Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Barge gets it wrong by opposing charter-schools amendment

Few people claim to be a true conservative by complaining about preventing judicial activism and saving money. But state schools superintendent John Barge tried it last week.

On Tuesday, Barge proclaimed his opposition to a constitutional amendment that would ensure the state’s authority to create charter schools. Barge cited three key factors: his support for local control, his desire to limit government, and the $430 million he said the amendment would cost the state over five years.

But Barge left out a few things.

I won’t spend much time on local control. As I’ve explained before, no control is more local than that wielded by parents and students, who would be empowered by this amendment. To fret over whether the state or a local school board grants them that power is to focus on the wrong question.

Barge’s reference to limited government concerns the state charter schools commission which the amendment would re-establish, reversing a 2011 state Supreme Court …

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Making parents ‘Free to Choose’ their children’s schools

“Unfortunately, in recent years our educational record has become tarnished. Parents complain about the declining quality of the schooling their children receive. Many are even more disturbed about the dangers to their children’s physical well-being. Teachers complain that the atmosphere in which they are required to teach is often not conducive to learning. Increasing numbers of teachers are fearful about their physical safety, even in the classroom. Taxpayers complain about growing costs.”

The passage goes on with even more ills Milton Friedman saw in public schools — in 1980.

The problems may sound familiar, but Friedman wasn’t seeing the future. He was, in his classic book “Free to Choose,” describing the public-schools system as it was then. Sadly, on the whole, that system has spent the last three decades consuming ever more money without significant improvement.

This Tuesday, which would have been the Nobel Prize-winning economist’s 100th birthday, will …

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How I’m voting on July 31

The July 31 primary is almost upon us, and early voting has already begun. It’s time to declare.

Not about the T-SPLOST. Not today.

Nor about contested elections. I make endorsements for elections I vote in, and my Buckhead district offers me no say in the races that are among this year’s most impressive (the State Senate 6th District fight among Josh Belinfante, Drew Ellenburg and Hunter Hill), most interesting (the fireworks-laden 9th Congressional District contest between Doug Collins and Martha Zoller) and most infuriating (the 12th Congressional District, where Republicans seem to be working to let John Barrow squeak out re-election despite a new, more GOP-friendly map).

There are, however, some non-binding ballot questions facing both Republican and Democratic voters in this election. Here’s how I plan to vote on the GOP questions:

1. Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education?

No. Georgians aren’t well-served by expanding gambling at …

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Woe, woe to America’s (financially illiterate) college students

Considering how much our society promotes college attendance, it sure does seem as if there’s never been a worse time to be a college student. From being smart enough to gain admittance to a college that charges $50,000 a year but needing someone to tell them it will be expensive to pay back all those loans, to being subjected to the fees a bank said it would charge them, our best and brightest are just so put-upon these days.

Here’s the outrage du jour, as explained in an AP story:

As many as 900 colleges are pushing students into using payment cards that carry hefty costs, sometimes even to get to their financial aid money, according to a report released Wednesday by a public interest group.

Colleges and banks rake in millions from the fees, often through secretive deals and sometimes in apparent violation of federal law, according to the report, an early copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

More than two out of five U.S. higher-education students — more than …

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Poll Position: What will be Michael Adams’ legacy at UGA?

Michael Adams arrived at the University of Georgia at the same time I did, in the fall of 1997. I left four years later. At that time, no one would have guessed he’d still be there in 2012, much less 2013. He was always rumored to have other ambitions, from moving on to other universities to heading the NCAA, or even seeking political office. But it will be June of next year, Adams announced yesterday, when he retires from the job.

At just shy of 16 years, his tenure will have been longer than all but three UGA presidents in the 20th century. And a lengthy tenure often makes for a number of possible ways for a person to be remembered. Oh, how that will be the case with Michael Adams.

Adams presided over UGA during a time of marked improvement in both its students’ credentials and its facilities. The HOPE scholarship and metro Atlanta’s population boom certainly contributed to the former. But Adams capitalized on those advantages in many ways, including the expansion of merit …

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Rising tuition trumps interest rate among students’ worries

Sometimes, it’s the “principal” of the thing. Particularly when “the thing” is a loan.

