Special Feature...



Gov. Roy E. Barnes

Lieutenant Governor Taylor, Speaker Murphy, Members of the General Assembly.
This has been billed as an education address, but I'm here this
morning to talk about something more important: Georgia's future.
It's our responsibility to make sure the prosperity we enjoy today is passed
along to the next generation.
Georgia's prosperity and the improvement of education are inextricably woven
The most important thing we can do for our economy is to start improving our
schools right now.
Because tomorrow won't wait.
As Georgia's leaders, the question that confronts us is whether we will
improve education -- or whether we will shrink from our responsibility and
fail our children.
If we stand still, we go backwards.
One thing we should always remember is that we live in a competitive world.
Our children compete not just with other children in Mableton and Marietta;
they compete with children from Tennessee to Tokyo.
So this is not simply about education, this is about whether Georgia
continues to prosper or whether we fall behind.
The currency of the new economy that is emerging in Georgia and throughout
the world is not dollars and cents. It's knowledge and information. And to
prosper we must create more of it.
Where do we stand in education?
How do we measure up against states in the southeast?
How do we measure up against other fast-growing states?
How do we measure up against the rest of the nation?
The answer isn't pretty.
Georgia ranks second from the bottom nationally in SAT scores.
In fact, no matter what yardstick you look at - SAT scores, 8th grade math
proficiency, the Armed Forces Qualification Test, high school completion
rates - we are failing to give our children the education they need.
We have students graduating from high school who can't fill out a basic
application for employment.
And when you look at the high school graduation test and see that it only
tests for 8th or 9th grade skills - and that 32 percent still fail - you
can't help but know that something is wrong.
Of every ten children who began school this fall, only six will be there at
Of those six, only three will go on to college.
And of those three, only one will graduate.
Do you believe Georgia can be internationally competitive when only one out
of ten of our children graduates from college?
Of course not!
Year after year, the education bureaucracy says: don't mind the test
scores, things aren't really so bad - in fact, we're doing a pretty good
You know, it's cute when you see an eight-year-old look sheepishly up at the
teacher and say "the dog ate my homework."
It's not cute when it comes from the people responsible for educating our
It's time to stop making excuses and start doing something about it.
I have a message for those who say that the education system we
have, the bureaucracy we have, and the progress we have made are good
You are wrong.
Dead wrong.
And I simply can't allow it any more.
Our economy has grown because, for the last 30 years, we have imported a
million new people every decade. And these people have generally been
better educated and more skilled than our own sons and daughters.
We cannot continue along this path forever.
We know we can't keep importing that many people into Georgia every year,
and we can't keep leaving generations of Georgians behind - replaced by
better educated and better trained workers from somewhere else.
Georgians demand better than that.
Our children deserve better than that.
And our job - starting right here and right now - is to deliver better than
I want to tell you the story of two states: Georgia and North Carolina.
Both are growth states. They have almost identical populations, budgets,
and demographic make up.
At the beginning of this decade, North Carolina was far behind
Georgia in education. While 47 percent of Georgia 8th graders tested at the
basic level of mathematics in 1990, only 38 percent of North Carolina 8th
graders were at that level.
By 1996, the number of Georgia 8th graders with a basic understanding of
math had barely moved: from 47 to 51 percent. But North Carolina had gone
from 38 to 56 percent.
And in the last ten years, while Georgia's SAT scores rose only 15 points,
North Carolina gained 43 points.
Why is North Carolina improving at least three times as fast as Georgia?
Two reasons: responsibility and accountability.
Earlier this week, I spoke with you about the responsibility and
accountability of us all.
I challenged you to give school boards, administrators, and teachers the
tools they need to do their jobs. That is our responsibility.
Now is the time to also give local administrators and school boards the
tools they need to make sure only the best and brightest teach our children.
In the bill I will send you tomorrow, I will ask you to abolish tenure for
all new teachers.
Tenure guarantees employment regardless of performance, and in today's world
not one of us is guaranteed a job unless we perform.
