With fingers pointing and eyebrows raised, Democrats blame Republicans for poor performance of the country’s public education system. It’s also true that with fingers pointing and eyebrows raised, Republicans blame Democrats for the poor performance of the country’s public education system. In fact, they’re both right and both wrong.The systemic problems facing public schools are not the result of any one cause. However, burgeoning bureaucracies within the country’s school systems have played a major role in ignoring existing classroom challenges and creating new ones.
Some of those challenges are put into perspective by Nancy Jester, who is currently running for the position of Georgia School Superintendent. Two years ago, she was the lone voice when she attempted to correct what she saw as financial irresponsibility within the DeKalb County Board of Education. When the irregularities finally gained public attention, they resulted in the governor removing 6 members from the school board.
Jester's mission was -- and continues to be -- a fight to redirect funding from bureaucrats to classrooms. Although her efforts are focused on Georgia, other states also suffer from educational systems that are being bowled over by a bureaucracy that's more concerned with perpetuating itself than in making improvements in the classroom.
Her candor about problems in Georgia’s educational system provides a road map for concerned parents seeking to improve the educational systems in other states.
As might be expected, Jester's view of the superintendent position is unique:
"You don't need an educator as superintendent because educators tend to focus on telling others how to educate. The biggest obstacle we have to improving education in Georgia is dealing with a bureaucracy that interferes with teachers' ability to teach. We have elected many an educator to this position and that's what got us to where we are today. What we need is a superintendent who can get the bureaucrats out of the classroom. Bloated bureaucracy diverts money from the classroom, places unnecessary burdens on teachers and administrators and prevents parents from getting a clear picture of the education that schools are providing. Bureaucracy also tends to promote centralization and I think that's the wrong approach."
Centralization is, of course, an integral part of the Common Core State Standards initiative. Supporters of Common Core try to paint opponents as being against standards and against improving education.
Jester strongly disagrees:
"Saying you're against Common Core does not mean you're against standards, doesn't mean you're against high standards, doesn't mean you think everything is okay with existing standards, because I don't think they are okay. But I don't think the way to improve student achievement is through yet another bureaucracy -- a standards bureau that is not going to be within the purview of any state. It's another national type organization and we don't have a good track record with that -- the federal Department of Education does not have a good track record.
It's bureaucracy, and bureaucracy perpetuates bureaucracy and compliance with bureaucracy and the incumbent paperwork," she added. "I think that's a bad idea and fundamentally, I don't believe that the standard will drive achievement."
One of the alleged benefits of Common Core is the ability of states to compare the test scores across state lines. What proponents neglect to mention is that only 16 states are participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the testing protocol developed to evaluate student compliance with the Common Core standards.It's extremely expensive to administer and, according to Jester, unnecessary.
For decades, schools have used Norm-Referenced tests that test a broad range of skills that children should know at various points in their school career. The scores are given so you can see how your child performed relative to every other child who took the test that year.
"These are given to the parents so you know, in the third grade, that your child is at whatever percentile," Jester notes. "If your child is at the 80th percentile, he or she is scoring at or above 80% of the children in the nation taking that test. So there is a way to test students and understand their achievement relative to children around the country."
The picture of educational systems around the nation are often obscured statistics and lame excuses. Jester believes parents should be asking tough questions of educators and legislators as a means of bringing about better accountability and improved education.
She notes that most Georgians don't know that their state spends more per pupil than every state that borders it, yet has a lower graduation rate. Other states may be in the same position, yet taxpayers are largely unaware of it.
"We have overspent on bureaucracy at the expense of the classroom," Jester says. "This has driven costs up and achievement results down. It has overcrowded the classroom and resulted in low morale for teachers and frustrated parents."
Photo Credit: Education Week