Originally created 12/23/99

Barnes' school agenda



For the most part Gov. Roy Barnes' hand-picked Education Reform Commission of business executives and legislators has come up with a constructive plan to improve Georgia's public schools.

The heart of the recommendations reflect Barnes' commendable effort to establish a "seamless" education whereby students can work toward college admission, job skills and a high school diploma all at the same time.

The panel also approved initiatives to boost accountability of students, teachers and administrators, provide help for school systems that need more assistance and to reward school systems already achieving strong results.

One recommendation we especially like calls for certifying teachers who have solid basic knowledge in a given subject -- such as math or science -- but never took a formal education course.

There are many middle-aged military and corporate retirees much more capable of teaching youngsters tough, college-prep courses than mediocre teachers who do have a formal education degree. We just hope the governor and Commission can overcome opposition from the state's entrenched educational establishment, including teachers' unions.

Other specific recommendations we heartily approve includes more funding to reduce early grades' class sizes and annual testing of pupils to ensure they deserve promotion to the next grade.

But there are drawbacks.

First, on the matter of vouchers, the Commission was split. This means if there's to be any movement on vouchers -- that would allow students in failed public schools to transfer to private schools -- it must come from the governor or Legislature. Why not experiment with vouchers in one or two districts? If they can improve education, we ought to know about it.

Second, although we applaud the governor's commitment to improving public education, there are legitimate concerns that his Commission wants to muscle aside state school Superintendent, Linda Schrenko.

For instance, while accountability standards deserve support, the Reform Commission would have them monitored by a new, independent agency. Shouldn't this be the state Education Department's job?

Why set up a parallel bureaucracy? -- unless it is to move power away from the elected school superintendent and toward the governor? That's a lot of power wielded by one executive.

Another panel proposal that deserves scrutiny calls for a council at each public school to advise school boards on budgets and personnel.

If the councils serve as a conduit of information to help school boards make more informed decisions, that would be a healthy development. If they become rival centers of power to the school boards and simply a rubber stamp for a governor, as has occurred in Kentucky, that would hurt public education.