I know this will be controversial because it is bold. It says to the world
that no group, no special interest will stand in the way of the improvement
of education in Georgia.
Don't back away from this responsibility. Take it up and allow us to
encourage great teaching and reward it financially.
And those with the responsibility to teach our children must be held
accountable if they fail.
Accountability is a joint responsibility. It is the responsibility of
educators, parents, students - and, yes, legislators and governors.
Accountability has moved North Carolina ahead.
And accountability is the only way to ensure that we improve.
The bill I will send you requires us to set high standards and then measure
our progress toward those goals.
Yes, this means tests.
There are those who say that tests do not accurately reflect a student's
ability or achievement. There are those who say that tests are unfair --
that it is unfair to use paper test performance for rewarding educators or
to decide if students have adequately learned the subject taught.
I am here to tell you that there is a test coming -- a test called life.
And if we don't find out early whether or not these skills are being taught
- and learned - it will be too late to do anything about it.
If we want an accountability system that will work, it must be two things:
fair and independent.
It must assure that all students -- regardless of their race, color or creed
or economic status -- can and should learn. And it should fully integrate
the subjects that are being taught with the tests of the skills students
need to learn.
Just as important, it must be independent of all the education
I have advocated, and I will recommend to you in the bill that I will submit
to you, that the curriculum and the tests on the curriculum be developed by
the Department of Education. Additionally, the interventions and assistance
for low performing schools should be performed by the Department of
But just as our system is made up of checks and balances, we must have an
independent Office of Education Accountability to provide a check on the
bureaucracies of all of the educational institutions that must be held
Education accountability is not simply about our K-12 schools.
It's about technical schools and the University System, pre-kindergarten and
the Professional Standards Commission.
For there to be a check on all of the institutions of education, an
independent office of accountability is essential. Otherwise, the
educational bureaucracies will swallow it up and co-opt the keystone for the
improvement of education in Georgia.
You cannot be for education reform and be opposed to the creation of an
independent check on the education bureaucracies.
Your choice is simple: you can stand with the bureaucrats who say
everything is just fine and what we've got is good enough.
Or you can stand with us.
This accountability system will reward great teaching and
improvement, and will identify schools that need additional assistance and,
possibly, intervention. I spoke with you earlier this week in my budget
address about the most important of these interventions: for students
performing below grade level in kindergarten through 3rd grade, the bill
that I will send to you tomorrow will cut the student-teacher ratio by more
than one-half. For students in kindergarten through 3rd grade who need it
the most, there will be no more than 11 students for every teacher.
Counselors in every school and more social workers, psychologists, and
school nurses will free up our teachers to teach our children, especially
those who bring to school the problems of home and a complex society.
But, accountability means teachers too.
Great teaching will be rewarded.
And improvement of achievement of a school above that which is expected in
any year will be rewarded by accountability bonuses on a school basis.
In those hard-to-fill areas such as math and science and locations such as
rural Georgia, teachers will no longer be paid the same salary. Signing
bonuses will be given to attract the best and the brightest wherever we need
them and to teach the subjects we need them for.
National Board Certified Teachers will receive not only reimbursement for
the cost to become National Board Certified, but an additional ten percent
over and above their state salaries.
The accountability system that I recommend to you rewards great teaching
while at the same time providing us information to improve those schools
where assistance is needed.
The primary thought we must keep in mind is that every child can learn,
every child can succeed, and, if you have the courage to enact the
legislation I will forward to you, every child in the State of Georgia will
have the God-given right to fully embrace a bright and prosperous future.
And I emphasize every child -- with no one being left behind.
We must find the courage to require more. We must find the political will
to hold our students and educators accountable. And we must use every
resource available to encourage and support our teachers, to involve our
parents, and to inspire our children to achieve.
This is not a condemnation of teaching or teachers or administrators and is
not meant to be punitive in any way.
This is a way - in fact, the only way - to reward great teaching and to
encourage and attract great teachers.
