What do the Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent of Education Have to Say about Reform?

Latest Story

There are 15 people running for Georgia State School Superintendent in the primary election on May 20th.  There are 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats jockeying for positions for the November election.  In this post I want to explore issues that ought to be important in this election.

Figure 1. Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent as listed on the EmpowerEd Take Action Site.

Figure 1. Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent as listed on the EmpowerEd Take Action Site.

EmpowerEd Georgia is a citizen group advocating for quality education in the state.  It’s a grassroots movement of parents, educators and community.  They have taken an active part in the State School Superintendent campaign by being on the road to live stream debates, and to gather information about the candidate’s positions of important education issues.

EmpowerED Georgia requested responses to a questionnaire from all the candidates.  Even after repeated follow ups, only six of the 15 candidates completed the questionnaire.  You can find their responses on the Empowered Georgia website at the following links:

According to EmpowerED, the other nine candidates refused to complete the questionnaire.

There are some candidates that understand the issues that are crucial for the improvement of education across the state.  As we have shown on this blog, poverty is the leading factor affecting academic learning.

We have also shown that the model of education that thrives in Georgia is the Global Education Reform Model (GERM) that is a virus that has infected its way in schools and show up in the form of standardization, poking and prodding students with tests, using student tests to evaluate teachers, and the use of competition in all aspects of schooling.

Although candidates were not asked on the EmpowerED questionnaire directly about poverty, there are several questions on the EmpowerED questionnaire that give clues about their place on the Global Education Reform Model, which is in full operation in the state of Georgia.

To get some idea of the candidates thinking I want to check the characteristics of the GERM virus that has spread across Georgia, and much of the nation.  GERM is described in detail by Finnish educator Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.  Figure 2 is chart listing 5 GERM symptoms and whether of not each symptom is clear in Georgia’s educational system, and if so what is the evidence.  My analysis is based on studying documents on the Georgia Department of Education website.  I also have visited more than a hundred Georgia elementary, middle and high schools over a forty years.  There is also further information on the Georgia Race to the Top Proposal and project that outlines the education in the state.

Based on this analysis, Georgia shows evidence that at least five symptoms of the GERM model are part of the education model used in the state.  Georgia, like most states, has a standards-based, high-stakes testing accountability system.  The state outlines in the standards what and how every student is to do, and to what level.  To measure whether the students met these performance standards (in math, reading, science and social studies), the state administers Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).  The CRCT test results are used as a major part of a comprehensive accountability system called the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).  The data collected from the CRCT is also used as part of the teacher evaluation system.  The state legislature enacted into law the provision that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance on the CRCT achievement tests.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 6.54.08 PMFigure 2. Analysis of Five Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) Symptoms and Georgia’s Education System

 There were several questions on the EmpowerEd questionnaire that indirectly pertain to the GERM model and could be used to gather insight into the candidate’s views of educational improvement.

In my view, answers to these questions will tell us a great deal about the person’s understanding of education, and specifically if they support or question the GERM model in effect in Georgia schools:

  1. Do you feel Georgia’s current testing model is effective? Explain.
  2. Do you support the Common Core Standards? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think any changes need to be made to the newly adopted Teacher Evaluation System? What factors do you feel should be included when evaluating a teacher? Do you support the use of student standardized test scores in measuring a teacher’s effectiveness?
  4. Explain the role, if any, that you feel vouchers, charters, and privatization efforts should play in Georgia’s educational system.
  5. What is your plan to increase Georgia’s graduation rate?

In order to disinfect Georgia we will need a leader at the Superintendent’s level who is willing to speak out against GERM, and begin to call out the corporate take over of public education.  Testing and standardization are at the heart of the GERM model, and it will be refreshing to see if any of the candidates are willing to challenge the current model.  This is not an easy task.  Right now, it a damned if you do, damned if you don’t environment, especially on the issue of the Common Core State Standards.

For example, Valerie Wilson, when asked whether the current testing model in Georgia is effective, said this:

I do not believe Georgia’s current testing model is effective because it does not provide an accurate assessment of what students learn. It is a model that forces teachers to teach to a test, students are not allowed an  opportunity to truly learn the content, and schools and teachers are punished because of that. In order to accurately assess a student’s learning, teachers should be afforded an opportunity to really focus on content delivery based on a full understanding of the student’s understanding of the course content prior to instruction and throughout. In my system, we focused on a student’s growth over the course of the instructional period, which is a better indicator of learning than a test at the end of the class. I believe districts should be allowed some flexibility in the method they select to assess instruction.

Another candidate, Alan Fort, a former superintendent, said this about testing:

We test way too much to make no real use of the assessments except to see if we are doing good or bad and how we  compare to a similar system or to Massachusetts, etc. We may make a data wall, but I have found  that schools do not make appropriate use of that resource either. To have value in the test  data, you should use it every week and make students aware of their progress. We are more adept at making testing companies richer than appropriate use of this information. We have gotten into the “teach to the test mode” and feel shackled to that premise. We take up too many
teaching days preparing for the test, taking the test and making up the test for the value given  them, thus have become test institutionalized. This is testing lunacy at its best.

You can read all their responses on the Empowered website.

However, if you are able to attend any of the events leading up to the primary on May 20, or the general election in November, here are some points that many of us feel ought to characterize education.  What would the candidates say about these issues, if put in the form of a question?

  1. Put high confidence in teachers and principals and learning.  The focus on meaningful learning must be at the school level.  Superintendents need to get out-of-the-way, stop micro-managing, and entrust education to well prepared teaching staff.
  2. Create a systemic environment which encourages teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches.  Encourage principals to work with teachers to push for curiosity, imagination and creativity in the classroom, and make that the focus of learning.
  3. Fill classrooms with well experienced and well-educated teachers who are not only knowledgeable in the content, but more importantly understand how to teach and how to experiment with different pedagogies.
  4. Empower principals to be the leaders of change, not superintendents.  Superintendents are too far away from the day-to-day life of students to encourage the kind of creative teaching that can be supported by principals.
  5. Teachers should have masters degrees in education and be knowledgeable in their field of teaching.  Reliance on uncertified and inexperienced teachers will in the long run lead to failure.

The EmpowerED site is a very good site to visit to find out about six of the 15 candidates.


About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.