In the battle for the Republican nomination for state school superintendent, the last men standing offer starkly different visions for Georgia education.
Representing the education and corporate establishments is Mike Buck, current chief academic officer for the Georgia Department of Education. His opponent is Richard Woods, a former educator who vows to listen to parents and teachers more than to the other stakeholders in the education debate. Voters have a clear choice.
On one level, this race turns on public opinion concerning the Common Core national standards, which Georgia has implemented on Buck’s watch, and which he strongly defends (though carefully avoiding the actual words “Common Core”). He lists among his endorsements state Reps. Brooks Coleman and Randy Nix, two of the most enthusiastic Common Core proponents in the Georgia House of Representatives.
By contrast, Woods opposes Common Core as an ill-advised, unconstitutional nationalization and federalization of education. His more numerous endorsements include state Sen. William Ligon, the leader in the anti-Common Core fight in the Georgia legislature.
But on a deeper level, the race illustrates a fundamental disagreement over the purpose of education and over who, rightly, should be in charge.
BUCK’S WEBSITE provides the answer from his perspective. The website makes it clear that the purpose of education is to create a work force and improve the economy: “Education is the cornerstone of every prosperous society. ... To be competitive, Georgia must provide a well-educated and fully prepared work force to meet the needs of our changing economy.” Buck identifies the “stakeholders” he will work with on education issues: He “will continue to nurture the relationships between the education and business communities (and) work with our economic developers, elected officials and business communities, including the state and local Chambers of Commerce ... .”
Notice which obvious groups are excluded from all these people and organizations he plans to work with: parents and teachers. Although his website later suggests including them on an “advisory committee” (along with elected officials and business and industry leaders, of course), it is clear that parents and teachers will have to settle for the back of the bus rather than claim the driver’s seat. After all, what do they know about the work force needs of industry?
Buck’s view mirrors that of numerous business “leaders” who have proclaimed themselves entitled to control education because, after all, “the business community is by far the biggest consumer of the product created by our education system” (this is an actual quote from the president of the Business Council of Alabama). So children aren’t individuals to be educated, but “products” to be manufactured for the economic machine.
BY CONTRAST, Richard Woods places more emphasis on what parents want for their children, and on what teachers know their students can do, not what corporate executives want for their companies. His website declares: He “believes that Georgia parents, teachers, and communities should be involved in the standards adoption process and be given real opportunities to provide input and feedback.”
In other words, he opposes what happened with Common Core in Georgia – the quiet adoption and implementation of a radically new education system created by “experts” in Washington, with little notice to parents and teachers.
The irony of the Buck/Chamber of Commerce position on education is that it embraces an approach that manifestly doesn’t work. If businesses want literate, capable employees, they should be demanding an education system that returns to the type of traditional education common before the federal government pushed its way in 50 years ago. Instead, they have bought the progressive snake oil that doing even more of what clearly doesn’t work – which is exactly what Common Core does – will this time lead to success.
So by being willing to exchange true education for minimal job training, business leaders will get neither. Which of the two candidates understands this?
(The writer is a senior fellow of APP Education of the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.)