State's core values

The state of Georgia has pulled out of a consortium developing new national tests that would finally allow parents to compare their children’s performance with kids in Boston and Boulder.

Money drove the decision. The new test being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC would be more expensive because it would involve more writing than Georgia’s bubble exams and take longer to administer and grade.

The intent of Common Core and the new aligned assessments is to ensure students in Georgia are attaining the same academic levels as those in other states. Now, Georgia will create its own tests aligned with the Core, perhaps in conjunction with a handful of other dissident states.

“To expect Georgia to come even remotely close to the quality of assessment being done by actual testing experts at PARCC — attempting to assess reasoning and thinking rather than rote recall — would be, in the kindest terms, unlikely,” said Gerald Eads, a professor at Georgia Gwinnett College and a former testing director with the state of Virginia.

I have the same sinking feeling I had when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue dealt with a possible diesel fuel shortage in 2005 by asking school districts statewide to cancel classes and idle their buses for two days. No other state even contemplated a similar action. At that time, I argued that if our schools were the fall guy in an energy crunch, Georgia was going to wind up with a lot of students whose only job skill was pumping the gas we didn’t have.

Eight years later and public education remains a sacrificial lamb, often to pandering tax policies, including a private school tax-credit program that could drain state coffers of $58 million. In a state where more than 90 percent of students attend public schools, taxpayers get a dollar-for-dollar credit if they make contributions to scholarship funds that enable public school students to transfer to private schools. Donors claimed $51.5 million in tax credits in 2012, but the Legislature raised the ceiling this year.

Will education ever matter in this state?

I get frequent questions from families considering moving to Georgia about whether their children can get a good education in the public schools.

Absolutely, I tell them. If you pick carefully, you can find communities willing to pay higher taxes for quality schools to compensate for the scant and dwindling state support. I live in one of them, the city of Decatur.

But if they ask me a slightly different question — Does Georgia value public education? — I have to say no.

Part of it stems from an historic indifference in the South to the benefits of an education. A high school diploma didn’t seem particularly necessary when many teens ended up in mills or on family farms.

There’s also the belief here that a basic education is good enough. And that is not simply among generational Georgians. Northern transplants don’t want the high property taxes they left behind following them to Georgia, even if it means fewer public parks, recreational programs or quality schools. (As a New York transplant told me once, he didn’t need city parks because he traded his former postage stamp lot in a pricey Long Island suburb for a three-acre spread in Cherokee County.)

Make no mistake. This decision, which has received nationwide news coverage, plays into the perception that Georgia marginalizes education. Among the reader comments on a Washington Post story: “I moved to Georgia in 1980, where I worked to develop and manufacture fiber optics. One of the problems we faced was with our factory workers; about 10 percent of them were illiterate, which made teaching them to do high tech jobs a bit of a challenge. Anyhow, given my experience, seeing Georgia unwilling to invest in education and not wanting to show off the miserable job that they do does not surprise me one bit.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me, either.

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