Lee Raudonis is a former teacher and former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. He is a communications consultant and writer for an education publication. He coordinates the STAR program for the PAGE Foundation. (The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) program honors Georgia’s outstanding high school seniors and the teachers who have been most instrumental in their academic development.)
This is his first essay for the blog. Welcome.
By Lee Raudonis
I admit it. I am confused. I do not understand the method behind what certainly appears to be the madness of Georgia education policies. O.K., maybe “madness” is too strong of a term to use, but there is no doubt that many educators—and parents— consider our state’s approach to education policy over the past decade to be both confusing and maddening. There is not much doubt that it has been schizophrenic.
Think about it. Early in the new century Georgia was one of the first states to embrace the policies of No Child Left Behind, including increasing accountability and testing. At the same time, the legislature significantly raised education spending in order to lower class size, and the governor pushed to strengthen the curriculum. And then, toward the end of the decade—even before the recession—the state imposed significant budget “austerity” reductions that have lead to increased class sizes, and, in many systems, to shortened school years (some systems hold classes less than 150 days a year).
With large numbers of the state’s schools forced to fire or furlough teachers, as well as cut back on education programs, including art, music, physical education and others, many legislators began to ramp up their criticism of the public schools for “teaching to the test” (but not scoring high enough on the same tests), having class sizes that were too large to provide individual attention, and having “poorly-trained” teachers who were “failing” to educate far too many students.
The real failure has been that of the elected officials who have failed to connect the dots between their legislative policies and many of the conditions that exist in the public schools. They have also failed to understand how these unacceptable conditions in the schools might be addressed.
Rather than attempt to find additional funding to lower class size and keep the doors open, the critics began to devise a myriad of plans to help students “escape’ from their neighborhood schools to private or charter schools. This has led to even more schizophrenic policies.
One that comes readily to mind is the state’s recent push to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education while simultaneously devising a clever system to provide state-funded scholarships for parents to send their children to private religious schools where theories such as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution are treated like something scientists dreamed up while taking mind-altering drugs. No doubt about it, teaching the Biblical explanation of creation over that of the scientists will go a long way to boost Georgia’s reputation in the STEM community and the nation’s top colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, as most schools continued to struggle just to keep the doors open for a full school year, the politicians jumped headlong into another federal program called Race to the Top. This latest federal “cash for cooperation” plan calls for even more testing and accountability and could eventually cost the state billions of dollars it obviously does not have. Do the politicians really plan to implement any of the Race to the Top programs, such as Pay for Performance, or did they just see a way to get their hands on federal dollars to replace some of the state funding they had cut?
Is it any wonder that so many of us are confused? How can anyone understand the seemingly schizophrenic policies pursued by our elected officials over the past decade?
Unfortunately, there are no signs of a cure in sight. Even now, legislators are attempting to “fix” our public schools by taking even more money from them to fund state charter schools against the wishes of education officials in local communities. Isn’t that a curious policy for those who claim to support “local control” in education?
If you are as confused as I am, ask your legislative candidates to explain the state’s education policies to you. Their answers should be entertaining if not enlightening.
– From Maureen Downey,for the AJC Get Schooled blog