Jeff Meadors: Interest groups circling Georgia's struggling schools

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

What strategies do public schools espouse to oppose mounting opposition?

With parent triggers, the death of PARCC in Georgia, a roaring school choice movement, and statutory support of charter commission schools the battle lines are drawn by interest groups armed and ready for the 2014 legislative session.

And they’re all magicians full of potions to fix Georgia’s schools even though most have never taught in one.

What we need are meaningful national norms by grade eight to diagnose weaknesses that currently surface much too late on ACT and SAT exams.

Now comes StudentsFirst to join the fray. Nothing heats up politicos like money and kids. Led by former D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee and claiming 70,000 members in Georgia, StudentsFirst supports increased pay for strong teachers, dismissal of weak ones, the expansion of effective charter schools across district lines and shuttering struggling schools.

The group claimed success with Georgia’s House Bill 244 to establish teacher evaluations tied to student performance and will likely give impetus to trigger legislation empowering parents with requisite tools to override administrators and take over failing schools.

Rhee argues that teachers are trapped in bureaucratic schools operating on antiquated policy, but her push for linking teacher performance to test scores is worrisome.

Can strategic planning save public schools from itinerant saviors?

It’s hard to say, but if Georgia schools become STEM engines of workplace readiness where students gain industry credentials, transferable college credit, AP exam scores of 4 and 5, SAT math and reading in the 600s, and ACT composites above 25 then some opposition may cool.

Development of right brain talent and healthy bodies must not take a back seat to STEM. Balance is critical. A good system leader will craft diploma tracks that exceed DOE minimums and include art, music, and physical education.

Successful academic tracks of five units each of math and science, three units in the same foreign language, AP physics, and completion of two CTAE pathways are currently hard to come by in a state painstakingly loyal to the sweet smell of CRCTs which lack national norms and generate devastating high school achievement results.

Strategic plans designed to increase percentages of students ready for college and careers by utilizing SAT and ACT test data to diagnose weaknesses will realize failed strategies and depressing metrics. These national exams come too late to resolve weaknesses through Title I boot camps and summer recovery. Too often low SAT and ACT scores truncate the pipeline to early college credit and subsequently ratify just another average diploma track.

Deep-pocketed StudentsFirst will prey on school systems left vulnerable through obsequious dedication to state tests lacking national comparisons.

School choice makes sense for kids in ZIP code gridlock, but the prospect of Rhee and gang trotting into town with a cure for Georgia’s education ills is a grim one.

Jeff Meadors holds advanced degrees in education from Emory University and has served in elected and appointed positions in the field. He may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com