City school chief Jim Arnold is one of my favorite guest posters because he doesn’t pull any punches. If you haven’t read his stuff before, I think you will enjoy his essay on this year’s damage tally to education from the Georgia Legislature.
This is a long piece, so I am pulling out the key passage here for those of you with only seconds to spare: I think this paragraph by Dr. Arnold says it all:
It’s becoming harder and harder for educators – especially teachers – to provide damage control from what amounts to friendly fire, and I believe that is part and parcel of what these initiatives are all about. Sooner or later, even legislators must see it’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation. Until that time, we will continue to get the kind of Legislature we pay for.
For those of you with a little more time, here is the entire piece: (And if you have even more time today, come back at 11 a.m. for my live video chat with the AJC reporters on the testing series.)
By Jim Arnold
The 2012 edition of the Georgia Legislative session is nearly over. This year’s assembly coughed up some real victories for the anti-teacher, anti-public education crowd under the guise of school choice and privatization.
“Austerity cuts,” one of the terms coined by former Gov. Perdue in 2003, continue to place growing burdens on an already encumbered local tax base, and the magic silver bullet of state sponsored charter schools, coated with wild promises of “whatever it takes for us to buy your vote” will go to the polls in November. Individually, these bills might seem innocuous enough. Collectively, they amount to a continuation of the legislative version of “The Hunger Games” for public schools.
Let’s take SB 34 – the infamous “Rachel Sackett” act that allows students that attend charter schools freedom to participate in public school extracurricular activities.
This piece of legislative micro-management tells students that it’s OK to make a choice as long as there are no consequences for that choice. The implication, however, is that while public school teachers are not really good enough academically for charter students the extra-curricular ones that sponsor athletic teams, clubs, band, FFA, chess teams and other after school activities are.
I see two distinct issues inherent in that view; teachers sponsoring those activities will not respond positively to being forced to include students that do not attend their school, sit in their classes or support their fellow students and will simply choose not to sponsor those activities, and, if charter students are allowed to participate they will “shop” their skills and abilities the moment they don’t get a starting position, first chair, pass the tryout or get enough playing time.
Remember that most teachers sponsor activities with little or no compensation, and there are very few clubs that offer teachers any compensation at all. Even the supplements paid to most coaches generally work out to somewhere under minimum wage when you count the number of hours they spend. There is no requirement anywhere that says they have to sponsor or coach in addition to teaching. They have a choice – make it too difficult for them and they will simply choose to go home after a day of classes with 30+ students and forgo the “opportunity” to coach or sponsor extra-curricular offerings. Perhaps it’s too much to ask that charter students participate in those activities sponsored by the schools they choose to attend?
SB 289 wants all high school students to take at least one online course before graduation. Quite simply, this is another unfunded mandate whose purpose, in spite of the rhetoric from its sponsor and supporters, is to require additional expenditures from public schools already stretched financially by austerity cuts, furlough days, increased class sizes, increased health care costs and the refusal of the Legislature to fund more than 80 percent of what their own laws require. Isn’t it strange how some legislative operatives seem to see the Georgia Constitution as a suggestion rather than law?
HR 1162 will now be voted on by the people of the state of Georgia in November. I admit to being a little more than suspicious as to why this bill’s sponsors and supporters seem to think voters will trust the legislature to manage what is, in effect, a “separate but equal” school system.
If their intent, as they say, is NOT to take money from local systems to support this questionable initiative, why is it so hard for them to put that intent in written form? Their version seems based on the old “you can trust me, I’m from the government” argument. That doesn’t say much for their opinion of the electorate. I think we would all do well to remember Pete Townshend’s advice – “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
There are other examples that have been examined ad nauseum – the chronicles of the importance of ALEC in supporting educational initiatives that each contributes in some small way to the continuation of under-funding and ultimately destroying public education with it’s “death by a thousand paper cuts” philosophy, the characterization of public education as a “miserable failure” by using SAT scores in an inappropriate manner to rank systems and schools. (Read the caveat below from the College Board).
A Word About Comparing States and Schools: The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores.
It’s becoming harder and harder for educators – especially teachers – to provide damage control from what amounts to friendly fire, and I believe that is part and parcel of what these initiatives are all about. Sooner or later even legislators must see it’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation. Until that time, we will continue to get the kind of Legislature we pay for.
Politicians have never let the truth stand in the way of getting what they want. The Legislature’s insistence on accountability for everyone except themselves has become a yearly theme and achieved national notice. Before next year’s legislative version of “The Hunger Games” for public education begins, perhaps a modest proposal is in order.
I doubt doctors, pilots, police officers or lawyers would recognize the professional credentials of the majority of legislators in any attempts to micro-manage their profession to the extent that has occurred with public schools and educators. I’m also willing to bet that our local Baptist church would not welcome the vote of Methodists when determining changes in doctrine or the selection of their new pastor.
Perhaps a legislative initiative requiring family members working in or attending public schools should be a requirement for Georgia legislators introducing or voting on any legislation that affects public education. Recusal of legislators without any investment beyond the hopes of them or their friends making money on privatization may ultimately benefit every one of the 93 percent of Georgia’s children that attend public schools – my grandchildren included.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog