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Nichols: We need answers to fix our schools

POSTED: October 11, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Many questions have recently arisen about our educational system in Georgia.

How many students fail to graduate from Georgia's public high schools? What is the current statewide total, and what was it some 10 years back?

How much money does each county spend on a per-student basis? Do the counties with the lowest expenditure have the most students who fail to graduate?

Academic climate is determined by the way school teachers, unions, board of education and state officials and parents interrelate. Has it been good or have there been differences which have lessoned the impact of school policies throughout the state?

What are the spread of teachers' salaries in each school? With the bad economic conditions which have decreased money raised by taxes, have counties been forced to require teachers to take unpaid furlough days? If so, this is in fact a drop in salaries.

How can we devise an effective system to reward good teachers? How can we evaluate the teaching skills of each teacher fairly?

We need a study of class sizes. Are they growing larger and more difficult to get results similar to those obtained in smaller classes?

The scores of students taking the SAT exam to get into college differ from school to school. Scores of the college bound students are reportedly higher than those from schools that tested the entire student body. The scores of those not planning to go on to college tended to be low because those students had no reason or motivation to take the exam seriously. So SAT scores should be reported with the percentage of the student body who took the test.

The No Child Left Behind program puts pressure on school officials, some of whom apparently erased wrong answer originals and traced in the correct answer. If this is true, it certainly indicates that we have a major problem here. Such cheating by teachers is an abomination and cannot be tolerated.

Money counts in various areas in addition to teachers' salaries. Schools must meet the educational needs of expanding populations. We have some very beautiful new facilities and Georgia can be proud of them. But a number of our older schools need expensive repairs.

How many computers does each school have? How many books, magazines and newspapers are available for student research in the library? How do the athletic facilities and equipment meet student needs? Are art, music, and theater areas adequate?

Our schools are preparing our college-bound students. The Hope Scholarship program is a great success and I hope it continues.

Many students need vocational training so they can be better prepared to enter our state and nation's work force.

Money can be saved by consolidating smaller schools. Unfortunately, deep cuts have been made in supplies available to teachers. Even with pay cuts (furlough days), many teachers are dipping into their own pockets for supplies that are needed but not provided by administrators.

How can we motivate the good teachers in our schools to work as mentors to less effective teachers? Can teacher education be improved so we can attract more high quality persons to enter and remain in the teaching profession?

What are the data on student drop out and failure to graduate high school in Georgia? Also attendance is a major problem. How many students have cut classes for 20 or more days in a school year?

We can watch as Newark, N.J., decides how to spend the $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Newark must match the $100 million with another $100 million. It must also raise another $50 million to improve programs for special-needs students.

We don't need to wait for our own Superman to arrive. He can only save one city. Our problems are statewide. Instead of Superman, we have ourselves.

We need a new and innovative investigation. We could ask the many retired teachers and school board officials across the state to share their wisdom in their golden years to study just how broken is our entire system. The task force should be selected to reflect the diversity of Georgia's population.

It is possible that such a task force will find that we need to raise taxes to pay for all the educational fixes that certainly will be necessary.

If we don't increase taxes we will most likely increase high school dropouts with corresponding increases in criminal gang activity, drugs, prostitution, illegitimate births and other expenses that society will be forced to pay.

Dr. Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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