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Crawford: State school leadership needs improvement
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As the election for governor drew closer in 2002, the Republican challenger Sonny Perdue was beating up on Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes with anything he could find.

One of the blunt instruments with which Perdue clobbered Barnes was the state’s last-place ranking on SAT college board scores: "Georgia’s better than that; that’s unacceptable. Those are not the kind of results that we want, Roy Barnes, and Georgia’s going to do better because they’re going to elect new leadership that will work with educators to make sure that we do better."

He later added: "I’ve told you before, the SAT is the gold standard. It’s just not Republicans who think the SAT is the standard. Other states recognize that."

Perdue and state school Superintendent Kathy Cox now are in their seventh year in office as the persons responsible for the state’s direction in education. How is Georgia faring, as measured by Perdue’s "gold standard" of SAT scores?

Unfortunately for the state, our schools are not doing very well. In 2003, during the first year of the Perdue-Cox reign, Georgia again ranked 50th in average SAT score. In 2004, the state skyrocketed all the way to 49th (thank goodness for South Carolina). But by 2005, Georgia had slipped back into a tie with South Carolina for last place.

That ranking has since improved slightly, with Georgia currently in 47th place. The state’s average SAT score still ranks below the national average, however, and that score has been declining in recent years.

Students can score a maximum of 2400 on the SAT college board. The average SAT score for Georgia students was 1477 in 2006, 1472 in 2007, 1466 in 2008 and 1460 in the latest numbers released last week.

During the past academic year, students in the southern states of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and Kentucky all had higher average SAT scores than Georgia.

Even California, which is facing bankruptcy because of multibillion-dollar budget deficits, did better than Georgia in the national SAT rankings.

That doesn’t look much like progress to me — it looks instead like Perdue’s vaunted "gold standard" is getting a little more tarnished every year.

During the same period when the state’s SAT scores were steadily declining, Perdue and the General Assembly were cutting a total of nearly $2 billion in state formula funding to local school systems. Do you think there’s a connection there?

Perdue cannot run for another term as governor so there will be a new chief executive in 2011. Whether that governor does any better than Perdue at addressing the education issue, of course, remains to be seen.

Cox, on the other hand, can legally run for a third term as school superintendent and, as far as I can tell, plans to do just that.

Does she deserve another term as the head of public education?

It’s hard to argue in her favor, in part because she never raised any public objections or protests to Perdue’s continued cutbacks in spending on schools. She could not have stopped those spending cutbacks, but she at least could have sent the signal that she would stand up for Georgia’s public school students. She chose not to do that.

It was also Cox who caused much embarrassment for the state by attempting to remove from the science curriculum all references to evolution, the "Big Bang" and other scientific theories that upset the Christian fundamentalist wing of her Republican Party.

One of Cox’s top aides at the Department of Education, while being questioned in a school funding lawsuit, testified that high school students didn’t really need to take any science or social studies courses to get an "adequate" education. "I think you can do without science," the Cox aide said.

Cox and her husband have also filed for personal bankruptcy and were faced with having their home foreclosed. Should a person with that kind of financial record be running a state agency with a $5.5 billion budget?

Under the standards of the No Child Left Behind law, schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress in upgrading student performance are placed on the "Needs Improvement" list.

Perdue and Cox would appear to be two names that belong on that list.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report. His column appears Wednesdays.