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GA State School Superintendent Election Is Moment Of Truth for Ed Reform in Georgia

This year's election for GA State School Superintendent is not getting the same microphone as the races for Governor and US Senator - nor should it.

However, for those of us who follow national, state and local education policy, this election is representative of the national conflict around reforming our public education system.   We can debate the pros and cons of whether this position should be an elected one or a position appointed by the governor another time.   As much as it creates unnecessary redundancies, bureaucracy and instability in our education system, Georgia has created this monstrosity by virtue of its outdated Constitution for which an amendment would be necessary to fix this dysfunction.  And we know from the Charter School Amendment two years ago that it would be a painful and destabilizing process for the state.

So lets return to the question at hand.   There were so many candidates in both parties running for this position, that Georgia is not faced with a runoff in each party on July 22nd to see who will run in the general election.   Turnout will likely be terrifyingly low and it will be these few voters who will determine which candidates secure their party's nominations.  

The election is pitting the Tea Party against the Common Core, and pitting an DFER against a status quo candidate supported by the nation's most powerful unions:  the NEA and AFT.  These organizations are now undermining President Obama's efforts to reform public education in this country.

The anti-Common Core faction is very strong in Georgia.   They almost rammed through a bill in the General Assembly that would have rolled back education reform efforts and set this state's education system back at least a decade.  What's good for America is obviously not what's good for Georgia - hence the strong forces against any national efforts that folks will presume without evidence will tread on state's rights.  Georgia has already moved forward with major education reforms and while change is never easy, it is way too soon to claim that they are not working or will not work.   Miracles don't happen overnight.

So what will Georgia do?   Will Georgia vote for more influence from teacher's unions?  Will they vote to unravel the Common Core and wreck more havoc in a system that is in the midst of major policy transitions and where educators are getting comfortable with such changes?   Will Georgia's voters vote for a candidate who will work across party lines to continue to reforms that Georgia signed up to enact based on its $400 million Race to the Top grant award?

This is the moment of truth for Georgia.   I hope they let the current reforms take root and not put our parents, teachers and children through more policy changes.    Only two candidates fit that bill:   Mike Buck and Alisha Morgan.    If those two win the runoffs, then Georgia should win regardless who you like amongst the two.  I know who I'm voting for - do you?


A Plea For Common Ethics: The Final Chapter

This is my final post in a series about the importance of ethics in public education reform.

Conveniently, I received a note from a reader of my blog post  that was republished in the AJC about the situation with the UGA football program.   Head football coach Mark Richt chose not to discipline 4 student athletes who were arrested in a check fraud scheme involving stipends received from the athletic department.  They dressed in full pads for practice the next day, and no discipline was ever announced.   UGA's discipline policy states that such discipline for misdemeanors is "at the discretion of the coach."   I was wondering if we would ever see resolution on this matter.

Yesterday, a story came out that one of these four student-athletes, safety Tray Matthews, was dismissed from the team because of additional, more recent infractions.  However, we do not know what these other infractions were.   Making matters worse, the player immediately tweets "Auburn or Louisville will be my home."  Why would he say such a thing?  (An aside:  we still don't know if the other three students were disciplined at all).

Let me refresh everyone's memory who may not be familiar with this issue.   Auburn, and even more importantly, Louisville, seem to be more than willing to immediately admit 4 star recruits who were cast aside by Georgia solely for disciplinary issues, regardless of their criminal nature.   You see, the former Defensive Coordinator for UGA is now in the same position at Louisville, and works for none other than our nation's ethical compass, Bobby Petrino.   Just recently, Louisville immediately scooped up disgraced UGA defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was dismissed by Coach Richt for drug-related incidents. 

So what does this all mean?   It means that there is a moral hazard on college sports because there is not a consistent disciplinary policy across programs.  Another story recently came out that talked about Georgia's efforts to push for a uniform drug policy in the SEC.  Unfortunately, the efforts appear "dead" because at a recent SEC meeting, the issue wasn't even brought to the table and discussed.  And so Georgia's efforts to take the moral high ground will continue to place it at a significant disadvantage, at least on the field, until such time as there is sufficient backlash to force the issue to be reconsidered.

This topic goes way beyond sports if you read my previous posts.   In a  recent blog on Ed Week, the author makes the claim that "ethics are caught, rather than taught."   I think it's a combination of both, and it's not only taught by educators, but more importantly, parents and other family members.   This goes far beyond whether a student-athlete should be punished for criminal behavior and be allowed to play, and whether schools should have consistent policies so that students aren't rewarded for making such mistakes.  If we want our students to be successful in life, they need to know right from wrong.  They need to know that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."  So before we get all wound up about common core standards, I say again, "how about common ethics first?"


Education Reform Starts In The Home

Every once in a while, a comment on a blog, or a blog topic itself, really gets under my skin.  The last time this happened was when UGA Football Coach Mark Richt decided not to discipline 4 players who were arrested for theft and deception and the opinion of some mothers that these kids "deserved to be back on the field immediately."   Now, another situation has me really thinking about education reform and the requirement that a two pronged intervention approach from educators AND parents is what is really needed to fix our education system.

