Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 11, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 11, 2002

Why They Can’t Guess What The Weather Will Do
While last week's "winter storm" was a disappointment to local school children looking for a holiday and 4-wheel drive owners seeking vindication of their purchases, it worked out well for North Georgia's grocers. From Atlanta to Toccoa, bread, milk and other necessities disappeared from shelves like Georgia Tech football fans at Sanford Stadium Nov. 30.
My hypothesis is that either the grocers have conspired with the meteorological community to artificially boost sales or TV station managers require the meteorologists to predict severe weather as a means to boost viewership. Either scenario accounts for the poor record of prognostication from those who supposedly know what the weather will do.
For one of those reasons, whenever clouds and cool weather appear simultaneously, predictions of snow and ice are issued under the code phrase of "winter storm watch." The warnings not only occur during regularly-scheduled weather announcements, but are also blasted across the bottom of every television screen every 10 minutes as though lives are at stake.
In the grocer-meteorologist conspiracy scenario, the repeated warnings trigger the stocking-for-Armageddon gene in adults so they head directly to the nearest grocery store to grab milk, bread, batteries, candles and whatever else is needed. The fact that everybody else is doing the same thing creates a greater sense that Doom is at hand, sometimes moving consumers to resort to fisticuffs over the last loaf of Wonder Bread.
To a lesser degree, other merchants benefit too, from the purveyors of whiskey and cigarettes to the dispensers of fuel. You don't want to be caught in the Blizzard of '02' without the bar stocked and the tank topped off.
It could be argued that this hysteria provides an economic boost, but it is likely that a corresponding slump in sales occurs in the days after the false alarm as consumers use up their emergency stores. I wonder if a study correlating times of overstocking of grocery store shelves and impending severe weather might indicate more than coincidence.
In the ratings-grabbing scenario, I suspect that the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, should it delve into the conspiracy, would find that advertising rates for Metro-Atlanta TV stations peak during times when severe weather is predicted. Channel 11, which at 6:00 p.m. on a typical day has 435 viewers, may have 435,000 viewers when the threat of severe weather is broadcast.
And on the rare occasion when a storm really is imminent and really does hit, the TV stations quickly remind their viewers of how their meteorologists were right. In fairness, when a blind squirrel finds an acorn, it might be news, but given their ratio of inaccurate to accurate predictions, one would think broadcasters would be loathe to say anything lest the viewers remember.
Have you ever heard such a station say, "We were dead wrong – again" after the severe weather fails to materialize? Neither have I. Or, is that so universally understood that no explanation is required?


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
December 11, 2002

Time for education shake-up
We like what we hear coming out of Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue’s camp — that the new governor plans to dismantle much of the Barnes’ administration’s education efforts and give more control back to local school districts.
While there were parts of Gov. Barnes’ plan that we liked, for the most part, his solution was a top-down approach that attempted to centralize education reform within his own office.
But no governor has all the answers to education in the state. Instead, reform efforts should focus on freeing local school districts to pursue their own initiatives for creating a quality education.
Specifically, we hope soon-to-be Gov. Perdue will do the following:
1. Reform the funding formulas for local schools. The current formulas are a Byzantine system that no one understands and that is in many instances, grossly unfair. One of the main problems with the current system is that it attempts to take money from “wealthy” school districts and redistribute those dollars to “poor” school systems. That has hurt many school systems, including those in Jackson County, which by state standards are among the “rich” systems.
2. Reform state control over curriculum standards. Local school systems should have more flexibility in setting their own curriculum rather than being forced to follow some of the crazy systems being devised by Atlanta bureaucrats.
3. Reform the design and use of standardized testing. There is a place in education for standardized tests, but too much weight is being given to those individual tests at the expense of broader education objectives. In addition, the wording on those tests is being used to drive particular curriculum agendas, for example, forcing local schools to adopt the controversial “new-new math” programs that are currently in vogue with Atlanta education bureaucrats. That is a misuse of those tests and such underhanded schemes should not be tolerated in the Perdue administration.
4. Dismantle much of the Barnes’ administration targets for class size goals. While small classes are worthwhile for younger children, an overemphasis on this is forcing local schools to build a huge number of new classrooms and hire additional teachers without a corresponding amount of state funds. If local schools can find ways to be successful with larger class sizes, then they should be allowed to do that without the burden of building unneeded classrooms.

We hope the Perdue administration will pursue a different path in education reform than did Gov. Barnes. The problem with Barnes’ efforts is that the governor believed he had all the answers when he didn’t even understand the questions.
Gov. Perdue should admit he doesn’t have all the answers about education and free local schools to search for what is best for themselves, rather than be dictated to by the state.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 11, 2002

