Superintendent candidates spar in GPB debate

Sunday’s debate between state school superintendent candidates Richard L. Woods and Valarie Wilson touched on all of the typical topics: high-stakes testing, the national set of academic standards known as Common Core and state funding for school districts.

But Woods, a retired Irwin County teacher and administrator, also tossed out an idea that would fundamentally change what Georgia students need to do to get a high school diploma.

Currently, Georgia students are required to take four years of math to get a diploma. Woods said Sunday that students should be given the option of taking a course like accounting or journalism and have it count as the fourth math course.

Woods proposed that idea after being asked what he’d do to help improve Georgia’s graduation rate, which is below the national average.

“Instead of every student taking the same four courses, you allow for flexibility,” Woods said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the debate.

Woods said students could get what he described as flexibility on that math course as they choose a “pathway,” a set of courses they take to prepare for college or careers.

Wilson, the former chairwoman of the City Schools of Decatur school board, said the idea is a poor one.

“In a state where we are lagging behind in math, one of the last things we ought to do is take that fourth math away,” Wilson said. “I don’t even know what that would look like.”

While Wilson and Woods sharply disagreed on that point, their clashes during the debate — part of the Atlanta Press Club’s Loudermilk Young debate series and taped at Georgia Public Broadcasting from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. — were less pointed.

The candidates mostly hewed to the themes they’ve offered throughout the campaign.

Wilson said she supports Common Core and added that the state should provide school districts with more money through the state’s complicated funding formula.

“I absolutely believe it’s time that we replace the funding formula or simply fund the funding formula,” she said.

Woods said he opposed adoption of Common Core and added that the challenge of improving public education isn’t simply one of providing more money. “You can throw good money after bad, and sometimes government has done that,” he said.

Perhaps the sharpest point of disagreement during the debate came during the portion where candidates asked each other questions.

Wilson asked Woods about his opposition to Georgia’s acceptance of federal funding.

Woods said he’d like to have Georgia send less money to Washington in the first place, allowing the state to address its needs with more of its own money.

Wilson, however, said Georgia needs the additional federal funding and argued that Woods’ opposition “put the children of Georgia at risk for a soundbite.”

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