Myra Blackmon, a regular contributor to OnlineAthens (Georgia), here writes about the state’s devotion to failed education policies. If it isn’t working, do more of it:
The clichéd definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. That may be true in some instances, but when it comes to education in Georgia, we have our own special crazy.
While education “reform” is an issue as old as the republic, Georgia’s approaches to it are crazier than any patchwork quilt. We bounce around from one quick fix to the next. We routinely ignore research about what works, and use ideas that have never been tested.
Our legislature tries to micromanage our schools, the governor controls the policy-making state school board and we elect the state school superintendent, who is not required to know anything about education policy or the business of running schools.
We passed a new school funding formula in 1985, adjusted it several times, but never actually appropriated enough money to actually implement it. After 15 or so years of that, our elected representatives decided that there was too much “fat” in the education budget and proceeded to whack away at it.
While piling on new requirements each year, the legislature has slashed some $7.5 billion from a budget that was never fully funded in the first place. We’ve had additional, often severe cuts at the local level triggered by falling property taxes. At the same time, our public school enrollment has grown by more than 246,000 students.
As our student population has grown, we have lost or cut teaching positions. In its 2013 report “Cutting Class to Make Ends Meet,” the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute found Georgia had lost at least 9,000 teachers in four years. And in 2014, we have 2,500 fewer teachers than we had for the 2011-12 school year. The budget cuts have resulted in more than 100 districts with school years shorter than the mandated 180 days. The cumulative reduction in instructional time from budget cuts alone is significant and can produce only a negative impact on student achievement. There are also fewer courses available, thus narrowing opportunities for student growth.
What has been our response to this crisis? First, there was the great outcry about “failing schools,” based on the scores from poorly constructed, invalid tests. From there, we moved on to teacher-bashing, with a loud determination to rid our schools of the mythical hosts of bad teachers. Multitudes of experienced teachers have left the profession and today more than half of new teachers leave the field within their first five years. Surely the bad ones are about gone….
That’s right, we cut money for a decade, complaining all the while about low test scores and then decide to make it all even harder.
The “reformers” are telling us that the solution to our children’s lack of educational achievement is to make it more difficult. Test them more! Then make it harder next year again! Friends, we are buying this snake oil by the gallon. It’s just plain nuts.
Students in grades 3-5 will spend about 30 hours just taking state-mandated tests this year. And that doesn’t include all the practice tests and test preparation time that further reduces their actual learning time. That adds up to several weeks of learning time that could be put to much better use….
And while our schools are limping along on life support, we insist on substituting testing for learning, swapping test prep time for projects and enrichment, and setting expectations so high the failure rate is bound to go up. That is what crazy looks like in Georgia. We could stop it if we wanted to.
Myra Blackmon, a local Banner-Herald columnist, works as a freelance writer, consultant and instructional designer.