As lots of homeowners learned, borrowing too much money can lead to trouble even if interest rates are relatively low. If college students are wise, they’ll realize the current debate about the interest rate for their loans is a sideshow compared to rising prices.

President Barack Obama visited college students last week to argue for keeping the interest rate for federal student loans at 3.4 percent. He urged them to tell Congress, “Don’t double my rate” to 6.8 percent, as current law requires.

He was arguing against … no one. Republicans and Democrats alike propose holding the rate steady. As is often the case, they differ only over how to offset the cost (Republicans would cut spending; Democrats would raise someone’s taxes). Obama’s presumptive GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, also favors holding down the rate.

No doubt, a higher rate would be a blow to students. And the …

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In broader cheating scandal, lessons from and for Atlanta

My news-side colleagues at the AJC did it again. By taking their examination of suspicious test scores nationwide, with the “Cheating Our Children” series that began last Sunday, they felled another wall standing between the public and the truth about what’s going on in our public schools.

The question now is what the public, and those who make public policy, will do with this information. There are lessons both from and for Atlanta.

From the experience of Atlanta Public Schools, we know that, as explosive as the information about suspect wrong-to-right erasure marks on standardized tests at dozens of schools was, little would have come of it had there been no political will to look deeper — and keep looking.

In a couple of meetings during the process sparked by AJC reports, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue demonstrated a palpable anger about the way adults had cheated schoolchildren. That fire in his belly proved crucial when supporters of APS tried to pooh-pooh the wrongdoing …

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Big news for charter schools amendment

The General Assembly wasn’t in session yesterday, but there was big news anyway. From the AJC’s Kristina Torres:

The GOP-controlled General Assembly came within reach Thursday of asking voters to revive the state’s ability to sponsor charter schools, when one of the Senate’s most venerable statesmen said he would buck his party and vote yes — as two others suggested they would strongly consider it.

State Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, said he made his decision to vote for the measure on behalf of local parents stung by accreditation concerns involving the leadership of Sumter County Schools.

Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, said a yes vote would be consistent with his past support of charter schools. Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, said he would give the measure “strong consideration.” A vote on the measure is expected Monday in the Senate.

Republicans reportedly believed Davis was one of the Democrats on board with the amendment when they brought it to the floor two weeks ago, …

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Claims of a painless HOPE fix with income caps don’t hold up

One way to gauge a government program’s popularity is by how far politicians are willing to stretch the truth to argue they are that program’s strongest defenders. By that measure, the HOPE scholarship must be the most beloved program in all of Georgia.

A year after a broad reform of HOPE — one that accepted lottery revenues had plateaued while tuition levels soared — the scholarship suddenly is being hotly debated again. The apparent impetus is a state agency’s report forecasting falling HOPE award levels during the next several years.

Given that such forecasts accompanied last year’s reform, however, one can’t help but sense political opportunism. And some truth-stretching.

Democrats in the state Senate are agitating to re-revamp HOPE. (House Democrats have little leg to stand on here, because they were very public participants in crafting last year’s legislation.) Their pitch is that the “old” HOPE — covering 100 percent of tuition costs — could be restored, …

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About that charter schools report

Yesterday, as I was writing my column for Thursday’s AJC print edition, the state Department of Education released its annual report about charter schools. The headline resulting from that report — that charter schools are performing worse than other public schools based on the federal measure of Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP — is misleading.

For starters, here is the five-year trend line for scores, as illustrated in the report:

Charter school scores

Source: Georgia Department of Education

If you see any meaningful separation between “all” charter schools and “all” traditional public schools, you’re probably in the minority. What I see are two lines following much the same trend, taking turns being insignificantly ahead of the other. The five-year average for charter schools is 79.4 percent; for traditional public schools, it’s 79.6 percent. Pretty much a dead heat.

Ah, but aren’t charter schools supposed to produce better outcomes? If not, why bother with them?

Well, the majority of charter …

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