Computers in the classroom needs reform
There’s a huge debate taking place in this nation over the use, or misuse, of technology in public school classrooms. Indeed, that debate has been taking place for some years, owing to the growth in cheap computers in the early 1990s.
Here in Georgia, that debate may soon take on new life with the changes about to take place under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. The changing political climate may shift the focus again toward technology in the classroom.
I’m a believer in using technology in the workplace. But I’m more skeptical of its use in the classroom. Do computers in the classroom help students achieve and learn?
There’s no clear answer to that question. But those on both sides of the debate admit that in many instances, computers in classrooms have been misused.
In the 1980s when computers first began appearing in public schools, the focus was on teaching students to write programming languages, such as the then-popular BASIC. The effort was moronic. What education value was there in having a fifth-grader write BASIC?
Schools soon abandoned that effort when administrators figured out programming had nothing to do with learning.
The next focus in schools was teaching students to use various kinds of software, such as databases, spreadsheets and word processing programs. While those are still taught in some secondary vocational programs, they have been mostly abandoned at lower grade levels.
The current focus came from the growth in the Internet and the available resources from that vast electronic world. But even there, schools have had a difficult time finding a real educational value in having computers in the classroom just for Internet access. Beyond the ability to do some research for term papers, the Internet has been little used in most schools.
The current cry now is for teachers to better “integrate” computers into their lesson plans.
But that, too, may prove to be a futile effort. It’s difficult enough in many classrooms to cover the required material in a book, much less find “creative” ways to cover it on a computer.
There are other problems with computers in the classroom as well. For one thing, the expense of buying and maintaining a huge network of computers is high and many schools cannot afford that cost. In one of my kids’ classrooms, the printer has not worked with the classroom computers this year and there is no one on the school staff to fix that problem.
In addition, the cost of upgraded software and on-going hardware upgrades is huge, especially when a school is maintaining a network of hundreds of computers. Is the cost of that worthwhile in terms of educational benefits?
I have my doubts. I’ve yet to see evidence that computers in the classroom have a demonstrated benefit for students.
But there are some ways that systems could use computers in their schools very effectively:
1. Communication: Every teacher in every school should have a computer on his or her desk with on-line email. Communication with parents would be much easier if teachers could receive and send emails every day.
2. Science: Computers in science labs, especially in middle and high schools, could be a good tool for demonstrating complex formulas. Computers in science labs should be just like a microscope or petri dish, a standard piece of equipment.
3. Library research: As an adjunct to books, each school library should have a few computers with Internet access for research.
4. Management tool: Each school should have computers for management needs, such as grade reporting and other normal business functions. Most schools have these in place, but they are used with varying levels of sophistication.
The truth is, computers do have a place in schools, just as they have a place in most businesses and homes today. But all the talk about “integration” is mostly wishful thinking. It won’t happen.
In the rush to appear “high-tech,” too many schools have purchased too many computers with too little knowledge about how those machines will be maintained and used.
Computers are a tool, not an end result. Public schools should go back to the basics on that by making sure they can afford the basics before attempting to have teachers “integrate” a broken-down network into their lesson plans.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
December 11, 2002

BOC Eying Takeover Of Water Authority
So far, they say only "informal" discourse on the matter has taken place, but it is clear that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners plans some sort of takeover of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.
The justification for such a move is to make the operations of the authority, which manages the county's water and sewer systems, "more accountable." In political speak, that means the commissioners want the control.
This newspaper once used this space to advocate just such a move, but since that time the five commissioners have demonstrated a marked inability to manage what government operations are already under their authority and a propensity for micromanagement. Ideally, the county, like Commerce, would have a water and sewer department; unfortunately, the county government is light years from ideal.
Until the board of commissioners matures, the citizens of Jackson County are better served by a quasi-autonomous board that is largely free from the political process. Following four years of drought, citizens all over Jackson County are demanding water. The water authority has used its limited resources to install lines that serve the most people for the least money while meeting the technical hydrological requirements of the system. Those resources are not now and will not in the near future be sufficient to provide water or sewer lines in all places where they are wanted or needed. Tough decisions must be made and they are best made as far from political pressure as possible.
Ever since they took office, the commissioners have tried to bully the authority. They have alleged that the financing of some projects was illegal, although their own auditor and financial director both repeatedly agreed that the process was proper. They have repeatedly insisted that they do not get sufficient information from the authority, although all meeting minutes, bid documents and other materials are sent every month to the county manager.
The real issue, of course, is power. Harold Fletcher remains hell-bent on removing Jerry Waddell, his predecessor as commission chairman and the current superintendent of the water and sewerage authority. Commissioners Stacey Britt, Emil Beshara and Tony Beatty all have been critics of the authority. Sammy Thomason, at present, appears to oppose the idea.
To date, none of the discussions have taken place in public, and they won't until the board reaches a consensus on just how to proceed. One of the challenges is that the county needs the authority's ability to finance water and sewer projects, so whatever is done must leave it intact to some degree. That presents us with the ironic possibility that for greater "accountability" the board of commissioners will decide when and where lines are built, leaving the authority to raise money over which the authority will have no control.
Frankly, county control of the water and sewer system is not a bad concept. Before it happens here, however, it would be nice to see the board of commissioners demonstrate competency in managing the county budget, providing new government facilities and building and maintaining roads. The board of commissioners' plate is more than full and the commissioners have yet to demonstrate that they are capable of meeting the existing challenges. The last thing Jackson County needs is for the board of commissioners to expand its politics and inefficiency into the building of the water and sewer infrastructure so crucial to this county.


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