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OPINION PAGE - FEBRUARY 2, 2000 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
February 2, 2000

Tenure law change needed
Among the many items in Gov. Roy Barnes' education reform legislation is a provision that would do away with teacher tenure for newly hired teachers. It is a small part of the overall package, yet it has come under attack from the state's teacher unions, who oppose doing away with the job guarantee.
It was a predictable reaction. Anyone familiar with public sector unions knows that such groups exist not for the public interest, but rather for the narrow, self-serving interest of their members.
So it's not surprising that these groups are preaching gloom-and-doom if tenure is abolished. Says the Georgia Association of Educators: "It is difficult to imagine how 'at will' employees can be innovative with the continual threat of being terminated in an unfair or capricious manner."
Well, how about this: Teachers can be innovative in the same way virtually all private sector employees who don't have a job guarantee are innovative. Tenure does not breed innovation, nor is it necessary for teachers to be successful. If Bill Gates can build Microsoft with untenured, but innovative employees, then schools should be able to educate children without such job guarantees.
It is true, of course, that ending teacher tenure is not a magic solution for improving the state's education system. The issues are complex and no single action will fix all the problems.
On the other hand, no one is suggesting that ending teacher tenure is a magic solution. It is just one part of a larger effort to raise standards in the state for both students and those who teach them. It would be a double standard for the governor to preach accountability in education, but to exempt teachers from such accountability by continuing tenure.
The state's teacher unions would be wise to tone down their carping on this issue. Their self-serving rhetoric only reinforces the perception of public education as a bureaucratic system resistant to change and accountability.


Letter
The Jackson Herald
February 2, 2000

Optometrists should be able to prescribe medications
Dear Editor:
As practicing optometrists in Georgia for a combined total of 20 years, we find it unfortunate that the Medical Association of Georgia is using its political influence to prevent optometrists from gaining the authority to prescribe certain oral medications for the treatment of the eye. Doctors of Optometry sit in the same pharmaceutical classes attended by medical doctors, and 35 states in the union already allow optometrists the type of prescriptive authority we seek. Our members spend a minimum of four years following an undergraduate program studying the eye. This includes anatomy and physiology of the eye and entire body, along with intensive pharmacology training related to eye medications and how they react with the various systems of the body.
It is unfortunate that this issue of prescriptive authority has become a turf battle and, to some extent, a litmus test of political strength. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the people caught in the middle are patients, who simply want high-quality eye care delivered as efficiently as possible.
Sincerely,
Jon M. Milford, O.D.
Gene Doss, O.D.



Column
By Mike Buffington
February 2, 2000

Dear Gov. Barnes
Dear Gov. Roy Barnes:
I see on your schedule that you will speak to members of the Georgia Association of Educators this weekend. Isn't that a little like walking into the lion's den, governor? As the state's leading teachers' union, the GAE would like to rip you into eatable chunks because of your proposal to abolish teacher tenure. Put on some body armor, governor, you're going to need it.
Of course, you're right in your bid to abolish tenure. There's no justification for teacher job protections now that school superintendents are elected.
In taking that action, governor, you are sending an important message to the egalitarian world of academia that accountability is important at every level, from the classroom to administrators to local boards of education. No one should be exempt from scrutiny in the educational process.
But governor, as important as that message may be, ending tenure isn't the solution to fixing all the woes in the state's education system. While ending tenure is the right thing to do, it is an evolutionary step, not revolutionary.
If you want a revolution in Georgia's education system, governor, there are three laws you should get passed. After years of covering local school systems and education issues, and as a parent interested in public education, I can guarantee that these three laws would overnight fix many of the problems in our public schools:
1. Pass a law that would allow elementary and middle schools to group children in classrooms by ability. The threat of civil rights lawsuits has forced public schools into mixing students of different abilities in the same classroom, creating a terrible problem for teachers. The lower achieving kids don't get the extra help they need and the higher achieving kids don't get challenged enough. The result is a watered-down curriculum that really doesn't meet the needs of any child. So pass a new law, governor, that protects school systems from the threat of lawsuits when they group kids by ability.
2. Pass a law that caps the amount of funding that can be spent on any single child in a school system. Although it is a worthy thing to attempt to help children who have mental or physical disabilities, a line has to be drawn somewhere. The cost of these special education programs is growing faster than the rest of school budgets, meaning that more and more funds are being diverted away from the average kids to pay for a handful of kids who have some kind of special need. Let's help those children, of course, but let's put a cap on such spending so that other kids aren't cheated out of what they need from public schools.
3. Pass a law that does away with the double standard for discipline between regular kids and special education kids. The truth is, this double standard undermines the overall authority of public education. If a kid is labeled as having some kind of problem, he or she is virtually immune from serious discipline by school officials. Let's treat all kids the same, governor, and not let a certain group be exempt from punishment.
I realize, of course, that the federal government has had a major role in the creation of the above problems. In fact, you will likely be told that there's nothing the state government can do to address these issues.
I disagree. You, Gov. Barnes, can be the voice of reason on these issues. You can use your bully pulpit as governor to challenge these inane rules. You can help middle-class, taxpaying parents of average kids start a real revolution in education by challenging practices that have had the effect of dumbing-down the curriculum in pubic schools.
The truth is, governor, thousands of parents have had enough of the overemphasis on "at risk" kids and the lack of funding and attention being given to the rest of the student population. Many of those parents have spoken with their feet by taking their children out of public schools and putting them in private schools, or by home schooling.
That trend will continue, governor, if something isn't done to change the system. Georgia's public education will lose more of its best students to other alternatives unless state leaders act just as boldly to meet their needs as it does to meet the needs of the "at risk."
All children are "at risk," governor. It's not just those at the bottom of the achievement ladder who need assistance, but all children in public schools should receive the kind of education that helps them reach their potential.
That isn't being done, governor. It isn't the teachers' fault, or the principals' fault or the local boards of educations' fault - it is the fault of state and federal rules that focus 80 percent of the effort on 20 percent of the children.
Change that, Gov. Barnes - start a revolution by restoring some common sense to the classrooms of our public schools. Give teachers and administrators the ability to maximize their talents in the classroom rather than expecting them to juggle so many different needs at once.
Abolishing tenure is important, governor, but not nearly as important as abolishing the strangle-hold the politically correct have gotten on our public schools.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


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