We recognize that this is a shared responsibility among parents, teachers,
students, and yes, even the Governor and General Assembly. We all have a
responsibility, and we all must exercise and shoulder that responsibility.
In order to encourage more parental and business involvement in our
local schools and decentralize the control of our schools, I will recommend
that each local school form a school council chaired by the principal and
containing two teachers, two parents, and two members of the business
This school council will oversee the local, site-based management and local
control that is necessary to make our neighborhood schools better. There is
much talk about the bureaucracy that exists from the state to the local
boards, and I will do everything I can to decrease that bureaucracy.
But there is even greater bureaucracy from the local school board down to
the local school.
And this too must be reduced.
Without community and parental involvement, our schools will never improve.
And the creation of school councils with real power to make their schools
work is the way to do that.
Technology is as important today in our schools as a blue back speller was
50 years ago.
I am alarmed by some of the things that I hear today about technology and
Some folks think technology has no place in education. Well, let me tell
you: it's the people who think that way who have no place in education.
Technology will remake the way we deliver education. We must have teachers
who understand technology, and students who master technology. No
good-paying job will be available to any of our students in the future
unless they have a basic knowledge of technology. And for students to have
a basic knowledge of technology, teachers must have a knowledge of
technology so that they can teach it to their students.
Earlier this week, I asked you to provide technology specialists to teach
our teachers.
The bill that I will send to you tomorrow will require that all teachers
have a basic tested competency in technology before they are hired or
Equally important, we must find ways to make our education system
seamless. A student belongs to no particular institution of education and
should be able to move freely from one educational institution to another.
I want to see movement back and forth between our high schools and technical
schools and between our technical schools and our university system, so that
we can provide the kind of technical training and basic skills and knowledge
the business community badly needs to be profitable.
Finally, students should not be forced to attend a school that is
failing them. They should have a choice.
In schools identified as underperforming three years in a row,
students and their parents should be able to choose another school in that
district, and the school district should pay to transport the student to
that new school.
I prefaced my remarks this morning by telling you that I wanted to talk with
you about the future of Georgia.
Twenty-five years from now, the Atlanta metropolitan area should incorporate
all of north Georgia and begin to encroach on Macon, Columbus, and
Chattanooga. By the year 2025, there will probably be more than 12.5
million people living in our state, and the total school enrollment in our
public schools will climb from 1.4 million to well over 2 million students.
Georgia's population as well as her schools will be more diverse than today.
Those numbers tell us is that the challenges facing our public schools are
only going to increase in scope and complexity.
But I also want to tell you that 25 years from now there will be a Governor
standing in this very place, and he or she, Democrat or Republican, will
recount the progress of Georgia in the last quarter century.
I do not want that Governor speaking to that General Assembly to be able to
say that at the turn of this century, we had greatness and improvement in
education within our grasp, but we blew it because we did not have the
courage to improve public education. That is the challenge that confronts
you today.
Are these proposals bold and maybe even controversial?
Will there be special interest groups that will oppose some or all of these
But now is the time for bold action.
The actions I ask of you require courage.
Can these proposals lead to your political defeat or mine?
Maybe so.
But there are times to come to the General Assembly and enjoy the fellowship
and, yes, even the fun.
But there are other times when we stand at a crossroads in history.
This is one of those times.
Be not timid or shrink from this challenge - take it up, treasure it, and do
something that means something.
Smith Pass is a member of the Coweta County Board of Education. She has
also been serving this year on the Governor's Education Reform Study
I don't know if she is a Democrat or a Republican, I never asked her, and I
really don't care.
This week she sent me an e-mail that encouraged me to take bold action. She
also sent me this short poem:
"There was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played,
He never risked, he never tried,
He never sang or prayed.
And when one day he passed away
His insurance was denied.
For since he never really lived,
They claimed he never died."
The future of Georgia's children is in your hands.
There are no Republican children.
There are no Democratic children.
Only Georgia's children.
Rise to this occasion, and generations of children yet unborn will eternally
be in your debt.
Thank you and God bless you.

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