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June 11, 2008

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By Mike Buffington

CRCT just part of a bigger problem
Is this any way to run a state? The CRCT fiasco that exploded across Georgia’s education landscape is just further evidence that Georgia leaders are adrift.
We may never know all the reasons for the CRCT boondoggle — fingers are pointing in all directions.
But it’s a sure bet that one of the main problems is the bureaucracy that has come to define the Georgia Department of Education. Of all the major professions that make up government, none is more laden with useless committees and consultants that the DoE.
The CRCT isn’t the real problem; it’s a symptom of a dysfunctional system that has increasingly politicized public education in the state. Public education in Georgia isn’t just a department of government; it’s a quasi-religion unto itself.
What most citizens see in education are local schools and local school officials. But local teachers, coaches and principals are only a small part of education’s infrastructure. Behind all of that is a state bureaucracy that makes all the rules; education colleges that follow the “publish or perish” mentality of academia and act as the thought police for the education profession; and thousands of consultants and private firms that make their living by finding new ways to get public tax dollars into their pockets via contracts with the department of education.
Little of this system has much to do with teaching children. Most of it exists to further personal careers, sell textbooks, or make money.
One of the ways all of this happens is for those caught up in the system to continually find new problems that need to be fixed. That’s why Georgia’s curriculum has been overhauled again and again over the last 20 years, mostly without any real change in student learning.
All too often the real goal in education policy making is to sell a new book or promote a new theory, both of which require a slew of consultants to implement. Every change in education feeds the state bureaucracy and all of those who suckle off the bureaucracy.
That’s why the CRCT has become such a boondoggle. Such standardized testing has become the new cash cow of public education. Someone has to create the test, train teachers for the test and administer the test. The CRCT pumps millions of dollars into keeping an army of test-givers afloat. Like so much of public education, the focus is more on process than on results.
It’s this same DoE which couldn’t get the CRCT right which is overhauling the state’s high school math curriculum in a way that will likely prove to be a disaster. Parents should be outraged at what is being done with high school math. That the state has forced it with little flak from local school leaders and parents shows just how powerful the education bureaucracy has become.
Parents are, of course, mostly unaware of this vast bureaucracy behind their children’s testing and school curriculums. Many parents actually believe these tests mean something or that they reflect something important about their child or their local schools. School leaders feed that image by touting test scores of their schools as marketing tools.
But it’s all a big game and the recent CRCT fiasco exposed it. It’s a little like Dorothy going behind the curtain to expose the “Wizard of Oz” as nothing but a blowhard with a microphone.
In spite of this CRCT failure, nothing much will change. There’s too much money and too much bureaucratic thinking for any real reform of public education in the state. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican. Partisan politics has little to do with taming the education bureaucracy.
There are many reasons Georgia students under-perform academically. Some of it has more to do with poverty and demographics than school systems.
But one of the main problems in Georgia’s public schools is that they are largely run by an army of bureaucratic pinheads and consultants who care more about profit and power than really teaching students.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

Governments aren’t really making ‘cuts’
When is a government “cut” not really a cut? As most local governments prepare their 2009 budgets this summer, you will hear a lot about how they’re “cutting” back due to the difficult economy.
But pay close attention because most of the time local governments aren’t really “cutting” anything.
When most government officials discuss cutting budgets, what they’re really talking about is cutting back on what was requested, not cutting real dollars of current spending.
Monday night, Jefferson officials took another look at the town’s proposed budget for 2009 and discussed how much was being “cut.” But in reality, the city isn’t cutting anything. In fact, employees are slated for a five percent pay hike in the budget and no staff is being cutback. Most city departments are actually slated to grow by double-digits in the 2009 budget.
The “cuts” discussed by city officials were simply decisions to not fund all the wish lists from department heads, not actual cutting of spending.
Most other local governments also get lost in this game of budget semantics where a “cut” really isn’t a cut. In fact, we don’t know of any local government that is making actual cutbacks. The rate of spending may slow some, but every local government is spending more money today than yesterday and overall budgets are growing.
Of course, if the economic downturn lasts into 2009, all of this will catch up to many government agencies. For a while, local governments can draw on existing funds to carry forward, but if revenues flatten as much as some expect, and spending continues to go up by double digits, some local governments could see serious financial shortages by the middle of 2009.
The truth is, most local governments have become addicted to double-digit growth in spending and have no idea how to get a handle on spending. Government officials are often reluctant to make difficult spending decisions and often don’t take action until forced to do so by some dire shortfall.
But setting priorities is what government officials should be doing, especially during difficult economic conditions. Over the past five years, growth has masked booming government spending. Now, the days of easy money are over.


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