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Posted: 11:43 p.m. Friday, July 11, 2014

GOP candidate for state school chief Richard Woods: Need standards that are Georgia grown and owned 

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Richard Woods
Richard Woods

By Maureen Downey

The AJC asked each of the four candidates for state school superintendent – Republicans Mike Buck and Richard Woods and Democrats Alisha Thomas Morgan and Valarie Wilson -- to write a piece for the Sunday AJC Atlanta Forward section.  Here is Woods' essay.

Here are links to the other candidates' essays

Mike Buck

Alisha Thomas Morgan

Valarie Wilson

Please note the Atlanta Press Club is sponsoring a Georgia School Superintendent debate Sunday. The Democratic debate will air Sunday on Georgia Public Broadcast from 6:00 – 6:30 p.m.  The Republican debate will air Sunday on GPB from 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. You can find details here.

By Richard Woods

Though many in the media have continued to paint this race as one about the future of Common Core in Georgia, this election is actually about pursuing and promoting policies that support our students and teachers instead of the current practices which micromanage our classrooms and further the top-down model being promoted by Washington.

For policy to be effective, we must involve those who are impacted directly – our students, parents, and teachers. They know what works in Georgia’s classrooms and provide valuable insight into effective practices at the classroom level.

In 2010, I shared the view common to many of my fellow educators that the acceptance of federal Race to the Top monies would be disastrous for Georgia’s students. We knew that this would lock us into harmful policies that were developed without crucial input from Georgia’s teachers and parents. A striking example is the Common Core Standards. When combined with the arbitrary deadlines and unfunded mandates that came with these federal dollars, it is clear that the long-term interest of our students was overridden by the short-term infusion of additional dollars during an economic recession.

Since then our students and teachers have endured the botched roll out of both the Common Core Standards and a new teacher evaluation system. Now we are facing the continuation of that pattern with the GaDOE announcing a new testing system and within the month instituting a name change for this new system.

This rushed approach by the GaDOE’s leadership is hardly the measured approach we should expect from an effective administration. How can an effective testing model be rolled out when the standards haven’t even been thoroughly vetted by Georgians? How can an effective teacher evaluation model be rolled out when the new tests haven’t even been written, let alone field tested?

These failed policies remind too many of us veteran educators of the No Child Left Behind initiatives. As a teacher and an administrator under NCLB, I saw first-hand the negative impact of these initiatives on our students, our schools, and our communities. I decided to run because I wanted to ensure that Georgia’s teachers and parents are not forced to sit on the sideline of education reform any longer.

My opponent seeks to use a sleight-of-hand-approach to distract the public’s attention from the wave of reforms that will come crashing down on our schools after this election. The truth is that many of the recent successes we have seen in education fall solely on the quality of our communities and our teachers. They have managed to make the best out of a difficult situation and have done so without the support they need from the GaDOE’s leadership, who sometimes seems more interested in pursuing political ambition than meaningful reform.

Following in NCLB’s path, my opponent supports an evaluation tool that overemphasizes testing and burdens our teachers with paperwork, a $108 million continuation of a failed testing model, and standards that were adopted, not by everyday Georgians, but driven by the stipulations of a federal grant.

This approach does not move Georgia forward. We need a fair instrument for evaluating teachers, a diagnostic approach to standardized testing, and standards that are Georgia grown and Georgia owned.

During these last several years, we’ve seen the leadership at the GaDOE view teacher surveys and public comment as an afterthought and not as instruments of real value. During my years as a teacher, I learned early on that you had to have buy-in from students, their parents, and the community to truly see student achievement soar. As a small business owner, I know that I have to listen to what my customers want and give them what they need to see my business grow and succeed. Organizing community listening sessions and scheduling regular meetings with education groups will be key to get the buy-in from all education stakeholders and move achievement forward. These sessions must include local legislative delegations; I will work with these legislators to make sure that policy decisions are constituency-driven. Many legislators in both the state House and Senate are committed to this process and have endorsed my candidacy.

Experience without learning and growing from that experience is just passing time. Despite my opponent’s time in education, he has chosen to walk lockstep with a top-down and top-heavy model that doesn’t work, something any classroom teacher could have told him and he should’ve known from his own time in the classroom.

My opponent promises more of the same. Georgia’s path forward cannot be charted by looking through the rearview mirror, nor can we get there with Washington bureaucrats in the driver’s seat. Our students, parents, and teachers deserve more than a “Groundhog Day” scenario. Come July 22, let’s work together to send the message that Georgians should control their educational destiny.

Maureen Downey

About Maureen Downey

Maureen Downey is a longtime reporter for the AJC where she has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy for 12 years.

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