Lawmakers in Georgia and Mississippi haven’t learned basic lesson: Teachers key to reform

Here is an essay by former Pelham City, Ga., Superintendent Jim Arnold about similarities in education politics in his home state of Mississippi and adopted state of Georgia.

By  Jim Arnold

My brothers and I attended public schools in Mississippi, my nephews and niece are graduates of Mississippi public schools and there are more relatives than I can count who attribute at least part of what they’ve achieved in life to public education in the Magnolia State.

I credit Mrs. Moore from Raines Elementary School in Jackson, Miss., with instilling an interest in learning and reading that continues to this day. I served as a public school band director for 20 years, the majority of my teaching career in Alabama and Georgia. I am now a recovering school administrator and retired in 2013 after an additional 19 years as a high school principal and school superintendent in Georgia.

I believe strongly in public education, and you can read some of my writings on a variety of educational topics here.

061812downeyedI follow education issues in my home state, including Initiative 42, which Mississippi voters rejected last week. The initiative would have required the state government to establish, maintain and support “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” Problem was, the Legislature stuck a competing initiative on the ballot called 42a and created a confusing, multi-step voting process that doomed the effort to get schools the funding required under the law.

Since 2009, Mississippi lawmakers have underfunded public education by more than $1.5 billion dollars. Sound familiar? Since 2003, the Georgia Legislature has underfunded schools to the tune of more than $8 billion in spite of the funding levels supposedly required by the Quality Basic Education Act.  These cuts have continued on an annual basis even though Deal touts a resurgence of the state economy and tax collections.

Legislators in both states insist on attempting to legislate excellence in education without the advice of teachers. They consistently advance ideas to “fix” public education in the mistaken and misguided beliefs:

Public education is irreparably broken.

Privatization is preferable to local control of schools.

The only expertise needed to solving educational issues is that found in their own school experience.

Public education has been succeeding at a far greater rate and degree than state legislatures would have you believe. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the high school graduation rate for 2012 was 80 percent nationwide. Yes, there are disparities in graduation rates in places, and, no, not everyone is achieving at high levels.

The idiocy of college and career ready expectations for all students flies in the face of human nature and ignores the obstacles of life — poverty, illness, family, addiction and too many others to name — that confront students of all ages at every level. If any other profession achieved anywhere close to 80 percent of anything, there’d be dancing in the streets and proclamations honoring those who helped achieve that goal.

Instead, teachers have suffered under funding, privatization, higher expectations and blame for not reaching the remaining 20 percent. Of course, there are improvements that can be made and schools that don’t come close to an 80 percent graduation level, but taken as a whole the notion that success can only mean 100 percent of anything is foolish and counter-intuitive.

Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a plan to allow the state to “take over” schools that he determines are failing, place them under the control of an administrator that he appoints who reports directly to him, set up at untold cost a new and separate school district run by him and his cronies and guaranteed to remove the local control of those schools from the communities that surround them.

I hope Georgians see through the governor’s ploy when asked next year to vote to change the Georgia constitution so he can set up his own little school district without the interference of those pesky teachers and voters.

Teachers and public education are not the problem, they are the solution.  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.

 

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
class80olddog
class80olddog

There you go- as I said administrators. I think we should listen to teachers, as long as their only suggestion is not just raise taxes to give the eduacracy more money.

class80olddog
class80olddog

It is the teachers? All I ever hear is that the teachers have absolutely no power and only do what they are told (cheat). It seems like the administrators (superintendents?) that are the key to reform.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog The teachers have little power, but have lots of good ideas, based on observations and experiences, and would like them to be considered.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Do some teacher "good ideas" include unlimited social promotion, no enforcement of attendance, no zeroes policies, changing grades, no discipline referrals?

ErnestB
ErnestB

@class80olddog


This is caused more my parents putting pressure on legislators who put pressure on school superintendents and administrators who put pressure on teachers.

class80olddog
class80olddog

MES is an ex-teacher and believes in social promotion.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog No. Not at all. I know of no classroom teacher who thinks any of those things are acceptable.

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

I like it.  It finally took a band director to make some sense.  Good work.  

Falcaints
Falcaints

I said pretty much the same thing in my survey answers to the state DOE.  It remains to be seen whether anyone there really cares.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Falcaints I am not sure it is from lack of caring.  While some folks in the state DOE are decades out of touch with what is going on in real classrooms in 2015, I think the department has been emasculated by the governor and legislators, at least in Georgia.

jezel
jezel

@Wascatlady @Falcaints Have never understood how one teaches students from the county office or Jessie Hill drive. A huge waste of resources.

HS_Math_Teacher
HS_Math_Teacher

"The idiocy of college and career ready expectations for all students flies in the face of human nature and ignores the obstacles of life — poverty, illness, family, addiction and too many others to name — that confront students of all ages at every level."  He's got that right.

CSpinks
CSpinks

The time for rhetoric has passed.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@CSpinks 

Hopefully, the value of the sharing of ideas never passes from the perceptions of the citizens of our Democratic-Republic. However, the time for voting to make a difference for public education is now upon us all in Georgia. Vote.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Beautiful essay.  Thank you for it.  What do Mississippi and Georgia have in common besides the same outlook toward public education's future?  They are states run by Republican leadership.  Privatization is a national Republican agenda, and it is a ferocious one. Yesterday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the Republican agenda to privatize the VA and she declared that that political agenda was one which she would fight to the end because privatizing the Veterans Administration would mean a giving up on our veterans.  Likewise, imo, the privatization of public education would mean the giving up of the American ideal that everyone is created equal and every that child, of every family, deserves an equal education through tax paid public education that is service-based for the many, not profit- based for the few.


I have written this for years.  Hopefully, some will start to listen and will vote the Democratic ticket in Georgia this next election.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@MaryElizabethSings What do the worst districts in Georgia have in common?  APS, DeKalb, Clayton, Macon-they are all run by Democrats.  Hopefully, some voters will quit voting for people just because of the D by their name in local elections.

pmkadr
pmkadr

@xxxzzz @MaryElizabethSings School districts in Georgia with the lowest graduation rates also, and not coincidentally, have a majority of students from the most impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods, who have no health care nor parents who either can, or will, participate in assisting either the schools or their children succeed.  They are economic and social issues that must be addressed before you can expect real success in public education.  Privatizing schools isn't going to fix any of that.  It will simply put money into the hands of private corporations who have yet to prove that they can provide a better education at a lower cost to those children.