Forty years ago when Marjorie Barbee started her teaching career, there was a camaraderie among teachers, parents, pupils and the community.
The teachers, she said, were required to visit all of the pupils' homes, no matter where they lived.
"The students were more interested in education because they had both the parent and the teacher encouraging them," Mrs. Barbee said. "Parents were more supportive and worked more closely with the schools and teachers; they were more on one accord. The parents respected the teachers, the community respected the teachers, the churches respected the teachers and, consequently, the students respected their teachers."
Things have changed drastically since then, Mrs. Barbee said.
"From the time I came out of college, continuous training for teachers and supervisors has been required, but interest in education of students and parents has become stagnant," she said. "We are not able to successfully execute what we have learned because while we are being trained to teach the child, the child and parent are not willing to accept us."
Mrs. Barbee is not alone in noticing the changes affecting today's public schools. Parents, teachers, politicians and critics nationwide have taken the public education system to task. Though opinions vary on the exact way to fix the system, most agree schools are not doing a good enough job educating children.
In fact, education was one of the areas of concerns listed by residents earlier this year after Leadership Augusta and The Augusta Chronicle created Solutions 2000, a joint project aimed at helping the city address some of its biggest problems.
According to The Condition of Education 2000 report - a publication from the National Center for Education Statistics - the United States has not achieved the goals set in 1989 at the first Education Summit.
One of the goals, declared by President Bush, said "U.S. students will be the first in the world in mathematics and science achievement." But results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study - the largest international comparative study of educational achievement - show, on average, eighth- and 12th-grade pupils in the United States performed lower than international pupils in mathematics.
In Georgia, 46 percent of eighth-graders do not understand basic math, according to the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. Additionally, local SAT scores, although showing a steady increase, fall below the national average. Georgia and South Carolina rank among the lowest in the nation.
These are a few of the things critics point to when examining the system. But, national officials said public education today is doing a better job than it did 20 or 30 years ago.
"What you find as you visit schools throughout America is some of the best schools in the world," said Terry Peterson, senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley. "You will also see a lot of average schools and a few schools that are not functioning well. So there is great difference between communities and neighborhoods and states. The average school is actually doing better today than it's ever done."
Mr. Peterson pointed to statistics that show more students today are going to college and receiving bachelor's degrees. But he has seen statistics that paint a less-than-favorable picture.
"I'm not saying we don't have issues," he said. "And some people will say the system is worse; but if the system is worse today, the solution is, `Let's go back to the good old days.' There were no good old days."
In Georgia, the education system has been under a public and political microscope for years.
Stephen Portch, chancellor of the University Systems of Georgia, recently gave Georgia's educational system an "F" when rating its academic attainment.
Dr. Portch said Georgia will continue to have low attainment rates until the state - "from parents to policy makers, from students to corporations, from pre-k teachers to distinguished scholars" - makes a strong effort to improve academic preparation.
"What we need is an educational earthquake," he said, adding there is a pervasive, anti-intellectual culture in this country. "I'm not pointing a finger, or if I am, we include ourselves. We're all culpable."
Richmond County Superintendent Charles Larke said he and his educators are willing to assume responsibility to improve education, but added the state of education in America is as much a societal problem as an educational problem.
"There are unresolved social and economic issues that impact schools," Dr. Larke said, "and there is a real need for community agencies to coordinate their efforts with those of schools so that the total needs of the student are met."
The educational system is complex, but some believe parental involvement is the simplest ingredient to improvement. At a recent meeting of nearly 70 members of the Richmond County PTA, parents talked about their views of public education.
They said the key to better-educated pupils, safer schools and higher test scores is a cooperative relationship between parents and educators.
"If more parents get involved, the school system would step up and do what it needs to do." said Alvera Harvey, who has children at Murphey Middle School. "Parents who don't take part are quick to complain, but they should take an active part in what their children are doing, not just when something happens."
The power of a parent, the group said, can work miracles.
No one disagrees. Mr. Peterson said parental involvement is one of the keys that work in education.
In addition to parental involvement, research shows smaller class sizes in lower grades help pupils in math and science, Mr. Peterson said.
Gov. Roy Barnes - whose education reform bill lowers class sizes and makes teachers and parents accountable - said improving education will happen over time.
"I don't think anybody denies we have to do something about education," he said. "SAT scores released (Aug. 29) show that after 30 years we're still next to the bottom of the last. The Criterion Referenced Test shows 46 percent of our eighth-graders cannot do basic math. So we have to change, and it's like everything else. You can have two ways of doing things: You can get out there and fight the battle and make the changes or you can criticize, and I've chosen to be one that says, `Listen, we've got to change, we've got to do some things."'
Mr. Barnes said his education reform bill is part of the answer but acknowledges that the other part of the equation includes parents.
Mrs. Barbee, who retired from the Richmond County school system last year, said that although times have changed, she hasn't given up on public education.
"I have not seen, in my experiences, a high percentage of kids who could not excel," she said. "I have seen a large percentage of students who did not seem to understand the value of education and did not put a high priority on education.
"I try to remember, when I walk into a classroom, I am walking into those young people's lives. It is my responsibility to help them succeed in every way I can."
Parents considering home-schooling their children have a variety of information resources available.
The cost of setting up a home-school program can vary, depending on what a parent wants to spend. Textbooks typically run about $50 per subject, but used books are often available through curriculum fairs or local home-school associations. Publishers such as Abeka, Bob Jones University and Saxon are used by home schoolers. Also, the Internet and public libraries are used as home-school resources.
There also are several local associations that offer assistance and activities for home-schooled children.
Here are some telephone numbers and Web sites to check for information:
Home Education Information Resource: www.heir.org
Georgia Home Education Association: www.ghea.org
Home School Legal Defense Fund: www.hslda.org
CSRA Home Education Association: (706) 737-9656 (for applications), (706) 554-7574 (for information)
Augusta Area Home Education Network: members.home.com/augustahen, or P.O. Box 15963, Augusta, GA 30919-1963
Home School for YOU Inc.: welcome.to/homeschool4you
National Home School Association: http://www.n-h-a.org/
Georgia Department of Education: www.doe.k12.ga.us
South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools: (803) 732-7574
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.
You can submit your opinions about education or other issues identified by Solutions 2000:
Mail them to Solutions 2000, The Augusta Chronicle newsroom, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903.
Fax a list to Solutions 2000 at (706) 722-7403.
E-mail a list to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call our INFOLINE at 442-4444. The access code is 2000. Please leave us a brief comment; no name is necessary.
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