Whenever the General Assembly makes decisions affecting schools, educators complain their views are overlooked.
So, I asked education leaders to tell me what the Legislature should tackle in 2013 and what it should avoid:
Herb Garrett, Georgia School Superintendents Association:
The issue that I wish our returning lawmakers would address is the continued underfunding of our state’s public schools. As you know, we are now about to enter our 12th consecutive year of the infamous “austerity cuts,” and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight. While five other states are mulling the idea of actually adding days to their students’ school years, two-thirds of our school systems are unable to offer even the 180-day school year that used to be considered normal. At some point, we simply must ask if we are doing the right thing by our children.
During this continuing saga, there will be much conversation this session about changes to our “flexibility and accountability” models. Most of the discussion around this topic has been ongoing as part of the work of the recently-concluded Education Finance Task Force, and most of it seems to be a sincere and honest effort to encourage systems to find more innovative and effective ways to educate our youth.
The only negative about this is the continued insistence by some policy-makers that we copy Florida’s questionable accountability model of assigning letter grades to schools, even though our DOE friends are hard at work designing a numerical school rating system to comply with our NCLB waiver. Effective leaders know that you can’t expect and encourage improvement by using embarrassment and punishment as so-called “motivators;” we still have a few folks who need to learn that lesson.
We will undoubtedly have some legislation related to our Race to the Top grant. For example, there will be efforts to define just what percentage of a teacher’s and principal’s annual evaluation will be determined by student scores on state-mandated assessments, and those discussions are certain to become heated. Even more contentious might be the talks over how to use student achievement as an evaluation measure in classes where there is no state-mandated test. Interesting times, for sure.
Finally, as always, there is no doubt that there will be other issues that pop up due to specific interests of legislators or pressure groups. School vouchers and neo-vouchers (aka, “tax credit scholarships”) will probably still be debated; legislation mandating the procedure for handling sports-related concussions is already being drawn; and, those interested in strengthening anti-bullying legislation are looking for ways to involve school personnel in the handling of “cyberbullying,” even when such activity occurs off-campus.
I have been contacted by a North Carolina chiropractor who is on a mission to stop kids from having to carry heavy backpacks. He claims to have a “contact” in our legislature who he hopes will introduce a bill limiting how much students’ backpacks can weigh. I guess we can weight those at the same time we determine each child’s BMI. Good grief.
Angela Palm, Georgia School Boards Association:
We hope whatever they do, they will move cautiously, weighing the impact on all students and with consideration to the fiscal impact locally. The AJC did an article a while back about the possible expansion of the tax credit program. That’s definitely an “avoid.” Expanding private options will not close the funding gap in the state budget.
One proposal we have heard mentioned several times is a constitutional amendment to allow local legislation to elect superintendents. We believe that should also be avoided. Tying a new teacher evaluation system to compensation would also be an “avoid.” If a new system is put into place, there should be implementation and time to get some feedback and make any needed adjustments before the question of tying it to compensation is addressed.
They need to make sure the resources are provided to prepare adequately for the Common Core assessment. We hope there will be close collaboration among the Legislature, the Governor’s Office, and Department of Education as parts of Race to the Top are rolled out to more districts and the No Child Left Behind waiver is implemented so everything works together.
Tim Callahan, Professional Association of Georgia Educators:
As you know teachers have a lot on their plates right now, with the implementation of the Common Core and a new evaluation system for both teachers and principals – part of our Race to the Top grant. We hope that legislators will be aware of how both those issues are impacting our schools and our school personnel.
We believe that ensuring all students attend a complete 180-day school year and providing teachers with 10 additional days of professional learning and prep time are two “restoration” priorities for the Legislature to consider. Both are critical for successful Common Core roll-out and a smoother and more thoughtful transition to the new evaluation systems.
The tragic events in Connecticut may well see some additional legislative activity around the issues of school safety.
We would suggest some legislative attention toward smarter standardized testing. We are testing too much and relying too heavily on tests to measure things they were never designed to measure.
Finally we would hope that they avoid focusing on the charter school amendment and punishing groups who opposed it. We need to move forward with purpose to address a wide array of challenges facing Georgia’s education system. PAGE is prepared to do that and we hope that our legislators are as well.
Tracey-Ann Nelson, Georgia Association of Educators:
Lawmakers did a lot of work on the Education Finance Study Commission and significant legislation will come out of those findings. We know there will be an effort put forth on parent trigger legislation.
We hope legislators will also work toward ensuring that every child in public school in Georgia is afforded 180 days of instructional time. (Clearly, the 180-day school year has demonstrated a successful academic impact on kids.) Other states are moving toward more than 180 days. In Georgia, we have systems with significantly less instructional days and the resulting academic outcomes make it hard for our kids to garner success.
We know the state budget remains in difficult standing and we hope lawmakers makers the link between investing in kids in K-12 and economic development for the state.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog