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YARBROUGH: Obama, leave Ga. public education alone

Dick Yarbrough

Dick Yarbrough

Oh great. Now, the Obama administration is getting involved in public education in Georgia. That’s all we need. The deft touch of an inept federal government.

Outgoing Gov. George E. Perdue (please tell me he has left the building) agreed to participate in the $400 million Obama Race to the Top program. Our new governor, Nathan Deal, has inherited the thing and turned it over to Erin Hames, his deputy chief of staff.

The program will include a new evaluation system of teachers. For subjects where students take standardized tests, 50 percent of a teacher’s performance will be based on the test scores.

Fair enough. I was assessed my entire corporate career and judged on the quality of my management. However, if employees didn’t show up for work or were habitually late or refused to do what I asked them to, I could get rid of them.

Try that in the classroom.

Said Ms. Hames, “We strongly believe that the most important thing in a student’s education is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. The heart of education improvement in Georgia has to be focused on the classroom and classroom teachers.”

Maybe Ms. Hames can tell me what happens if a child transfers to a school in the 32nd week of a 36-week school year and didn’t learn squat at his or her old school and flunks. Is the teacher at the new school going to be held accountable for the results?

What about a student who just had a miscarriage and is at school only because a judge ordered her to be there? Or, the child who slept in an abandoned car because he was too embarrassed to tell anyone he couldn’t live at home anymore? Or, the kid who was given a “social promotion” even though he didn’t deserve it?

Could Ms. Hames or any member of our esteemed General Assembly motivate these children to learn without losing precious time trying to teach the other students in class? Tell me how classroom quality will be measured when teachers can’t get parents to return their telephone calls or show up for scheduled conferences because they “forgot”?

How, Ms. Hames, do we handle these piddling details?

Is there any way we can evaluate society while we are evaluating teachers?

One of the finest advocates for public education was John L. Clendenin, retired CEO of the now-no-more BellSouth Corporation, who established a foundation devoted to the subject. Clendenin recognized that public schools are a microcosm of society. Poverty, apathy, drugs, abuse and hunger don’t linger outside the door. They come into the classroom with the student. As Mr. Clendenin used to say, “You can’t teach geometry to a hungry child.”

Call me cynical, but I doubt Barack Obama, George E. Perdue, Nathan Deal, Erin Hames or members of the esteemed Georgia Legislature have taken that into consideration. That just muddies up simple solutions to a complex problem.

House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey (R-Fulton County) took a trip to Colorado recently with Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Cobb County) to examine a newly passed bill there on teacher evaluations. No word on whether they first surveyed any classroom teachers around the state and got their input. If so, how many?

I’m not sure Lindsey and Morgan are two of the higher and better sources on the subject of public education. Lindsey is a lawyer in Atlanta who, after he announced the necessity for teacher furloughs in the last session, was seen later that week in the local newspaper sipping wine in his tuxedo at a hoity-toity party in tony Buckhead in one of the classic cases of “Let ’em eat cake.”

Morgan? Her claim to fame is refusing to leave the well of the House after her allotted time ran out during a debate on the Voter ID bill, and her decision to instead begin singing, “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around.” Lady Gaga she is not.

Who better to evaluate the effectiveness of public school teachers than a silk stocking lawyer and a legislator who sings when she can’t make her point otherwise?

Teachers, I wish I had better news for you, but you are facing an education bureaucracy with more layers than a Vidalia onion, more second-guessers than a losing football coach and more shallow thinking than a party at the Playboy Mansion.

Remember that in spite of all of this, you change young lives for the better. That is more than I can say for your critics. Hang in there.

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