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YARBROUGH: A cease-fire to get somewhere on education

Georgia House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, and I decided to quit lobbing mortars at each other and do what we should have done earlier — talk about his proposed legislation to evaluate teachers.

I had written a column critical of his proposal and he had responded with letters of harrumph to several of the newspapers that run my opinions.

As we talked, we came to realize we both want to see public education improved in the state of Georgia. The devil is in the details.

First off, Lindsey wants teachers to know that there is nothing immediately on the horizon as far as this legislation goes.

“We are not intending to push this legislation through this year,” he said. “What we are trying to do is to figure out how we want to proceed.” Lindsey also insists that he wants teacher input into the process. (More on that later.)

Teachers I have talked to around the state have no problem with being evaluated. Their problem is how it gets done. Leaving it to the Georgia General Assembly to decide — many of whose members wouldn’t know a classroom from a ’47 Ford — is a little dicey. This, after all, is a body whose leaders took away power from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle after admitting they had given him his authority but had not read the Georgia Constitution and understood what the job entailed. They don’t even know how their own government works and they are going to decide how teachers are evaluated? Good grief.

There is another issue. There are too many cooks in the education kitchen with too many recipes that result in a half-baked approach. There is the federal government. There is state government. There are the local school boards. There are groups that represent portions of public education but don’t necessarily talk to nor agree with each other and on and on. Everybody is in charge and nobody is in charge. Out of all of this, the school teacher is the natural scapegoat.

Lindsey admits that everybody is trying to “micromanage” public education. No kidding.

Lindsey says that by identifying good teachers and culling out the bad ones, more students — including those averse to learning — could be inspired to pursue their education. I don’t disagree. In fact, I can name several teachers that were instrumental in my life, and you probably can, too. But I don’t think teachers can do it with everybody looking over their shoulder and binding them with red tape and CYA reports.

He swears that Republicans are not trying to dismantle the public school system. “Georgia currently has 1.7 million children in our public schools,” Lindsey said, “and only 85,000 in private school.” Doing away with public schools in not remotely feasible. As for vouchers, he says he supports their use for special education kids as is being done now.

I didn’t get a satisfactory answer from him on the biggest complaint teachers share with me — parental apathy. Where parents are actively involved, their children generally do well. Too many parents don’t seem to care. He says he wants to get parents “to the table.” I’m not sure he knows how to do that and without that critical element, all the rest of the effort will be in vain.

Now a word for the public school teachers across the state: Here is your chance to get involved in this legislation. Lindsey says he wants your input. He would like you to write to Brooks Coleman, chair of the House Education Committee (brooks.coleman@house.ga.gov) or other members of the committee — you can find them at www.legis.ga.gov — and share your observations and concerns. He said he wants your “wisdom” on the subject. If you don’t feel comfortable giving your name, send your note to me and I will pass it along and assure your anonymity.

If you don’t weigh in, teachers, don’t expect to have a say in how evaluation gets done. I promise you that I will follow up and be sure your voice is being heard.

I think Ed Lindsey is a solid citizen trying to do the right thing. I just hope he appreciates that evaluating teachers without tackling the myriad other complex issues in the public education environment — including poverty, hunger, drugs, parental apathy — is a good idea destined to fail. If he concurs, I promise I will stop lobbing mortars and will try to help.

E-mail columnist Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/dickyarbrough.