Tomorrow is an important run-off to select the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of Georgia.
The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, who has worked as a member and president of the local school board in Decatur and has served as president of the Georgia School Boards Association.
Fortunately one of the members of the board of directors of the Network is Bertis Downs, a native of Georgia. He wrote this column to explain why he will vote for Valarie Wilson tomorrow.
Bertis Downs, who cares deeply about the children of Georgia, writes:
“A few years ago, I decided to give up politics, since politicians often disappoint, and many politicians seem to have only one issue once they get elected—staying in office. So all the time and effort and money I used to give to political campaigns, I decided to devote to the single most important issue I care about—improving and effective public schools. If we don’t get that part right—educating our children—then what kind of society can we really expect in the future? Well, it did not take me long to realize that if you care about education—the teaching and learning that goes on in the classroom—then you’d better pay attention to politics. I began trying to connect the dots and to figure out the often massive disconnect between policies passed by politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and the ways our kids’ schools operate.”
“I discovered that what passes as “education reform” is often just a combination of policies that diminish and weaken public schools; boost heavily-marketed “alternatives” like charter schools and voucher programs; revolve around standardized testing with high stakes attached; and then misuse the results of those tests. These policies are taking their toll on morale among our best and most effective teachers, and the people pushing these policies rarely have a dog in the fight. It doesn’t really affect them personally—it’s just politics to them.
“I support groups and individuals, including politicians, who have the same goal I do: good schools for all kids. That sounds simple, but it’s tough to achieve. Schools are complex organisms and have a hard job, given the realities many of their students face when they leave the school grounds.
“Schools cannot be improved with smoke and mirrors and bumper-sticker solutions. “School choice” surely sounds good, and the word “charter” seems to have almost magical connotations to some people. But a good school—public, private or hybrid—shares a few things in common: great teachers who are dedicated to their calling of teaching, who are supported by and learn from each other, who teach in reasonably-sized classrooms and are in a school community that is sufficiently-resourced with adequate facilities and technology, with a rich and varied curriculum, including arts and physical education, and are part of an involved and engaged community of parents and others who support the mission of the school.
“While I recognize that we are not there yet, I think it is important to discern what level of government—local, state or national—is holding us back and making our public schools’ job more difficult every day.
“In my view, the test-driven reforms that started under President George W. Bush but have accelerated under President Barack Obama are most responsible for the current state of play. (Of all the issues, why do the Democrats and Republicans have to pick this one to agree on, and get it so wrong?)”
“As for the runoff for state school superintendent, I strongly support Valarie Wilson, a Decatur parent and former school board member who also has statewide experience as chairwoman of the Georgia School Boards Association. She brings an engaged parent’s perspective, believes in the mission of our public schools and supports the teachers and students who teach and learn there every day. She will work to protect and advance our schools, and she does not subscribe to the false cures and easy-sounding fixes offered by the reform crowd, who have placed their bets elsewhere.
“Wilson knows what it takes and will do everything within her power to make all Georgia schools effective for every child. She will be a fierce advocate for our teachers at a time when they need it the most. And she will do so as a parent, not as a politician taking the careerist’s view.
“I look forward to a time when our state leaders are as focused as our local teachers and administrators on the promise of public education: Each child prepared for life. Wilson would be a great start on that path, and depending on how the “top of the ticket” does in November, she just might have a chance to win the general election. “