I shared a story with Maureen Downey, editor of the Get Schooled blog for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, about a Florida high school that was charging up to $200 a seat to attend its graduation ceremony.  And for the first time, seniors had to pay a $20 fee to attend their own graduation!   She in turn published a post on her blog about the incident.   However, what really riled me up (I need to stop getting riled up or I'll lose my hair) was the fact that certain readers posted comments suggesting that they told their parents not to attend their own graduations because all they did was "do what they were supposed to do."  And that hit me like a knife to the heart.

Whether it's your first child or your last, as a parent, there is absolutely no good reason to miss your child's graduation, whether from high school or college.  Whether you graduated Valedictorian or graduated last in your class, graduating is an accomplishment, and one that should be celebrated by parents and children alike.   You reached a milestone and you should always celebrate such things with your children.  They need to know that you care, and that you're proud of them.   Now lets just dismiss the folly of charging seniors and their families to attend their own graduation.   There is no debate.  Families should attend graduations regardless of whether or not your child is getting any additional accolades. 

This is why I believe that education reform is so complex in the United States.  Prioritizing education is not just with dollars and policy, it is a MINDSET.   In Finland, they have this mindset.  They also do in Singapore and other countries with best-in-class education systems.   If parents don't feel that attending a graduation is important, then do you really think they're going to be there to help their child with homework, or in building both cognitive and non-cognitive skills?   So again, that is why feel more strongly than ever that education reform starts and ends in the home.   Teachers can only do so much, and if parents undo all of the work that teachers are trying to do in the classroom, then education reform will not succeed.

So do me a favor - attend your child's graduation.


Raising a Moral Child

The final segment of my three part blog post about ethics and public education is basically a reference post.  I came across a NY Times article from last week that I found quite interesting.   Titled, "Raising a Moral Child," the author unveils some fascinating research about how to raise a "moral" child.   As the article states, "When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring."  The article goes further:

If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave. In a review of research on emotions and moral development, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg suggests that shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people. Fearing this effect, some parents fail to exercise discipline at all, which can hinder the development of strong moral standards.

I highly recommend to read the NY Times article and review some of the innovative research cited therein.  As the author, Wharton Psychology Professor Adam Grant, concludes:  "People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character."

Parents, this is advice we must all heed.


The Importance of Teaching Ethics, Part 2

From a story at UGA, to one that hits closer to home:   high school sports.   Let me reiterate why it is so important that rules are rules, but "doing the right thing" in sports and in life is far more important.

Yesterday, I was watching a high school regional tennis tournament.  For those of you who know how high school tennis works, there are no umpires.  Line judges are only called if the players cannot agree on line calls or other situations that may come up during a match (e.g., keeping score).  Coaches and parents are not permitted to intervene on these things, which, while teachers the kids to problem-solve, does spur the moral hazard of cheating (or, as they like to say in professional tennis, "gamesmanship").   During the match, one of the players lost track of the score.  For everyone in the stands, it was abundantly clear that a game was lost.  If this player served the first game of a set, then how could they be serving in an "even"game based on what the score said?  It was supposed to be 4-2 in this player's favor, but instead, the score read 3-2.   Keep in mind that these players had played each other before, and the opposing player has a history of "cheating," slamming the racket against the net, etc.  The player clearly knew it was wrong, because they had served out the previous set.  Finally, coaches and parents spurred an intervention, which, while against the rules, was warranted.  There was a very long stoppage where USTA officials, coaches and players discussed the situation.  When the opposing player was asked about this, they denied that there was a game missing from the score!  After a long discussion, it was decided that because the players did not agree to the change themselves, they could not go back and fix the score.  So instead of this player winning the second set 6-4, they ended up losing the match in a second set tiebreaker!

The parents from the opposing team just stood there and defended their player.  After the match, the USTA official goes over to the opposing player and pats them on the back saying "nice job."   Nice job?   So we're supporting cheating here?  In all my years of playing Division I baseball, high school baseball, American Legion baseball, etc., I thought I had seen it all.   Why couldn't coaches be permitted to intervene if EVERYONE knew that a game was missing?   As a bystander watching this unfold, I was mortified.   Yes, the player should have kept track of the score, but why was another player allowed to blatantly cheat?   This happened at other times throughout the match - scores in a game getting messed up, not switching sides after 6 points in a tiebreaker, etc.

Bear in mind that this player attended a Christian school in the Metro Atlanta area.  I do not want to stereotype by any means, but at Christian Schools, there should be even GREATER emphasis on values such as integrity, honesty and sportsmanship.   In sports and in life, doing the right thing and as the Romans would say "show honor in battle," is the most important trait to have.    Luckily, this player's team lost the match, even though that line won under controversy.

Some folks who read this blog may disagree with my perspective on what transpired herein.  They'll say, "rules are rules."  However, watching this unfold and thinking about my last post about teaching ethics in K-12 education, this incident was a harsh reminder that we need to teach our kids about honesty.  A famous person once said that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."  Well, everyone was looking, and because of the archaic rules, no one was able to make this right.   Instead, bystanders were left with a stinging feeling that it's ok to cheat, just because your opponent couldn't remember the score.   And the player who was wronged had to learn a very harsh lesson.  I'm sure they won't ever forget the score anytime soon!   

We need to teach our kids that speaking up and being honest is more important than a ridiculous rule.   Maybe this player, and this school, needs to re-read a classic children's book titled, "Tell The Truth:  It's The Right Thing To Do."