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DOE's formula for failure

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POSTED: July 3, 2007 5:02 a.m.
Georgia public schools have a long and sorry tradition of high dropout rates, low graduation rates and an education establishment dedicated to masking the truth.
The latest national report that Georgia ranks third from the bottom among the states in high school graduations is hardly new. We began this century dead last with just 54 percent of our students graduating. We’re now up to 56 percent and third from the bottom.
When a state education department official was asked about the awful numbers, he said DOE “needed to change the formula.”
“Unless you have a system that can track student movement, every graduate rate is an estimate. We are moving toward a true cohort rate. We’ll have a very accurate graduation rate then. It’s about three years away,” Dana Tofig, a state DOE spokesman, said.
New formula? One might have thought DOE, upon hearing the latest graduation figures, would have hidden its collective face in shame or launched an all-out search to rescue the thousands of lost-soul dropouts. Georgia needs a helluva lot more than a new formula to improve its graduation rate.
It needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of DOE. The agency has turned into little more than a public relations department intent on putting a happy face on student test scores and shrugging off the dropout rate as a flawed statistical formula. In 2002, DOE insisted Georgia’s graduation rate was above 60 percent, despite national figures to the contrary.
There is so much wrong with public education in Georgia that it is hard to know where to start the repair.
As important as education is to the state’s economy and quality of life, however, many Georgians have shown over the years they don’t consider improving the schools (and the graduation rate) a high priority.
In fact, some Georgia textile mill operators once avoided hiring high school graduates because they feared such educated employees might consider joining labor unions. Those days are gone, of course, and those dropout-filled jobs are in Asia.
In 1998, newly elected Gov. Roy Barnes made education improvement his No. 1 goal. He even decided educators ought to be paid much more cash and then held accountable for the quality of their work. A lot of teachers thought the governor had lost his mind.
Four years later, Sonny Perdue defeated Barnes on a platform that promised to give teachers even more money but discarded any notion of measuring job performance. The usually Democratic-voting teachers turned out en masse to support Republican Perdue, who spent much of his first term undoing Barnes’ school reform.  
Ironically, President George Bush came into office with education improvement as his highest domestic priority. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program contained a hefty dose of teacher accountability causing educators to moan and groan about nearly every aspect of NCLB, especially the accountability part.
One might argue convincingly a public-school teacher corps with guaranteed jobs and few performance requirements has morphed into little more than a public jobs program. Small wonder enrollment is soaring in private schools and home schools.
To be sure, Georgia has a handful of excellent public school systems and thousands of dedicated educators. But they are the exception and not the rule, as the recent graduation-rate report clearly shows.
The history of Georgia education is replete with stories of high hopes that turned sour. Linda Schrenko roared into the state school superintendent’s job in the 1994 election on promises to dramatically reduce dropouts and improve test scores. Instead of a crusader for improvement, she turned out to be a whacked-out common thief who went to prison after we elected her to two terms as the state’s No. 1 education administrator.
But enlightened thinking on education in Georgia can be found. In the 1950s and 1960s, progressive business and political leaders fought segregationists’ attempts to close Georgia’s public schools to protest equal rights. Those courageous men and women believed saving the schools was necessary to ensuring a prosperous future for the state.
Georgia needs the same kind of enlightened thinking today to save a public school system that is in even greater danger of going under because of incompetence and apathy.
P.S., Because of demographics, Georgia may never rank high in graduation rates. But the public needs to keep an eye on the bureaucrats to make certain they do not further dumb down the curriculum just to make the statistics look better.

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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