Georgia’s schizophrenic
politics of education

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.

This piece originally appeared on the AJC's Get Schooled Blog.
Bio
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Lee Raudonis is a former teacher
and former executive director of the
Georgia Republican Party.  He
coordinates the STAR program for
the PAGE Foundation.
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The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of EmpowerED Georgia.