I don't think it is an understatement to say that when it comes to public education in Georgia, school teachers don't have much faith in the legislature. Why should they? They hear about private school vouchers, state-approved charter schools, private school scholarships cloaked in secrecy and — oh, yes — furlough days.
No wonder as many as 30 to 50 percent of new teachers give it up after five years. About all they get from the legislature is low morale.
That is why I was surprised and pleased to learn that House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, recently invited a dozen or so public schoolteachers from around the state to have lunch at the Capitol with him, House Education Committee Chair Brooks Coleman, R-Gwinnett, and Kathy Ashe, D-Fulton, a member of the education committee.
The teachers were not sure what to expect. According to one teacher who was in attendance and had low expectations for the meeting, he was pleasantly surprised, "We talked and the legislators listened."
The teachers gave the legislators an earful on testing. Lindsey said the state seems to have gone "overboard" on testing. As a result, testing results don't get back to teachers quickly enough to help the student improve whatever weakness their tests indicated.
"It is hard to use testing as a teaching tool," Mr. Lindsey said, "when you don't have the results." The majority whip says he and his colleagues heard the teachers "loud and clear" on testing
On Lindsey's Pay-for-Performance initiative, there was much less unanimity. The legislator said he got "good feedback." All agree that good teachers deserved to be separated from less effective teachers but, again, it is an issue of trust.
Said the teacher, "I fear they would cut our pay and then give us back ‘performance money' from the pile they took away from us." There is also fear that the much-maligned testing schemes could make up a large portion of the performance ratings.
Lindsey told me that he wanted to look at teachers in a "cluster" and how they work with each other. He likes the idea of peer review with other teachers and was dismayed at how little review teachers get currently from administrators. (This is why legislators should talk to teachers. They just might learn something.)
The legislators gave the teachers a "homework assignment." They were instructed to go back and contact their local legislators and tell them what is working in public education and what is not and to become a resource to that legislator, not just during the session but year-round. That is a splendid idea. The majority whip is expecting to hear back from the teachers after they make their contacts.
To the teachers: Please, no whining. Be specific. Talk to your legislators about testing and pay-for-performance and any other issue you think impacts your ability to properly educate our young people and ask them how they can help. If they say they are going to help you "all they can," they haven't told you squat. The issue is how much will they help you?
Unlike some of his colleagues in the legislature, Lindsey understands that the needs of the public schools in Georgia are not being satisfactorily met and that much still needs to be done.
"We have 85,000 children in private schools and 1.7 million in our public schools," he says, "so we have to look at education in the whole and not just piece parts." What some legislators seem to forget is that public schools are the biggest piece part.
Lindsey gets an "A" for getting public school teachers together and listening to them. Now, let's see what he and his colleagues do with the information.
The teacher in the group says that despite the good vibes in the luncheon, he believes that politicians still have a long way to go to earn teachers' trust. He has a point.
Look for the next session of the General Assembly to make another effort at private school vouchers and to try and overturn the State Supreme Court's ruling on state-approved charter schools. Legislators can package their private school schemes however they wish but a boar hog with lipstick is still a boar hog and it is still ugly.
Instead of running away from public schools, why don't they work to make them better? That's my opinion and the opinion of most of Georgia's public school teachers. I trust the legislators are listening.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can reach him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.